Arctic Artist

Arctic Artist: The Journal and Paintings of George Back, Midshipman with Franklin, 1819-1822

Copyright Date: 1994
Pages: 432
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  • Book Info
    Arctic Artist
    Book Description:

    Back's journal is particularly valuable because it is the only one that records the entire expedition; Franklin himself relied on it for his own published account of the journey. Both the journal and Back's earlier notes have been edited by Houston, who provides an introduction and extensive annotations, as well as synopses of the frank comments regarding the expedition recorded in the various journals of the Hudson's Bay fur trade posts.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6470-1
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. vii-ix)
  4. List of Maps
    (pp. x-x)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-xxvi)
    C. Stuart Houston

    “Make no mistake about it. Franklin lives.” So said Margaret Atwood in concluding one of her Clarendon lectures at Oxford University in April 1991.¹ The stream of articles, books, television programs, and songs about Franklin will, it seems, never cease.

    In my own reflections upon the continuing interest in John Franklin, I offered this explanation: “The British seem obsessed with gallant failure. Two of their most remembered explorers are Robert Falcon Scott and John Franklin. Both led inadequately planned expeditions with insufficient backup, took incredible risks and captured the nation’s fancy. Had Scott and Franklin been successful, achieved their goals...

  7. A Note on the Text
    (pp. xxvii-xxviii)
  8. George Back’s Journal
    • 1 Stromness to York Factory
      (pp. 3-6)

      June 16th1819

      LieuttFranklin – Doctor Richardson – MessrsBack and Hood – and two seamen – forming the Land Arctic Expedition – left Stromness – (Orkneys) and embarked on board the Hudsons Bay Ship – Prince of Wales – Davidson¹ – Master – for North America – having two other vessels in company² – nothing worthy of notice occurred – except for a continual run of foul weather – until we came off the Island of Resolution – which is situated in North Latitude [61° 18’] and Longitude [64° 53’] – when we were unfortunate enough to get on shore during a dense fog – and there being a heavy swell the Ship was placed...

    • 2 York Factory to Cumberland House
      (pp. 7-27)

      August 31th[sic] [1819]

      The weather was extremely fine with a SE wind [—] The greater part of the day was spent in forming arrangements as to the requisite supplies for our journey – a boat was consequently chosen sufficiently large to contain such quantity of provisions, as was deemed necessary and useful – the remaining part we intended to leave behind – but there could be no doubt of the utility of all, even from the opinions of those, who from their long residence in the country, were much more capable of judging than ourselves – but this could not be – from...

    • 3 Cumberland House to Fort Carlton
      (pp. 28-43)

      January18th, 1820

      It is not my business to enter into the mode in which the traders conduct matters – it is sufficient for me to say that after some delay we left Cumberland House this morning at 8h30mAM and took our way through some woods which soon brought us to the River Saskashawan intending to follow its course as far as Carlton House – the next post of any consequences in that river. Our number consisted of LieuttFranklin and myself, our drivers with dogs and carioles, a third one with provisions, and our own servant¹ – besides a clerk²...

    • 4 Fort Carlton to Fort Chipewyan
      (pp. 44-64)

      [February] 10th[1820]

      At 7h30mAM we set out across the plains through deep and heavy snow – and during the day crossed several small lakes – saw a range of hills N and S at 3 PM – took the advantage of a good place to put up – there were some small clumps of poplar and willow about the plains and in some places a few pines – we got some water from a neighbouring pond, which was too brackish to drink – this is often the case on the plains – and the Indians frequently bring pieces of salt to Carlton which has...

    • 5 Fort Chipewyan to Fort Enterprise
      (pp. 65-83)

      [July] 14th[1820]

      We had the satisfaction of seeing our friends¹ arrive in two canoes from Cumberland House they had been exactly a month on the passage and had been unfortunate enough to lose a man in the Loutre Rapid by the canoes upsetting² - on the information being conveyed to the two men who were in the other canoe and had already attained the head of the rapid they immediately veered round and without considering their own perilous situation, succeeded in descending the dangerous torrent A diligent search was then made for the body - and after an ineffectual...

    • 6 To Point Lake and Return
      (pp. 84-92)

      August 21st[1820]

      Employed the men in hewing timber for the house – and sending for meat – The spot where we intended to build was a tolerably steep bank on the borders of the river – with a sandy soil – and for about four miles on each side was well wooded with pine and a few birch – these are called by the Indians the last woods – a little above it to the eastward is Winter Lake – which produces various kinds of fish – as White fish – Trout – Jack – Carp – and in the rapid and river is caught the Blue fish – Round fish (new...

    • 7 Fort Enterprise to Fort Chipewyan
      (pp. 93-108)

      Wednesday October i8th at nh AM I left Fort Enterprise - in the company of Mr Wentzel two Canadians1 and two hunters2 with their wives We proceeded down the river - crossed a lake and then struck across country in the direction of Fort Providence - at sun set encamped amongst a small tuft of pines -just sufficient to make us a bed - Course SSE distance j~ miles day fair wind SE aw a number of deer and heard the bowlings of the wolves - a short time afterwards we saw one on the side of a hill which...

