April 29, 2005

Taissumani: A Day in Arctic History
April 29, 1932 - The Arctic's Top Cop Commits Suicide


Alfred Herbert Joy had an illustrious career in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. He joined the force in 1909 at the age of 22. He was a staff-sergeant by 1921 and an inspector six years later. Most of his career was spent in the Canadian Arctic and it is said that from 1914 to 1931 he never spent a summer in the south.

In 1921 Joy went to Pond Inlet to investigate the killing of Robert Janes. He became famous in the High Arctic for his amazing sled patrols. In 1926, from his base at the Craig Harbour detachment, Joy began a series of patrols in the Queen Elizabeth Islands.

More than just police patrols, these were also scientific expeditions. Joy mapped, made notes on biology, minerals, archaeology, weather and ice conditions. His longest dogsled patrol lasted 81 days and covered 1,800 miles; he was accompanied by one other constable and a Greenlander employed by the RCMP.

At the end of the 1920's Joy transferred to Montreal, where he was in charge of the Eastern Arctic subdivision. But he continued to travel to the Arctic in the summer on an annual patrol.

Sometime during this period he became engaged to Miss Carmel Murphy of Ottawa. They planned to marry in 1931, but illness intervened; Joy underwent a serious operation and the marriage had to be postponed.

On Friday, April 29, 1932, the day before his wedding was finally to take place, Joy took the train to Ottawa early in the morning. He checked in to the Chateau Laurier Hotel, then went to see a friend before returning to the hotel. He and Carmel had a number of social engagements planned for the day. When she didn't hear from him by noon, she called the hotel. When there was no response to the hotel's page, staff entered his room and found him in bed in a state of semi-consciousness. He was rushed to Ottawa General Hospital, where he died at 7:15 p.m.

The funeral that followed on Monday was one of the largest Ottawa had ever seen.

The procession left the funeral parlour at 8;30 a.m. for St. Theresa's Church, where, two days earlier, Joy should have been married. Rev. Father Leo Lesage, a personal friend who had been scheduled to officiate at the wedding, now conducted his funeral. The newspapers waxed hyperbolic, describing the crowds that lined the streets as "standing bare-headed as the man who conquered the North was following his last trail." The band of the Governor-General's Foot Guard played "Nearer My God to Thee."

Joy, who had no relatives in Canada, was interred in the family plot of his fiancée. Nearby stands a large memorial erected later by his father, brothers and sisters.

The newspaper tributes were effusive: "He was big, powerful, dominant - yet, withal, reticent, kindly, stern and conciliatory as the occasion demanded. He personified the 'strong silent man...'"

One paper reported, "The tribute paid to this gallant adventurer was something more than accorded even to a great statesman or famous soldier. It had about it the glamour of high romance, of a tragically terminated love story, of the sudden and untimely termination of a brilliant career as a knight errant of the Arctic."

In fact, it had more than that. It had a tragic element that the newspapers never reported, if they even knew. Because Alfred Herbert Joy did not die a natural death. He died by his own hand. He had committed suicide alone in his room at the Chateau Laurier Hotel.

I first heard of this suicide in 1978 when I visited the legendary Arctic scientist and explorer, J. Dewey Soper. He had known Joy well and had named a mountain north of Lake Harbour (Kimmirut) after him. Soper was staying at the Ford Hotel in Ottawa when Joy died. To him the reasons were simple: The Arctic was in his blood. He couldn't bear the thought of having to sacrifice his freedom to live permanently in the South. And a marriage would chain him there forever. He felt he owed marriage to Carmel, who had waited so long, but he couldn't go through with it. He killed himself.

A northern geologist, Dr. Maurice Haycock, told me a similar story. He had known Joy and, like Soper, attended his funeral.

The RCMP covered up Joy's suicide. They claim he died of a myocardial infarction - a heart attack - and that is what his death record shows. But there were conflicting reports. The Ottawa Citizen reported death from "congestion of the lungs." The Ottawa Evening Journal reported the cause as a stroke.

Curious, I tracked down a family member of the late Carmel Murphy through cemetery records. He confirmed the suicide story. He had grown up knowing little about Joy, but thought it odd that someone so famous, and once so close to his own family, was seldom spoken of. Then, in 1987, at the funeral of Carmel's sister, an elderly family friend insisted on telling those present about "poor Carmel" and of how her fiancée had killed himself on the day before their wedding.

Carmel never married. She died in 1951, aged 49.

