Manage episode 279220559 series 2659594
While Sir John Franklin is best known for his infamous lost expedition to find the Northwest Passage, it wasn’t his only trip to the Arctic that ended in survival cannibalism.
In the first episode of Season 2, we head to the Coppermine River for Sir John Franklin: The Prequel.
Written, hosted and produced by Alix Penn and Carmella Lowkis.
Theme music by Daniel Wackett. Find him on Twitter @ds_wack and Soundcloud as Daniel Wackett.
Logo by Riley. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @tallestfriend.
Casting Lots is part of the Morbid Audio Podcast Network. Network sting by Mikaela Moody. Find her on Bandcamp as mikaelamoody1.
- Baker, R. (2012). ‘Up the Coppermine without a paddle’, The Royal Society, 11 April. Available at: https://blogs.royalsociety.org/history-of-science/2012/04/11/up-the-coppermine/
- Burant, J. (1987). ‘Hood, Robert’, in Dictionary of Canadian Biography. (Volume 6). Toronto: University of Toronto/Université Laval. Available at: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/hood_robert_6E.html
- Dewhirst, J. (2015). The Franklin Coppermine Expedition, North East Canada, 1899-22. Available at: http://www.britainssmallwars.co.uk/the-franklin-coppermine-expedition-north-east-canada-1819-22.html
- Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2020). ‘Sir George Back’, in Encyclopaedia Britannica Online. Available at: https://www.britannica.com/biography/George-Back
- Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2020). ‘Sir John Franklin’, in Encyclopaedia Britannica Online. Available at: https://www.britannica.com/biography/John-Franklin
- Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2020). ‘Sir John Richardson’, in Encyclopaedia Britannica Online. Available at: https://www.britannica.com/biography/John-Richardson-Scottish-surgeon-and-explorer
- Franklin, J. (1823). Narrative of a journey to the shores of the Polar Sea, in the years 1819, 20, 21, and 22. London: J. Murray. Available at: https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc1.c106106342
- John Grey Centre. (n.d.). John Hepburn: Arctic Explorer, 1794–1861 or 1864. Available at: https://www.johngraycentre.org/people/adventurers-and-explorers/john-hepburn-arctic-explorer-1794-1861-or-1864/
- McCorristine, S. (2018). ‘The explorer’s body’, in The Spectral Arctic. London: UCL Press. Available at: https://doi.org/10.14324/111.9781787352452
- Palin, M. (2018). Erebus: The Story of a Ship. London: Hutchinson.
Alix: Have you ever been really, really hungry?
Carmella: You’re listening to Casting Lots: A Survival Cannibalism Podcast.
A: I’m Alix.
C: I’m Carmella.
A: And now let’s tuck into the gruesome history of this ultimate taboo…
[Intro Music – Daniel Wackett]
C: Welcome to Episode One, where we will be talking about the Franklin Expedition… No, not that one!
[Intro music continues]
C: Alix, would you like to hear about Sir John Franklin?
A: Haven’t we already done this one?
C: Well, as it happens, there were multiple occasions on which Sir John Franklin led a doomed expedition that ended in survival cannibalism!
A: It feels like an unwise decision to have put him in charge of another one.
C: We’ve been through this in our episode on…
A: Sir John Franklin?
A: Let’s milk The Terror for all that it’s worth.
C: This is the story of Sir John Franklin: The Prequel.
A: [Laughing] Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.
A: Sir John Franklin! Here We Go Again. My my, how can I resist you?
C: Let’s have a recap first on who Sir John Franklin was, just in case there are any fake fans out there who haven’t listened to Season 1, or who have immediately forgotten all of the information.
A: Or haven’t watched The Terror.
C: John Franklin – because he wasn’t a Sir at the time of this story-
A: They knighted him for the cannibalism?
C: I think they knighted him for all of the coastline that he mapped… whilst eating human beings.
A: [Laughs] That’s a different bit on the little OBE form that you have to fill in.
C: I don’t think it says anywhere on the OBE form that you can’t have eaten people. I think that if you took that out, we wouldn’t have a lot of the Sirs that we do have.
A: [Snorts] Services to cannibalism.
C: [Laughs] John Franklin. Born in 1786 in Lincolnshire, and he fought in the Napoleonic wars from the age of 15. He mapped much of the coast of Australia under Matthew Flinders, and took part in the Battle of Trafalgar. All before he was 22.
C: I know, it makes me feel like a failure. But… I haven’t yet led any doomed expeditions.
A: And did he have a cannibalism podcast?
C: He lived the actual dream though.
C: He attempted an early North Pole expedition that failed, to quote our former selves, “because of all the ice.”
A: Yep, fair. They sound very wise.
C: After that, he was given command of an overland expedition in Canada, mapping the Coppermine River to its mouth in the Arctic Sea. And this is when our story takes place.
C: Along with him to lead the expedition, we have a Mr George Back, who is a naval officer born in Cheshire in 1796.
A: The name Back rings a bell when it comes to the Arctic. I feel he has something named after him?
C: Yes – the Great Fish River is renamed after him.
C: There’s also John Richardson, a Scottish naval surgeon and naturalist born in 1787. He would later go on to lead another overland expedition to try and find Sir John Franklin when he goes missing on his famous failed expedition that we’ve already discussed. Another important player was Robert Hood, an Admiralty midshipman. He was about 22 at the time of the expedition.
A: He becomes quite a big name.
C: Back and Hood are the ones who are responsible for the expedition’s charts and drawings.
A: So it’s their fault. Actually, no-
A: What am I talking about?
C: They’re making the charts.
A: So Franklin gets the credit for all of their hard work?
C: These are our main four guys who set out from Gravesend. And their expedition goals are: determining the latitudes and longitudes of the Northern Coast of North America; number 2, mapping the coast from the mouth of the Coppermine River to the east; number 3, to amend the, quote, “very defective” existing geographical knowledge of the northern shore of North America; to mark places where ships might enter, or to which a boat could be sent; and to deposit information as to the nature of the coast for the use of Lieutenant Parry – who would be sailing past very soon; to keep notes on the temperature of the air, the state of the wind and weather, and any other meteorological or magnetic phenomenon; and finally to pay attention to what influence the Aurora Borealis might have had on the magnetic needle “and to notice whether that phenomenon was attended with any noise”.
