The Voyage of the Whale Ship Esk in 1816

ESKebookFor several years now I’ve been researching the life and work of William Scoresby Jr., an early nineteenth-century whaler and Arctic explorer who sailed from Whitby, and Liverpool. Of course this has on the whole been a spare time project, and one that is quite a departure from my academic background in American literature, and crime fiction. It has taken quite a while to reach the point where I feel confident about publishing on the subject. I’m working on a full-length book about Scoresby, but in the mean time I have written and self-published a short (~10,000 words) book-let on his once famous voyage of 1816, a voyage which could very easily have ended in tragedy and disaster.

This booklet is available as a print copy from Amazon and in due course as an ebook from all the usual outlets and in all the usual formats. In the mean time your one stop shop for the ebook in the right format for you is Smashwords. The cover image is by mixed media artist Caroline Hack, from an original illustration by Scoresby himself.

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A Grand Tour Amongst the Icebergs: Arthur Conan Doyle’s Arctic Adventure

Whaleship Hope of Peterhead

On November 13th (6.30-8pm) I’m going to be giving a talk at the University of Liverpool about Arthur Conan Doyle and his 1880 voyage to the Arctic on the Peterhead whale ship, the S.S. Hope. Doyle’s journal of his voyage, during which he acted as ship’s surgeon, was published by the British Library in 2012. He would later draw on his experiences in the Arctic in stories and in a factual article in Strand magazine in 1897. Doyle was one of many young doctors who had visited the Arctic on whale ships over the previous century or so, but at a time when Arctic tourism was growing in popularity, his voyage can also be seen as an alternative grand tour for adventurous young men who preferred frozen seas to the Mediterranean.

You can book a place though the university’s online shop here.

Sir John Franklin and the Hull Whalers

I don’t usually respond to news reports here, but I have to note that today the Canadian government announced the discovery of one of the two ships Sir John Franklin took to the Arctic in 1845, and which has been lost ever since. The discovery confirms Inuit oral histories of ships in the same area and marks the end of 160 years of searching. Both ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, had seen service in Antarctic exploration under the command of James Clark Ross and were used in surveying the newly-discovered Ross Ice Shelf. Mount Erebus was named after Ross’s flagship. The Antarctic expedition, which lasted several years, had spent the southern winters in Tasmania and at the Falkland Islands. The Franklin expedition of 1845 was more challenging, however, because it involved overwintering amongst the ice. Erebus and Terror had been clad in iron and fitted with steam engines to improve their chances of survival.

By the Autumn of 1847 it was already clear that something was wrong. Besides government bounties that eventually reached £20,000 Lady Franklin said she would give up her whole fortune of £10,000 in searching for her husband, and in 1848 she put forward £2000 as an incentive for whalers in Baffin Bay to look for the explorers. It was not enough to persuade them, but by February 1849 several expeditions were ready to go looking for her husband, including a second private attempt by Sir James Ross. Realising that Arctic whalers knew the region best, Lady Franklin travelled to Hull with William Scoresby Jr, where she met with whale ship owners and captains. On February 16th the Times reported this visit, during which Lady Franklin offered the whalers even more money, and concludes that “We shall be joined, we are sure, by all, in wishing success to these affectionate and earnest efforts, of Lady Franklin on behalf of her husband and her imperilled companions.”

CBC has released footage of the wreck, which could be Erebus or Terror:

Incidentally, Sinead O’Connor’s recording of “Lady Franklin’s Lament” a folk song about the Franklin expedition, is worth a listen: