Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.

Posts tagged “Canada

Captain Francis Crozier – Commander of HMS “Terror”; ca. 1845

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Francis Rawdon Moira Crozier was born in 1796 into a wealthy family in the Irish linen town of Banbridge, County Down. His father, George Crozier, was a prominent solicitor who acted for Ireland’s most powerful land-owning families, and he was named after Francis Rawdon, the Earl of Moira.

In 1810, three months before his 14th birthday, Crozier enlisted in the Royal Navy and was immediately thrown into the Napoleonic wars. On one of his earliest voyages, his ship became lost in the Pacific Ocean and unexpectedly arrived at tiny Pitcairn Island, where the crew met the sole surviving mutineer from the Bounty.

After the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815, the Admiralty turned to exploration in an attempt to find work for its ranks of idle officers and to expand the British Empire. Arctic discovery was a key ambition during this energetic burst of exploration, which produced men such as Franklin, Parry, the Rosses and Crozier.

Crozier’s first polar expedition came in 1821, when he volunteered to join Parry’s attempt to navigate the Northwest Passage, a feat that had eluded sailors for centuries. They returned after two years without success, but Crozier went north again a year later when Parry took the vessels Fury and Hecla on another vain bid to locate the passage. Disaster was only narrowly averted when Fury was wrecked in Prince Regent Inlet, and the entire party limped home on board Hecla.

In 1827, Crozier joined Parry and James Clark Ross in an arduous slog to reach the North Pole. The party, dragging heavily laden boats, trekked for more than 1,000 kilometres, but advanced only 275 kilometres north because the remorseless drift of the pack ice carried them steadily south. It was akin to walking the wrong way up a fast-moving escalator, and the men survived thanks largely to the depots earlier laid down by the diligent Crozier. But the ‘furthest north’ record of 82° 45’ stood for almost half a century.

On successive journeys, Crozier demonstrated his reliability and an aptitude for the painstaking business of magnetic and astronomic readings. In 1827, he was made a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and was elected a Fellow of the prestigious Royal Society in 1843. His prominent sponsors included the astronomer Sir John Herschel and Sir Francis Beaufort, creator of the Beaufort scale and one of the co-founders of the Royal Geographical Society.

Crozier’s most accomplished feat was the mammoth four-year journey to Antarctica in Erebus and Terror with James Clark Ross, which arguably ranks as the 19th century’s most outstanding voyage of maritime discovery. He captained Terror and never lost a man – a rare achievement at the time.

Setting out in 1839, the Erebus and Terror expedition was the last great journey made under sail, penetrating the pack ice of the Southern Ocean and discovering vast tracts of the Antarctic continent. It also bequeathed many of the now familiar geographical names to the Heroic Age of Exploration, including Mount Erebus, Ross Island and McMurdo Sound. The Great Ice Barrier, where Scott’s party perished in 1912, was so named because it presented a barrier to Erebus and Terror (it was re-named the Ross Ice Shelf in the 1950s). And Cape Crozier, the windswept headland on Ross Island that was later immortalised by Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s book on Scott’s expedition, The Worst Journey in the World, is now renowned for its emperor penguin colony.

However, the Antarctic journey took a heavy toll on both Crozier and Ross. On their return, witnesses were shocked at the way their hands trembled – the tremors so pronounced that they could hardly hold a glass.

Sadly, Crozier was also suffering from a broken heart. On the voyage south, the ships had stopped at the penal colony of Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania), where Crozier fell deeply in love with Sophy Cracroft, the flirty niece of the old explorer Sir John Franklin, who had been appointed the island’s governor. His repeated proposals of marriage were rejected because Cracroft refused to become a captain’s wife. ‘She liked the man, but not the sailor,’ her aunt once confided.

Heartbroken and depressed, Crozier elected to head north again in 1845 when the Admiralty launched a fresh attempt to navigate the Northwest Passage in Erebus and Terror. Although Crozier was the most experienced polar captain still serving, the Admiralty gave command of the expedition to Franklin, an overweight 59-year-old who hadn’t taken a ship into the ice for 27 years. It was a snub that hurt Crozier, and he probably should have chosen that moment to retire from exploration. But in a vain attempt to appeal to Cracroft, Crozier volunteered to travel as Franklin’s deputy and assume command of Terror.