A: Do you know what, I’d never in my life wondered if the Aurora Borealis made a noise.
C: Well Franklin did, and he was sent to find that out.
A: I have to admit that once we got to “meteorological study” I was like ‘Oh God, it’s Greely again.’ Like, oh, it’s cold, it’s icy, and made of rocks. Don’t see why they go all the way there.
C: On the 23 of May 1819, the party left Gravesend on the Prince of Wales, a Hudson Bay Company ship.
A: Which has the same name as the other Prince of Wales that later encounters Franklin, but sadly is not a whaler.
C: So is probably not the same ship.
A: Although sometimes the navy does just co-opt whalers when they can’t be arsed to get their own.
C: So who knows?
A: She could be.
C: Poor weather delays them and they only properly set sail in June.
A: So they’re just hanging around Gravesend?
C: Yeah. But by August 1819, they do make land at Hudson Bay, and they’re ready to start the overland journey. It takes them nearly a year to travel 1,700 miles to the Great Slave Lake. They’re slowed down by exceptional cold, food supply problems (already), and an ongoing dispute between the two fur trading companies in the area.
A: Did they not consider the cold when they decided to go on an expedition to the Arctic?
C: I think it’s even colder than they were expecting. And the issue with the fur trading companies is that the best guides in that area of Canada are the voyageurs, who are French Canadians.
A: They sound French.
C: Mmhmm. Who work as fur traders, and most of them were too preoccupied with their arguments to join Franklin.
A: [In a… German? Accent] ‘What is this Englishman doing here?’ That wasn’t… French.
C: [Laughs] That’s a great French accent there. The party then overwinter at the encampment of Fort Enterprise from 1820 to 1821.
A: As soon as you hear ‘the party overwinter’ it’s just like oooh it’s not gonna go well, something’s gonna go wrong. You don’t want to overwinter.
C: Actually, this winter’s mostly fine, apart from all the in-fighting between the voyageurs. And the voyageurs aren’t the only ones caught in disputes. Back and Hood both ‘fell in love’ with a girl from the Yellowknife tribe (who are local to the area). According to Franklin, the Brits named her Greenstockings from her state of dress, and she was “considered by her tribe to be a great beauty[…] She ha[d] already been an object of contest between her countrymen, and[…] ha[d] belonged successively to two husbands”. Did I mention she’s 15 at the time that Franklin’s writing this?
A: Oh for fuck’s sake.
C: Yeah. For context, Hood is 23 and Back is about 24.
A: …Wordless silence isn’t a very good reaction for a podcast, but Jesus Christ. Come on, guys.
C: That’s the colonial exploration macho spirit, I guess. Their rivalry becomes so intense that they arrange a duel. But luckily for them, John Hepburn – a Scottish seaman also along with the expedition – thought ahead and removed the ammunition from their pistols so they couldn’t shoot each other.
A: Did they get- They got all the way to trying to shoot each other? Oh, of course they did.
C: Franklin then sends Back to Fort Chipewyan for supplies, putting an end to the rivalry.
A: He sends Back back.
C: And Hood is left free to continue his ‘courtship’ of Greenstockings, with whom he does have a child.
C: While at camp, they struggle to find enough food to prepare for the journey ahead, hence why Back gets sent away to another fort to find supplies. He does come back with some bits and bobs, and arrangements are also made with the local tribes to leave food caches around so that Franklin’s party can access them on their journey, and in exchange they gift weaponry to the tribes.
A: Oh, don’t you just love that British colonialism?
C: And it’s a bad deal as well, because in the process of trading guns, Franklin notes that “one of the new trading guns which we had recently received from Fort Chipewyan, burst in the hands of a young [man]; fortunately, however, without doing him any material injury. This is the sixth accident of the kind which has occurred to us since our departure from Slave Lake.” Now take note, Alix, because this is in fact… Chekhov’s gun.
A: I am paying attention to the guns.
C: Once the winter is over, they’re ready to set out on the next leg of their journey, finally going along the Coppermine River.
A: So they’ve just been hanging out.
C: They’ve trekked all the way across Canada. 1,700 miles across Canada.
A: Sorry: over winter, they’ve just been hanging out-
A: By the lake. Flirting with underage children.
C: Yeah, and trying and failing to gather supplies for the journey ahead.
A: I’m sure it’s gonna be fine.
C: On the 4 of July, the first overland party set out, followed by the remainder over the next few days. The men were hauling “about eighty pounds each, exclusive of their personal baggage which amounted to nearly as much more. Most of them dragged their loads upon sledges, but a few preferred carrying them on their backs.” Says Franklin. On the 18 of July, they reach the mouth of the Coppermine and start to travel east by canoe along the coast. It’s quite slow progress because the seas are really rough.
A: And presumably full of ice.
C: Always the ice. And on the 18 of August, the decision is made to turn back at a spot that they name Point Turnaround.
A: Imaginative naming conventions there.
C: Now, rather than travelling back along the coast (e.g. the way they’ve come), Franklin decides to strike out cross-country, where there should in theory be better hunting. Which is a fair decision.
A: But also deciding to go the route that they don’t know and haven’t mapped.
C: Yeah, they’ve also had an issue where, um, their canoe is a bit damaged. They have one big canoe that they’re all travelling in. And they’ve decided now that they’re going overland that it’s gonna be too large for small river crossings anyway, so they break it apart and they rebuild it into two smaller canoes that are easier to carry.
A: Okay, that’s quite nifty. Very scouting. Be prepared.
C: Mmhmm. They cache their non-essential stores, and on the 1 of September, they set off across an uncharted, snow-covered region known as the ‘barren grounds’.
