Burial of John Franklin. Author: me


Kabloonas is the way in which the Inuit who live in the north part of Canada call those who haven´t their same ascendency.

The first time i read this word was in the book "Fatal Passage" by Ken McGoogan, when, as the result of the conversations between John Rae and some inuit, and trying to find any evidence of the ill-fated Sir John Franklin Expedition, some of then mentioned that they watched how some kabloonas walked to die in the proximities of the river Great Fish.

I wish to publish this blog to order and share all those anecdotes that I´ve been finding in the arctic literature about arctic expeditions. My interest began more than 15 years ago reading a little book of my brother about north and south pole expeditions. I began reading almost all the bibliography about Antarctic expeditions and the superknown expeditions of Scott, Amundsen, Shackleton, etc. After I was captured by the Nansen, Nobile and Engineer Andree. But the most disturbing thing in that little book, full of pictures, was the two pages dedicated to the last Franklin expedition of the S.XIX, on that moment I thought that given the time on which this and others expeditions happened, few or any additional information could be obtained about it. I couldn´t imagine that after those two pages It would be a huge iceberg full of stories, unresolved misteries, anecdotes, etc. I believe that this iceberg, on the contrary than others, would continue growing instead melting.

martes, 19 de julio de 2016


Those who are following regularly my posts will surely know my predilection about secondary actors, or the regular men if you prefer, who participated in the nineteenth century polar expeditions. I have been always interested on those who lived at the shadow of the success of their commanders and rest of officers. Every time I begin to dig in the life of any of these men I always find dozens of pieces dispersed with which I can assemble and solve the puzzle of their lives.There is not too much added value on doing what I am doing, but the effort of gathering small details which all together can  make a story. Many times, I find interesting parallel stories which can make you digress and drift to other courses which I must ignore not to lose forever the main track.

Now, the subject of my analisys is Thomas Abernethy, a scottish man who was born in 1802 in Peterhead, same birthplace than William Penny, the famous whaler Captain who in fact was born only seven years after Thomas. Peterhead was by then a prosperous town where the whaling industry was flourishing. It produced surely, together with Orkney and Shetland islands, a big part of the sailors who participated in the Arctic expeditions of the time.

The life of Thomas Abernethy has been a little mistery to me during some time. He appears here and there in several (six, to be precise) of the polar exploration accounts about which I have read. Sometimes his achievements appear in capital letters making him outstands over the grey mass of sailors who participated in those expeditions and others he is not mentioned at all.

There are only a couple of books where some paragraphs are dedicated specifically to the life of this man and that is more than we can say about other Arctic explorers. One of them is "The lands of silence" wrote by Clements Markham, who claimed to be an acquitance of Thomas, and the other is John Ross´s narrative of his second journey to the Northwest Passage in 1829-32. He is described in the appendix of Ross´s book with an unexpected kindness and detail. I would say, in a totally unusual way for these kinds of accounts.

It seems, according to Ross, that Thomas Abernethy was a tall man of about 1,80 m (6 feet), "well made and of florid complexion", of "Dark eyes and hair and an aquilinne nose", "decidedly the best looking man of the ship", " The most steady, active and more powerful man of the ship".

Such words, coming from a man like Ross, who was able to amputate with his own hands the arm of his engineer during one of his voyages of exploration and who was able to sail after John Franklin when he was in his seventies, makes you think that Thomas was a very uncommon man worthy of such praising. I don´t know you but, now, at this point, I would be even more intrigued about who and how was this phenomenon. It is clear, and we will see it after, that on performing his duties he earned the respect of his bosses and mates making of his, therefore, a prolific career. As we will learn, he was recommended several times for promotion by his commanders.

As it happened to John Ross, Thomas began his career at the early age of ten, (Ross did at nine), joining merchant ships and whalers from Peterhead. Ross says he got on board the ship "Friends" in 1811 on which he spent four years of apprenticeship. Apparently, Thomas went once to west indies and after, twice to Greenland. The only ship I have found with that name is a convict ship, a three masted ship of 331 tons, which in 1811 carried one hundred one convict women to New South Wales in Australia. The ship traveled first via Rio de Janeiro and then passed Cape Horn on its way to Sydney, where it arrived the 10th of october after a trip which lasted six months.  Maybe Ross wanted to omitt that his, I would say friend, was on board a convict ship. There are no mentions about those trips to Greenland.