In his last letter home, a melancholic Crozier wrote: ‘In truth I am sadly lonely.’ More pertinently, he was worried that the expedition had sailed too late in the season and also questioned Franklin’s leadership, writing that ‘[Franklin] is very decided in his own views but has not good judgement’.

UNSPECIFIED - 1870: Ill. of the ships "Erebus" and "Terror", belonging to the arctic exploration team led by Englishman John Franklin, head into the ice floes of Baffin Bay towards the North Pole, from which they never returned. (Photo by Mansell/Mansell/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Erebus and Terror crossed Baffin Bay during the summer of 1845 and entered the treacherous Arctic waterways of Lancaster Sound with 129 officers and men aboard. They were never to return.

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Disaster struck in 1847, when the ships became trapped in the ice in Victoria Strait. Shortly after, Franklin died and command of the expedition passed to Crozier. The ships were abandoned in 1848, and it was Crozier who inherited the hopeless task of leading about 100 starving survivors in a forlorn retreat across the ice. Men fell dead in their tracks; years later, examination of their bones revealed that some had resorted to cannibalism in the struggle to survive.

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Crozier’s death march ripples with historical significance. At one point, the survivors reached the narrow Simpson Strait that runs between King William Island and mainland Canada. Unknown to Crozier, the strait was the last piece of the jigsaw that – at that point – made up the Northwest Passage. A little over 50 years later, the Norwegian Amundsen navigated the strait during the first navigation of the passage and graciously flew his ship’s colours in salute.

According to native accounts, a few desperate souls from the Franklin expedition clung to life for several years after the ships were abandoned, but none managed to find a route to safety. Crozier, the imperturbable and experienced commander, is thought to have been among the last to succumb.



The preserved body of Royal Navy stoker John Torrington who died in 1846 during Sir John Franklin’s lost expedition in the Canadian Arctic; ca. 1984

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Petty Officer John Shaw Torrington (1825 — 1 January 1846) was an explorer and Royal Navy stoker. He was part of an expedition to find the Northwest Passage, but died early in the trip and was buried on Beechey Island.

Torrington was a part of Sir John Franklin’s final expedition to find the Northwest Passage, a sea route to Asia, via the northern edge of North America. They set off from Greenhithe, England in two ships, the HMS Terror and HMS Erebus, on 19 May 1845. The trip was expected to last about three years, so the ships were packed with provisions which included more than 136,000 pounds of flour, 3,684 gallons of high-proof alcohol and 33,000 pounds of tinned meat, soup and vegetables. However, after late July no one heard from or saw the crew again.

Since Torrington was one of the earlier of Franklin’s crew members to perish during the arctic expedition, he was buried in a tomb beneath approximately five feet of permafrost by his fellow men.

As a result of the subzero arctic temperatures, Torrington was preserved remarkably well with identifiable features including bright, pale blue eyes and skin that was still intact despite bruising and yellowing. A fellow crew member who had died around the same time and was buried next to Torrington also showed minimal signs of decomposition.

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A full, four-hour autopsy was performed on Torrington’s body in 1984 with the permission of living descendants. The procedure was performed out in the open arctic air; it consisted of dissecting and sampling each of the body’s organs,bone examination, and extraction of hair, and nail samples for analysis. The autopsy team then re-dressed and re-buried the body in its arctic tomb.

Torrington had developed a fatal case of pneumonia prior to the disappearance of Franklin’s expedition. Bone tissue samples taken from the body in 1984 also revealed that Torrington had lead poisoning; a common condition of arctic explorers of the time due to early canned foods as a primary food source. Additionally, inspection of the lungs also indicated that Torrington was likely a cigarette smoker, a plausible theory as he came from an industrial region of Britain. The lead poisoning and history of smoking would have worsened the symptoms and severity of pneumonia thereby leading to Torrington’s demise around 1846.

Torrington’s body was bound with strips of cotton to hold the limbs together during preparation for burial:

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The tinned wrought iron plaque nailed to the lid of John Torrington’s coffin. The inscription reads: ‘John Torrington dies January 1st 1846 aged 20 years’:

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The coffin containing John Torrington. The arrow points true north:

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Captain John Franklin’s ill-fated 1845 expedition to find the Northwest Passage.