A: And this is where the hunting is going to be better?
A: I’m just imagining one of those signposts being like ‘This way to the sea where you can fish. This way to the Barren Grounds.’ And like [In a posh voice:] ‘Chaps, I think we’ll head to the Barren Grounds.’
C: [Posh voice] ‘I don’t know what barren means. Could it possibly be French?’
A: [In a French accent] ‘Barren’.
C: [Also in a French accent] ‘Barren’. [In a normal voice:] ‘That sounds good, let’s go there!’ That same morning, there’s a heavy snowfall, and they’re already having problems with the canoes, which are getting wafted about in the wind and keeping the party back. They keep being dropped and damaged by the people carrying them.
A: And this isn’t even taking into account that people still have all of their own personal supplies as well as the food that they’re carrying.
C: Along this first part of their route, they hunt for deer and musk-ox and forage berries – and it’s pretty good. They’ve got some good food supplies going on there.
A: I’m still sort of feeling that the barren grounds aren’t going to be that fruitful. This is lulling them into a false sense of security.
C: Mmm yeah. [Laughs] Well let’s see – you never know how this story could end!
A: Well, I know Franklin doesn’t die.
C: [Laughs] The poor weather keeps up, and on the 4 of September they’re hit with a storm in the evening and they hunker down. But by the 7 of September, they realise that actually that’s just kind of how it is in the barren grounds and in this area. And that you can’t really wait for the storm to pass because it’s just the weather. So they press ahead – in Franklin’s words – “although we were in a very unfit condition for starting, being weak from fasting, and our garments stiffened by the frost”.
A: Why do they keep putting this man in charge of Arctic expeditions?
C: However, just as they were about to set out, Franklin “was seized with a fainting fit, in consequence of exhaustion and sudden exposure to the wind; but after eating a morsel of portable soup, I recovered–”
[Alix snorts with laughter]
C: “–so far as to be able to move on. I was unwilling at first to take this morsel of soup, which was diminishing the small and only remaining meal for the party; but several of the men urged me to it”.
A: Two points. What is portable soup?
A: All soup by its very nature is portable. And also sure, sure they did. No, actually they probably did, didn’t they? It was like ‘Franklin, you’re our only hope’.
C: ‘Let us pour this soup betwixt your lips so that you may survive and lead us out of these barren lands.’
A: [Laughs] What the fuck is portable soup?
C: [Cackles] I’m picturing it as, like, a cuppa soup?
A: What’s non-portable soup?
C: [Laughs] As they head out into the storm, the men carrying canoes continue to be blown about and one of the canoes gets so damaged that it becomes unusable. As Franklin says [in a posh voice]: “This was felt as a serious disaster, as the remaining canoe having through mistake been made too small, it was doubtful whether it would be sufficient to carry us across a river.”
A: No, it hadn’t been by mistake made too small. At an earlier date you decided to turn one big canoe into two small canoes. Don’t go back-pedalling now that your team have accidentally turned one canoe into a shit kite. That is what I’m imagining, by the way, with the storms and these canoes. They’re just up in the air, bit Mary Poppins.
C: But the plot thickens.
A: Thickens like portable soup.
C: [Laughs] Because Franklin suspects that the voyageur carrying it, Benoit, [in a posh voice]: “Had broken it intentionally, he having on a former occasion been overheard by some of the men to say, that he would do so when he got it in charge”. However, he – Benoit, that is – “insisted that it was broken by his falling accidentally; and as he brought men to attest the latter fact, who saw him tumble, we did not press the matter further.” So it’s all just a lot of harmony going on in this group already.
A: I’m getting a very distinctive anti-French sentiment going along here. Don’t know where it’s coming from, but there’s something subtle there.
C: It should also be noted that French Canadian in this context doesn’t just mean White French people in Canada, it can also mean First Nations Canadians. It’s just the French-speaking local population. So there’s probably some race dynamics going on here as well. There’s– I know that at least one of them is definitely an Indigenous Canadian.
A: And, I mean, it’s not exactly harmonious between Brits and French Canadians. What with, you know, Britain wanting Canada.
C: Yes. It’s all a bit tense.
A: Okay, so the Brits are racist, they’ve lost a canoe, they’re running out of food… and they have very little portable soup left.
C: [Laughs] Well Alix, actually, funny you should mention it. They use the broken canoe now to make a fire and they cook the last of their soup rations that very evening.
A: I thought they were gonna use the canoe to make a massive bowl of soup.
C: Next up, their trek takes them into hilly territory.
A: Sorry, I’m still on soup. It doesn’t seem like a very practical Arctic meal.
C: They’re out of soup now. Stop thinking about the soup! They’ve drunk it all.
A: I’m- I’m like Franklin and his men; I’m just obsessed with portable soup.
A: I mean I know there’s lots of ice around, but you have to use a lot of heat to heat up snow to turn it into water to turn it into-
A: Portable soup. I don’t- Oh. [Sighs]
C: It’s no pemmican, is it?
A: It’s no pemmican.
C: If I may continue?
A: I can’t promise not to interrupt about portable soup again.
A: Aren’t people just portable soup?
C: [Cackles] If you want to look at it like that… yeah, I guess. Next up, their trek takes them into hilly country where they find stones covered in lichen, which the Canadians call tripe de roche, or rock tripe.
C: Mmm. They manage to hunt some partridge during the day and have a nice partridge-and-lichen “supper”, which becomes their normal meal for basically the rest of this trek.
A: Supper or soup?
C: “Supper” is a direct quote from Franklin.
A: Ah, you didn’t do it in the posh Franklin voice.
C: Oh. [In a posh voice] “Supper.”
A: I didn’t know you got partridges in Canada
C: It’s possible that- You know how these Brits are going abroad. They see a bird, they go [in a posh voice] ‘It’s probably a partridge’. They sometimes also manage to scavenge the remains of deer and musk-ox which have been killed by wolves.
A: So they’re not very good at hunting on their own in the barren hilly grounds?