Taissumani: A Day in Arctic History recounts a specific event of historic interest, whose anniversary is in the coming week. Kenn Harper is a historian, writer and linguist who lives in Iqaluit.

Taissumani: A Day in Arctic History recounts a specific event of historic interest, whose anniversary is in the coming week. Kenn Harper is a historian, writer and linguist who lives in Iqaluit. Feedback? Send your comments and questions to kennharper@hotmail.com.

April 22, 2005

Taissumani: A Day in Arctic History
April 23, 1910 - Bernhard Hantzsch's Final Journey


Bernhard Hantzsch was a German ornithologist intent on exploring the natural history of southern Baffin Island. In 1909 he traveled on a whaling vessel, the Jantina Agatha, to Cumberland Sound. His backers had provided him liberally with trade goods with which to hire Inuit, but his plans went awry before he even reached Blacklead Island, the whaling and mission station that he intended to use as his base. The Jantina Agatha sank, and with it Hantzsch's trade goods. No lives were lost - everyone was rescued by Inuit manning two whaleboats.

The crew of the Dutch vessel had to winter unexpectedly, along with Hantzsch and Reverend Greenshield, on Blacklead Island, living largely on the largesse of the Inuit. It was a winter of deprivation and near starvation. The following spring, Hantzsch was struck with the full impact of the loss of his cargo. He had hoped to use his ample supply of guns, ammunition and tobacco to entice healthy young Inuit men without families to accompany him into the Baffin interior. With most of his supplies gone, he was only able to hire three men in middle age, loyal and friendly to be sure, but without the vigour of the young men he had hoped for. Moreover, they insisted on traveling with their families.

On April 23, 1910 the party set off on their epic journey with three dog teams and a whale boat.

It was a grueling journey. Hauling the boat on one of the sleds, the party wended their way northwest among the many islands that lay off the coast of Cumberland Sound, before heading inland up a fiord and then up a river to the height of land, then descending to Baffin Island's huge inland sea, Nettilling Lake. By then summer was upon them, and the boat proved its worth. They used it to cross the lake, and set up their summer camp at Tikirarjuk on its western shore.

From this point, one hunter returned to Blacklead Island, leaving the German scientist with two hunters, Aggakdjuk and Ittusakdjuak [both spellings in Hantzsch's orthography] and their wives.

Although they had travelled farther inland than any white man had ever done before, albeit along a route difficult but well-known to the Inuit, it wasn't far enough for Hantzsch. His goal was the shores of Foxe Basin. To that end, they took to the boat again to travel from Nettilling Lake down a large river, the Kuukjuaq. [This is one of many "Kuukjuaq's" that scatter the Inuit map of the Arctic, for the name means simply "big river."]

By late September the party was sledging north along the shores of Foxe Basin. They finally established their winter camp at the mouth of a river which today bears Hantszch's name. Hantszch shared winter quarters with Ittusardjuak and his wife, Sirkinirk - the missionary at Blacklead had described her as "a model of diligence, industry and neatness." From this bleak camp, the scientist conducted his surveys.

It was a desperate winter. This starvation coast was devoid of population for a very good reason - the hunting was abysmal. For most of the winter they were unable to find seals. The Inuit managed to take an occasional caribou. Finally, on May 1, Ittusakdjuak killed a polar bear. It would prove to be both their salvation and their ruin.

Some time after eating their fill of bear meat, all of the party began to complain of stomach pain and fever. It is likely that they had contracted trichinosis, a disease caused by eating the uncooked or inadequately-cooked meat of certain species, among them bear and seal. The Inuit recovered. "The noble Ittusakdjuak!" Hantszch wrote, as his illness progressed. "He is not only a strong, indefatigable worker, good-tempered and obliging, but now... he does all our tasks without a trace of impatience..."

For Bernhard Hantzsch the end came quickly. On May 24 he recorded in his journal:

"Storm, falling and drifting snow, fog... Ittusakdjuak ventures out to hunt; thick fog soon drives him back.... Feel even worse than before, and can barely move. Is this to be the end of all my glorious dreams?" The next day, he wrote, "I am more dead than alive... Feeling worse all the time." And the following day, he wrote his last journal entry, "May 26. Hardly slept, burning headache, cold compresses."

He lingered for a few more days, too weak to write. In early June, 1911, he died. His scientific work remained undone. His Inuit companions, distraught at his loss, buried him in a grave of rock on the barren shores of Foxe Basin.

[In a later column I will write about the Inuit reports of Hantzsch's death.]