Afterwards, he enroled in the whaler Hannibal on which he travelled to Davis strait three times. The whaler Hannibal, according with the "Peterhead Almanac and Directory", fished almost yearly seals (better not to check the growing number of seals they hunted within the years) and whales in Greenland and Davis Strait from 1819 to 1847.

Cew of the Peterhead whaler Hope 1880 (I don´t think crews of 1820´s looked too different from these men).

The whalers had to go further north to fish in Davis Strait because whales become more and more scarce in front of the shores of Greenland. That provoked those known disasters, as the one which happened in 1830, where from 91 ships which were fishing in Davis strait, 19 were lost, two of them whalers from Peterhead (The Resolution and Hope). Hannibal made it and could come back home having fished only two whales (on each of the two previous seasons they got eleven).

The Hannibal wrecked in Norway in 1848 on its way back from Davis strait. The captain by then, J. Lowrie, found rough weather. They were carrying the crew of another ship on board. Lowrie decided to try to reach Peterhead instead of looking for safety in Shetland islands. His ship was driven by a gale to the shores of Norway where it wrecked. All the hands were lost but one, a seaman called Watt, who was called after life "Piper George Watt". I can´t avoid being curious about what was of the life of this man. Sailors of the time were quite superstitious and particularly, whalers seem to be the more supertitious of all. I would bet that this poor man was either condemned to ostracism or considered as an amulet of good luck. I am prone to believe what happened was the former guess...

During its first years the ship was under the command of William Robertson. We don´t know exactly which years were those on which Thomas went to Davis Strait, maybe the seasons corresponding to the years 1819, 1820 and 1821, but what it is sure is that the experience he gained there prepared his way to form part of the coming Arctic expeditions and therefore opened the way to put his name discretely in the Hall of fame of Polar exploration.

Ross also mentions that after the time in the north he performed some coast guard services in Oporto but I haven´t be able to find any trace of his life during this time. There are some gaps in his naval career about which I couldn´t get any information. For example, what he did from 1815 to 1819 and what he did between 1822 and 1823 before going with Parry in 1824, on which was going to be his first Arctic expedition (the third expedition which Parry commanded).

In 1824, HMS Fury and HMS Hecla, commanded by Edward Parry, departed from England again with the intention of discovering the elusive Northwest Passage. Thomas was 22 when came on board HMS Fury. The ship would wreck the following summer in Somerset Island in the course of the expedition. That wasn´t a very succesful mission, Parry had an incomparable luck during his first attempt to cross the passage in 1819 but since then things had gone quite worst.

Fury was severly damaged by the ice in Prince Regent Inlet and had to be abandoned. It seems that Thomas´s work in Fury Beach, the name of the place where they had to abandon the ship, was of the utmost importance. At least that´s what Ross says about him though Parry doesn´t mention it any single time in his narrative. It took the expedition days to empty the holds, take Fury´s cargo to the beach and haul the ship to the shore. The crews of both ships worked together countless hours on doing that. There is no doubt that there were lots of opportunities to demonstrate courage during the whole process and Thomas exuded that characteristic.

The Fury grounded on Fury Beach, from William Edward Parry, Journal of a Third Voyage, 1825 

In 1827 Parry commanded another Polar expedition on board HMS Hecla, this time the journey consisted on an attempt to reach the North Pole. The previous try had been performed unsuccesfully by David Buchan and John Franklin in 1818. His predecesors basically had pushed untiringly  their ships, HMS Dorothea and HMS Trent, against the sea ice formed north of Spitzbergen with the result that Buchan´s ship, Dorothea, ended severily damaged. Buchan, defeated, ordered to withdraw against the will of a young and temerary John Franklin who wanted to go ahead alone with his ship.

HMS Hecla left London on March 1827. On their way north they crossed their way with two Peterhead whalers, Alpheus and Active, maybe Thomas could have find there some old friends from his whaler days. They arrived at Spitzbergen and begun the 23th of june to walk on the ice towards the North Pole .

This time, the strategy was a little bit different. Parry, following a Franklin´s original idea, had the intention of reaching the ice with his ship and then drag with Lapland reindeers two boats, of a specific design, on the ice till reaching the North Pole.