C: No, they’re not doing too well on that front.
A: Although there are some weapons. See, I remember Chekhov’s gun.
C: Yes, they are all heavily armed. They are packing.
C: As the kids say.
A: I don’t think the kids say that.
C: Unfortunately, the rock tripe gives the men tummy upsets.
C: And poor Robert Hood suffers the worst from it. He just- He cannot eat that stuff.
A: That must be quite embarrassing with his new 15-year-old wife.
C: She isn’t along for the trek with them. She is back at the camp. Presumably raising a baby.
A: What an asshole.
C: On the 13 of September, Franklin was [posh voice] “extremely distressed” to discover that the voyageurs had at some point discarded the three fishing nets they had been carrying, taking fish off the menu.
A: See, I’m not so sure how much I believe that the voyageurs were prepared to sabotage the expedition that they were also on.
C: You’ll notice that every single mistake is made not only by the voyageurs, but because the voyageurs are evil and hate Franklin.
A: And did it intentionally.
C: Yes. And you’ll also notice that this account is written by Franklin.
A: Never! Like, they are also there. They also need to eat. The French are people too.
C: [Laughs] [In a posh voice] “I don’t know about that. That’s going a bit far.” If you’ll recall, it’s also the French’s fault that one of the canoes got broken, and also that’s a real sore point because they’re struggling to cross all of the little rivers they come to. On the 14 of September, in trying to make a crossing, one of the voyageurs named Belanger took a tumble. [In a posh voice] “Belanger was suffering extremely, immersed to his middle in the centre of a rapid, the temperature of which was very little above the freezing point”. Several attempts to retrieve him are made, until “At length, when Belanger’s strength seemed almost exhausted, the canoe reached him with a small cord belonging to one of the nets” and they managed to drag him out.
A: Now, I have a lot of sympathy for Belanger because I went lake swimming the other day. I was only in the water for, like, 40 minutes, and my fingers were going blue. And I was like ‘well I’m going to freeze and die in this lake and my body is going to be consumed by ducks’ – so I can only imagine that when it’s actually, you know, icy. And the water isn’t 15 degrees.
C: To make matters worse, not only is Belanger’s life threatened by this, but also Franklin loses his portfolio in the accident. Which is, of course, all the French Canadians’ fault – right?
A: Because Belanger was carrying his portfolio?
C: Ugh, he was the one who fell in the water.
A: How selfish is that?
C: Luckily, most of the notes had been copied by Back, Hood, and Richardson already. Always backup your documents, kids. That’s the moral of this story.
C: So not too much scientific work is lost. The men still aren’t having any success with hunting and they’re living mostly on the rock tripe.
A: Apart from Hood.
C: [Laughs] Apart from Hood, who is dying on the rock tripe. Yeah he in particular is flagging at this point and is having difficulty just… existing.
C: [Laughs] On the 20th, the men were expecting to spy Point Lake very soon, which would mean that they’re nearly there. That’s a landmark they’re looking out for. And at this point, the voyageurs [in a posh voice] “threatened to throw away their bundles, and quit us, which rash act they would probably have done, if they had known what track to pursue.”
A: It’s almost like if you consistently blame your guides for everything that’s gone wrong, they might decide just to up and leave you.
A: Bloody French.
C: However, the next day they discover that they’ve actually strayed east of their course and have to adjust to make up for it. And Franklin is the one who’s been setting the course. On the 22 of September, two voyageurs – Peltier and Vaillant – discard the remaining canoe, as they said [in a French accent]: “It was so completely broken by another fall, as to be rendered incapable of repair, and entirely useless.” Was that good?
A: That was very good.
C: Thank you. Franklin commanded them to go back and retrieve it, and they just outright refused.
A: How far back were they? And doesn’t Franklin have anyone else other than his French guides who he has antagonised to the point of possibly trying to kill the entire party?
C: Franklin does give an answer to that, which is that he and the other officers are just feeling too weak to do it.
A: Boo hoo!
A: Pick up your own boat.
C: Finally, on the 24 of September, they manage to kill five deer.
C: Yeah. The voyageurs immediately ask for a day’s rest to eat the meat and recuperate, and [in a posh voice] “they so earnestly and strongly pleaded their recent sufferings” that Franklin does give in and give them permission for a day’s rest. Hood distributes the meat and the voyageurs of course, of course, complain that it’s been distributed unfairly. Although Franklin swears that Hood himself took the smallest portion and was very fair in the distribution.
A: I’m not necessarily sure that I agree with Franklin’s definition of fairness. Because, of course, it’s entirely possible that the men insisted that the officers have the largest portion.
C: Well you see, what happened was, the hunters – the French Canadians who actually caught the deer – said that they should be entitled to, like, the heads, you know the gross bits, that they should get that on top of their ration. And Franklin disagreed with that.
A: I think that’s sort of valid. We’ve covered before that the people who do the heavier work, like the expeditionaries from the Uruguayan crash, should get a little bit more food. If you’re sending them off hunting, they need energy to go hunting and carry broken boats. Well, not anymore. They dropped that.
C: Can you believe as well that then [posh voice]: “We learned, in the evening that the Canadians, with their usual thoughtlessness, had consumed above a third of their portions of meat.” It’s just criticise, criticise, criticise with Franklin, isn’t it?
A: Is Franklin taking issue to the fact that the Canadians ate their own food?
A: Selfish. What did Franklin do with his food?
C: Oh well, [posh voice] ‘you know, you know, I’m sure he didn’t eat it all at once. He’s, you know, a refined gentleman.’ On the 26 of September, the party finally rejoin the Coppermine River – not at their original camp, they’ve just sort of looped round and the river’s come back into their path. Although there is some quarreling from the voyageurs, who don’t believe that Franklin is correct about their location, and they think that there are several other rivers that it could potentially be.
A: See, I’m now torn between these are the men hired as their guides, but also Franklin must have pissed them off so much by this point that they could just be fucking with him.
