Taissumanni: A Day in Arctic History The Tickalicktoo Polka



Hannah (Tookoolito) and her husband Joe (Ipiirvik) were the most famous Inuit of the mid-nineteenth century. They were from Cumberland Sound, the Pangnirtung area, and visited England for two years in the 1850s. There is a plaque in their honour on a boulder in front of the museum in Iqaluit.

In various sources, their Inuktitut names have been written in a multiplicity of ways. Hannah’s name has been variously written as Taqulittuq, Tookoolito, Tackalicktoo, among numerous other ways. Joe’s name has been rendered as Ebeirbing, Eberling, Ipiirvik, and – inexplicably – Harkbah.

John Bowlby, who took them to England, was a wine merchant from Hull who wanted to establish a Christian mission among the Inuit. His reasons for taking Hannah and Joe to England were unstated, but it was undoubtedly to raise interest in his hoped-for project, and to raise funds. Of course, the only way to raise funds from the presence of the Inuit in England was to put them on exhibit in their native costumes.

And so Hannah, only 15 years old, and Joe, two years older, along with a young boy, Akulukjuk, about seven years of age, were put under the management of Robert Bowser, treasurer of the Hull Zoological Gardens.

On February 3, 1853, the three Inuit visited Queen Victoria and her consort, Prince Albert at Windsor Castle. With them were Bowser and Mr. Leicester Buckingham, a lecturer who accompanied their exhibition. There was also a Mr. Gedney, who had been to the Arctic, and who acted as interpreter.

What remains of this remarkable visit to the queen are faded newspaper reports and a brief entry in the Queen’s journal. But one other extraordinary artifact has survived.

Someone commissioned a piece of music to be written in honour of the event. Only one copy is known to have survived and it is in The British Library in London. Called The Tickalicktoo Polka, the cover bears a lithographed image of the three Inuit standing in front of a skin tent with a depiction of a kayak behind it and a large iceberg forming a backdrop. Joe has one hand on Akulukjuk’s shoulder and holds a long lance in the other. Hannah stands stoicly to one side, wearing a beautiful amautik.

The lithographic artist was Augustus Butler. Little is known of him, but he did many covers for music composed during the Crimean War. The picture is similar, but not identical to, one of the three Inuit which appeared about the same time in The Illustrated London News.

Auguste Dupont composed the music itself, for pianoforte (the original name for the piano) and coronet. He was a Belgian composer and pianist, as well as being a professor of music. A contemporary biographer wrote that “Dupont is a writer of most elegant and beautiful Pianoforte music, his ballades, barcarolles and studies being graceful and poetical effusions…” The music was performed by “The Hungarian Band,” about whom we know nothing.

The most interesting information on the cover of this piece of sheet music is the caption that appears below the lithographed picture. It reads: “Dedicated to the Esquimaux Family, Who Appeared [By Command] Before Her Majesty at Windsor Castle, Feb. 3, 1854.

This rare item must certainly be the only piece of nineteenth century music dedicated to Inuit.

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

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