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Colouring outside the lines


Francis Trevelyan Miller lived to the respectable age of 82, dying in 1959 and thereby outstripping by 12 years a man’s “normal” span of four-score-and-10.

He did more in (well, let’s say) 62 years than most of us do in two full lifetimes. Miller was a writer of books, articles and movie scripts. His creative mind tugged him in many directions. He wrote about Lincoln, the American Civil War and the achievements of the American people; he wrote volume after volume on The Great War; he wrote about war industries and about the world’s strange religions.

Check out a list of his books and articles online and you will wonder how he ever had time for supper. But he did, and earned doctorates in law and literature, too.

What piques my interest in Miller right now is his 1930 book “The World’s Great Adventure: 1,000 Years of Polar Exploration.”

Last week, my column concerned the lost Franklin expedition to the Arctic and what was written about it in a book published seven short years after the two-ship British party went missing. In checking my sources for that column I couldn’t help but notice other things. As it is unlikely many today have encountered these bits and pieces, I decided there was another column worth doing.

Miller’s writing shows that on occasion he allowed a fanciful imagination to colour his history. You can tell that he wrote for movies. Consider Eric the Red leaving his native Norway, via Iceland, and then to settle Greenland, there is no shortage of adjectives:

“Twenty-five shiploads of Vikings sailed the northern seas. With their terrible swords in their hands, their massive shields upon one arm and their bold and cruel womenfolk on the other, they invaded the coasts of Greenland. Eleven shiploads perished on the voyage. Fourteen made the shore to terrify and subdue the natives and to establish their savage customs and their savage gods.”

Miller writes about the Vikings as Errol Flynn might have given voice and muscle to it all. Coming forward in time to our northern island, we read that:

“In 1497, Henry VII, spurred by the ‘gold rush,’ sent the Cabots, John and his son, Sebastian, to reach India ‘by a shorter route’ and take possession of its wealth. Sailing westward from Bristol, they came upon land between 45 degrees and 50 degrees north and calling it ‘Prima Terra Vesta’ (now Nova Scotia and Newfoundland) they sailed home again, where the king rewarded them with a grant of about 50 dollars.”

 

Sebastian’s colonizing venture

Miller continues with our history, injecting a few little new things. You thought John Guy made the first colonizing trip out here?

“John Cabot died, but his son, Sebastian, fitting out a fleet of five vessels, took with him more than a hundred emigrants and set sail to colonize the ‘new found land.’ He reached 67 degrees north, probably passing for the first time into the waters of what was later to be known as Hudson Bay. A few natives were brought back to England where they excited much comment and great admiration but the emigrants all perished of cold and starvation. During his voyage, Cabot explored more than eighteen-hundred miles of the coast of North America and for this his king awarded him the office of grand pilot of England.”

Miller terms the Arctic and polar explorations “the search for the top of the world.” This next little clip is interesting:

“The first attempt actually to sail to the North Pole was made by sailors under patents granted by Henry VIII in 1527.”

Miller quotes the historian Richard Hakluyt (1553-1616) that there were “two faire ships, well manned and victualled, having in them divers cunning men to seek strange places.”

We know little else except that Hakluyt says only one of the two ships returned home; Miller continues, “the other never returned from the venturesome voyage, having been cast away with all of its crew in a dangerous gulf between Newfoundland and Greenland,” and “all records of this expedition have been lost in the mist of ages.”

After retelling the story of Sir Humphrey Gilbert much as we know it here today, Miller goes on to say that “the gloom which settled over England (from Gilbert’s loss) was raised only by the news that Sir Walter Raleigh had established on Roanoke Island, off the coast of Carolina, the first English colony in the Western Hemisphere.”

The fact that the Roanoke settlement disappeared in 1586 helps Newfoundland’s claim as the cornerstone of the British empire.

 

An iceberg is born

Miller spared his readers nothing in recounting tales of hardship and death that came to so many stout-hearted would-be discoverers —whether their elusive prize was a sea channel, new land or rivers of gold. He becomes particularly gruesome when he tells of exhausted men seeking shelter onshore and unwittingly bedding down in the hunting grounds of “great white bears.”

But another dramatic encounter in this forbidding world would be the creation of an iceberg. The word “calving” is too tame by far. A singularly spectacular event unveiled itself to British seamen in 1818, as Miller recounts.

The British Admiralty sent the Dorothea and the Trent northwards in 1818 to find an ice-free channel past Spitsbergen, to Greenland and from there, on to the west. Included in the team was Capt. David Buchan (the man who, eight years earlier was sent by our Gov. John Thomas Duckworth into the interior of Newfoundland to seek Beothuks); Rear Admiral Frederick William Beechey, Arctic explorer and geographer; and John Franklin, ultimately to become the famed Sir John Franklin of the lost Erebus and Terror expedition.

