Monday, August 27, 2012

The Utjulik Ship (HMS Erebus)

Three expeditions, McClintock, Hall and Schwatka, spanning two decades, recorded almost identical Inuit accounts of a ship found frozen in the ice near a place called “Utjulik” (the West coast of Adelaide Peninsula) more than 100-miles South from where Franklin's ships were deserted in 1848. The Inuit described finding a dead man inside a locked cabin on board. In September 2014 this ship was finally relocated and is now known to be HMS Erebus. Divers have only begun to scratch the surface of the wreck site and the unknown dead man is presumably waiting to be found.

The Inuit testimony about the Utjulik ship is given below. When possible the date and location of the testimony has been given:

  McClintock April, 1859
Testimony recorded on Boothia Peninsula near Lat. 70-1/2

“I also purchased a knife which had some indistinct markings upon it, such as ship's cutlasses or swords usually have; the man told us it had been picked up on the shore near where a ship lay stranded; that it was then about the length of his arm, but his countryman who picked it up broke it into lengths to make knives.

After much anxious inquiry we learned that two ships had been seen by the natives of King William's Island; one of them was seen to sink in deep water, and nothing was obtained from her, a circumstance at which they expressed much regret; but the other was forced on shore by the ice, where they suppose she still remains, but is much broken. From this ship they have obtained most of their wood, &c.; and Ootloo-lik is the name of the place where she grounded.

Formerly many natives lived there, now very few remain. All the natives have obtained plenty of the wood.

The most of this information was given us by the young man who sold the knife. Old Oo-nalee, who drew the rough chart for me in March, to show where the ship sank, now answered our questions respecting the one forced on shore; not a syllable about her did he mention on the former occasion, although we asked whether they knew of only one ship? I think he would willingly have kept us in ignorance of the wreck being upon their coasts, and that the young man unwittingly made it known to us.

The latter also told us that the body of a man was found on board the ship; that he must have been a very large man, and had long teeth; this is all he recollected having been told, for he was quite a child at the time.

They both told us it was in the fall of the year — that is, August or September — when the ships were destroyed; that all the white people went away to the "large river," taking a boat or boats with them, and that in the following winter their bones were found there.”

Second expedition
This testimony is quoted from David C. Woodman’s book “Unraveling the Franklin Mystery.” The testimony was originally recorded by Hall in his field notebooks which have not been published.

Field notebook no. 24
Ootgoolik native named Ek-kee-pee-ree-a:
This ship 1st seen he said by Nuk-kee-che-uk an Ook-joo-lik Inuit who is now dead, having been killed by his (Ek-kee-pee-ree-a’s) father. This he told me with a smile. The ship had 4 boats hanging at the sides and 1 of them was above the quarter deck. The ice about the ship one winter’s make, all smooth flow and a plank was found extending from the ship down to the ice. The Innuits were sure some white men must have lived there through the winter. Heard of tracks of 4 strangers, not Innuits, being seen on land adjacent to the ship.

Field notebook no. 28
Koo-nik, wife of Seeuteetuar:
She says that Nuk-kee-che-uk and other Ook-joo-lik Innuits were out sealing when they saw a large ship – all very much afraid but Nuk-kee-che-uk who went to the vessel while the others went to their Ig-loo. Nuk-kee-che-uk looked around and saw nobody and finally Lik-lee-poo-nik-kee-look-oo-loo (stole a very little or few things) and then made for the Ig-loos. Then all the Innuits went to the ship and stole a good deal – broke into a place that was fastened up and there found a very large white man who was dead, very tall man. There was flesh about this dead man, that is, his remains quite perfect – it took 5 men to lift him. The place smelt very bad. His clothes all on. Found dead on the floor – not in a sleeping place or birth … The vessel covered over with see-loo, that is housed in with sails or that material, not boards, but as Jack (Hall’s guide Nuk-ker-zhoo) says like Capt. Potter’s vessel when at Ship’s Harbour Isles in the winter quarters.
The Ig-loos or cabins down below as “Ansel Gibbs” not on deck like “Black Eagle.”

Do you know anything about the tracks of strangers seen at Ook-joo-lik? The Innuits at Ook-soo-see-too saw when walking along the tracks of 3 men Kob-loo-nas & those of a dog with them … say she has never see the exact place not having been further w or w & south than Point C. Grant wh is the Pt. NE of O’Rialy Island. She indicates on Rae’s chart the places, recognizing them readily. Ook-soo-see-too the land E of O’Reilly Isle as she shows on chart.

The vessel seen 1st & then little while after the tracks of the 3 Kob-lu-nans & dog seen on land. The vessel seen in the spring about the time of the next moon or it may have been as moon now is, that is about the middle of May or 1st of June… Koo-nik, when did Ook-joo-lik Innuits first see the large ship? Was it before or after the Innuits saw Ag-loo-ka & his men on Ki-ki-tung?* The time was about the same, either the same year or next after, one or the other – is sure not 2 years after.”
*”Ki-ki-tung” Is the Inuit name for King William Island. This is a reference to the Inuit meeting Franklin survivors at Washington Bay on the South shore of King William Island. This meeting probably took place in July of 1848, 1849 or 1850.

