A clue that forms a theory.
After flying high and low over King William Island this last summer, there is, among the intriguing sights and discoveries - one particular location, one most likely previously discovered, which I have been ruminating over. Perhaps it has been previously written elsewhere, but I haven't seen or heard it. It is of no matter.
This is what I thought about the site that I had viewed up close and/or may be the same "Boat Place" spoken of so frequently. It has been said that it is most likely to have been the place of the pinnace from HMS Erebus. A large boat 28 foot long and 7 foot 3 inches wide, abandoned by the men of the Franklin expedition during their attempt to escape overland in 1848. These areas (or this area if there is more than one abandoned lifeboat), lie at the crux of Erebus Bay. After I was there, I called it "Hell's Corner". There is not a spot on Earth that I have yet seen where I can think of a more miserable place to die. Certainly a slow death in despair.
It was documented that the boat was pointing back to the ships when found. And - it was thought to be only a year later. During the year before, they must have passed this specific area heading south. The question that I kept thinking was: "When retreating back to the ships, why did they stop there? Why that particular spot?"
Several skeletons cannibalized around this boat, one mangled inside -- and -- ONE LAST SKELETON DRESSED WARMLY LEANING BACK IN THE END SEAT. Surely our last survivor could have hiked back to the shelter of the ships in sight (if not the last few men too). It was but a 3 or 4 day hike with a pack on the back at most. But no, the skeleton says that he had to be hanging around there alive for weeks, if not months. So many men as this would not have been cannibalized inside of a week or two. Maybe a man dying a week to feed the remaining. The bones were all concentrated there in that spot, not on a marching trail.
Yes, I was there. And from that specific vantage point this last spring/summer I could see most of the distance clearly all the way up the coast, that flat horizon of sea ice. This boat location to Victory Point is inside of 50 miles (I can see the western side of the state of Michigan's shores across Lake Michigan as I am looking to the east here on the Chicago lake front on a clear day - and that's 60 miles with bad eyes). Back then it must have been also the same flat sea ice. One could surely look up the coast from this position and plainly see the ships to the naked eye at least as two small specks on the horizon, on the crisp cold clear days. And maybe they had a telescope, although I didn't see one among the artifacts that are documented on this site as collected from there.
Then what is so special about this spot, given all these clues?
It is this:
Despair. This is the key word.
Despair, because as they rounded the corner (yes, after being there myself, it's a definite corner) to finally be able to have the clear angle to see up the coast to the north, THERE WERE NO SHIPS. HM Ships Erebus and Terror were quickly gone. Not languishing to the south where everyone has been looking. If those ships were south with the masts sticking up, those specific men would have seen them on the way and would have been on them, dead or alive, not rotting away there as they did in the sand and rock.
So if turning the corner as they did and not seeing the ships, then why continue any farther? No reason to. There was no place to go, no ships, no salvation. That's why "there". That spit, where I took those pictures of those wood pieces of boat or sledge, was a long skinny projection out to the west, probably the best point for the first good clear "look see" to the north/northwest, where the ships were when they had abandoned them the previous year. That's when it hit me. I believed that this is why they stopped there at that specific location. It must have been a shock and then a crushing blow to their moral, and their spirit, what little they may have had left. To them it must have seemed that either the ships had sunk, or a few of their comrades had made it back safely on board and had then sailed on without them.
So working the puzzle backwards, that leads to those two obvious initial starting thoughts (and surely more):
1) If the men had stopped there to die because the ships were gone, then the ships could not have drifted too far in that one year since abandoned. If they had sunk, then they must have sunk up there, due WNW or W --- or at most WSW of Victory Point (approximately one year's pack ice drift south of the "5 leagues NNW of" position of VP, as written in the famous note).
Or (2), if the men had stopped there to die because the ships were gone, then if it was a warm summer in 1848. While "the mice were away, the two cats sailed away". The ships became beset in the ice again and sunk somewhere else. Not likely as I believe the ice coring "tree ring" samples from that decade proved out that it was all cold summers in those years. This from a previous scientific expedition executed several years ago. Maybe someone might have a look closer at those findings and see.
Is that it? No.
Or (3) remotely - Did some men indeed make it back to the ship(s), only to sail somewhere else to die?! Hmmm. And is it too remote to speculate?
I leave you with that!
Of course I have some other ending thoughts and locations. Time may tell.