Taissumani: A Day in Arctic History recounts a specific event of historic interest, whose anniversary is in the coming week. Kenn Harper is a historian, writer and linguist who lives in Iqaluit. Feedback? Send your comments and questions to kennharper@hotmail.com.

April 15, 2005

Taissumani: A Day in Arctic History
April 21, 1908 - Frederick Cook Claims The North Pole


Frederick Cook was born in New York State and educated as a doctor. But he was always drawn "Poleward" and constantly interrupted his medical practice to travel as a surgeon or leader on Arctic or Antarctic expeditions.

He first ventured into the Arctic as surgeon on Robert Peary's North Greenland Expedition in 1891. Although the two would later become bitter enemies, Peary praised the doctor at the time for his "unruffled patience and coolness in an emergency." Two other expeditions to Greenland and Labrador followed. As a result, a group of Americans interested in the North formed the Arctic Club of America. Frederick Cook was its first president, and was later president of the prestigious Explorers Club. After practicing medicine again and lecturing on his northern experiences for four years, Cook joined the Belgian Antarctic expedition, where he was again praised for his courage.

In 1898, Peary returned north on an expedition that would last four years. In 1901 Cook joined him, having been sent north on an errand of mercy. He found Peary to be "wrecked in ambition, wrecked in physique, and wrecked in hope." Cook attended to Peary's health, and in the spring of 1902 Peary made an attempt to reach the North Pole. It was unsuccessful, and Cook became convinced that Peary's so-called "American Route" to the Pole, north through Kane Basin, would never prove successful. After his return south, Cook directed his attention to other challenges, most notably, Mount McKinley in Alaska, North America's highest peak. In 1906 he claimed to have reached its summit.

In 1907, Cook was drawn back to the High Arctic with a plan to reach the North Pole. He established a base camp at Annoatok (Anoritooq) on the Greenland coast of Kane Basin and passed the winter preparing to tackle exploration's greatest challenge. In February, accompanied by his German assistant and 10 Inughuit (as the Inuit of northern Greeenland are known), he crossed Ellesmere Island, skirted the east coast of Axel Heiberg Island, then headed north. He sent back his last supporting party after three days' travel over the sea ice.

Accompanied only by two young Inughuit, Ittukusuk and Aapilaq, he traveled on, and claimed to have reached the Pole on April 21, 1908. It was an anticlimax; he wrote: "The desolation... was such that it was almost palpable... What a cheerless spot this was, to have aroused the ambition of man for so many years."

Robert Peary would claim the Pole almost a year later, on April 6, 1909, and the rivalry that would ensue would make Frederick Cook the most controversial and most maligned man in polar history. But all that was still a year away. First he had to return from the Pole to his base camp and ultimately to the south.

Getting from Annoatok to the Pole had taken two months. Getting back would take a year. Heading south from the Pole, Cook misjudged the drift of the ice and ended up to the west of Axel Heiberg Island. Eventually he and his companions reached Jones Sound and spent the winter in a cave at Cape Sparbo on Devon Island, south of present-day Grise Fiord.

The journey from there back to Greenland in the spring was made on foot - there being no dogs left. Dragging the remains of their sled behind them, surviving by chewing parts of their boots and leather ropes, they reached their base camp in mid-April. From there Cook made his way south, to announce his feat to a startled world only a few days before Peary announced his own claim to the Pole.

But Peary had wealth and influence backing him. Ten years earlier, powerful supporters had formed the Peary Arctic Club to assist him in his quest. Now, the club went into action against the upstart surgeon from New York. A concerted campaign of vilification and lies ruined Cook's credibility. Eventually he entered the oil business in Texas.

But even there he was hounded by his old enemies. Convicted on trumped-up charges of fraud in the promotion of his oil business, Cook was sentenced in 1923 to fourteen years in Leavenworth Penitentiary. Even in 1930, when he became eligible for parole, Professor William Hobbs, a biographer of Peary, organized a protest against his release. The protest failed and Cook was released. In 1940, shortly before his death, he received a pardon from President Roosevelt. Frederick Cook died on August 5, 1940. He was seventy-five.

Calling Frederick Cook "upright, honorable, capable and conscientious in the extreme," Roald Amundsen, the first man to reach the South Pole, also said of him: "We shall always honor Dr. Frederick A. Cook as the first man at the geographical North Pole of the earth. It was a pity that Peary should besmirch his beautiful work by circulating outrageous accusations against a competitor who has won the battle in open field."

Taissumani: A Day in Arctic History recounts a specific event of historic interest, whose anniversary is in the coming week. Kenn Harper is a historian, writer and linguist who lives in Iqaluit. Feedback? Send your comments and questions to kennharper@hotmail.com.

April 8, 2005

Taissumani: A Day in Arctic History
April 10, 1909 - The Killing of Ross Marvin


On March 1, 1909 a determined band of American explorers and Inughuit from northwestern Greenland left Cape Columbia, at the northern tip of Ellesmere Island, bound for the North Pole. Their leader was Robert Peary, whose expeditions to northern Greenland had spanned a period of 18 years. This would be his final attempt to claim the ultimate geographical prize for which he had yearned so long.

Peary's method involved advance parties preceding him on the route northward to lay out caches of supplies for his own group and their dogs. Other parties, also carrying supplies for later stages of Peary's dash for the pole, would accompany him to perform specific tasks along the route - one was a pickaxe brigade to clear the route ahead for Peary. At various points along the route, Peary would take over the other party's supplies and a sledge party would be sent back to Cape Columbia with only enough provisions for their own lightly-laden return.

One of these support parties was led by Ross Marvin, a young graduate of Cornell University. He had left the United States with Peary in the summer of the previous year and wintered in the High Arctic, reveling in the outdoor life and in the opportunity to prove himself against new and unique challenges.

At Cape Columbia, Peary placed him in charge of a group of three Inughuit - Qilluttooq, his younger cousin, Inukitsupaluk, and Aarqioq. The trip north to supply Peary was rough on Marvin. He suffered from frostbite to his heels and toes. Bob Bartlett, leader of another party, said, "All the skin was taken off both heels and all his toes. He was in a sorry plight, but as far as I could see, it did not worry him in the least." Marvin and his men accompanied Peary to 86° 38' north before the commander ordered their return to Cape Columbia on March 26.

When the three Inughuit reached the Roosevelt, Peary's ship frozen in on the Ellesmere coast, it was without Ross Marvin and with a tragic tale of an accident. Ross Marvin had fallen through a lead on their return on April 10, and had drowned. They had been unable to recover his body.

Peary had continued north after the two parties separated, and claimed to have reached the North Pole on April 6. He returned to Cape Columbia on April 23 where he learned the sad news of Marvin's death. In September, on Peary's return to America, it was to glory, and ultimately to controversy. Hidden within the press's adulation of Peary were brief reports of the accidental drowning of Ross Marvin. But he was quickly forgotten.

Amazingly a different story - the truth - came out over a decade later. Qilluttooq had been converted to Christianity by the missionary at Thule in December 1923, and had had a confession to make to clear his conscience. Ross Marvin had not drowned on that distant day as the party sledged southward from their farthest north. Rather, Qilluttooq had shot him.

The circumstances, he recounted, were these. Marvin's behaviour had become irrational. He was extremely demanding. He forced the Inughuit to cross dangerous stretches of new ice over barely frozen leads instead of waiting for more solid ice as the Inughuit suggested. He accused the Inughuit of laziness. Twice Marvin himself fell through the ice and the Inughuit rescued him.

Then Inukitsupaluk, the youngest member of the group, fell ill. Marvin ordered the others to abandon him. As Marvin began to load Inukitsupaluk's sled, Qilluttooq asked the younger man to pass him his rifle and then he calmly shot Marvin through the head. They sank his body through a hole in the ice and waited two days for Inukitsupaluk to regain his strength. During this time they devised the story that they would tell on their return to the Roosevelt.

In 1925 Knud Rasmussen heard about Qilluttooq's confession, and questioned the Inughuit about the matter. Inukitsupaluk told him: "...I saw Qilluttooq on a big piece of rough ice and he yelled to me that I should bring him his rifle. He had seen a seal in the open water. I brought his rifle and went back to the sled. I heard a shot a moment after and expected that Qilluttooq had shot the seal. But right away he came over to me and told me what had happened. He had shot Marvin in order to save my life."

Knud Rasmussen reported his findings to the Danish government. "...in no single instance is there any reason to doubt that the reports of the Eskimos are truthful. An entire winter's fatiguing travel got the best of Marvin's nerves, and in a fit of anger he acted without thinking... the Eskimos looked upon his action [in threatening to leave Inukitsupaluk behind] as if he really meant it, and for this reason, I feel, they were fully justified in considering the situation dangerous... As the matter stands now, I don't see how Qilluttooq can in any way be held responsible for the sad outcome of the trouble." No charges were ever brought.

