Oct 5, 2005

Chapter 34

PETA: Winner of the Franklin Expedition Award, 2010

By Bob Dawson (Neanderthal and proud)
(This is a continuation of Chapter 33)

It was meant to be the voyage of a lifetime, but instead it cost them their lives. They came from the most advanced society of their time; they were leaders in the largest empire the world had ever seen. They came with five years of provisions and the complete works of Shakespeare. They were officers and gentlemen, in loyal service to God, King and Country. Within 18 months, they became cannibals, eating each other.

Their two ships were the equivalent of a luxury liner, an enclosed capsule carrying a miniature version of British civilization, completely sealed and cut off from the alien world they sailed through.

For 1845, it was remarkably advanced. Although this was the time of wooden sailing ships, Franklin’s command ship also had a steam engine and propellers, and a double hull reinforced with steel, so it could go through the ice, and like the Titanic 60 years later, it was unsinkable.

But the big attraction for young adventurers was the sheer luxury of their Great Adventure. They were sailing off to Arctic Canada to find the Holy Grail of shipping - the North-West passage that would reduce the shipping distance from ..Europe to Asia by 11,500 km.

They took with them provisions to last five years. They had an onboard library with 1,000 books, and a classroom where the crew could study everything from the geography of the British Empire to the plays of Shakespeare. Amazing for that time, the ship had central heating. They had an onboard surgeon and a medical clinic. The furniture was the most expensive mahogany. They had the scientific instruments of the day – this was a research and exploration ship for Arctic waters, built-to-suit for that purpose. They even had a camera.

There was nothing to fear. They had with them 10 live oxen to be slaughtered for fresh meat, 61,987 Kg of flour, 16,749 L of liquor, 909L of wine, 4,287 Kg of chocolate, 1,069 Kg of tea, 8,000 tins of soup, meat, and vegetables, 3,215 Kg of tobacco, 1,673 Kg of soap, 1,225 Kg of candles, 4,200 Kg of lemon juice.

They got stuck in the ice and waited for rescue ships to come. A year and a half went by and nobody came. They had supplies for five years, but these were men of action. They decided to walk south.

But what to carry with them? Well, they were British, not savages. A gentleman of high culture must always be a gentleman of high culture, no matter what the circumstances.

They carried with them as they walked on the frozen sea silverware for tea at 4 p.m. They carried with them wooden boxes containing their carefully folded bright red military dress uniforms, required for formal occasions, dances and patriotic military parades. They carried with them silk handkerchiefs and perfumed soap, with different scents of perfume. They dragged behind them a wooden boat weighing 1,200 pounds. They carried with them books from the ship’s library. Whole trunks full of books. They were literate and they made sure everybody knew that. These were educated gentlemen not savages or peasants. How could you tell a Briton from an inferior race? Easily. One read Shakespeare the other did not. One drank tea with a silver tea set, at 4 p.m.; the other did not. And it was just one small part of the White Man’s Burden, the obligation to teach the entire world which is the salad fork and which is the dessert fork.

Onward they marched, dragging the heavy boat, carrying the heavy wooden trunks. They were exhausted, they were hungry, they were afraid, they were lost…. And no longer in the central heating of their luxury ship, they found out that their cotton clothing did not keep them warm.

Onward they walked, one or two dying here, then a few miles further, 2 or 3 more died. The first to die were buried carefully and the next just had some rocks piled over them and then the next just fell down and froze to death and were left for the polar bears to eat and the final group of 40 or 50 ate each other and then the final 4 or 5 died. They dropped from the height of civilization to cannibalism.

All 129 men died. A Royal Navy expedition with a fatality rate of 100% in peacetime.

While around them, fat Inuit children played in the snow, Inuit women took care of the tents in summer and the igloos in winter; the Inuit men went out seal hunting; they used the meat for food, the fat for heat and light in oil lamps, and the pelts for warmth. Dressed in animal skins, eating animals, moving with the animals as semi-nomads, and speeding through the water in sleek kayaks, they had figured out how to live in this climate and they had been doing so for 4,000 years.

But the British? At the time, the most advanced civilization in the world… eat seal meat? My good sir, surely you jest. Britons are not Neanderthals. You cannot be serious if you expect the higher race to eat raw meat from some underwater beast.
And promoting the pelts of dead animals as clothing? How primitive! Britain invented the textile business and was selling textiles around the world. Look at these fine cotton shirts for example – very popular with the ruling class in India. Britons cannot lower their standards and dress like cavemen. And live in a hut made of snow in the winter and a tent made with the skin of dead animals in summer? Come, come, now gentlemen. Now surely you did not expect our gallant men to leave the ship without their dress uniforms and their silverware. (The Brits were bluffing their way to Empire. They ruled one-third of the planet with a handful of men. The red uniforms, the tea – all a bluff. They lost only when it got real.). Shakespeare had convinced them that all the world’s a stage and all the people actors. They decided to act like the Roman Empire.
Rule Britannia! Britannia rules the waves
Britons never, never will be slaves.

But they might get eaten by their friends.

