The North West Passage and the Serial Set
With reports on the possibility of shipping in the Arctic within a decade in mind, our Official Publications curator writes about some of his recent findings among the many government documents held by the Library:
While following up a lead on Benjamin Franklin in the digitised U.S. Congressional Serial Set,
I stumbled across a later reference to Sir John Franklinâ€™s 1845 exhibition to search for the North West Passage. The item in question was a short Senate Report from the Committee on Military Affairs (47th Congress 1st Session Report 655) requesting authorisation for the full payment of salary to a U.S. Army lieutenant, Fredrick Schwatka, who had taken leave to search for written evidence left behind by the ill-fated Franklin expedition.
Schwatka set off in June 1878, commanding a group of four others and accompanied by Inuit guides. Although the exhibition did not recover any written evidence left by Franklinâ€™s expedition, the Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society described Schwatkaâ€™s two year exhibition â€śas remarkable and in many respects his journey is without parallel [for having survived in the wilderness of the Arctic] without loss and without accident of any kindâ€ť.* Additionally, The Times applauded Schwatka for clearing the â€śreputation of a harmless people from undeserved reproach.â€ť
While both Franklinâ€™s and Schwatkaâ€™s stories are well known (for example, James Anderson, Searching for Franklin (1999)), it is always comforting to know that the Congressional Serial Setâ€™s official record can offer up insights into events such as the search for the North West Passage. Now back to my lead on Benjamin Franklin...
*Vol. 2, No. 11 (Nov., 1880), pp. 657-662 [BL shelfmark: Ac.6170/2]
[J. D. J.]