Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Peglar Papers:
An Addition

After a posting I did concerning the disastrous Franklin Expedition and the Victory Point document, which is the only document found that gives much if any detail concerning the actions and fate of the members of the Franklin Expedition after they lost contact with Europeans in 1845, I had the good luck to carry on a brief and informative correspondence with Russell Potter an expert on the Franklin Expedition and whose blog Visions of the North, contains much interesting information concerning said expedition.

In one of his postings Russell Potter discusses a collection of papers found by McClintock on a skeleton he found on the south coast of King William island in 1859.1

Location on King William Island of place where Peglar’s body and papers were found

I have little to add to the posting regarding Harry Peglar and his papers except that to give some more particulars concerning the content of said letters. In an article published in 1954 R. J. Cyriax and A. G. E. Jones published some but not all of what could be made out of the documents found, which not surprisingly were in poor condition.2

One of the documents was a summary of Harry Peglar’s navy service and it goes as follows:

November 1825
This is to Se( ) H Peglar Has served On board of his M S Clio 1825 Joined H M Ship Magnificent at Spit Head Sail For Jamaker Under Command Lev( )tenent Mundel tern Over to H M Hulk Serreapes Commander Ellott Tran( ) H M Ship Rattelsnake Captain J. Leath Searved Under him two years Joined H M tender Pearsis Captain C….t late Chief Press Master tower Hill London joined H M Ship Prince Regent discharged for ( )g apprentice Sail under Command of Tommy larking to China left Gor Tallis and his lady and douthers at ( )aint Helena Struck with lighting on the Passadge …ut tow Men Struck Dead a Seargent and Private Retern to England 182( ) entered for H M Ship Ramelis tern over at Chatham Reentered for The Tallavarer Cap Coalby Supper Seaed by Cap Brown Rit for my discharge and got … China in the Marquis Camden lost our Chief Mate Shot going in to Bombay Mr …en Retern to England 1833 …… H M Ship Gannett C M Maxfeild ( )ntered for H M Spih Temmarare 1838 ( )n over to H M Ship ocean Cp Sir John Hill Shearness Paid of 38 Joined H M S Wander…. C M Denman alas Seamour now in the Terror.3

Another document was a sea song, dated April 21 1847, which was a modified version of an older poem of which Cyriax and Jones only quote the first and then last few lines, unfortunately:
The C The C the open C it grew so fresh the Ever free.

When I wos On Old England Shore I like the/young C more and more and ofte times flewe/to a Sheetering Plase like a bird thar Seek it/mother’s Case and a H She wos and Oft to me/for I love I love a young and Hopen C.4
On the above document is written the words “Sentemental or Comic” and the following Address, “In care of Mr. Heaithfield, a Squier, no 10 Pelmell West London”. Also Written is the following which Cyriax and Jones suggests might be some sort of will, “Mr Father all to Miss down fall no 6 Old free street and a Clear Couarse”.5

Remnants of tent foundation erected by members of the Franklin Expedition

Another document is the following address, “Mr. John Cowper, No 47 John St., Commercial Road, London. Paid.”6

Another document simply bears the words “ Sentemental Song”.7

Another document is largely indecipherable; it has a date “September … 1840” or “1846”. According to Cyriax and Jones it appears to be a story about a dog. There is a heading on this document saying “Lines writ on the north” and a drawing of a eye with the words “lid Bay” below it.8

Relics found by McClintock of the Franklin Expedition

Another document which seems to be about sea animals as part of it is as follows:

Late on one summers night/ … the month of june/ … sent a way/… a spoon/ Imaid my bark a thort the tide/ and my crew they went to sleep/ while…keep a lookout/ for fish alli n the deep/ Has my little bark was drifting down/ I wos shot a … and ggit one of O”Connell/ Tertill came swimming sloley by/ my crew got up and grapple him/ and lug him in my boat/ off one pull quite marely/ to that gallnt bark a float/ sir the wait … that little marter/ bird w…67 pounds/ the … made a splened/ hot dinner off … prime little fellow wot …/ a tertill.9

A little below that is written “Lines upon Trinadad laying in Asham Bay”.10

On another piece of paper is written “Lines writ … party wot happened at Trinadad”, and the word “September”, with some other words that could not be made out.11

Another document seems to be a sort of a poem. Cyriax and Jones give only the opening line stating that much is unintelligible. The line is:

O death whare is thy sting, the grave at Comfort Cove for who has any doubt how … the dyer sad and whare traffalger, etc.12

Considering what happened to the crews of the Erebus and Terror just a little to appropriate.

