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May 31, 2012

To find the hand of Franklin reaching for the Beaufort Sea
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 10:10 AM * 48 comments

I recently ran across this account of the search for the Northwest Passage. I was going to write something massive and clever tying it all in to global warming, but I didn’t see a really good way to do that. So, instead, I present this bit of history all raw.

Just a couple of notes: I thought that the reasoning Captain Vancouver used to deduce there was no water-route to the east coast of the American continent was clever and persuasive. I also note that Captain Vancouver (in a portion that I did not transcribe) was proud of the fact that when he returned to England after a four-and-a-half year voyage that he had not lost a single sailor to accident or disease. I also note (not from this account at all) that Captain Vancouver was the floggingest captain in the Pacific at the time. (By contrast, Captain Bligh was the most sparing of the lash.)

Also, when Vancouver called at St. Helena, he found the breadfruit trees that Bligh had planted there in poor condition, due to a prolonged drought. I couldn’t fit that in either, but thought it was interesting.

Thus, a shapeless and ill-formed post. But one, I hope, with some amusement value.

Annual Register, 1798, volume 40, pp 495-496

The labors of this voyage have much lessened the grounds of reasonable hope that any navigable water-communication exists, between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, through the continent of America:—but that they are ‘as conclusive as possible,’ will not, by many, be readily admitted. Whatever contempt may be shewn for closet discoveries, they have certainly some support, while there remain openings without any ascertained termination, for the indulgence of speculative fancies concerning a N. W. passage. It may likewise be argued that, as the river Columbia and Port des Fran├žais were passed by captain Vancouver, if not without being noticed, without being thought worthy of examination, so might other openings equally have escaped observation; and this may seem the more probable, as the entrances both into Columbia river and Port des Fran├žais are so narrow, that, at a very moderate distance from the land, their appearance would be too inconsiderable to attract notice. The river Columbia was found navigable, and appeared to continue so, at the most advanced station to which it was explored; and several navigable branches, or rivers, which fell into it, were seen; for the examination of which there was no opportunity. That this river may have communication with some of the lakes already known, is not very improbable. The natives reported that it extended to a great distance inland. There is, however, very little prospect, even if a depth of water sufficient should be found to continue, that it would be practicable for ships to navigate upwards, against so strong and constant a current.

The arm of the sea within Cross Sound, named Lynn Canal, though not navigable for large ships, had the appearance of continuing much farther navigable for small vessels; which, with the circumstance of its situation, (‘approaching nearer,’ captain Vancouver observes, ‘to those interior waters of the continent, which are said to be known to the traders and travellers from the opposite side of America, than we had found the waters of the North Pacific penetrate in any former instance,’) makes it an object of consideration. In the mention of unexamined openings, Port St. Francisco must not be omitted; and this, if we may judge from the account given in the narrative, is not among the least promising.

The strongest circumstances against the probability of a communication by water, through North America, is the following, noticed in the concluding paragraph of captain Vancouver’s account:

‘In all the parts of the continent on which we landed, we no where found any roads or paths through the woods, indicating the Indians on the coast having any intercourse with the natives of the interior part of the country, nor were there any articles of the Canadian or Hudson’s bay traders found amongst the people with whom we met, on any part of the continent or external sea-shores of this extensive country.’

On the whole, we must be allowed to repeat, that the prospect is considerably lessened, but, that, it is by no means yet proved that a N. W. passage does not exist.

Comments on To find the hand of Franklin reaching for the Beaufort Sea:
#1 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2012, 01:38 PM:

Thanks for the earworm, Mr. Macdonald. It's going to take several choruses of "Doing Wrong Things with Squid" to get rid of this one.

#2 ::: Andrew Wells ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2012, 01:53 PM:

Thank you! I am increasingly interested in the search for the Northwest, Northeast, and Northern passages, and this gives me some more routes to explore.

#3 ::: Bob Devney ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2012, 03:30 PM:

Great post, Jim!

For those who don't know, title is from the song "Northwest Passage" by the late, great, strong-voiced Canadian folksinger Stan Rogers. Youtube clip here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TVY8LoM47xI

#4 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2012, 03:41 PM:

Doyle and I saw Stan Rogers live at least twice when we were living in Philly and we own a whole pile of his records.

