Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Sir John and the Prince of Mountaineers

On the subject of mountaineering, I would like to mention another brave soul with a far more relevant connection to the Franklin Expedition: Edward Whymper. Dubbed "the Prince of Mountaineers" for his incredibly ambitious ascents (many of them firsts) of Alpine peaks, Whymper fared much better on the icy slopes than Maurice Wilson. He was also a man of great accomplishments, some of which may have been inspired by "Franklin and his gallant crew."

As a young man growing up in the 1850s, Whymper was immersed in the news of the futile searches for Franklin's lost Arctic expedition. His diary from his youth, edited by Ian Smith and published as The Apprenticeship of a Mountaineer: Edward Whymper's London Diary, is surprisingly laconic for a man of great aspirations, but he devoted at least a few sentences to his interest in the fate of Franklin. His family owned a successful wood engraving business, and young Edward made at least one Franklin-related image. Ian Smith, who is himself a mountaineer, recently authored an authoritative biography of Whymper, Shadow of the Matterhorn, that features an image of his print of a foundering HMS Terror on page 123. Whymper was undeniably a talented artist.

Smith, who is admirably thorough, mentions a few Whymper-Franklin connections, including Edward's association with Clements Markham, formerly a lieutenant on HMS Assistance, and his ownership of one of McClintock's sledges. Perhaps not too surprisingly, Whymper made plans to explore the Arctic himself, with the intent of penetrating remote regions of Greenland. He mentioned reading Elisha Kent Kane's account of the second Grinnell expedition in one of his London diary entries. Dr. Kane's words left such a lasting impression on Whymper that he decided to venture into those frozen wastes over a decade later.

I thoroughly recommend that readers of this blog get a read of both of Smith's books. Whymper is just one of probably many noteworthy figures who were inspired by the Franklin Expedition. In Whymper's case, the inspiration took him to great heights and secured his position as a formidable mountaineer and man of science.