Schwatka's Expedition
May 1879
Along Hayes River, approximately 15 miles East from the mouth of Back’s River.

Three members of the Schwatka expedition to King William Island each wrote a book about their journey. Each book describes an interview with an Inuit who had personally been onboard the Utjulik ship. Note, Ikiunelikpatolok, Ikinilik-Petulak and Puhtoorak all refer to the same person.

“From Ikiunelikpatolok, the old Ookjoolik, we learned at the interview that he had only once seen white men alive. That was when he was a little boy. He is now about sixty-five or seventy. He was fishing on Back's River when they came along in a boat and shook hands with him. There were ten men. The leader was called "Tos-ard-e-roak," which Joe says, from the sound, he thinks means Lieutenant Back. The next white man he saw was dead in a bunk of a big ship which was frozen in the ice near an island about five miles due west of Grant Point, on Adelaide Peninsula. They had to walk out about three miles on smooth ice to reach the ship. He said that his son, who was present, a man about thirty-five years old, was then about like a child he pointed out—probably seven or eight years old.* About this time he saw the tracks of white men on the main-land. When he first saw them there were four, and afterward only three. This was when the spring snows were falling. When his people saw the ship so long without any one around, they used to go on board and steal pieces of wood and iron. They did not know how to get inside by the doors, and cut a hole in the side of the ship, on a level with the ice, so that when the ice broke up during the following summer the ship filled and sunk. No tracks were seen in the salt-water ice or on the ship, which also was covered with snow, but they saw scrapings and sweepings alongside, which seemed to have been brushed off by people who had been living on board. They found some red cans of fresh meat, with plenty of what looked like tallow mixed with it. A great many had been opened, and four were still unopened. They saw no bread. They found plenty of knives, forks, spoons, pans, cups, and plates on board, and afterward found a few such things on shore after the vessel had gone down. They also saw books on board, and left them there. They only took knives, forks, spoons, and pans; the other things they had no use for. He never saw or heard of the white men's cairn on Adelaide Peninsula.”
*The Inuit did not measure and record time in years therefore Gilder gave an estimate of the ages involved. Using; “a man about thirty-five years old, was then about … seven or eight years old” would give a year of 1851 or 1852.

“From the moment we encountered the first relics deriving from Franklin and his people it was also our duty to question the people as to their knowledge in the area, and as to the information which had reached them orally. Only one person, a man of 60-70 years by the name of Ikinilik-Petulak, had himself come into contact with one of the expedition’s ships. He was one of the first people to visit a ship which, beset in ice, drifted with wind and current to a spot west of Grant Point on Adelaide Peninsula, where some islands halted its drift. On their first visit the people thought they saw whites on board; from the tracks in the snow they concluded there were four of them. This was in the fall; the following spring they visited the spot again and found the ship in the same position. When no sign of whites or of any other sign of life could be seen, and since they did not know how to get inside the ship, they made a large hole in the ship’s side near the ice surface. As a result the ship sank once the ice melted. According to Ikinilik they had found a corpse in one of the bunks and they found meat in cans in the cabin. Otherwise they had found no traces of whites on the coast of Adelaide Peninsula, apart from a small boat in Wilmot Bay which, however, might have drifted to that spot after the ship sank.

The credibility of these reports was later enhanced when confirmed by similar statements by others. Ikinilik Petulak had seen whites once before, coming down the Great Fish River in two boats. This was Lieutenant Back’s exploring party which descended and mapped this river (also called the Back River, after him) in the summer of 1834.”

Continuing his story, Puhtoorak told Ebierbing that the next time he saw a white man was a dead one in a large ship about eight miles off Grant Point. The body was in a bunk inside the ship in the back part. The ship had four big sticks one pointing out and the other three standing up. On the mainland, near Smith Point and Grant Point on the Adelaide Peninsula, the Esquimaux party which he accompanies, saw the tracks of white men and judged they were hunting deer. At this time the tracks indicated there were four white men but afterwards the tracks showed only three. He saw the ship in the spring before the spring snow falls and the tracks in the fresh spring snow when the young reindeer come of the same year. He never saw the white men. He thinks that the white men lived in the ship until the fall and then moved onto the mainland.

Puhtorak told of how the Esquimaux, not understanding how to get into the ship, cut through one side. When summer came and the ice melted the ship righted herself but the hole in her side being below the water line she sank as the water poured in. After the ship sank, they found a small boat on the mainland. When he went on board the ship he saw a pile of dirt on one side of the cabin door showing that some white man had recently swept out the cabin. He found on board the ship four red tin cans filled with meat and many that had been opened. The meat was full of fat. The natives went all over and through the ship and found also many empty casks. They found iron chains and anchors on deck, and spoons, knives, forks, tin plates, china plates, etc.

When the ship finally sank her masts stuck out of the water and many things floated on shore which the natives picked up. He also saw books on board the ship but the natives did not take them. He afterwards saw some that had washed ashore. He never saw any stone monument or cairn on the mainland near where the ship sank. There was one small boat hanging from the davits which the natives cut down. Some of the ship’s sails were set.


  1. Amazing compilation!! Thank you to post it.

  2. It's very helpful to see a consolidation of all these accounts. Excellent work!