C: [Laughs] [In a French accent] ‘This is not the same river, Franklin! I do not know where you are!’ The river means that they do then face another issue, which is that without any canoes they have no way to cross it. And the only option really is to build a raft out of the willow branches that are, sort of, around in the area.
A: This is gonna go so well.
C: It’s very Medusa.
A: Very Medusa.
C: The voyageurs now, to quote Franklin [in a posh voice]: “deplored their folly and impatience in breaking the canoe.”
A: So they admit to breaking the canoe…
C: Franklin interrogates Peltier and Vaillant again, considering sending them back to find the canoe that they broke, but they persist that no, it’s completely broken – there’s no point going back for it. Which is probably the truth.
A: Even if it wasn’t before, if you leave a flimsy canoe out in a storm for days, it’s not gonna be sea-worthy. River-worthy.
C: That evening, it’s discovered that two of the Canadians had stolen part of the officers’ provision. Allegedly. And, as Franklin explains in what has to be the best self-own ever [in a posh voice]: “This conduct was the more reprehensible, as it was plain that we were suffering, even in a greater degree than themselves, from the effects of famine, owing to our being of a less robust habit, and less accustomed to privations.”
C: [Posh voice] ‘I’m sorry, but I’m too posh to starve!’
A: But sure, they’ve been giving each other equal rations.
C: Yeah, yeah. For example, the officers equally get more. The next day, they are all delighted to find a putrid deer carcass to eat. And it makes a lovely breakfast, along with a [posh voice] “large quantity of excellent blue-berries and cran-berries”.
A: A nice granola.
C: Delicious. By the 29 of September, they have managed to construct a raft. Due to the fact that the wood is really green, it doesn’t float so well, so they can only send one person across at a time.
A: Oh my gosh, it’s one of those puzzles.
C: [Laughs] Yeah! But the problem is that to do that, they need to have a line to haul the raft back every time it goes across.
A: You’ve got three cannibals and three explorers. How do you get them across the river on one raft?
C: [Laughs] Luckily, the noble Dr Richardson volunteers to swim across the stream with a line and then haul the raft over.
C: As soon as he steps into the water, he cuts his foot open on something sharp.
A: [Whispered] Fuck’s sake.
C: But he presses on, he’s gonna do this. When he gets just over half way, his arms become [posh voice] “benumbed with cold, and he lost the power of moving them… and to our infinite alarm we beheld him sink.”
A: [Laughs] Jesus!
C: They do manage to haul him back on the line that he’s holding, and they manage to get him back to a living state.
A: They thaw him out.
C: They strip him naked and warm him in front of the fire.
A: I mean, I was about to say that’s me in the swimming lake.
A: But not that bit.
C: And when they behold his naked body, the Canadians cry [in a French accent]: “Ah, how thin we have become.” In French, but I don’t want to make a fool of myself by trying to speak French, I’ll just do a bad French accent instead.
A: I’m just picturing this poor, damp, cold, naked doctor. And everyone just standing around him being like, ‘hmm… thin’.
C: [Laughs] Just pointing and laughing.
A: [Laughs] Don’t they… look at their own bodies?
C: Though, I guess they all stay dressed the whole time, because it’s really cold.
A: I know why they stripped him naked and put him in front of the fire, but it just seems mean. It’s like he’s being hazed.
C: [Laughs] Get in the river. Strip you naked.
A: Okay, so who’s next to try and swim across the river?
C: In fact, they decide that they’ll wait and construct a better canoe.
A: Why did they let the doctor be the one to do that?
C: He volunteered. They get stuck in a snowstorm for a couple of days, and when they emerge from it on the 4 of October, they finally have a good canoe made out of willow branches and bits of tent, and they’re able to cross the river finally.
A: Why didn’t they just make a non-shit canoe to begin with?
C: It’s this cutting corners thing, you know. Sometimes you just wanna get across the river as quick as possible. When they reach the other bank, Back gets sent ahead with the voyageurs St. Germain, Belanger, and Beauparlant to search for Indigenous help at Fort Enterprise – which is where they’ve arranged for supplies to be cached and help to come and meet them.
A: I feel like Back probably pissed off Franklin. Because Franklin doesn’t like the voyageurs and he’s like ‘hmm which of my officers shall I send ahead?’ And just, like, I’m imagining a spat between Franklin and Back, and it’s like ‘off you go’.
C: I think it’s that Back is the best hunter of the officers, because he’s always sent ahead with the hunting parties.
A: Oh, okay.
C: And Saint Germain, the voyageur, is the best hunter of all. So clearly this is a forward party who are also gonna hunt as they go.
A: Okay, okay that makes more sense.
C: The rest of the party then set out on the 5 of October. First of all, they all eat [in a posh voice] “the remains of their old shoes, and whatever scraps of leather they had, to strengthen their stomachs for the fatigue of the day’s journey”.
A: Is this when Franklin becomes ‘the man who ate his boots’?
C: Pivotal moment in Franklin’s career.
A: The end of Act 1.
C: [Laughs] That afternoon, despite all of the extra boot rations, two of the voyageurs fall behind, unable to go any further. Crédit and Vaillant, in case you’re wondering which ones. I don’t have a full list of their names, so you just gotta keep up.
A: Well they’re not keeping up.
C: Dr Richardson gets sent back to check on them, despite his bad foot, but he can only-
A: [Laughs] I’m imagining he has been allowed to put his clothes back on now?
C: [Laughs] I think at this point… he is clothed. He can only find Vaillant and he tries to encourage him to keep on and just get to the next camp, where there’s a fire.
A: Sounds like a good doctor there. It’s like, ‘come on, man up! Keep up.’
C: ‘Get up! Get out of the snow!’
A: ‘Mind over matter.’
C: On the 6 of October, they come to a nice thicket of willows. There’s some rock tripe around, and they decide that they’re gonna set up a temporary camp here for everyone who can’t continue ahead – namely Richardson with his bad food, and Hood with his bad digestion.