If you know something about Friedjof Nansen´s attempt, you will realize how difficult and dangerous Parry´s plan could result. Nansen chose a more sportive and modern way to do the things, he prefered to travel light and fast, just two men, two sledges and two kayaks. Parry´s strategy proved to be futile. Polar ice drift would make them to go forth and forward making them to walk dozens of miles not to advance a single second of latitude, besides the ice was all but smooth and plain. High ridges cut their way constantly making them make huge physical efforts.

Parry´s boats Endeavour and Enterprise

Parry, however, had read from Scoresby and Phipps that the Polar ice was smooth as a road, and that sometimes happen, but this time it wasn´t the case. The boats were about seven meters length and Parry had prepared two five feet wheels to carry the boats on that "road". Each boat had assigned a crew of fourteen, two officers, two marines and ten men. Eight rein deers were bought to drag the boats though they weren´t finally used by Parry because the actual ice conditions.

They dragged the boats from 10 to 12 hours a day sleeping during daylight and walking by night. Depending on the state of the ice, sometimes they only advanced a mile a day. They drag and crawled oftenly upon all fours on deep snow, under the rain and under snow drifts. It was a painful experience but the men usually laughed to this situation saying" We were a long time getting to this 83 º" latitude which, by the way, they never reached...they returned after having reached a latitude of 82 º 45´. The nothernmost point reached till that time and a mark which won´t be beated till 50 years after. After the massive effort done and 48 days of hard work, they were only at a distance of 172 miles from the ship for which they had to travel 580 or 600 miles.

In that same journey participated James C. Ross and Crozier, it was surely here where it was planted the seed which forged later Thomas´s pass to participate in their Antarctic expedition of 1839-42.

Thomas was promoted, because of Parry´s recommendation, as gunner of HMS Blossom, on which he served from 1827 to 1829. It was during this time that he married the daughter of George Fiddis, the carpenter of all the previous Parry´s expeditions. I don´t know if they had descendants or not, I couldn´t find any information about it.

Then it came the John Ross´s Victory expedition of 1829-33 (one of my favourites), where Thomas participated as second mate . He was now a 27 years old veteran which had seventeen years of experience, many of them in Polar seas.

In this expedition he is explicitly mentioned a good number of times by John Ross. He begins the narrative saying that Thomas and the carpenter Chimham were two of their best acquisitions for the journey.

Such was the confidence on him that he was one of the few, together with Thomas Blanky about whom I wrote some lines time ago, who accompanied James Ross in his sledge trip to locate the North Magnetic Pole. I would say that for the crew of Victory, this was a fact comparable to the decission taken by R.F. Scott when he decided who would accompany him in his final voyage to the South pole. 

When Ross had to explore separatedly from the main sledge party any possible way to go forward, it was Thomas who accompanied him as if he was his right hand. When the men were exhausted and had to rest during this long trip it was always Thomas who was besides Ross looking for the best route to follow. Same happened when the ship Victory had to be abandoned in Prince Regent Inlet. The ship´s boats had to be hauled all the way north to Port leopold where they hoped to find help coming from the whalers which were fishing in Lancaster sound. Thomas, was the man chosen by James Ross to find the best way to make the boats pass.

Somerset House in Fury Beach, 1833
John Ross expedition of 1829-33 could be considered as an equivalent of the Ernest Shackleton feat of 1914. He and almost all his crew survived four winters in the Arctic against all hope. They had to look for their safety when there was no chance for help, the same as Shackleton did. They finally were rescued by the whaler Isabella in Lancaster sound and brought back to England. When arriving, John Ross recommended Thomas promotion and he was appointed to HMS Seringapatam. 


Six years after John Ross´s expedition, Thomas Abernethy was chosen as ice master and gunner of Erebus for the Antarctic expedition of 1839. It was Thomas Abernethy and Oakley, according to James Ross with their accustomed boldness and humanity, who tried to rescue with a boat to James Angley, the quater-master who fell overboard from the mainyard during a gale in Antarctic waters. Angley had reached the life-buoy which was threw to help him. Due to the rough weather James Ross ordered Thomas not to go. Ross's intention was triying to reach the buoy manouvering the ship, but the poor man, who hadn´t tied himself to the buoy´s mast was swallowed by the angry sea before he could be rescued. There were another previous incident when a sailor called Roberts also fell from the rigging to the sea. This time Oakley lowered his boat to help him, unfortunately, weather was so bad that a wave threw the four men on board to the sea. It was then when Thomas lowered another boat and risking his life rescued the four men. The poor sailor who had fell formerly was lost. Maybe this experience was the one which made Ross to take the decission not to allow Thomas to use the boat to rescue Angley in the second incident.