Taissumani: A Day in Arctic History recounts a specific event of historic interest, whose anniversary is in the coming week. Kenn Harper is a historian, writer and linguist who lives in Iqaluit.

Taissumani: A Day in Arctic History recounts a specific event of historic interest, whose anniversary is in the coming week. Kenn Harper is a historian, writer and linguist who lives in Iqaluit. Feedback? Send your comments and questions to kennharper@hotmail.com.

April 1, 2005

Taissumani: A Day in Arctic History
April 2, 1867 - The End Of An Ordeal


The Diana memorial, erected in the Shetland Island town of Lerwick in 1890, commemorates the many Shetlanders who died in the Arctic whale fishery. (PHOTO COURTESY OF KENN HARPER)

Disasters were common in Davis Strait in the whaling days of the 1800s. Many ships were beset in the ice, and unprepared crews forced to spend long winters of privation in the Arctic. Those iced in near land could occasionally rely on help from the Inuit, but most winterings were far from shore. In many seasons, the loss of life was huge.

One of the greatest tragedies in Arctic whaling occurred on a whaling ship sent out from Hull, England in 1866. She was the Diana, a steam whaler, and her captain, John Gravill, was a veteran of fifty years in the whaling business. But his years of experience were of little help in this desperate year.

In May, Captain Gravill put in at Lerwick in Shetland to hire the rest of his crew. With 50 men, 30 of them Shetlanders, he made for Davis Strait and to its farthest northern reaches, Baffin Bay. In company with other whalers, Narwhal, Esquimaux, Intrepid and Truelove, the Diana made her way through the pack ice of the bay to the North Water, where she took two whales valued at 2,050 British pounds.

Later the Diana and 10 other ships were trapped by heavy ice near Pond Inlet. Eventually she was able to struggle southwards. With little fuel left, the crew burned everything that would burn, including many of the ship's spars. But on September 21, the ship was firmly beset off Clyde River, imprisoned in the ice there, and with only two months provisions remaining.

For the next six months, the ship zigzagged southwards in the grip of the ice. On the day after Christmas, Captain Gravill died. His body was not consigned to the sea, but rather was sewn in canvas and placed on the quarter deck. Half the crew was ravaged by scurvy. The living quarters were encased in ice.

A survivor recalled: "Our beef got done in January; coffee and sugar about that time also; and our last tea was served out in the beginning of February. Tobacco was likewise all gone, and some of us tried to smoke tea leaves and coffee grounds. The tea leaves burned the mouth bad, but the coffee grounds were not so disagreeable. I do assure you it was precious cold - especially at night, when your breath froze in the top of your berth, till the ice came to be three or four inches thick, and we had a day every week to break it off and scrape it down with the ship's scrapers... The men began to get down-hearted, and some of them were so weak that they dropped at the pumps."

In mid-March in southern Davis Strait, the ship was finally released from the ice and began a race against death across the Atlantic, leaking badly all the while.

On April 2, she limped into Ronas Voe, an inlet on the west side of Shetland. The captain and eight other seamen lay dead on deck, and four more men were breathing their last. The remaining men were so weak that only three could go aloft to stow the sails when she anchored. One man is said to have dropped dead in shock at the sight of land. One report described the Diana while anchored in Ronas Voe, as "a charnel-house of scurvy-stricken, dysentery-worn, dead and dying men."

The Diana took on a new crew in Shetland and continued on to Hull, reaching her home port on April 26 after an absence of 14 months. She was repaired and returned to whaling. In 1869, the last whaler to sail from the port of Hull, she sank.

The vessels's surgeon, 29-year-old Charles E. Smith, survived and wrote an account of the tragedy. He returned to the Arctic on a voyage of exploration to Spitzbergen and Novaya Zemlya, then emigrated to New Zealand. But his health broke down, and he returned to England, where he died, only 42 years of age.

Many of the dead were Shetlanders, and in 1890, the surgeon's brother had a large memorial fountain erected near the harbour in Lerwick. It bears the words: "In Memory of the Providential Return of the S. Whaler Diana of Hull."

It's hard to miss. At the edge of a parking lot at the dock, a few steps from the town centre, it keeps the tragedy of the Diana alive in the minds of Shetlanders. It is still spoken about, an integral part of Shetland's history, and a symbol of the fate of many island men who went to the Arctic whaling.

Taissumani: A Day in Arctic History recounts a specific event of historic interest, whose anniversary is in the coming week. Kenn Harper is a historian, writer and linguist who lives in Iqaluit. Feedback? Send your comments and questions to kennharper@hotmail.com.