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What's on the mind of Team America?

Introduction

Find out more about our Americas Studies collections on the Americas blog, written by our curatorial team and guest posts from the Eccles Centre writers in residence. Our collections cover both North and South America, as well as the Caribbean. Read more

13 April 2015

Discovering the Northwest Passage

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Gallery image

Above: a lightbox from Lines in the Ice [image by PJH]

Two things you won't find in 'Lines in the Ice: seeking the Northwest Passage' are a map showing the route of the Passage and an authoritative statement as to who, in the end, discovered this fabled path. As for the map, this is because there is no one route that can be rightly called the Northwest Passage, instead there are myriad channels scattered throughout the archipelago of northern Canada. Similarly, discerning exactly who discovered the Passage is akin to navigating a path through an archipelago of competing claims and achievements.

First things first, a rhetorical question; who do you think discovered the Northwest Passage? If you're British you probably think of Franklin himself, lost in the twilight years of his career in an attempt to fill in the last few blanks on the map of the Canadian Arctic. The evidence for what Franklin did or didn't discover is patchy but by reaching the north of King William Island Franklin did connect the exploration done in the Melville Sound with that done on the north Canadian coast (in which he too was involved). As a result, Lady Jane Franklin felt able to argue he and his crew should receive the honour. However, this is not the whole picture and, indeed, a story lies behind Lady Franklin's motivations.

Simpson and Dease (map)

Above: the work done by Simpson and Dease for the hudson's Bay Co. up until 1839 [BL: 1424.h.2]

Before we discuss this, mention must be made of an oft-forgot expedition instigated not by the Navy but by the Hudson's Bay Company. The expedition of Simpson and Dease was an attempt to fill in the blanks on Canada's north coast and it did so very differently from the Navy's standard practice; meaning they travelled overland and lightly in small teams. Thomas Simpson, cousin of the director of the Hudson’s' Bay Company, Sir George Simpson, made great strides in completing the charting of Canada's north coast and also claimed, after an expedition in 1839, to have, 'secured for our ... Company the indisputable honour of discovering the north-west passage...'. Closer analysis suggests Simpson may have been referring, peculiarly, to the completion of the western part of the passage, especially as he wished later to finally complete the survey of the Passage over land. Ultimately Simpson was denied the chance as he died in mysterious circumstances but his and Dease's work, which came so close to completing a charting of the Passage, reminds us how many endeavours were involved in the completion of this work of centuries. 

Investigator (Banks Island)

Above: HMS Investigator to the north of Banks Land, from where McClure would spot the Melville Island [BL: 10460.e.10]

Two other names of note in the final chapters of the discovery of the Northwest Passage are those of Captain Robert McClure and Dr. John Rae. McClure, at this time a Commander, was involved in the search for Franklin and ended up being the first commanding officer to complete the Passage. Having entered from the Pacific and reached Banks Island (before being frozen into the ice) McClure could see Melville Island and the site of Parry's furthest west of 1819. By travelling overland McClure linked the two points of exploration in 1851 and his expedition was the first to connect together a complete Northwest Passage. As a result, on his return home, overlooking having lost a ship and disobeyed the orders of his superior officer, McClure was given a hero's welcome and awarded £10,000 by Parliament.

Rae (map)

Above: a map from the account of Rae's 1848 and 1849 voyage. The blank area to the east of 'King William Land' would be charted as sea by Rae in 1854 [BL: 2370.e.4]

Despite the efforts of McClure and his crew, the Northwest Passage discovered in 1851 was, for all intents and purposes, useless due to the amount of ice found there each summer. An ice free route was discovered by Dr. John Rae in 1854, the same year as he discerned the fate of Franklin and his crew from the accounts of Inuit he encountered. Rae discovered that 'King William Land' was actually King William Island. Franklin had become stuck in the ice attempting to navigate the western side of this landmass but the strait discovered by Rae is frequently free of ice and was used by Amundsen during his navigation of the Passage from 1903-1906

Amundsen route

Above: the route of Amundsen's navigation between 1903 and 1906, using the areas charted by Rae, Franklin, Simpson and Dease [BL: 2352.f.4]

Both McClure and Rae's discoveries can be regarded as phenomenal achievements and each are regarded, by various historians, as being the true pioneers of the Northwest Passage. And yet, their names are less well-known than Franklin's. This is, in part, because of the political and popular agency of Lady Jane Franklin who, after McClure's award and Rae's return with a story involving death and cannibalism, sought to salvage what she could of her husband's reputation. While discrediting McClure and Rae, Lady Franklin also set about developing the popular idea that Franklin perhaps navigated the Passage first or at the very least connected together its few remaining dots through his overwintering at King William Island.