In Robert McCormick alternative account of the Antarctic expedition, the adjectives which acompany the name of Thomas are "worthy, able, Captain´s Ross old follower, ever the foremost in all emergencies" and so on. Abernethy seems to have accompanied McCormick in a good number of his proceedings, of special help on hunting , catching and chasing penguins.

Erebus and Terror among icebergs

There is not an official account about James Clark Ross´s journey in HMS Enterprise and HMS Investigator of 1848-49, so I can´t say nothing about the role of Thomas during this expedition apart of the fact that he was the Ice Master of HMS Enterprise. The only input I could get, and is not a very favourable one, is that Thomas was "A good seaman, an athletic, healthy person, but a heavy drinker who presented disciplinary problems, though James Ross seems to have no difficulty with him". It seems that Thomas had a dark side after all, but maybe not that bad as for not counting with him for a responsible vacancy such as Ice Master was.

Not too much time after returning to England with Ross, Thomas rejected a proposal to sail as Ice master with the Captain Horatio Austin in 1850 in his Franklin search expedition. Instead of, he wrote to Henry Pelly, governor of the Hudson Bay Company which was organising a private initiative to locate Franklin, to apply for the vacancy as Ice Master in the schooner Felix. The ship would be commanded by an aged John Ross. The letter was signed by Thomas but was clearly written by James Clark Ross. As we have seen earlier, it seems that by the time of the Felix expedition, Thomas 's  problems with alcohol had escalated. John Ross had to deal with that issue the best way possible.

North-West searching expedition for Sir John Fran Lin, Sir John Ross Yacht Felix at Anchor in Loch Ryan
It has been always said that J.C. Ross, besides having been the first on reaching the North Magnetic Pole, would have  held for a long time (50 years) the record of having reached both, the northernmost and southernmost latitudes during his voyage to the North Pole and South pole respectively. It is for me quite clear that Thomas Abernethy would have shared that privilege too, though of course his name is much less, if any at all, known than the name of James Clark Ross. 

There is a common point in almost all the expeditions on which Thomas Abernethy participated, and that is the presence of James Clark Ross. He was second lieutenant in the third Parry voyage of 1824-25, second in command in Hecla when they tried to reach the North Pole, second in command during the second voyage of John Ross in the Victory, he was the leader of the Antarctic expedition of 1839-42 and he commanded too the ships HMS Enterprise and HMS Investigator which were sent to locate the missing Franklin expedition. The only expedition on which James C. Ross didn´t participate was the John Ross attempt to find Franklin in 1850. It seems as if their fates were strongly linked, maybe linked by a frank friendship. One has to wonder what would have happened if James Ross would have been commander, instead of Franklin, of the lost expedition of 1845. Thomas surely would have perished, as it happened to Thomas Blanky, together with the rest of the crews of Erebus and Terror.

Thomas died at Peterhead in 1860 only 58 years old. As I said before, I don´t know if Thomas left any children behind but at least we know there is a cape which bears his name in the proximity of Matty island, located between the east coast of King William Island and the mainland on the north side of Wolstenholme sound.

Thanks to Peter Carney for always supplying me with some valuable sources of information.

martes, 5 de julio de 2016


AMC ha anunciado de nuevo recientemente su intención de estrenar una serie basada en la novela "El Terror" de Dan Simmons. "El Terror", a su vez, se inspira en la desaparecida expedición comandada por John Franklin que partió en 1845 en busca del Pasaje del Noroeste a bordo de los barcos Erebus y Terror. 

En breve, y venciendo la pereza que a todos nos invade con el calor veraniego, prepararé un extenso blog-post en castellano donde os explicaré, a aquellos que todavía no la conozcáis, algunos de los detalles que rodearon a esta desaparición. Así os podré preparar para lo que se avecina. 