A: With his dicky tummy.
C: Yeah. They decide that they’ll remain here until Franklin can send help back and John Hepburn also volunteers to stay and look after them.
A: He’ll play nurse.
C: The other men push on, but after four miles through the snow, Belanger bursts into tears and “declared his inability to proceed with the party”.
A: It’s whenever I go and socialise out of the house (pre-Covid).
C: Another voyageur, Michel Terohaute, also asks to stay behind. And now, Michel is going to become important in the upcoming parts of the story, so a little background on him: he’s another of the voyageurs, and he was an Indigenous Canadian from the Iroquois Confederacy.
A: When you say he’s going to become ‘important’ later…
C: Wait and see, Alix, wait and see. Franklin grants them permission to turn back the next day, and then Perrault and Fontano, who are also voyageurs– Now, Fontano is Italian, so I don’t know how he’s got here, but anyway…
C: Lost. They’re also sent back after they keep getting fits of dizziness. Another voyageur, Augustus, on the other hand, hurries ahead. He just leaves them. He’s- He’s had enough, he’s going ahead.
C: Which means that Franklin’s party is now down to five people: Adam, Peltier, Benoit, Samandré, and Franklin.
A: I wonder how many will return.
C: Oh, what a good question.
A: So where is it that Franklin and his four remaining team are actually looking to get to?
C: They’re heading to Fort Enterprise, which is where it’s been agreed with their Yellowknife friends that provisions will be cached ready for when they pass by.
A: And that’s also where Back and his posse are heading too?
C: Yes, exactly.
A: So they’re all gonna meet up again, get some food, and then go and get the others who are just sitting sadly surrounded by lichen.
C: Yes, that’s the plan.
A: I wonder what happens next.
C: Well, before we get there, let’s just check in on Hood and Richardson at their camp.
A: Sad lichen base.
C: They tuck up for warmth and read a couple of small religious books that they hadn’t yet discarded.
A: Having a cuddle.
C: Book club. On the 7 of October, Michel turns up to join them – because, remember, they were a day ahead–
A: Joins the cuddle pile.
C: Bringing a hare and a partridge, much to their delight. He’s a very courteous guest. He explains that Belanger had been impatient and had pushed ahead of him, and Michel had then gotten a bit lost on the way. And he expected Belanger to already have arrived. Because Belanger isn’t here, they presume that he’s got lost.
A: What does this hare and partridge look like?
C: [Laughs] Dot dot dot… The next day, Michel guides them back to where the other voyageurs had stayed behind, e.g. one day ahead. And Richardson writes in his account-
A: He’s Scottish.
C: Ugh, I can’t do that.
A: [Scottish accent] Och aye.
C: [Bad Scottish accent] Och aye, “it did not occur to us at the time that his conducting us perfectly straight was incompatible with his story of having gone astray on his way to us!” [Laughs] Was that at all Scottish?
A: I have the feeling that Richardson isn’t going to be able to critique you, it’s okay.
C: [Laughs] I’m sorry, I’m just not possessed with his spirit the way I am with Franklin’s. And weirdly, as well, Michel insists on sleeping with the hatchet every night. Weirdo.
A: Whatever gives you comfort, I suppose.
C: Some people like a cuddly toy, some people like a hatchet.
A: Where did he get a hatchet from?
C: I think it’s one of their, you know–
C: Yeah. But let’s leave all of this suspicious behaviour behind and go back to Franklin.
A: Yeah, yeah, let’s get back to common sense.
C: In the meantime, Franklin’s party have reached Marten Lake, and are rejoiced to find that it’s frozen over, so they can walk right across it and go straight to Fort Enterprise.
A: They can go skating.
C: Yeah! What lovely luck. Finally, on the 12 of October, they reach Fort Enterprise. [Posh voice] “and to our infinite disappointment and grief found it a perfectly desolate habitation. There was no deposit of provision” and no trace of their Yellowknife friends who were supposed to be there to save them.
A: Knew it. Knew it. This was where I was like ‘so where are they going? They’re going to go and collect the provisions that have been left by them?’ See, did Franklin actually arrange this or did he just sort of command/state that ‘there will be provisions for us’.
C: Yeah, in the defence of the Indigenous population, the whole section in which Franklin details the various deals all just seems a bit hazy – I don’t think there’s a proper written contract or anything. It all just seems a bit like [in a posh voice], ‘Oh, I would like this. Here are some guns.’ Franklin does, however, find a note from Back, who states that [in a posh voice]: “he had reached the house two days ago, and was going in search of” the Yellowknife people.
C: Franklin decides that they’ll rest at Fort Enterprise for a few days, and they do find the following things to eat: several deer skins; bones from the heap of ashes; and rock tripe. Which creates a lovely meal for them, I’m sure.
C: And as they sit around the fire cooking their deer skin, Augustus finally rejoins them. He’s the one that ran ahead because he got bored of waiting.
A: Oh yeah, Augustus!
C: Yeah, so he’s back. On the 14 of October, Belanger then shows up, bearing a note from Back. He was sent back with Michel, so God only knows how lost he got! He’s looped all the way around and gone ahead.
A: I am impressed by him.
A: So, ‘I’m not feeling well, I’m gonna go back to the camp’ and then manages to overtake Franklin. Good for him.
C: It’s unclear between Franklin and Richardson’s accounts – they don’t seem to comment on the fact that Belanger’s achieved this at all. But I assume that must be what’s happened. Or they’ve just mixed up all the French Canadians because they’re all the same, I don’t know. Could be either. Back’s note said that he’d not been able to locate any of the Indigenous population and he wants instructions on what to do next. However [in a posh voice], “Belanger’s situation… required our first care, as he came in almost speechless, and covered with ice, having fallen into a rapid, and, for the third time since we left the coast, narrowly escaped drowning.”
C: Poor Belanger!
A: For the third time.
