Taissumani, Jan. 2
Robert Hood – Passion and Murder in the Arctic
In 1819, the British explorer John Franklin set out on his first Arctic land expedition.
Its purpose was to explore the northern coast of North America eastward from the mouth of the Coppermine River. In June of 1821, Franklin and his party left Fort Enterprise, the headquarters that they had established at Winter Lake north of Great Slave Lake, and followed the Coppermine River to the Arctic Coast, which they reached in mid-July.
The exploration party travelled east in two canoes, charting the coast and naming features in Coronation Gulf, Bathurst Inlet and Melville Sound. At Kent Peninsula, they turned back at the aptly-named Turnagain Point, because of a lack of supplies and the lateness of the season.
There was also discontent among the French-Canadian boatmen. They returned overland to Fort Enterprise. The return trip was disastrous. Ten of the boatmen starved to death, one man was murdered and another executed.
The murdered man was Robert Hood, son of a British clergyman. He had joined the Royal Navy as a midshipman at the age of 14, and engaged with the Franklin expedition in that capacity at the age of 22. Skilled in surveying, mapping and landscape delineation, he was a valuable member of Franklin’s party. A biographer has described him as “conscientious, hard-working, honest, self-effacing, stoical, and possessed of an inquiring, philosophical mind and a wry sense of humour.”
On Oct. 7, on the disastrous return trek from the coast, Robert Hood was in a very weakened state. The doctor and naturalist, John Richardson, and a seaman, John Hepburn, camped with him, hoping that he might regain his strength.
The other men continued ahead with Franklin. On October 9, one man, an Iroquois voyageur named Michel Terohaute, known in expedition records simply as Michel, returned to Richardson’s tent. Two days later, returning from a hunting trip, he brought Richardson and his small group some “wolf meat.”
They realized only later that it was probably meat from the body of two other voyageurs, whom Michel had probably murdered. By Oct. 18, Hood was in a desperate condition, barely able to sit up. Two days later he and Michel got into a loud argument, which ended when Michel shot the midshipman through the back of the head.
The evidence against Michel was circumstantial. No-one had witnessed the killing. Michel protested his innocence, but it was apparent that Hood had not shot himself from the back. Richardson and Hepburn feared that they might become Michel’s next victim.
On Oct. 22, when Michel returned from another hunting foray, Richardson repaid him for Hood’s death by shooting him through the head. An eye for an eye.
Ironically, Hood’s short life could have ended much earlier on the expedition, were it not for the keen observations and surreptitious actions of John Hepburn. Decades later, Hepburn told the French explorer, Joseph René Bellot, that earlier in Franklin’s expedition, Hood and another midshipman, George Back, had both fallen in love with a 15-year-old Copper Indian girl, Greenstockings.
Their rivalry was so intense that they announced their intention to fight a duel over her. Disaster was averted only because Hepburn covertly removed the charges from their pistols.
To separate the two men, Franklin then sent Back off to Fort Chipewyan, 1,100 miles away, to get supplies. Hood, an accomplished artist, produced a portrait of Greenstockings.
Later, after Hood’s death, the young woman gave birth to his daughter. Their romance was the subject of Rudy Wiebe’s award-winning novel, “A Discovery of Strangers,” published in 1995.
Hood was promoted to lieutenant while on the expedition. But by the time word reached Franklin of the advancement, Hood had already been dead for six weeks.