Por poneros la miel en los labios os diré que no estamos hablando solo de una historia de exploraciones polares, sino de mucho más. En esta trágica aventura, hacen su aparición intrigas políticas, triángulos amorosos (si no cuadrados), apariciones reveladoras desde el mas allá, misteriosos mensajes pidiendo ayuda que cruzaron volando el Atlántico norte, muerte por inanición, exposición, hipotermia, escorbuto y como colofón ...el eterno reclamo que inspira cualquier historia de horror: Canibalismo. Interesante, ¿no?

Y esa, amigos, es la historia real, que como veis, no sería necesario sazonar ni dramatizar por parte de AMC. La historia original abunda ya de los necesarios ingredientes que pueden llevarla al éxito en la televisión. 

Cuando uno de los dos barcos, el "Erebus", apareció en el Ártico Canadiense, Jean Marc-Vallé anunció que haría una película sobre el tema. Buenas noticias, sin duda, aunque desde mi humilde opinión, una película solo rozaría la superficie de la historia completa, la punta del iceberg, si queréis.  En cualquier caso, no ha habido noticias acerca del tema desde entonces, por lo que sospecho que el proyecto ha quedado varado en alguna vía muerta.

Mi apuesta siempre ha sido que se debería de realizar una serie de televisión basada en la historia real y no en la ficticia de Dan Simmons. Yo había pensado en la productora HBO pero bueno, nadie me hace caso nunca, ellos se lo pierden. 

El caso es que encima de la mesa tenemos "El Terror", menos es nada. Si Ridley Scott la produce, de lo que podemos estar seguros, es de que no faltarán medios. Creo que podemos garantizar que disfrutaremos un rato pasando miedo, asco y frío a partes iguales. ¿Quien podría decirle que no a eso?. Lo único que me apena es que, obviamente, nadie va a lanzar una segunda serie basada en los hechos reales en el corto plazo.

La expedición de Franklin pasará tristemente a la mente de muchos televidentes como una historia de terror más, como Penny Dreadful o The Walking Dead. No sabrán que gran parte del escenario contextual en el que se va a desarrollar el guión de esta nueva serie fue real.

Aquellos que, sin embargo, lleguen a leer el mensaje que suele aparecer al comienzo cuando el fondo se vuelve negro y la música se apaga y que dice: 

"Basado en una historia real"


¿Una historia real? ¡Venga ya!

sábado, 25 de junio de 2016


Days before today, but 175 years ago, the ships Erebus and Terror enjoyed definitely better times than those which they were condemned to endure few years after so their crews do. Officers of both ships danced till dawn with the people from Hobart enjoying of an event so great that it was even announced three days after in the local newspaper "Hobart Town Advertiser"

Now, sadly, Erebus is going to be reminded forever as that mastless sunken ship which lays in the bottom of the pristine shallow waters of the Arctic ocean. Now she is dead, but it still shows her proud shape and almost complete stout body in that Parks Canada greenish subacuatic pictures. But not always was like that, there was a time when people went back home walking in zigzag with very vivid memories dancing in their brains. The ships would be reminded for long time in the minds of those people for years, what would they think when news of the dissappearance of the ships arrived Hobart years after?.

The first of june of 1841, two months after arriving back to Hobart in Tasmania from their first expedition to the South, it was organized a ball which would be celebrated on board the two ships. That was the kind response James Clark Ross wanted to give in return to all the celebrations which subsequently followed their arrival from Antarctic waters.  After the success of James Clark Ross first exploration season nobody could even dream that the two ships will play that role in what could perfectly be a horror movie few years after. Those were times of merriness and pleasure. Party after party it was in everybody´s thoughts that Ross could reach, with those two reniforced ships, whatever target he addresed. Ross was invencible.

Ross´s narrative jumps from the 6th of april of 1841, when Erebus and Terror were moored in Government Gardens in Hobart after five months of absence, to the 7th of july of 1841, when they resume their  explorations beginning with a visit to Sydney, New Zealand and other places. He ommitted in his official account, therefore, the ball celebrated in honour of the hospitality of the people from Hobart which was celebrated  over the decks of his ships. 

From what I have read about the ball, this must have been an event to be remembered in the minds of all the inhabitants of the town but specially by the officers of the ships, whose hangover surely would have beaten all records.

