Friday, March 20, 2009

Britain to debate Arctic explorer's image makeover

You gotta love a national news service when a superb story turns up in newspapers across the country -- like this one, say, by Randy Boswell of Canwest, which surfaced in the Montreal Gazette and The Vancouver Sun and probably a few other places.

By Randy Boswell
Canwest News Service

A Canadian writer's decade-long campaign to restore the reputation of an unsung Arctic explorer has finally reached the British House of Commons, inspiring a Scottish MP's bid to rewrite the history engraved on the hallowed walls of Westminster Abbey.

Fatal Passage, an award-winning 2001 book by Toronto author Ken McGoogan, argued that scholars and British officialdom had largely overlooked the 19th-century achievements of John Rae, a Scottish-born Hudson's Bay Company employee who, in 1854, discovered the grim fate of the lost Franklin Expedition.

Rae's search also led to him finding the last link in the fabled Northwest Passage — the very sea route through Canada's Arctic islands, which Sir John Franklin had been seeking when he perished with his 129-man crew in the late 1840s.

But Rae also created a storm of outrage in Britain by reporting that members of Franklin's crew cannibalized the dead in a desperate — though ultimately ill-fated — attempt to survive their ordeal. Rae's suggestion, McGoogan has argued, led to his virtual erasure from the pages of history, as posthumous glory was heaped on Franklin, and other explorers were given credit for Rae's achievements.

Now, Orkney and Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael is urging the U.K. Parliament to officially recognize Rae as the true discoverer of the passage. And he wants the country to correct the claims in two high-profile, "inaccurate" historical markers paying tribute to the Englishman Franklin: one inside the abbey and the other near the headquarters of the British Admiralty.

[To read the whole article, click on the title.]