The loss of Franklin and his men was a huge mystery, how could so many men and two state of the art ships just disappear? Search parties scoured the arctic (and in the process charted most of the up til then unexplored regions of the arctic archipeligo, and McClure even technically made it through the passage in his “search” for Franklin) for more than a decade before any real traces of the expedition turned up. Many other expeditions suffered and lost men in the same era of arctic exploration, but none disappeared completely! To this day, there’s a lot we don’t know about how such a well equipped and large expedition could fail so completely and quickly.

Here’s what we’ve found and what we know at this point: The ships spent their first winter at Beechey Island, and all seemed well. The next summer, they travelled south, and were frozen in near King William Island that Fall. They wintered here, and the next summer the ice failed to melt, trapping them for a second winter on King William Island. This alone is not out of the ordinary for arctic expeditions, many ships were frozen in for several years without a great loss of life.

In the summer between the first and second winters at King William Island, in 1847, the crew leave a note in a cairn on King William Island saying “all is well”. After the second winter stuck in the ice, the note is dug up and in the margins someone writes that 24 men have died, including Franklin, and that the crew is abandoning their ships and marching south towards the mainland of North America. It’s important to point out this second note contained several errors, but we’ll get to that.

The crew’s march is a death march, the local eskimo later report seeing dozens of white men dying in their tracks. Some men may have made it all the way to the mainland, but none survive. By the early 1850s it’s likely that all or almost all of the expedition is dead.

McClintock in 1859 finds the note in the cairn on King William Island, a single skeleton, and finally a life boat with two skeletons in it. The contents of the lifeboat add to the mystery- “a large amount of abandoned equipment, including boots, silk handkerchiefs, scented soap, sponges, slippers, hair combs, and many books, among them a copy of The Vicar of Wakefield.” The lifeboat was being man-hauled, but was pointing north, not south. A decade later Hall finds more graves and campsites, all on the King William Island. This is pretty much the extent of the evidence known up until contemporary scientific expeditions.


So, the mysteries- Scurvy, starvation, and cold had killed men on previous and subsequent expeditions, but many expeditions had survived much longer than Franklin’s without anything so catastrophic. In all, the Franklin’s men had spent only three winters in the arctic before abandoning their ships. They were equipped for five.

The mysterious contents of the lifeboat and the inconsistencies in the note point to a deteriorating mental situation. Why would dying men man-haul heavy books and silverware? Why was the boat facing north, were the men trying to return to the abandoned ships?

So, what could the ships tell us?

When scientific autopsies were conducted on the bodies on King William’s Island, it was found that lead poisoning contributed to the deaths of those men. It’s believed the solder on the tins of food was the source, but there are other theories- perhaps the ship’s water system was the source. The men also were suffering from TB and Pneumonia.

Finding the ships could finally help resolve the issue, for instance if there are more bodies on or near the ships then we know some men may have turned around from their march and made it back. Plus finding more bodies would inevitably help our understanding of what killed the men. We could also get more insight into why the men were carrying such strange items in their lifeboat, by seeing the things they chose not to take. And obviously examining more of the food tins, as well as the ship’s water system, might better explain the presence of lead.

More than anything, we don’t know exactly what the ships might tell us, but there’s so little we know as it is, it’d be amazing to find any new bits of evidence.


[*History got a little breaking news this morning that one of the ships of the lost Franklin Expedition has been discovered in the Canadian arctic.]

British ship found

French Canadians (primarily Quebecois) and their protection of their heritage

Quebec’s relationship with English speaking Canada begins in 1759 with the British victory over France in North America during the Seven Year’s War and the seizure of their colony, New France aka. present day Quebec, though it extended through southwestern Ontario at the time. Known simply as the Conquest, the defeat of French general Louis-Joseph de Montcalm by English General James Wolfe on the Plains of Abraham (just outside Quebec City) ended the share of French resistance in the New World. The war wouldn’t conclude until the Treaty of Paris in 1763, but the remainder of the conflict was decided on European battlefields. In the Treaty of Paris, France surrendered the colony of New France in exchange for the more prosperous island of Guadeloupe. New France had been an expensive colony with a hard climate and produced few resources in return (remember they mostly had the fur trade posts and a handful of settlements along the St Lawrence), while Guadeloupe produced sugar.