There are not watercolours which depict the scene, but there are some descriptions which reflects the majesty of the event with some extension of detail. There is an alternative narrative to that of Ross which tells the story, Robert McCormick´s one. Robert McCormick, the surgeon of Erebus was elected secretary of the committe to organize the party. He dedicated four full pages of his narrative to describe that night through. His description is so vivid that you can smell the scent of the flowers, be blinded by the inmense brightness of the lights and even hear the music from the orchestra.

Robert McCormick.  Picture from Wellcome images.
Preparations began more than two weeks before. Invitations were sent the 13th of may, some of them signed by the officers which had the possibility to invite at least then people each. The ships were put alongside each other, moored head and stern, being Terror outside Erebus. They were off-shore connected to the land through a bridge made of boats wide enough to allow two persons walk side by side . Canvas formed an arcade covering the bridge giving it the appearance of a grotto and flags were placed together with branches with flowers of several colours.

The lights placed in the bridge drove the guests to Erebus's quarterdeck which was impressively  illuminated in his turn with lamps and chandeliers. Guests had to walk about 60 meters through the barely illuminated tunnel to end in the impressively bright dance floor on which erebus quarter deck had been transformed. Captains and officers were placed at the end of the tunnel to greet the guests.

Erebus would play the role of the ballroom. She would surely be the stage of  Crozier's laconic proposals towards Sophie Cracroft. The sad flirt, as Lady Franklin herself called her in a letter, rejected him one time after another.

Benches covered with red clothes were disposed all around the deck to allow those who weren´t dancing to rest and even the capstan was covered with hundreds of flowers.

The Hobart Town quadrille band and the 51st regiment band was in charge of the music. For the latter it was constructed a stage rising some feet over the deck Erebus. The Queen, surrounded by flowers would look over the band and will witness the whole event. The former local band would stay under the main mast.

Captain's cabin was not always full of water as it is currently, it was once the ladies dressing room, full of mirrors, perfurme and other necessary accesories, the same happened to the gun room.

It was a fine evening of tuesday. The ball began punctually at eight, soon after Sir John Franklin and company. made their appearance, at nine 300 people wandered, laugh and cheered everywhere. At eleven o'clock the agenda said the guests must go to Terror for dinner. McCormick says that the transit from one ship to the other through the gangway involved certain "pressure and squeezing", it is funny to imagine those smartly dressed people fighting not to fall and crash against the timbers of the deck or even to fall to the water. It is easy to picture the scene and see how the youngests officers would have gathered around the gangway to witness the scene, maybe not alughing but defenitely smiling.

Franklin and Co. sat at the bottom of the supper table. Then, each officer would be surrounded in the table by his own guests. The dinner was, "A blend of French style of variety, with English fashion of plenty". Poultry was served in various ways like pastries, pies, cakes, etc.  Champagne flew in abundance among the bright lights.. Bird was in charge of the decoration of Erebus and McMurdo of the decoration of Terror, both had done a fine job though it seems that Terror was prepared in a more fascinating way than Erebus. Something in the decoration of Terror must made more than one mouth open. One of the more impressive details was that numerous mirrors, which were brought on the ships as presents for eventual natives, were placed in a way that they reflected the light from the chandeliers. Those, at the same time, were made with bright steel bayonets, swords and cutlasses, giving the decorations a more terrifying look.

After dinner, there were "drunken", as McCormick points, toasts here and there and speeches which surely ended all with hearty hoorays and applauses.

Some guests abandoned the party before it endend but many came back to Erebus quarter-deck and dance over her timbers till daylight.

It is sad to think that that bright and beautifully decorated deck of Erebus which was once supporting six hundred dancing feet and so many happiness is the same broken deck we have seen countless times in Parks Canada´s underwater pictures and videos.

I would like to keep in mind the nicest of both pictures and to end this blog post with the McCormick´s reflection in his narrative about one of the best moments that our beloved ships enjoyed during their lives:

"The decks of the old old ice-weather-beaten ships never before responded to the elastic step of so much female loveliness and beauty"

miércoles, 11 de mayo de 2016


La verdad es que es difícil hacer un comentario objetivo sobre un libro que me ha llegado directamente de las manos de su autor ¡y además dedicado!. Más difícil todavía si encima, el autor, es una persona tan entrañable como lo es Javier Cacho, además, por desgracia, "Las aventuras de Piti en la Antartida", ya no se edita por lo que considero un privilegio poder contar con él en mi librería Polar.

