Monday, August 20, 2012

"An Old Man-of-War's-Man's Yarn"

At the University of Pennsylvania, located in the city of Philadelphia, a stained glass window features the following sagacious words of Francis Bacon: "Some books are to be tasted; others to be swallowed; and some few to be chewed and digested." A novella by the obscure author Richard Heathcote Gooch is definitely one of those books to be "chewed and digested", at least by Franklin aficionados. Gooch was a clerk in the London Custom House from 1845 to 1882; in 1870, he published An Old Man-of-War's-Man's Yarn: An Actual Incident (never Before Narrated) of the Expedition of the Late Sir John Franklin. The book is short, and the plot is simple, but the words are undeniably moving. While on holiday near Ramsgate, Kent, Gooch encountered a very old man selling pipe lights by the shore. After a bit of conversation, the author learned that the old man "had two sons on the Erebus with Sir John Franklin"--none other than John and Thomas Hartnell!

Gooch's particulars are largely fictional, but they were inspired by that fateful meeting with the elderly Thomas Hartnell, Sr. near the cliffs of Dumpton. Gooch must have felt as strongly as we do about the impact of the Franklin tragedy; otherwise, he would not have endeavored to publish his account. Interestingly, the finished work is dedicated to Charles Dickens, Esq.

I strongly recommend that those whose interest has been piqued take a look at this book, especially since it is available in its entirety on Google Books: HERE

I found the writing style to be engaging and similar to that of Coulson Kernahan, author of the memorable In Good Company. At any rate, it is a lovely, melancholy little story. Enjoy!


  1. Wow!! It is fantastic!! This is in fact as finding a needle in a haystack to me.

    What a coincidence that meeting between Gooch and Thomas Hartnell! Thanks to it we have this little window to the past.

  2. Yes, it gives us quite an interesting perspective. How fortunate that we can read the whole story for free on Google Books.