Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Supunger's Victory Point Grave and Tomb

 Is there a tomb near Victory Point or just one grave?

Sketch by Heinrich Klutschak

Schwatka's expedition found an open grave at Crozier's Landing. The grave was built on the surface by arranging stones in a rectangular pattern and then closing off the top with flat slabs. This grave is often attributed to Lieutenant John Irving based on:

1)  Blue cloth and gilt buttons present in the grave indicating the grave belonged to an officer.
2)  A medal with John Irving's name on it being found at the edge of the grave.

Charles Hall collected testimony from an Inuit man named Supunger who visited the same area and also described finding a grave. However, Hall recorded Supunger as describing a much more elaborate tomb dug into the ground and marked with a large wooden post.

Eyewitness testimony of the grave (or graves) found at or near Victory Point is given below.

Credit must be given to Dr Russell Potter of Rhode Island College and David C. Woodman for transcribing and publishing the text in Charles Hall's notebooks kept at the Smithsonian. These notebooks have been a valuable source of eyewitness accounts.

The Grave Found By Schwatka's Party

William H. Gilder, Schwatka's Search: Sledging the Arctic in Quest of the Franklin Records Kessinger Publishing, Page 61

The next day we stayed at Cape Jane Franklin to make a preliminary search of the vicinity. Lieutenant Schwatka and I went up Collinson Inlet, but saw no traces of white men. Henry and Frank, who had been sent up the coast, were more fortunate. About a mile and a half above camp they came upon the camp made by Captain Crozier, with his entire command from the two ships, after abandoning the vessels. There were several cooking stoves, with their accompanying copper
kettles, besides clothing, blankets, canvas, iron and brass implements, and an open grave, wherein was found a quantity of blue cloth, part of which seemed to have been a heavy overcoat, and a part probably wrapped around the body. There was also a large quantity of canvas in and around the grave, with coarse stitching through it and the cloth, as though the body had been incased as if for burial at sea. Several gilt buttons were found among the rotting cloth and mould in the bottom
of the grave, and a lens, apparently the object-glass of a marine telescope. Upon one of the stones at the foot of the grave Henry found a medal, which was thickly covered with grime, and was so much the color of the clay stone on which it rested as to nearly escape detection. It proved to be a silver medal, two and a half inches in diameter, with a bass-relief portrait of George IV., surrounded by the words, 


on the obverse, and on the reverse a laurel wreath surrounded by


and in closing


This at once identified the grave as that of Lieutenant John Irving, third officer of the Terror. Under the head was found a figured silk pocket-handkerchief, neatly folded, the colors and pattern in a remarkable state of preservation. The skull and a few other bones only were found in and near by the grave. They were carefully gathered together, with a few pieces of the cloth and the other articles, to be brought away for interment where they may hereafter rest undisturbed. A re-burial on King William Land would be only until the grave was again found by the natives, when it would certainly be again torn open and despoiled 

Lieutenant Frederick Schwatka The Long Arctic Search
The Marine Historical Society Inc, 1965, Page 82

"The reader must remember that nearly all Arctic graves are built upon the surface, being side walled with large stones collected in the vicinity. No doubt, the natives had broken open the grave to obtain whatever articles contained, but the medal, which identified the grave, fortunately had eluded their vigilance.

Just outside the broken down walls of the grave, we came upon the skull. The larger bones were scattered over a wide area; the smaller and more perishable ones having been completely lost. In grave was found the object-glass of a marine telescope, and a few officer's gilt-buttons stamped with an anchor and surrounded by a crown. Under the head was a colored silk handkerchief, still in a fair state of preservation, and many pieces of coarsely stitched canvas, showing that this had been used as a receptacle for the body when interred. From this fact I inferred that the body had never been buried from the ships, where sufficient work (especially after they had determined upon abandonment) could have been procured to construct a coffin; but Lieut. Irving belong to a party that had returned to the ships, after it had become evident that all could not escape, as they had originally thought when they first abandoned them.

The skull and a few other bones were found in and nearby the grave. They were carefully gathered together, with a few pieces of cloth and other articles, to be brought home for interment where they may hereafter rest undisturbed. A reburial on King William Land would be only until the grave was again opened by the natives and despoiled."

Heinrich Klutschak Overland To Starvation Cove, In search of Franklin
University of Toronto Press 1987, Page 83

"...I spotted a cairn and near it a human skull. It was a grave made of flat slabs of sandstone, like a grave vault but built above ground. It had once been covered but had obviously been subjected to search. The skull (indisputably that of a white man) lay outside, along with other human bones. Inside the grave a luxuriant growth of moss was flourishing on some remnants of cloth which, judging by the buttons and fine texture, had once belonged to an English officer's uniform. A silk handkerchief in a remarkably good state of preservation lay at the head end and above it on a rock a silver medal measuring 2 1/2 to 2 3/4 inches in diameter lay openly exposed."