#5 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2012, 03:50 PM:

I can see why folks traveling a bit up the Columbia might be misled. It looks like a river that's going places:

http://home.comcast.net/%7Estefan_jones/valley_view_wide.JPG

#6 ::: Bob Devney ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2012, 03:54 PM:

And for extra credit, who's read Sten Nadolny's fascinating, imaginative novel based on Franklin's life -- The Discovery of Slowness? Published in Germany 1983, U.S. translation 1987, Mr. W. Pedia tells us.

#7 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2012, 04:22 PM:

One thing that was a fooler was the sheer size of New World rivers compared to Old World rivers. They're huge.

Observe The Great River as it appears in the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings. In the Americas that would be the Pretty Good Stream.

#8 ::: Fox ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2012, 04:56 PM:

Jim @7: Indeed. See also Great Lakes. Our lakes may not have monsters in them, but they have their own weather. Jeepers.

#9 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2012, 05:18 PM:

I learned a song about the Columbia in grade school, but AFAICR they didn't even bother teaching us where it was (it's in the verses, but we mostly learned the chorus). Only song about hydroelectric power I know.* "Your power is turning our darkness to dawn/Roll on, Columbia, roll on!" Of course, it's by Woody Guthrie.

Fox 8: Yes, they can go from calm to 100 knots so fast they seem enchanted. Wow, just listening to that, I've got tears working. Damn that Stan Rogers was good.


*I'm expecting the fluorosphere to promptly† list seven or eight others, but I don't know any others right now.
†TLETSTALNI.

#10 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2012, 06:21 PM:

Xopher, 9: TLETSTALNI.

[*]

#11 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2012, 06:22 PM:

Fox @8: Indeed. Lake Superior is "mother of storms" as well as "freshwater hen sitting on a clutch of a million egg-shaped stones."

#12 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2012, 06:24 PM:

Ten Little Elephants Totally Stomped That Annoyingly Loud Netware Installer?

#13 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2012, 06:36 PM:

The Language English The Same Thing As Latin Not Is. Our Hostess, many years ago. Quoted because I was splitting an infinitive.

#14 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2012, 07:16 PM:

And Stan Rogers died a hero, according to some reports, trying to help people off the burning plane he died in. It's not in Wikipedia, but it was the common rumor at the time.

#15 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2012, 07:57 PM:

@7: to give the Anduin a break, it was still a good distance from the ocean at the part the Fellowship was on.

#16 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2012, 08:20 PM:

In the 18th c. it didn't seem unreasonable that a river arising in the Great Lakes might flow westward to the Pacific. Longitude was deucedly difficult to determine at the time.

#17 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2012, 10:29 PM:

From what I've heard via James Nicoll, there were people in the 18th and 19th centuries who thought it was reasonable that the Earth should start getting warmer instead of colder as you approached the poles, because if it kept getting colder that would be terribly inconvenient.

#18 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2012, 10:43 PM:

David Goldfarb @17, maybe they figured that temperature wrapped around at the ends of the scale.

#19 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2012, 10:46 PM:

Also, for comparison: the Vikings regularly traded, by ship, from the north end of the Baltic to the Black and Caspian Seas. As an American, raised to think of the searches for the Northwest Passage and the Fountain of Youth as more or less equivalent (both futile, silly endeavors that drove exploration of my continent), that seemed very unlikely to me when I first learned it. The converse is therefore reasonable: to a European sailor who knew of the Dnieper and Volga routes, the existence of a Northwest Passage or at least a practical Northwest Shortcut would seem perfectly possible.

#20 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2012, 11:42 PM:

Devin, that makes a whole bunch of sense.

#21 ::: Wirelizard ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 12:06 AM:

I haven't been earwormed by Stan Rogers in, gosh... months now! It was Northwest Passage that did it last time, too. Thanks, Jim. I think. (there are, to be fair, worse things to be earwormed by. That hideous "Moves Like Jagger" song, for example. You're welcome.)

"Tracing one warm line through a land so wild and savage" - I've occasionally thought that Warm Line or Warmline would make a fine name for a northern airline or other transport company, with that line as it's slogan.