C: [Laughs] No sympathy there. Belanger is oddly unspecific about Back’s exact location, and Franklin finally deduces that he’s worried that Franklin and his men will go ahead, join Back’s party and eat all of their limited resources, and then they’d all starve. And Belanger has even tried to secretly ask Franklin’s best hunter, Adam, to run away with him and go and find Back.
A: So he’s very much #TeamBack.
C: He’s #TeamGetAwayFromFranklin.
A: Very, very valid.
C: Unfortunately, Adam has got loads of swellings all over his body, just from the strain of everything I guess, and can’t run away with him. And the plot is found out.
A: Those dastardly French Canadians.
C: Peltier and Samandré volunteer to remain with Adam at the fort while Franklin and Benoit and Augustus are going to go ahead to Fort Providence – which is where they overwintered the last winter.
A: So there definitely is a camp there.
C: Yes. Well, huh, who knows?
A: There was a camp there.
C: Yeah. They depart on the 20 of October, but on the 21st, Franklin [in a posh voice] “had the misfortune to break my snow shoes by falling between two rocks”.
A: Can’t blame the French Canadians for that.
A: ‘They pushed me.’
C: They made some new pairs of shoes before leaving, in case you’re wondering how he had shoes after they ate them all. He’s unable to keep pace, and so he returns to Fort Enterprise. And on the 29 of October, Dr Richardson and Hepburn turn up at Enterprise. Franklin says [posh voice]: “When I saw them alone my own mind was instantly filled with apprehensions respecting my friend Hood, and our other companions, which were immediately confirmed by the Doctor’s melancholy communication, that Mr Hood and Michel were dead. Perrault and Fontano had neither reached the tent, nor been heard of by them.”
C: Now, Richardson tells Franklin a grisly tale of what’s gone down while he’s been away.
A: I’m so glad it’s Richardson, because we get this grisly tale in a Scottish accent.
C: [Laughs] No we don’t.
C: Let’s backtrack to the 11th, which is the day after Michel has gone to bed with a hatchet. That morning, they awake to find Michel missing, but after some time he returns with meat – part of “a wolf which had been killed by the stroke of a deer’s horn”, according to Michel.
C: They believed him and ate the meat, but later came to doubt the story. It was suspicious that the other three men who had been sent back with Michel had never turned up. They remembered his request that he should sleep with the hatchet, “and his cumbering himself with it when he went out in the morning, unlike a hunter”, which seemed “to indicate that he took it for the purpose of cutting up something that he knew to be frozen”. They realise they must have just eaten Belanger, Perrault or Fontano – but whether Michel had killed them or simply found the bodies remains unclear.
C: He’s been dishonest about what the meat was – according to Richardson and Hepburn. [In a posh voice] ‘Oh, I didn’t– I didn’t mean to eat human meat. I was tricked.’
A: By those dastardly French.
C: Mmm. Of course, as it turns out, what they had eaten wasn’t Belanger, because he’s absolutely fine, and he’s the one who ran ahead and found Back.
A: I think running ahead was the, uh, right call in that situation.
C: Despite the extra meat, by the 18th was severely weak and “scarcely able to sit up at the fire-side”. He’s the one who hasn’t been able to eat the rock tripe.
A: Is there just one dead wolf, or does food keep making its way surprisingly to the camp?
C: There’s just that one dead wolf, actually. And the rest of the time they’re scraping rock tripe.
A: I get the feeling that Michel is probably doing a bit better than the others.
C: Well, I don’t know about his physical health, but he’s certainly behaving really oddly. He gets very moody; he refuses to hunt or carry wood; and when Hood and Richardson scold him, he allegedly says [in a French accent]: “It is no use hunting, there are no animals, you had better kill and eat me.”
A: It sounds like he’s eaten his friends! Like, he’s expecting that fate to happen. I can see where he gets the idea from.
C: On the 20 of October, Richardson left camp to gather some rock tripe,“leaving Mr. Hood sitting before the tent at the fire-side, arguing with Michel; Hepburn was employed cutting down a tree at a short distance from the tent.” A little later, Richardson hears a gun go off. And then ten minutes later, hears Hepburn calling for help.
A: Chekhov’s gun.
C: When Richardson gets back to camp, he finds “poor Hood lying lifeless at the fire-side, a ball having apparently entered his forehead”.
A: Excellent use of the passive tense.
C: At first, Richardson assumes it’s a suicide because of how terribly everything’s been going for all of them. But Michel tells a different story. He says that Hood had been cleaning the gun and it must have gone off accidentally – remember how faulty all the guns are?
A: Why not just go with the suicide story?
C: Well, Sherlock Holmes Richardson over here sees right through both of these stories, because “upon examining the body, I discovered that the shot had entered the back part of the head, and passed out at the forehead, and that the muzzle of the gun had been applied so close as to set fire to the night-cap behind. The gun, which was the longest kind supplied… could not have been placed in a position to inflict such a wound, except by a second person.”
A: …That’s definitely not how you clean a gun.
C: [Cackles] Hepburn told Richardson that he’d heard Hood and Michel “speaking to each other in an elevated angry tone.” However, when he first heard the shot, Hepburn assumed that it had been fired on purpose as part of the cleaning process – it was only when Michel called him over that he realised Hood was dead. Richardson claims that he was too frightened to confront Michel head on, as their “united strength was far inferior to his, and, beside his gun, he was armed with-”
A: I hate to remind you, but Richardson is Scottish.
C: I can’t do that.
C: I can’t do that.
A: [Scottish accent] ‘Och aye, I hate to remind you’.
C: That’s something you’re saying!
A: I know, I’m having to get into the accent.
C: Oh, okay.
A: [In an accent which isn’t Scottish] Their “united strength was far inferior to his, and, beside his gun, he was armed with two pistols, [a] bayonet, and a knife.”
C: I don’t know that that was much better than my one.
C: It started really strong.
A: I’m about a sixteenth Scottish.
C: Michel reportedly prevented Hepburn and Richardson from getting together to discuss events for days on end. It all seems a bit odd, because presumably Michel slept at some point.
A: With the hatchet.
C: They could have had a little conference whilst he was asleep, and just shot him in bed.
A: Or just left.
C: Yeah, it seems like a bit of a lacklustre excuse.
A: So they definitely at no point decide to eat Hood, they just leave him there?
C: Yeah, his body is just left. Allegedly. That’s what Franklin reports.
A: I am just picturing him still sitting up at the fire, but dead.
A: They don’t even give him a cairn?
C: Not that Richardson describes in his account of the events.
A: Something strange is going down at camp lichen.
C: On 23 of October, they set off again, each carrying a gun. “In the course of the march Michel alarmed us much by his gestures and conduct, was constantly muttering to himself, expressed an unwillingness to go to the Fort, and tried to persuade me [Richardson] to go to the southward to the woods, where he said he could maintain himself all winter by killing deer.”
C: When Richardson suggests that maybe Michel can fuck off to the woods on his own, Michel allegedly “threw out some obscure hints of freeing himself from all restraint on the morrow; and I over heard him muttering threats against Hepburn.” He also (allegedly) “gave vent to several expressions of hatred towards the white people… some of whom, he said, had killed and eaten his uncle and two of his relations.”
A: Two points.
A: Firstly, I think Michel probably needs some help. And secondly, yup that sounds like White people in the Arctic.
C: They did do a lot of eating other people. Michel then leaves them briefly to gather some rock tripe, and Hepburn and Richardson confer and decide that they both think he is indeed guilty of murder.
A: Why didn’t they just fuck off then?
C: It’s all a bit weird. As soon as he returns, Richardson shoots Michel directly through the head.
A: [Laughs] Fucking hell.
C: They left it a few days, but they did do it. Richardson notes: “Michel had gathered no [rock tripe], and it was evident to us that he had halted for the purpose of putting his gun in order, with the intention of attacking us, perhaps, whilst we were in the act of encamping”. Convenient that the guy he’s just murdered was definitely going to murder them first.
A: Yeah, yeah.
C: Richardson and Hepburn journey on, catching up with Franklin, as we know, on the 29 of October, where they are horrified by the “emaciated figures… the ghastly countenances, dilated eye-balls, and sepulchral voices of Mr Franklin and those with him”.
A: ‘Dilated eyeballs’.
C: Starvation! Both Peltier and Samandré die the following day – just of exertion – and relief finally arrives on the 7 of November, when three members of the Yellowknife tribe arrive with food, having met Back’s party on their way to Fort Providence. On the 11 of December, the survivors – who I make out to be Franklin, Richardson, Hepburn, Belanger and Adam – reached Fort Providence, where they received news that Hood had just been promoted to lieutenant. Just a couple of months too late for him to enjoy it.
A: A posthumous promotion.
C: Franklin wrote all of this up and published it as a bestselling piece of adventure writing. Isn’t it funny how the British naval explorers are super rational and civilised and reasonable, in contrast to the irrational, ignoble natives?
A: Yeah. Isn’t that funny. Hmm.
C: Barrow, who was the guy who booked Franklin for the expedition in the first place, echoed this sentiment, saying [in a posh voice]: “[O]ut of fifteen individuals enured from their birth to cold, fatigue, and hunger [e.g. the French Canadians], no less than ten were so subdued… as to give themselves up to indifference, insubordination, and despair, and finally, to sink down and die; whilst of five British seamen, unaccustomed to the severity of the climate… one only fell, and that one by the murderous hand of an assassin.”
A: Because they were doing so well before.
C: I think that whilst it became this amazing adventure story that cemented Franklin as a hero in the public consciousness, it’s also clear that there are lots of instances where he was given advice by the Canadian voyageurs along with him, which he ignored. There was dissent; he was not really in control of the expedition; didn’t really plan ahead; and somehow managed to redeem what was a narrative of basically complete failure – apart from all the coastline he mapped–
A: And getting lost and going slightly the wrong way, and not managing to negotiate with the Yellowknife to actually get the supplies that they needed… Yeah, you’re doing great, Franklin.
C: Which is why I would say, take with a pinch of salt all of the occasions on which the French Canadians did everything wrong. And I’m even suspicious about the idea that Michel tricked people into eating human flesh and then had to be killed. Maybe that was the case, but when the only people who survive to give that account are the ones who shot him, it could go either way.
A: Something very peculiar was going on at camp lichen.
C: Well let’s end this story, shall we, on a nice note in Franklin’s own words from the introduction of his bestseller [in a posh voice]: “The unfortunate death of Mr Hood is the only drawback which I feel from the otherwise unalloyed pleasure I derived from reflecting on that cordial unanimity which at all times prevailed among us”. [Laughs]
A: I can’t tell if that’s wilful ignorance, or if he genuinely thought it went well. ‘My mate got shot in the back of the head, people definitely ate people, we got very lost… 10/10, would go to the Arctic again.’
A: And he would.
[Outro Music – Daniel Wackett]
A: Thank you for joining us for the first episode of the season, Franklin: the prequel. One man, two cannibalisms.
C: Join us next time for an episode on a plane crash in the mountains. No, not that one.
[Outro music continues]
A: Casting Lots Podcast can be found on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr as @CastingLotsPod, and on Facebook as Casting Lots Podcast.
C: If you enjoyed this episode and want to hear more, don’t forget to subscribe to us on iTunes, Google Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts, and please rate, review and share to bring more people to the table.
A: Casting Lots: A Survival Cannibalism Podcast, is researched, written and recorded by Alix and Carmella, with post-production and editing also by Carmella and Alix. Art and logo design by Riley – @Tallestfriend on Twitter and Instagram – with audio and music by Daniel Wackett – Daniel Wackett on SoundCloud and @ds_wack on Twitter. Casting Lots is part of the Morbid Audio Podcast Network – search #MorbidAudio on Twitter – and the network’s music is provided by Mikaela Moody – mikaelamoody1 on Bandcamp.
[Morbid Audio Sting – Mikaela Moody]