The Grave Found By The Inuit

Testimony of Supunger: 
From the notes of Charles Hall

First Interview:
"He said that near the sea ice was a large tupik of same kind of material as that now covering the habitation of E-bier-bing & Too-koo-li-too ... (after the dome of his Igloo fell in last evening, [Ebierbing] spread a canvas over the walls so that he has a Kong-mong (Half tupik & half Igloo.))  A little way inland from this tupik wh. was not erect but prostrate he & his uncle came to place where they found a skeleton of a Kob-lu-na (white man) some parts of it having clothing on while other parts were without any it having been torn off by wolves or foxes. Near this skeleton they saw a stick standing erect wh. had been broken off - the part broken off lying close by. From the appearance both he & his uncle thought the stick, or rather small pillar or post, had been broken off by a Ni-noo (polar bear) on taking hold of that part of the wooden pillar wh. was erect they found it firmly fixed - could not move it a bit.  But what attracted their attention the most on arriving at this pillar was a stone - or rather several large flat stones lying flat on the sandy ground & tight to-gether. After much labor one of these stones was loosened from its carefully fixed position & by great exertions of both nephew & uncle the stone was lifted up a little at one edge just sufficient that they could see that another tier of large flat stones firmly & tightly fitted together was underneath.  This discouraged them in their purpose wh. was to remove the stones to see what had been buried there for they was [sic] quite sure that something valuable was underneath.”

Second Interview:
 "Monday, June 4, 1866. An interview with Su-pung-er who with his family (natives of Pelly Bay) came with us keeping with our company most of the way from Lat. 68F8-00-00 N, Long. 88F8-17'-15" W (where I & my party met them) to this place. 3h-00 P.M. Present Su-pung-er, myself, my good Too-koo-li-too & the widow Mam-mark. Su-pung-er had just told us that when he & his uncle were on Ki-ik-tung (as the natives denominate King Williams Land) they saw something that was a great curiosity to them & they could not make out what it was for. From his description of it, Too-koo-li-too suggests that it was a cook stove - it was very heavy & all iron. It had on one side or end a great many small pieces of iron close enough together to make it look something like spears - fish spears. By his language & symbolizing, these pieces of iron can be none other than a grate in the stove for burning hard coal. There were several heavy Oot-koo-seeks (kettles) with handles or bales. Too-koo-li-too has asked Su-pung-er why he did not get these kettles. He answers that he & uncle had as much of other things as they could carry & these Oot-koo-seeks were very heavy. Su-pung-er himself had 3 Boats oars & a mast besides some smaller articles that he found. The place where this curiosity (stove) was, was close by the large tu-pik (tent). The tent they found was close by the coast above Back's Bay, not far from Victory Point as Su-pung-er has shown on the chart that I placed before him. A little back (inland) from the tent, was where his uncle 1st found a large piece of wood - a post or pillar sticking up & this drew his uncle's attention to something by it. The pillar was broken off. They both thought it had been broken off by a Ni-noo. This post or pillar was sticking upright in the ground & was beside some flat stones that were very tight to-gether. They thought there must be something covered up by these stones & they tried very hard to get one loose. There was a hole near one end that appeared to have been made by some strong wild animal. After trying to raise one of these stones & failing they went back to where the tupik was. After a while they concluded to go & make other attempts to raise some of the stones where the pillar was found. At last they were successful in raising enough of the stones to see what they covered up. They found a hole of the depth from the feet up to the navel & of a length more than a man's height & wider than the width of a man's shoulders & this was all nicely walled with flat stones placed one above another, flatwise. In this vault they found a clasp knife, a skeleton bone of a man's leg & a human head (skull). There was much water, mud & sand at the bottom of the vault. The sand had been carried in by water, as they thought, running in at the hole that had been made by the wild animal on one side of the vault. Near this vault they saw parts of a human skeleton with fragments of clothing on the limbs. There was no head about these skeleton bones & Su-pung-er & his uncle concluded that the same wild animal that had made the hole in the vault had taken these skeleton bones out of the vault & dragged them where he & his uncle saw them. Su-pung-er had on this page at my desire just been marking out with my pen the vault covered with stones. It is a very rude draft as Nuk-er-zhoo (who happened to come in at the time Su-pung-er was making it) placed his finger on this plan before the ink had dried thus defacing it. I will have Su-pung-er make another & then proceed to describe it."


Testimony of Ockarnawole
William H. Gilder, Schwatka's Search: Sledging the Arctic in Quest of the Franklin RecordsKessinger Publishing, Page 56

"An old Netchillik, named Ockarnawole, stated that five years ago he and his son, who was also present in the igloo, made an excursion along the north-western coast of King William Land. Between Victory Point and Cape Felix they found some things in a small cask near the salt water. In a monument that he did not take down, he found between the stones five jack-knives and a pair of scissors, also a small flat piece of tin, now lost; saw no graves at this place, but found what, from his description of the way the handle was put on, was either an adze or a pickaxe. A little north of this place found a tent place and three tin cups. About Victory Point found a grave, with a skeleton, clothes, and a jack-knife with one blade broken. Saw no books. In a little bay on the north side of Collinson Inlet saw a quantity of clothes. There was plenty of snow on the ground at the time they were there. Viewing this statement in the light of our subsequent search upon this ground, I am inclined to believe that the grave they found was not at Victory Point, but was Irving's grave, about three miles below there. We saw no evidence of any grave at Victory Point, though we made a particularly extended search around that entire section of the country. The little bay spoken of is also probably the little bay where Lieutenant Irving's grave was discovered. There is a little bay on the north side of Collinson Inlet, but Lieutenant Schwatka and I visited it several times without finding any traces of clothing or any other evidences of white men having been there; and from what we saw at other places it seems almost impossible that there could have been much there as late as five years ago without some indications remaining. The vicinity of places where boats had been destroyed, or camps where clothing was found, were invariably indicated by pieces of cloth among the rocks, at greater or less intervals, for a long distance--sometimes as far as one or two miles on either side, and it would be almost impossible to escape seeing the principal point when led to it by such gradually cumulative evidence."