Las Aventuras de Piti en la Antartida, edición Búlgara.

Dado que no soy un crítico literario ni escritor, esta entrada no es una crítica de este libro, sino que es simplemente una manifestación de los sentimientos que éste me ha despertado. Los sentimientos no se someten a reglas por lo que, lo que estos expresan, puede ser tan valioso como la mejor crítica profesional, ¿porque no?, así que allá voy.

No es la primera vez que un libro de Javier me transporta desde el sofá de casa, desde un vagón de metro o desde una parada de autobús hacia otro lugar, bueno, un vagón de metro también te transporta a otro lugar, pero ese no era el caso.... La diferencia con Piti ha sido que este pequeño (¡Uy si me oyera Piti!) cachorro de Huskie Siberiano no solo transporta tu mente al otro lado del mundo sino que también se lleva de viaje a tu corazón, y, ¡Ay amigos! eso ya es algo mas difícil de conseguir. 

Basta con leer las primeras hojas del libro para sentir como una cálida manta de ternura te acoge y envuelve no queriéndote dejar salir. Y así es la historia que Javier nos cuenta, se trata de una historia de amistad, aventuras y amor que te hace olvidar en cada momento que coges el libro donde estás y hacia donde vas. Fiel reflejo de la personalidad de su autor, en cuya compañía el tiempo se detiene de tal manera que cuando llega el momento de partir uno se resiste porque siempre quiere estar con él un poquito más.

Es su inocente, cariñoso pero también valiente protagonista, Piti, quien te hace sonreir, reir y hasta casi llorar mientras vas conociéndole un poco mejor con cada página que pasas. Guiados por Piti, olfatearemos el valor de la amistad, el amor a la familia y gruñiremos ante el peligro que encierran los hermosos paisajes desolados de la Antartida y sobre todo a la distancia, esa magnitud única en hacernos capaces de hacer resurgir esas ocho partes del hielo sumergido del iceberg de sentimientos que se alberga en nuestros corazones,... 

No categorizaría (¿Existe realmente esta palabra?) a "Las Aventuras de Piti en la Antartida" como un libro necesariamente solo para niños, sino mas bien como un libro para aquellos adultos que quieran volver a ser niños por un rato, para aquellos que quieran recordar lo que sentían cuando leían sus primeros libros de aventuras.

Enhorabuena Javier, de la lectura del libro se deducen la multitud de experiencias personales que seguramente motivaron y modelaron la particular historia de Piti en la Antartida, y quien sabe, quizás en esta nueva era donde las películas de animación ocupan un papel tan predominante en la oferta disponible para la gran pantalla, no veo porque no podría la historia de Piti ocupar un puesto de relevancia si alguien se animara a llevarla del papel al cine.

martes, 29 de marzo de 2016


Reading Birket-Smith´s book about Inuit people I have found this pretty song which apparently was sang once by Copper Eskimos. 

"The song of a death man dreamed by an alive one"
Tell me, Was the life in Earth so beautiful? 

Here hapinness fills me
every time aurora raises over the Earth
and the great Sun
slides up in the sky.
But the rest of the time I lie, anxious and afraid 
covered by larva and worms
which quenched in the clavicle cavity 
and pierce my eyes
Aji, jai, ja

I found it creepy and beautiful at the same time, it would be the perfect epitaph to be carved in my gravestone. Any knowledge about its origins would be welcome.

jueves, 10 de marzo de 2016


I am not the kind of people who likes to break myths, but in this case I am afraid someone has unmasked an impostor.

It seems that the only known portrait of Sophie Cracroft, (you know who she is, Lady Franklin´s niece who accompanied her untiringly all around the world), doesn´t belong her. Through a searching I was conducting through Pinterest I have stumbled upon this picture which gives us information about the true name of the pretty girl depicted in that allegedly Sophie´s portrait.

Ex-Sophie Cracroft.

Apparently the woman in the portrait is called Alphonsine Plessis and it was painted by Édouard Viénot. She was a French courtesan born in 1824  ans was the mistress of some important men of the time. She was too the inspiration who embodied Marguarite Gautier from The Dame aux Camelies by Alexander Dumas. 

