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Tony Grist

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In Baffin Bay Where The Whale Fish Blow... [Aug. 5th, 2015|12:12 pm]
Tony Grist
Programme on Channel 4 last night about the history and archaeology of the Franklin expedition- prompted by the discovery- in September last year- of the wreck of HMS Erebus.

Erebus turned up 100 miles away from where she was officially supposed to have been abandoned-  which requires explanation. The most plausible theory is that survivors reoccupied her and sailed her south before abandoning her again and disappearing into the snowy wastes- thereby- though they may not have known it- navigating the North West Passage and successfully completing the mission.

The archaeologists found the wreck thanks to Inuit oral tradition. The Inuit turn out to have been right about everything- including the cannibalism that some of the lost sailors were reduced to (archaeologists have found cut marks on human bone at one of the camp sites,) Dickens was one of those who bloviated about this when the information first came through, accusing the Inuit of being primitive idiots incapable of appreciating the mettle of true-hearted British tars. The word "blubbery" occurs in his article. I adore Dickens this side of idolatry but he was capable of being a right plonker at times. One can imagine him- in a later incarnation- writing columns for the Mail.
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Comments:
From: cmcmck
2015-08-05 03:51 pm (UTC)
The Inu were indeed right and Dr John Rae knew they were right at the time.

Being right got him socially ostracised by Lady Franklin's powerful friends, including Dickens. From being one of the UK's finest and most important explorers and the first to use snowshoes and inflatable boats (he was an Orkneyman- a man who deeply respected the Inu and Cree and set out to learn their ways) he was deliberately written out of history and is only just now being written back in.

There's now (quite rightly) a statue to him in Stromness

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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2015-08-05 08:11 pm (UTC)
Good, I'm glad he has been appropriately honoured.

Dickens was usually in the right about things, but in this instance he was not only an ass, but a bigoted ass.

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From: cmcmck
2015-08-06 07:14 am (UTC)
Not to mention being an anti semite.........
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2015-08-06 08:05 am (UTC)
Well, there was an awful lot of casual anti-semitism in the 19th century. I'm finding it in Trollope- though whether the prejudice there belongs to the author or his characters is hard to ascertain.

As for Dickens, he was, I believe, sensitive to the charge and tried to make amends for Fagin with the "good" Jew Riah in Our Mutual Friend.
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From: cmcmck
2015-08-06 11:28 am (UTC)
Dickens was told by friends when he wrote Fagin for 'Oliver Twist' that he was being obscenely anti semitic, even for his own day.

He does send a 'godly man of his own persuasion' (ie a Rabbi) to try to pray with Fagin in the condemned cell without much success.

I have to admit that I find Fagin a complex character.
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[User Picture]From: sovay
2015-08-05 05:14 pm (UTC)
The archaeologists found the wreck thanks to Inuit oral tradition.

That's extremely cool. I just learned that First Nations oral traditions similarly preserved, quite accurately, descriptions and the timeline of the last subduction-zone earthquake in the Pacific Northwest:

Once scientists had reconstructed the 1700 earthquake, certain previously overlooked accounts also came to seem like clues. In 1964, Chief Louis Nookmis, of the Huu-ay-aht First Nation, in British Columbia, told a story, passed down through seven generations, about the eradication of Vancouver Island's Pachena Bay people. "I think it was at nighttime that the land shook," Nookmis recalled. According to another tribal history, "They sank at once, were all drowned; not one survived." A hundred years earlier, Billy Balch, a leader of the Makah tribe, recounted a similar story. Before his own time, he said, all the water had receded from Washington State's Neah Bay, then suddenly poured back in, inundating the entire region. Those who survived later found canoes hanging from the trees. In a 2005 study, Ruth Ludwin, then a seismologist at the University of Washington, together with nine colleagues, collected and analyzed Native American reports of earthquakes and saltwater floods. Some of those reports contained enough information to estimate a date range for the events they described. On average, the midpoint of that range was 1701.

I am sorry to hear that about Dickens. Not entirely surprised, but sorry. Fortunately, I do not have to believe he was perfect.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2015-08-05 08:19 pm (UTC)
It's good to know that oral tradition can be so reliable.

This wasn't the only time that Dickens gave vent to opinions we would now call racist...
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