The British assumed control of the colony and treated their new subject fairly well. This was surprising given the large number of Catholic French-speaking peoples now controlled by an anti-Catholic Protestant land of English speakers. Remember that less than a century before James II had been forced out as King by Parliament for being Catholic in 1688. But the British of 1763 were worried about the stability of their North American colonies (still including the US), and granted the French colonists the freedom to practise their religion, to speak their language, and other benefits. Remember that the expulsion of the entire French population in Acadia (present day New Brunswick/Nova Scotia) had occurred in 1755! With British control of the North American eastern seabord secure and the much larger New France population, expulsion was not considered.

This special treatment angered the Americans to the south and became one of the causes of their Revolution, as well as set an important precedent: Canadiens would be treated well. Even though the British undoubtedly took control of the province’s economy and political offices (those that existed at the time), it could have gone far worse.

The Canadiens survived under British rule for the next century. They twice refused to join an American war against the British, once during their Revolution and again during the War of 1812. Both times the French Catholic episcopate (the bishops) declared that their people had no interest in fighting a war that was not their concern. The Catholic hierarchy had a lot of influence among Canadiens. After the Conquest, much of the “ruling classes” had returned to France (or more likely had never set foot in the New World at all). In that social vacuum, the Catholic Church easily filled the void and formed a vital nexus for the broken French communities of New France. To survive in a sea of Protestant English speakers required a strong identity and connection to each other. That connection was only strengthened when threatened. In the first decades of British rule, it’s clear that Canadien isolation increasingly bound their religious faith to their language and culture.

The threat of assimilation was a constant one. After the American revolution, Americans still loyal to Britain fled north to what would be known as the Second British North America, Canada. The first being the now-independent American states. British Loyalists arrived in Nova Scotia by the thousands, so much that they demanded their own colony be separated and New Brunswick was created in 1784. Thousands more were arriving in the sparsely populated lands of present day southwestern Ontario. The French Canadians were surrounded. French Canadians now because the English speakers had been immigrating into Montreal as part of the North American fur trade and other resource based industries. English Canadians became a fact when the Constitution Act of 1791 split the former colony of New France into Upper Canada and Lower Canada. Upper Canada (called so because it up the St Lawrence river) is present day Ontario, while Lower Canada is Quebec.

The British originally ceded the lands of Ontario to Indigenous peoples with the Royal Proclamation of 1763, but after the War of 1812 the Indigenous influence on the balance of power in North America between Britain and the United States was lost. Without being able to leverage a place between the two powers, as they had done for centuries between France and Britain and briefly with the Americans, North America’s Indigenous people were ignored and excluded. As a result English speakers settled the fertile and productive lands around places like York (Toronto) and Sandwhich (Windsor) that had been originally given to them.

Quebec was not immune to outside influence despite their isolation and the wishes of its Catholic Church. Ideas about American republicanism and secular government easily passed over the border and slowly spread throughout both Canadian colonies. In Lower Canada, American immigrants were also settling the land opened after the War of 1812 between the Great Lakes, also bringing ideas about the relationship between the government and its people. In 1837-38, two rebellions were launched. One in Upper Canada by William Lyon Mackenzie (grandfather of the Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King), which was small and failed quickly. One in Lower Canada led by Joseph Louis Papineau and was much larger and widespread. Both were put down relatively quickly, and Papineau and his compatriots fled to the US for some decades. These “revolutionaries” in Lower Canada wanted to remove the Church’s control over education and institute more democratic government. The colonies were still ultimately under the rule of the monarch-appointed Governor General, who led the colonies along with a small appointed “Cabinet” of advisors.

Two important developments should be noted in the decades leading up to Confederation 1867. One was the work of political leaders like Louis Hippolyte Lafontaine and Robert Baldwin to institute “Responsible Government” in the Canadian colonies. Instead of being led by the Governor General, the colonies were led by a Cabinet of elected officials. The leader of the Cabinet was the Prime Minister – that is, the Chief Minister to the Monarch’s representative in the colony, the Governor General, just as the British Prime Minister served the Monarch directly. Though these liberal ideas eventually changed the political system of the colonies, they were never as pervasive and far-reaching as the 1837-38 revolutionaries in Lower Canada desired. The Catholic Church was still the chief institution in the colony, though it had nurtured a developing sense of French Canadian culture and identity.