If you "Googleized" the name Alphonsine Plessis in The Internet, then other portraits will appear with women on them whose countenances coincide with our Sophie.
Alphonsine PlessisFrom Scandolous woman blogspot

Alphonsine Plessis
From Wikipedia
It seems that behind our Sophie was hidden Alphonsine and behind Alphonsise was hidden The Dame aux Camelies. Interesting, isn´t it?

So, this adds a little bit more mystery to her already enough mysterious character. If this is true, which it seems to be, then the only known portrait of her is that photo oon which she appears with Lady Franklin. That one which Russell Potter identified some time ago. 

Alphonsine´s body lies in Montmartre´s cemetery far from Kensal Cemetery, the place where the actual Sophie was buried. Hers was a much shorter life than Sophie´s and judging from what I have read about her infinitely much less interesting.

jueves, 18 de febrero de 2016


There are very few portraits of the mourning wive of our vanished explorer John Franklin and, as far as we currently now, there is only an existing photograph from her which Russell Potter found time ago as if it were a tiny needle in an massive haystack.

This time, while looking for details about a curious Polka, ...yes, a Polka... called "Polar Bear Polka" about which I expect to say something here someday..., I have stumbled upon this unexpected engraving. I have not a clear idea about who its author is and if it is contemporary to the publication of the book where I have found it. 

This engraving appears in the book: "Professor Sonntag´s thrilling narrative of the Grinnell exploring expedition to the Arctic Ocean in the years 1853, 1854 and 1855" which was published for first time in 1857. Lady Franklin was born the 4th of december of 1791, so if the engraving was made by the time the book was published she should be about 66 years old by then, age which, I think,  definitely doesn´t match the age of the woman in the portrait. Judging from her appearance I would say she looks quite far younger than that age. 

Lady Franklin from Sonntag´s book "Professor Sonntag´s thrilling narrative of the Grinnell exploring expedition to the Arctic Ocean in the years 1853, 1854 and 1855" 

Engravings were the way illustrations could appear in a book or newspaper in the past, and they usually come from paintings or even from photographs. Because the pose of our beloved Lady, I would dare to say that this particular engraving must have come from a painting which for some reason has not survived or it just hasn´t appeared yet. Her long hair and uncovered neck makes me think this could be a portrait of her in her thirties. Perhaps the painting was made previous to the day of her wedding.Time will say. 

My first impression when I took a close look to her serious countenance is that hers was a face invaded by a deep sadness. Because of that I thought this was a Lady Franklin on her fifties who was currently enduring the dissappearance of her husband. There are deep tracks of suffering and pain carving her lower eyelids forming dark eye bags which sadden an otherwise determined look, but too, her infinite will and resolution are visible in the pronounced lines around her mouth. It has been the long hair and naked neck which have made me think otherwise. Did her suffering begin before John Franklin sailed towards history in 1845?

The difference is notable if we compared this new portrait which I have found with this other shown below, much more known, on which she shows a much maturer look and which was allegedly painted in 1838 when she was about 46 years old. She still bears a friendly smile, almost affectionate. 

Jane, Lady Franklin, 1838, by Thomas Bock, chalk on paper
In all of her portraits there is a certain hidden pre-Victorian beauty. You can see through her eyes the life of a a pretty, young and visionary girl who got married with one of the most successful explorers of the time, and too, the tiring life of a woman who traveled thousand of miles. 

Lady Franklin besides Sophie Cracroft´s grave in Kensal Cemetery. Lady Franklin´s name appears in the headstone but her actual grave is located below a little chapel, see here.

A controversial figure, lady Franklin, arise on me various feelings, mainly of affection but also of astonishment. She was unquestionably an interesting character who deserves to be analysed in detail. I would love to get deeper on her psyche and ascertain which were her actual drivers to get married with a husband with which she would hardly would spend some few years together. I would give my kingdom to who could explain me which were the reasons why she developed such coldness towards her stepdaughter and why she never untiringly stopped traveling all around the world. 

She was a woman who I would say never found not only John Franklin, her husband, but who never found whatever other thing she was after. I have the feeling that she never filled the blanks of her ambitious life through which she wanted to accomplish everything.