After sailing from England, the two ships came together in Magdalena Bay, Spitsbergen, as Miller describes the location, “under the grandeur of mountains rising two and three thousand feet sheer from the sea, their deep valleys filled with immense glaciers covered with gleaming snow.” (In fact, the highest elevation on Spitsbergen is 5,620 feet).

“Amazed by the vision,” Miller continues, “the men watched great masses of ice break away and fall into the sea with deafening reverberations.”

Beechey measured one of the bergs which had fallen from a height of 200 feet and found it to be more than a quarter of a mile in circumference.

“Computing its weight, he arrived at the astounding total of 421,660 tons.”

Our Hibernia production platform is 41,000 tons. The iceberg of 1818 then, was equal to 10 and one-third Hibernia platforms.

And here is the part of the narrative I was waiting for, “the waves set up by its precipitation into the water caused the Dorothea to rock violently backwards and forwards, although she was lying more than four miles away.”

(Note: If you Google Frederick William Beechey and then click on images, you will see some wonderful and dramatic pictures of the Arctic in years gone by.)

 

A reader writes to clarify

“I read with interest your story on the Franklin search. I have been living in the Arctic for close to 30 years, and have always been fascinated with the early explorers, and their trials, tribulations, triumphs, mistakes, and losses. This story caught my eye, and I have to say that I had never heard of the use of foxes carrying messages. Amazing, really, but perhaps not as far-fetched as it might appear at first glance.

“One thing in your story is, I think, inaccurate. Port Leopold is not near Pangnirtung. It is on the NE tip of Somerset Island, facing Prince Regent Inlet. It’s co-ordinates are approximately 74° N, 91°W. That puts it in the eastern reaches of the Northwest Passage, an area that had a fair likelihood of being traversed by the Erebus and Terror (assuming they were still afloat with anyone alive). Pangnirtung is on Cumberland Sound, facing onto David Strait, about 1200KM to the SE.

“But that’s a minor thing. Thanks for the enjoyable read.”

Steve Pinksen

Iqaluit, NU

 

Paul Sparkes is a longtime journalist intrigued by the history of Newfoundland and Labrador. Email psparkes@thetelegram.com.

 

 

He did more in (well, let’s say) 62 years than most of us do in two full lifetimes. Miller was a writer of books, articles and movie scripts. His creative mind tugged him in many directions. He wrote about Lincoln, the American Civil War and the achievements of the American people; he wrote volume after volume on The Great War; he wrote about war industries and about the world’s strange religions.

Check out a list of his books and articles online and you will wonder how he ever had time for supper. But he did, and earned doctorates in law and literature, too.

What piques my interest in Miller right now is his 1930 book “The World’s Great Adventure: 1,000 Years of Polar Exploration.”

Last week, my column concerned the lost Franklin expedition to the Arctic and what was written about it in a book published seven short years after the two-ship British party went missing. In checking my sources for that column I couldn’t help but notice other things. As it is unlikely many today have encountered these bits and pieces, I decided there was another column worth doing.

Miller’s writing shows that on occasion he allowed a fanciful imagination to colour his history. You can tell that he wrote for movies. Consider Eric the Red leaving his native Norway, via Iceland, and then to settle Greenland, there is no shortage of adjectives:

“Twenty-five shiploads of Vikings sailed the northern seas. With their terrible swords in their hands, their massive shields upon one arm and their bold and cruel womenfolk on the other, they invaded the coasts of Greenland. Eleven shiploads perished on the voyage. Fourteen made the shore to terrify and subdue the natives and to establish their savage customs and their savage gods.”

Miller writes about the Vikings as Errol Flynn might have given voice and muscle to it all. Coming forward in time to our northern island, we read that:

“In 1497, Henry VII, spurred by the ‘gold rush,’ sent the Cabots, John and his son, Sebastian, to reach India ‘by a shorter route’ and take possession of its wealth. Sailing westward from Bristol, they came upon land between 45 degrees and 50 degrees north and calling it ‘Prima Terra Vesta’ (now Nova Scotia and Newfoundland) they sailed home again, where the king rewarded them with a grant of about 50 dollars.”

 

Sebastian’s colonizing venture

Miller continues with our history, injecting a few little new things. You thought John Guy made the first colonizing trip out here?