One of the Inuit later complained that Franklin & crew had ruined the neighbourhood, leaving 129 bodies and all the useless items they carried with them along a trail that started from a ship with central heating and a library and ended in death in a landscape of ice.

The highly coveted recognition reserved for stupendous stupidity, in the style of Sir John Franklin, in any field of human endeavour, big or small; this year it goes to PETA: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, for their campaign to destroy the 4,000 year long spiritual and physical relationship between seal meat and Inuit.

Because of the seals, Inuit following their traditions have far less cardio disease. 1,500,000 Americans die every year from cardio problems. And about 1,500,000 citizens of the European Union die for the same reason. The Inuit and the seals figured that one out over the past 4,000 years. They stepped aside from one of the 3 or 4 major diseases of the human species. And what is the message from PETA?
Definite winner of the Franklin Expedition Award. And it is not a mere 129 bodies lying beside the trail. It’s millions, it’s a loved one in just about every family.
The stupidity of that is even more staggering than the stupidity of Sir John Franklin.

“It is interesting to note that cardiovascular disease is rare in Inuit people who continue to eat their traditional diet. How can eating a diet predominantly consisting of seal meat, fat and blubber and almost completely devoid of greens, fruits and fibre be preventative for the disease that plagues the Western world, and for which medical orthodoxy blames on diets high in saturated fats and cholesterol?” - Dr. Gerry Bohemier

Yeah and also I like their spirit.


Anonymous said...

The Inuit are getting their Vit C from somewhere. Berries, roots?? Do they store enough of these things for winter? Or are they getting sufficient amounts indirectly through animals?

Anonymous said...

Good article...but, re the Brits not eating seal meat...in fact, that wasn't an option...there wasn't enough seal meat, or any other food, in one place that would feed that many people. That's why the Inuit lived in very small groups, and kept on the move. If 129 Inuit had all got together and tried to live by hunting seals, they would have starved too...this doesn't contradict your article, but it makes the British seem a bit less stupid...

Sean Peake said...

Inuit would get vitamins from the organs of seals (liver, heart, etc). Read up on Dr John Rae to see how differently he travelled from RN personnel. Quite remarkable.

Patsplace said...

Ah yes!! There is no arrogance like that of 20/20 hindsight. It is so easy to be critical of the past when viewed from the comfort of the present.

Rick in BC said...

The University of Alberta study in 1984-86 of the exhumed bodies of Franklin Expedition members showed a serious problem of lead poisoning, evidently from tins of food being improperly soldered.

The conclusion suggested was that they didn't do crazy things like dragging furniture across the ice because they were proper British gentlement, but because they were all suffering lead-induced mental failure. http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA0003031

TrueNorthist said...

An interesting article, but if I may...

It wasn't "within eighteen months", but more likely after two and a half years of fairly careful rationing under brutal conditions before cannibalism literally consumed them. (!) I am also convinced that while lead poisoning was plausibly being experienced, botulism may be a more likely candidate for the inordinate level of mortality suffered prior to having to abandon the ships. Lead poisoning in adults tends not to be fatal unless enormous amounts are consumed on a regular basis, and is likely only one of many causes for the failure of the expedition. I would refer all to a well researched novel titled "Ice Blink The Tragic Fate of Sir John Franklin's Lost Polar Expedition" by Scott Cookman. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Copyright 2000. http://www.amazon.com/Ice-Blink-Tragic-Franklins-Expedition/dp/0471404209

While Cookman is predictably heavily criticised by some interested parties, he makes a strong case for adding food poisoning, among other reasons, to the list of things that doomed the expedition. As with all major catastrophes, it is never one single event that leads to a failure of this scale, but rather a combination of errors and mistakes which add up to doom. It is unfortunate that so little is known about what really happened in the high and desolate Arctic during the final two brutal winters, trapped in the pack ice. But as with all things like this, there are various interested parties vying to be the one true source of the facts, and I make no claim to be in possession of them. I remain open to ideas as to their fate. Unfortunately, the whole truth may never be known.

Again, thanks for the essay! I find the subject very fascinating.

Bob Dawson said...

Much appreciate your comments. It’s a Parkinson’s Dance Magazine. I admire the British Empire even though it was a world-wide Monty Python skit. You gotta love them for it.
Too much lead, perhaps from the tins of food, possibly from a defective water purification system. They brought their own water filtration. They needed 129 men to run such a big project, but the wilderness they were going to could not support that many. There was some Scandanavian dude who zipped all over the Arctic with Inuit guides, and he learned from them how to live there. I don’t remember his name. Or John Rae./ I’m just saying, the E.U. including Britain is banning most of what the Inuit export, such as seal meat. The new Franklin explorers are telling us to walk south and carry the Apple computers, the Andy Worhol cans of soup and the 55 inch home-entertainment screens.
I am not just looking at the past here, I am looking at the future, and I see a huge amount of Franklinesque unrealities happening. Not just 129 men; whole countries, and freedom itself, may be repeating the Franklin expedition, but a billion times larger.
Anyway if anybody wants to give out the award from time to time – please do so. As Arsen Kazbeki always said “Let the People Decide”.
Bob D.