Taissumanni, Nov. 20
Re-dedication of the Franklin Monument
Qallunaat have a saying that if your ears are itching it means that someone somewhere is talking about you.
The people of Gjoa Haven may be forgiven if their ears were itching on the evening of Oct. 29 because people six time zones away were talking about them, indeed praying for them.
That evening, at 6:30 p.m., in The Chapel of St Peter and St Paul in the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, England, a Service of Thanksgiving was held. It consisted of the re-dedication of a monument to Sir John Franklin and the re-interment of the remains of one of his men, Lt. Henry Thomas Dundas Le Vesconte.
The monument to Sir John Franklin was erected by order of Parliament in the magnificent Painted Hall opposite the chapel in 1858. In 1938 it was moved to the chapel. The monument was located in a relatively obscure part of the chapel until recently.
It has now been restored and relocated to a more visible place. Conservation work, which started in May of this year, took five months. The monument now has a prominent location in the vestibule of the chapel at its main entrance.
And what of the remains of Le Vesconte? His skeleton had been taken to the U.S.A . in 1869 by the American explorer, Charles Francis Hall, who had come across it on King William Island. It was sent to England in 1873, the only skeletal remains of any of Franklin’s men to be repatriated to England.
At that time the bones were entombed in the monument. With the moving and rededication of that monument, Le Vesconte’s remains were re-interred inside the restored monument.
I was fortunate to have been among those invited to attend this solemn ceremony, which was organized by Dr. Huw Lewis-Jones and his partner, Kari Herbert, of Polarworld, and by the Greenwich Foundation.
The service began with the Funeral March on the Death of a Hero, by Beethoven. The people of the Arctic were remembered in the opening address by the Reverend Jeremy Frost, Chaplain to the Greenwich Foundation.
Noting that this year marks the 150th anniversary of the discovery by McClintock of Sir John Franklin’s death, he remarked, “We pray for the Queen, for the members of Her Majesty’s Royal Navy, for the Government and people of Canada, and especially of King William Island, where the Franklin expedition came to its tragic end.”
It is entirely fitting that the people of King William Island, and by default of its only community, Gjoa Haven, were mentioned on this occasion. No community has been more involved in the quest for the solution to the mystery of the deaths of Franklin and his men, and the fate of the two ships, Erebus and Terror, than this small community of just over 1,000 people on the south-east shores of King William Island. Through the visits of search parties, film crews, scholars and journalists over a period of decades, the Inuit of Gjoa Haven have developed the same thirst for knowledge on these mysteries as have their Qallunaat visitors.
So perhaps it is appropriate to end with words from Tennyson’s epitaph for Franklin, written in 1875, reproduced on the handsome program prepared for the service:
“Not here: the white North has thy bones; and thou,
Art passing on thine happier voyage now,
Toward no earthly pole.”