Franklin (statue)

Above: Franklin's statue in Waterloo Place [image by PJH]

Such ideas would subsequently be set down in print and memorialised in statues. Franklin's statue today stands tall in Waterloo Place, a site of memorialisation for some of the British Empire's most notable apostles and martyrs, where the accompanying plaque reads, 'They forged the last link [of the Passage] with their lives'. While the inscription does not explicitly state that Franklin and his crew discovered the passage that could instead be interpreted as a testament to the efforts of both Franklins and the many other individuals who, in these last years, navigated the archipelago and charted, 'a Northwest Passage to the sea'.

‘Lines in the Ice’ is, sadly, now in its last week. To see more items from the expeditions of Franklin, McClure and Rae, not to mention myriad rare maps and unique historical accounts, be sure to visit the Library before closing on April 19th.

[PJH]

08 April 2015

The Man Who Ate His Boots

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Franklin overland camp

 Above: A winter camp during Franklin's famously hungry first expedition [BL: 10460.c.34]

When we first pitched Lines in the Ice as an exhibition idea one thing was clear from the start, this could only ever hope to be an introduction to the Library's polar and even Northwest Passage related collections. As a result all the individual stories that form the whole of the exhibition are notes in wider narratives which could be further expanded by looking deeper into the Library's collections. Even Franklin, who receives so much attention on the gallery floor and was one of the drivers for putting on the exhibition, has a larger story to tell through the Library's collections.

As the exhibition draws to a close (we've now got less than a fortnight to run) I'm thinking about Franklin again and all that the collections here can tell us about his role in the search for the Northwest Passage. As a result of his fate and the humorous sound bites about his overland expeditions Franklin is often popularly remembered as a failure. Lines in the Ice has sought to raise questions about this perspective and my recent work on our materials relating to Franklin has only affirmed my opinion that a man (and a team) of such determination and who achieved such monumental feats of endurance cannot be so easily dismissed.

Inuit boats (Franklin Second Journey)

Above: Franklin's team are approached by Inuit kayaks during his second overland voyage [BL: G.7398]

The appendices to Franklin's published accounts illustrate the fact. Not only did he and his team chart large tracts of the Arctic coast of North America while enduring some of the worst weather on record they also recorded the climate, geological observations and the flora and fauna of the areas they crossed. The result is a detailed record not just of the expedition but of the ecology and climate of northern Canada in the early nineteenth century. On top of this, other members of the expedition left behind records of the individuals and cultures they encountered on the journey, most notably in the form of Lieutenant Back's translation of voyageur songs, 'Canadian Airs'.

Sabine appendices (flower)  Sabine appendices (lichen)
Above: some of the illustrations from the zoological appendix to Franklin's first account, compiled by Joseph Sabine [BL: 569.f.16]

In the context of the first expedition all of this was achieved in the face of not only extremely bad weather but an ongoing feud between the North West and Hudson's Bay companies that all but deprived Franklin and his team of the required support. While the expedition was a disaster and this led to a high rate of death (and unsavory incidents) amongst the men the significance of factors originating outside of the expedition must be noted, as should the achievements the expedition managed to make. That men survived and produced an insightful record of the journey makes it less easy to dismiss Franklin's overland expeditions just as poorly-conceived follies. Instead, we should perhaps view them within the context of Franklin's life as a whole, one marked by distinguished service, postings around the world and an ability to survive the worst war and exploration could throw at him. At least until his later, fateful, journey.

Canadian Airs (Back)

Above: Frontispiece of 'Canadian Airs' produced from songs compiled and translated by Lieut. George Back during Franklin's first overland expedition [BL: G. 416]

With this in mind, why not pop on your boots and come to see Lines in the Ice before it closes on April 19th? You'll not only learn more about Franklin and the search for the Northwest Passage, you'll hopefully get a taste to find out more in our reading rooms too.