    • 8 Fort Chipewyan to Fort Enterprise
      (pp. 109-116)

      I found Messrs Keith and McGillivray' in charge of the Establishment, who were not a little surprised to see me - it was perhaps the last thing they expected. The commencement of the New Year is the rejoicing season of the Canadians - when they are generally inebriated about four days - so that I postponed making any demand till this scene of debauchery was over the same night I went over to Fort Wedderburn the H.B.C. house and delivered Lieut* Franklin's letters to Mr Simpson - if they were astonished on the one side the amazement was yet greater...

    • 9 Preparations To Leave Fort Enterprise
      (pp. 117-124)

      [March 17th1821]

      The pleasure on this occasion was mutual – but an evident disappointment was evinced on the information that there were no public letters sent by the H.B. ships. After giving LieuttFranklin a full statement of all my proceedings and delivering him the various correspondence that had taken place I was gratified with his full approbation of my conduct – having succeeded in the procuration of supplies beyond his most sanguine expectations. I then heard that it had been reported we were killed by the Slave Indians on our going to Fort Providence – after being a short time at...

    • 10 Descent of the Coppermine River
      (pp. 125-147)

      Being all in readiness at 10 AM a party of 12, men were dispatched with the [three] canoes on the ice they were placed upon slays and drawn by two dogs each [-] which were aided by the men. At ih 30™ PM we all took our final departure from the winter establishment, with little expectations [sic] of ever beholding it again - but had previously made a cache of some papers - and other articles - for which Mr Wentzel was to call on his return from the sea coast and to convey them to the Athabasca. We had...

    • 11 Exploring the Arctic Coastline
      (pp. 148-162)

      [Saturday] July 21st[1821]

      The night was hazy with fresh breezes and rain but it cleared a little towards the morning and by 11hAM We embarked on the Hyperborean Sea – nothing loth – and the wind being unfavourable [against us] we paddled along the coast which trended NE by compass. Coupers Islands laying to seaward and extending from 5 to 20 miles distant – in appearance almost parallel to the coast. About noon we landed at an Esquimaux cache [belonging to the old man] which contained a considerable number of musk ox, deer and seal skins. It was elevated some six...

    • 12 Point Turnagain to Obstruction Rapids
      (pp. 163-181)

      August 22nd[1821] [continued]

      The morning was cold and the men exerted themselves greatly – by noon we reached the spot where we breakfasted on the 16thinstant – a handful of pemican was again given to each – reserving the remainder for the next day or if possible to prolong it to a second – and though this allowance was certainly small, yet we had deemed ourselves happy to have possessed it for the remainder of the voyage. The wind increased and we were once more impeded – accordingly the hunters were sent out – but at 10 PM they returned without success. The day...

    • 13 Obstruction Rapids to Moose Deer Island
      (pp. 182-200)

      Octobr4th[continued] [1821]

      [it was about 2 when we set out] – our course lay through deep snow [up to the knee] – and we made but little progress – At 5hPM encamped [Course SBW 4 miles]. Country less mountainous – but swampy – day cloudy with fresh breezes from the NE and heavy snow – made a meal of tripe de roche – and some leather [eat an old shoe]. Saw no animals. The night was thick with constant snow –

      [Friday] Octobr5thAt 6hAM we set out amidst extremely deep snow – sinking frequently as deep as the thigh – such toil to men...

    • 14 Great Slave Lake to York Factory
      (pp. 201-216)


      The storminess of the weather broke up the ice and 25 nets were carried away – Such an unlocked for event caused a great change at the fort – and they began to have most serious apprehensions of starving for the remainder of the winter – they being their principal dependence – however information was sent, that there was some chance of regaining a few.

      Decemr18thBetween the eight[h] and this period I had been constantly expecting the arrival of the Commander – but was always disappointed and as my anxiety increased with the time and fearing some accident had happened...

  9. Postscript
    (pp. 217-226)

    Although new material not mentioned in Franklin’sNarrativehas been presented in darker type in the journal preceding, I have summarized here the main new information available as further background to the extended analysis in Ian MacLaren’s accompanying Commentary.

    Access to the maps in Back’s sketch-books has been useful in settling for once and all where the party crossed the Coppermine River on 4 October 1821. Whether viewing from the air or the surface, pilots and canoeists have long thought that Franklin’s party either crossed, or should have crossed, higher up the river, farther southeast, near the outlet from Lake...

  10. Figures
    (pp. 227-274)
  11. Commentary: The Aesthetics of Back’s Writing and Painting from the First Overland Expedition
    (pp. 275-310)

    A striking number of early explorers and travellers made their way through Canada’s rivers, lakes, forests, and coastal waters in the name of institutions and businesses. In the Arctic and the West, the British navy and the fur trade companies sponsored the early explorers and travellers of note, including Samuel Hearne, James Cook, George Vancouver, Alexander Mackenzie, David Thompson, Simon Fraser, John Franklin, William Edward Parry, and George Back. When these two concerns’ activities diminished in frequency and importance, the sponsors that replaced them were themselves institutions: the British Parliament in the case of John Palliser, the Parliament of Canada...

  12. Appendices
    • APPENDIX 1 George Back’s Letter to His Brother Charles 25 May 1820
      (pp. 313-317)
    • APPENDIX 2 Back’s Poem
      (pp. 318-322)
    • APPENDIX 3 The Franklin Expedition as Recorded in Hudson’s Bay Company Post Journals
      (pp. 323-355)
    • APPENDIX 4 Back’s Obituary in the Stockport Advertiser 28 June 1878
      (pp. 356-360)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 361-388)
  14. Index
    (pp. 389-403)