#22 ::: Dan Boone ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 01:15 AM:

In re: the global warming connection, I note with interest that The World (which is a huge floating residential cruise ship and maritime condominiums complex for the super-rich) is scheduled to traverse the Northwest Passage later this year.

Although it would be somewhat amusing if it spent some years trapped in pack ice, apparently no such adventure is anticipated.

#23 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 01:15 AM:

David 17: The ancient Irish associated North with Summer, because they noticed that the farther north you went, the longer the summer days were.

In Winter, they didn't travel, so they never figured out that winter days were shorter farther north.

(Using capped terms for special named objects in the Celtic worldview, uncapped ones in their conventional senses.)

#24 ::: y ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 01:26 AM:

Temperature does (or rather can) wrap around at the end of the scale.

I bought Stan's albums in vinyl and again as CDs, and they do make a pile, but such a small one compared with what should have been. "Perhaps had you not fallen..."

#25 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 01:45 AM:

y, that Wiki article is a joke, right? Looks a lot like crackpot physics to me.

But I'm no physicist. If you tell me that's real (and you know this from a source other than Wikipedia) I will shake my head and back away.

#26 ::: heckblazer ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 01:48 AM:

When I think of the Columbia I always think of the song "Grand Coulee Dam". Not the Woody Guthrie one, this one. I played the hell out of that song when I was five.

#27 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 01:48 AM:

And in any case, temperature does NOT "wrap around" as you travel north, at least on Earth. What's north of the North Pole?

#28 ::: Josh Berkus ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 02:03 AM:

I read the book "Voyages of Delusion", a highly readable and comprehensive history of the various quests for the Northwest Passage. Not only was it fascinating to read about so many early explorers, but disturbing how many people could squander both fortunes and lives hunting for the Passage well into the 19th century, when it had been fairly well proven not to exist. The quests for the Passage have got to be the quintessential example of the human capacity for self-deception, not only of individuals, but groups, governments, and corporations.

On the other hand, cynical realists Cook and Vancouver appropriated commissions to look for the Passage in order to get exploring done elsewhere in the Americas. They had already figured out there wasn't one. That's some kind of example as well.

#29 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 02:17 AM:

Xopher@24: I've heard of negative temperatures before, and while I'm not an expert on the subject, what I read in that Wikipedia article seems to be consistent with what I've previously heard. Not crackpottery, just somewhat exotic thermodynamics. Do note that these "negative temperatures" do in fact contain more thermal energy than systems at absolute zero, so they are not negative in that sense -- the sense of the word "temperature" that's being used is one that is precise and technical.

#30 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 09:37 AM:

I note with interest that The World (which is a huge floating residential cruise ship and maritime condominiums complex for the super-rich) is scheduled to traverse the Northwest Passage later this year.
Although it would be somewhat amusing if it spent some years trapped in pack ice

This has got to be the setup for some sort of SF. It's either a JG Ballard metaphor-for-the-emptiness-of-society, or the backstory for The Thing 2: The Thingling, or the cruise ship was designed by Ivo Shandor and they're a bunch of super-rich decadent cultists heading north as part of a ritual to awaken something...

#31 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 10:42 AM:

Up there with the NW passage, in Australian minds, is the damnfool nineteenth century notions about what existed in the middle of this here continent. Inland seas. Great river systems. Bloke called Sturt humped three stonking great boats around the back of beyond for nearly a thousand miles, finding (of course) not so much as an open body of water, let alone a river than actually, you know, flowed.

It must have been a sore strain on the camels, is all I can say.

#32 ::: rea ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 10:55 AM:

Find the hand of Franklin reaching for the Beaufort Sea?

No--the remements of his crew would have eaten that.

#33 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 11:13 AM:

The cruise of The World.

I find it vaguely ... disturbing ... that the super-rich, using a carbon-emitting vessel, should cruise the Northwest Passage, opened by world climate change caused in part by the rich using carbon emitting vessels.

I also call to mind Act II of Boito's Mefistofele: Dance, dance/ For the world is in ruins/ Dance, dance/ For the world is lost.