On the other side of this paper, written in a circle, are the following lines. “He I … ave wonder … mony a night gl … a bouat the harmonic”. Within that circle is written “ … rode … tell the w … you peglar bord onn hay the terror camp clear”.13

A further document seems to a description of gathering in Cumana Venezuela. Cyriax and Jones do not give a transcription of the text but it does include the following passage:

Has we have got some very hard ground to heave … we shall want some grog to wet houer … issel … all my art Tom for I do think … time … I cloze should lay and … the 21st night a gread.14

Cyriax and Jones wonder if the 21st mentioned is the 21st of April 1848 the day before the Terror and Erebus where abandoned by the surviving crew members.

On the back of the paper is the following address “IME…P Evarglleb Raauqs, Ocilmip, West”.15

Another paper as the following address, “O. J. Rezzoe, a Squier, R.N. … Sandile Harber … Belvue Couart … eth”16

Finally another piece of paper with another address, “To Mr. Heather, sen … Citty…ation, Abberdeen, Lond…”

There was also a parchment certificate of the seaman service of Harry Peglar. Cyriax and Jones do not provide a transcription and the writing appears to be largely illegible anyway.17

Infuriatingly the documents tell us next to nothing about what happened to the Franklin Expedition and from their fragmentary condition it appears that a good deal was lost of them during the attempted escape. It appears that the papers we have are documents by Peglar and one or more other men. Thus what we seem to have is a collection of what amounts to fragments written for the most part, for unknown reasons, backwards.

Still they are glimpse into the minds of those doomed men and it would seem that in fairness to their memory perhaps a full transcription of what can be gleaned from the papers, using modern methods of analyzing old documents to see if we can find more writing in the papers, should be published. So we can have a glimpse, however, fleeting of those lost lives.

Skull of one of Franklin’s men

1. Visions of the North, Here the posting about the Peglar papers Here

2. Cyriax, R. J., & Jones, A. G. E., The Papers in the Possession of Harry Peglar, Captain of the Foretop, H.M.S. Terror, 1845, The Mariner’s Mirror, v. 40, pp. 186-195, 1954.

3. IBID. p. 189.

4. IBID. p. 190.

5. IBID. p. 191.

6. IBID. p. 191.

7. IBID. p. 192.

8. IBID.

9. IBID.

10. IBID.

11. IBID.

12. IBID.

13. IBID. p. 192-193.

14. IBID. p. 193.

15. IBID. p. 193.

16. IBID. p. 193.

17. IBID. p. 188.

Pierre Cloutier


  1. Hello Pierre, and many thanks for alerting me to this blog posting. Yes, the article by Cyriax and Jones is, for the time being, the last word on the "Peglar" papers. I have worked with the original papers for many hours over a period of many days at the Caird Library at the National Maritime Museum, but must report that, in their present condition at least, there is not much more to be gathered from them than the passages given by Cyriax all those years ago. It might be possible to obtain a better transcription by photographing them under different kinds of light (UV light, which makes certain elements of old fashioned inks iridescent, would be a good one to try) or by making super-high-res images and doing some digital processing, is probably needed to get much more. What we have here, in the end, is probably a series of shipboard reminiscences, mostly composed long before the abandonment, many having to do with tropical climes that Peglar and or his mates must have very much missed. Some were apparently meant to be sent to friends at home, but it does not appear that the person carrying them -- most probably William Armitage, a gun-room steward who'd sailed with Peglar a few times before -- had added much in the way of his own words on the later state of the crews. Even the passage "21st night a gread" comes in the midst of reminiscences about some other matter.

  2. Thank you for your comments. It is indeed a pity that little more can be gleaned out of the documents without the use of more advanced technology. I rather like the idea of advanced digital processing. I still think, however, that given that Cyriax and Jones explicitly mention in their article that they did not quote all that they got from the papers, ussually because it would be of little interest, or so they think, that their full notes of what they were able to glean should be published.

  3. Cyriax's own notes are, as it happens, included in the archival box that contains the original papers -- they don't add much. I have a version of the entire papers that I've been working on, but it's not what I would consider complete, and I can't put it online without the permission of the Maritime Museum. If it's of any interest, the only additional lines of any relevance that I have found which are not in Cyriax's article are these: "brekfest to be short rations" and "whose coffee is this." I also managed a bit more of the "Grave at Comfort Cove" poem, but only a few coherent phrases, such as "Thy rigid hands" and "to where Best frends lator are." These lines are probably not about a Franklin burial, but one on Ascension Island, where the cemetery at "Comfortless Cove" was once known as "Comfort Cove." There are so many damaged and illegible words that I'm convinced that better imagery is needed before it would be wise to publish a version that's still full of blank spaces ...