[PJH]

07 April 2015

Nixon and Hoover

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8466362812_e7a3951b9a

President Nixon celebrating FBI Director Hoover's birthday on Air Force One with Secretary of State William P. Rogers and Mrs. Rogers, 12/31/1971 National Archives Identifier: 194400 Local Identifier: NLRN-WHPO-C8156-2 Creator(s): General Services Administration. National Archives and Records Service. Office of Presidential Libraries. Office of Presidential Papers. (01/20/1969 - ca. 12/1974) https://www.flickr.com/photos/nleomf/8466362812/sizes/l/in/photostream/ 

It was a great pleasure last month to hear Alexander Butterfield in conversation with Professor Iwan Morgan at the Library. Butterfield was a trusted member of the Nixon's inner circle since the President's inauguration in 1969. By February 1971, Butterfield was instructed to oversee the installation of the now infamous White House taping system. In 1973, he revealed its existence to the Senate Select Committee and the Watergate investigation was transformed.

Now in his late eighties Butterfield provided clear and humorous insight into life in the Nixon White House. For me, the talk reminded me of a long shadow that hung over the U.S. Executive until 1972, that of J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover was brought to mind, not because he was mentioned directly, but in 1937, a Richard Milhous Nixon applied to join the FBI. From the documents available in the FBI online Records, it appears that Nixon passed all the various tests required. Nor did the extensive background checks flag up anything untoward. Nevertheless Nixon was not appointed a FBI field agent, though no explicit reason was given. However, a memorandum to Hoover, on the 18th March 1954, stated that:

“[T]he reason for the cancellation of the appointment is not reflected in the file. It may be assumed that the view of the fact that Mr Nixon was not immediately available for appointment, and based on our needs in August of 1937, that the appointment was cancelled.”

It is no coincidence that this memo was written at this juncture. By 1954 Nixon was in his second year as Vice- President in the Eisenhower administration. Indeed, from November 1946 when Nixon was elected as Representative for California, along with John F. Kennedy for Massachusetts and a Senator Joseph R. McCarthy for Wisconsin, all of the aforementioned would have received a fresh FBI file as newly elected legislators. Clearly in the subsequent years of Congressional service, Nixon and Hoover’s relationship must have developed, not least because Nixon’s anti-communist views were closely aligned to those of Joseph McCarthy’s who courted Hoover’s friendship from his arrival at the Capitol.

As McCarthy’s recklessness “threatened to the respectability of Republican anti-Communism”, Eisenhower used Nixon as a go-between in an effort to restrain the maverick Wisconsin Senator. Nevertheless, the closeness of the Nixon/Hoover relationship over the years was possibly best illustrated by Hoover’s bragging in FBI circles that he had created Nixon. This would have been reinforced in Hoover’s own mind when as President–elect Nixon met with Hoover early on at his transition headquarters in New York, promising him, 'Edgar, you are one of the few people who is to have direct access to me at all times.'

Inevitably Hoover held the whip hand in their relationship since on the two occasions when Nixon came under pressure to force Hoover to resign and summoned him to the Oval Office, he always left with his position as Director of the FBI intact. It was heart disease and not the Executive which ended J. Edger Hoover’s tenure.

Ironically, it was at that meeting in the Hotel Pierre in New York where Hoover planted the seed that would ultimately result in Nixon’s downfall.

Hoover warned Nixon, who as President-elect would attend the White House as the guest of the incumbent, then President Johnson, that he should be careful what he said, because 'Johnson had installed elaborate electronic equipment which enabled him secretly to record conversations in the Oval Office.'

On Nixon’s orders his deputy assistant Alexander Butterfield instructed the Secret Service to install recording devices in various locations around the White House, including five microphones fitted into the fabric of the Oval Office desk.

 

- Jerry Jenkins

A collection of Nixon’s recordings are freely available online: http://www.nixontapes.org/index.html

Presidential Campaign Activities of 1972, S. Res. 60. Watergate and Related Activities Phase 1: Watergate Investigation. Book 5. Accessible via the Congressional Hearings Digital Collection, 1824-1979

Morgan, Iwan, Nixon Arnold. London 2002 BL.Shelkmark : YC.2002.a.23723

Gentry, Curt, J. Edgar Hoover: the Man and the Secrets. WW. Norton: London 2001 BL Shelfmark : YA.1992.b.4224

The Watergate investigation index: Senate Select Committee hearings and reports on presidential campaign activities, compiled by Hedda Garza, Wilmington : Scholarly Resources, 1982. BL Shelfmark : X:205/1531