#34 ::: y ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 12:05 PM:

Xopher, I was being a bit facetious, but negative temperatures are perfectly real. The catch, of course, is that they occur only in certain highly constrained systems, not in the sort of materials you would encounter every day, or even at the North Pole.

It all makes a lot more sense once you realize that the relevant quantity in many cases is not the temperature T so much as it is -1/T. Absolute zero on the ordinary scale corresponds to -infinity in these terms, which gives a better sense of why it is the lowest temperature. Positive temperatures in the ordinary scale correspond to negative values in these terms, and negative temperatures to positive values, which helps understand why negative temperatures are hotter than positive ones.

#35 ::: Andrew Wells ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 01:07 PM:

Devlin @19 - nice comparison - thanks!

#36 ::: Barbara ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 03:39 PM:

Has anyone posted a link for the other song about Lord Franklin? I will, then.
Martin Carthy's version

#37 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 03:41 PM:

Dave Luckett @31: That scenario sounds like a remake of Fitzcarraldo. In Australia. With camels.

Oy.

#38 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 03:43 PM:

Or possibly Burden of Dreams, actually.

#39 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 10:01 PM:

Today, you may be one of the lucky 10,000 (xkcd reference!)

Stan's brother Garnet is making some really lovely music. For starters, I recommend Sleeping Buffalo. It seems to be available on Pandora, but blocked from Canada. Or Night Drive, available on YouTube. (BTW, both are about 8 minutes.)

At concerts, he often closes by playing Northwest Passage on solo violin, letting the audience do the vocals.

#40 ::: grendelkhan ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 11:23 PM:

Nathan Rogers (son of Stan) is also a folk musician; he does his own style of music, but occasionally covers "Northwest Passage" (here's a version with just him).

#41 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 12:58 AM:

Elise at 37: I have always thought that Herzog should make a film of Moby Dick.

#42 ::: Andrew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 11:37 AM:

I actually spent a couple of weeks on The World last year, as a sort of entertainer. The thought of it trapped in the ice while supplies run out is stimulating to the imagination. They actually fly fresh, giant steaks in every week from California, wherever in the world it is.

#43 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 12:20 PM:

Erik Nelson @41: It could be a double feature, if there's a film of Laurie Anderson's "Songs and Stories from Moby Dick." (Mike and I saw the performance in Charleston together. His reaction to the stovepipe hat that smoked like a real stovepipe was enjoyable.)

#44 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 05:13 PM:

grendelkhan @ 40

I've heard Nathan live; that YouTube video doesn't do him justice.

#45 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 05:36 PM:

Devin: The Norse did do the Baltic to Constantinople route, but it required several portages, which would have been impractical for the scale of trade/logistical uses, to which Europeans wanted to put the Northwest Passage.

But yes, it wasn't completely unreasonable, absent knowledge of the Rockies/Continental Divide, to think it possible.

#46 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 05:37 PM:

Xopher: And in any case, temperature does NOT "wrap around" as you travel north, at least on Earth. What's north of the North Pole?

Not if one travels, "north" but it does if one continues in straight line which traverses the South Pole.

:)

#47 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 05:39 PM:

Andrew Brown: I actually spent a couple of weeks on The World last year, as a sort of entertainer. The thought of it trapped in the ice while supplies run out is stimulating to the imagination. They actually fly fresh, giant steaks in every week from California, wherever in the world it is.

Which explains the odd thing I saw on the "news" ticker on the PATH yesterday.

Disney said that, because of a rise in the cost of beef they were increasing the price of a steak dinner. What didn't make any sense was the amount... $35 per steak.

I didn't realise they weren't laying in all the needed supplies before they left port. Cruises are even more wasteful than I thought.

#48 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 06:53 PM:

Jim Macdonald @16:

In the 18th c. it didn't seem unreasonable that a river arising in the Great Lakes might flow westward to the Pacific. Longitude was deucedly difficult to determine at the time

Out of curiosity, are there any bodies of water that naturally have different outlets leading to two different oceans some distance apart?

I know that Lake Michigan empties into both the Gulf of Mexico and the North Atlantic, but that's because humans reversed the flow of the Chicago river in the 19th century.

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