“John Cabot died, but his son, Sebastian, fitting out a fleet of five vessels, took with him more than a hundred emigrants and set sail to colonize the ‘new found land.’ He reached 67 degrees north, probably passing for the first time into the waters of what was later to be known as Hudson Bay. A few natives were brought back to England where they excited much comment and great admiration but the emigrants all perished of cold and starvation. During his voyage, Cabot explored more than eighteen-hundred miles of the coast of North America and for this his king awarded him the office of grand pilot of England.”

Miller terms the Arctic and polar explorations “the search for the top of the world.” This next little clip is interesting:

“The first attempt actually to sail to the North Pole was made by sailors under patents granted by Henry VIII in 1527.”

Miller quotes the historian Richard Hakluyt (1553-1616) that there were “two faire ships, well manned and victualled, having in them divers cunning men to seek strange places.”

We know little else except that Hakluyt says only one of the two ships returned home; Miller continues, “the other never returned from the venturesome voyage, having been cast away with all of its crew in a dangerous gulf between Newfoundland and Greenland,” and “all records of this expedition have been lost in the mist of ages.”

After retelling the story of Sir Humphrey Gilbert much as we know it here today, Miller goes on to say that “the gloom which settled over England (from Gilbert’s loss) was raised only by the news that Sir Walter Raleigh had established on Roanoke Island, off the coast of Carolina, the first English colony in the Western Hemisphere.”

The fact that the Roanoke settlement disappeared in 1586 helps Newfoundland’s claim as the cornerstone of the British empire.

 

An iceberg is born

Miller spared his readers nothing in recounting tales of hardship and death that came to so many stout-hearted would-be discoverers —whether their elusive prize was a sea channel, new land or rivers of gold. He becomes particularly gruesome when he tells of exhausted men seeking shelter onshore and unwittingly bedding down in the hunting grounds of “great white bears.”

But another dramatic encounter in this forbidding world would be the creation of an iceberg. The word “calving” is too tame by far. A singularly spectacular event unveiled itself to British seamen in 1818, as Miller recounts.

The British Admiralty sent the Dorothea and the Trent northwards in 1818 to find an ice-free channel past Spitsbergen, to Greenland and from there, on to the west. Included in the team was Capt. David Buchan (the man who, eight years earlier was sent by our Gov. John Thomas Duckworth into the interior of Newfoundland to seek Beothuks); Rear Admiral Frederick William Beechey, Arctic explorer and geographer; and John Franklin, ultimately to become the famed Sir John Franklin of the lost Erebus and Terror expedition.

After sailing from England, the two ships came together in Magdalena Bay, Spitsbergen, as Miller describes the location, “under the grandeur of mountains rising two and three thousand feet sheer from the sea, their deep valleys filled with immense glaciers covered with gleaming snow.” (In fact, the highest elevation on Spitsbergen is 5,620 feet).

“Amazed by the vision,” Miller continues, “the men watched great masses of ice break away and fall into the sea with deafening reverberations.”

Beechey measured one of the bergs which had fallen from a height of 200 feet and found it to be more than a quarter of a mile in circumference.

“Computing its weight, he arrived at the astounding total of 421,660 tons.”

Our Hibernia production platform is 41,000 tons. The iceberg of 1818 then, was equal to 10 and one-third Hibernia platforms.

And here is the part of the narrative I was waiting for, “the waves set up by its precipitation into the water caused the Dorothea to rock violently backwards and forwards, although she was lying more than four miles away.”

(Note: If you Google Frederick William Beechey and then click on images, you will see some wonderful and dramatic pictures of the Arctic in years gone by.)

 

A reader writes to clarify

“I read with interest your story on the Franklin search. I have been living in the Arctic for close to 30 years, and have always been fascinated with the early explorers, and their trials, tribulations, triumphs, mistakes, and losses. This story caught my eye, and I have to say that I had never heard of the use of foxes carrying messages. Amazing, really, but perhaps not as far-fetched as it might appear at first glance.

“One thing in your story is, I think, inaccurate. Port Leopold is not near Pangnirtung. It is on the NE tip of Somerset Island, facing Prince Regent Inlet. It’s co-ordinates are approximately 74° N, 91°W. That puts it in the eastern reaches of the Northwest Passage, an area that had a fair likelihood of being traversed by the Erebus and Terror (assuming they were still afloat with anyone alive). Pangnirtung is on Cumberland Sound, facing onto David Strait, about 1200KM to the SE.

“But that’s a minor thing. Thanks for the enjoyable read.”

Steve Pinksen

Iqaluit, NU

 

Paul Sparkes is a longtime journalist intrigued by the history of Newfoundland and Labrador. Email psparkes@thetelegram.com.

 

 

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