In the aftermath of 1837-38, the British sent John Lambton, known to Canadians as Lord Durham, to resolve the crisis. The British were wary of another messy war for British North America and were determined to avoid a second (North) American Revolution. Lord Durham’s report, the Report on the Affairs of British North America, a famous historical text in Canada. One of its major conclusions that within Canada there were “two nations warring within the bosom of a single state.” The solution to the threat of revolution was to further assimilate the French Canadians into British culture since they possessed neither a history or a culture.

Luckily Durham’s more extreme suggestions were not implemented, but the French Canadians were outraged that at his claim that they had no history or culture. François-Xavier Garneau was a city clerk in Quebec who responded to Durham’s report by writing a history of Quebec, Histoire du Canada, that was published between 1845 and 1848. He detailed the survival of North America’s French speaking peoples, against the hard life of the colonies as well as the onset of British rule. Garneau’s history was accommodating to the Church, especially after receiving criticism for his first volume. He consciously portrayed them as saviors of the French people due to pressure from the Church. The Church still controlled French Canadians and played a vital role in government (in charge of education) and influenced their opinions. The most important fact of Garneau’s work was that Durham was wrong – the French Canadians had a story of their history as a people, unique to them among all the people in the world, and they alone were capable of telling it.

Skipping a few decades of political history: In 1867 Confederation united the colonies (now provinces) of Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick into the Dominion of Canada. Quebec had agreed to Confederation as long as it was explicitly promised protection for all French speakers, inside and outside the province, in Dominion. In return, it promised to protect its English Canadian minority that lived in Montreal. Montreal had been a hub for North American trade for centuries, and since the Conquest, English speaking merchants had steadily arrived in the city. Quebec would respect their rights as long as French Canadian minorities would be protected in other provinces.

A fallen Canadian soldier with a bullet hole in his helmet lies on the pebble beaches of Dieppe after the failed Dieppe Raid (Operation Jubilee) on 19 August 1942.


The Dieppe raid was one of those “So crazy it just might work” raids that didn’t work. Poor bastards.

“The Dieppe Raid, also known as the Battle of Dieppe, Operation Rutter and, later, Operation Jubilee, was a Second World War Allied attack on the German-occupied port of Dieppe. The raid took place on the northern coast of France on 19 August 1942. The assault began at 5:00 a.m. and by 10:50 a.m. the Allied commanders were forced to call a retreat. Over 6,000 infantrymen, predominantly Canadian, were supported by a Canadian Armoured regiment and a strong force of Royal Navy and smaller Royal Air Force landing contingents.

Objectives included seizing and holding a major port for a short period, both to prove that it was possible and to gather intelligence. Upon retreat, the Allies also wanted to destroy coastal defences, port structures and all strategic buildings. The raid had the added objectives of boosting morale and demonstrating the firm commitment of the United Kingdom to open a Western front in Europe.

Virtually none of these objectives were met. Allied fire support was grossly inadequate and the raiding force was largely trapped on the beach by obstacles and German fire. After less than 10 hours since the first landings, the last Allied troops had all been either killed, evacuated, or left behind to be captured by the Germans. Instead of a demonstration of resolve, the bloody fiasco showed the world that the Allies could not hope to invade France for a long time. Some intelligence successes were achieved, including electronic intelligence.

A total of 3,623 of the 6,086 men (almost 60%) who made it ashore were either killed, wounded, or captured. The Royal Air Force failed to lure the Luftwaffe into open battle, and lost 96 aircraft (at least 32 to flak or accidents), compared to 48 lost by the Luftwaffe. The Royal Navy lost 33 landing craft and one destroyer.”


*The lessons learned at Dieppe would be applied at Normandy: they realized that it was better to attack near a port, then capture it, rather than attack the port directly. If they’d tried to do that with Overlord, D-Day could have gone very wrong. (There are many advantages that built-up areas, large sea walls etc. give to the defender. Wide open beaches don’t generally have as many ready defensive structures, and in a port the attackers would tend to have to concentrate in smaller areas which makes the defender’s job easier.)