Sketches of ‘Peglar’

By Logan Zachary.  August 24, 2022.

Earlier this month, archaeologist Douglas Stenton broke the news of his identification of the lost ‘Peglar’ skeleton site (link).  ‘Peglar’ was the last of three Franklin Expedition bodies discovered by the 1857–59 McClintock search.  The exact location of the grave had been lost since McClintock and his men walked away in May of 1859, known only to be on King William Island some miles east of Cape Herschel.

The ‘Peglar’ skeleton is particularly famous for what was found with him: a comb, a brush, and most significantly a pocketbook.  It is often said that only a single page record has survived from the lost Franklin Expedition, despite the reams of logs and private journals that must have been produced onboard the ships.  And while this is accurate in a broad sense, researchers are aware of a few other scant remnants of writing that were recovered.  By far the lengthiest of these were the papers found in that sailor’s pocketbook.

A decade after they were recovered, a paper specialist applied a chemical that revealed a name on one of the papers:  Harry Peglar, HMS Terror’s Captain of the Foretop.  Hence the papers are known as ‘the Peglar Papers.’

{ The pocketbook that held the Peglar Papers. }   
{ © National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London }   

{ A Peglar paper.  © National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London }

Some lines from these Peglar Papers are so well-known as to be catchphrases within the Franklin research community: “The Terror Camp Clear,” “all to Miss down fall,” “The Open C,” “Whose Coffee Is This?,” etc.  However, deciphering the papers’ meaning — or even what they say at all, as they are faded, fragmented, and maddeningly written both backwards and phonetically — is an ongoing puzzle.  Indeed, everything regarding ‘Peglar’ presents questions that make the overall Franklin Expedition mystery seem straightforward by comparison.  New leads on ‘Peglar’ and his pocketbook of writings come at a glacial pace.  In the most recent find, a fellow sailor’s reminiscences happened to mentioned that Harry Peglar owned a beer hall in Westminster, which may explain similar references in the Peglar Papers (Rosenberg 2021).  And while Harry Peglar is still considered the primary author of the papers, it is now commonly assumed that the ‘Peglar’ skeleton itself belonged to someone other than Harry Peglar (Stein 2007; Cyriax & Jones 1954).

A further part of the difficulty with ‘Peglar,’ I believed, is that the site and its skeleton would never be found again.  Unlike the Boat Place, McClintock did not record latitude and longitude coordinates for this discovery.  Even the Schwatka search, just 20 years after McClintock, did not rediscover ‘Peglar.’  And by returning the ‘Peglar’ relics home to London (the comb, the brush, some buttons, a neckerchief), McClintock removed artifacts that would have helped archaeologists find and identify the site again in the future.

{ Peglar buttons.  © National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London }

Doug Stenton’s new paper this month takes a novel approach to the issue, with the potential to finally unlock who held the pocketbook.  Stenton considers the possibility that a different Franklin Expedition skeleton found in 1973 has in fact been ‘Peglar’ all along, unrecognized for half a century.  The investigation resembles a previous Stenton paper, re-examining various ‘Boat Place’ sites on Erebus Bay to determine that one located in 1993 was in fact the original ‘Boat Place’ found by McClintock (Stenton & Park 2017).  Stenton’s new ‘Peglar’ argument is undergirded by his own recent excavation of a button at the 1973 grave site, which turns out to be a remarkable match for McClintock’s ‘Peglar’ buttons held in London since 1859.

Within Stenton’s new article are two early illustrations depicting McClintock and his team discovering the ‘Peglar’ skeleton (from 1859 and 1861 respectively).  These come from my own collection, one of which debuts in Stenton’s paper; I am making them available here to download at high resolution.  Both of these sketches I came upon within the last two years, struck by having never before seen a contemporary illustration of the event.

In fact, I previously assumed that the British press had made a tacit decision not to publish depictions of such a graphic scene.  The well-known ‘Boat Place’ sketch from 1859, showing the other two skeletons found by the McClintock search, is from an American not a British publisher (Harpers Weekly, 29 Oct 1859).  As of this writing, I am unaware of an original British depiction of the Boat Place until 1876 (Ice-World Adventures), seventeen years after the initial discovery.

Yet the earliest of these two ‘Peglar’ discovery sketches is indeed British and is dated October 15th, 1859 — just three weeks after McClintock’s ship the Fox returned to London with the story.  This was published by The Illustrated Times of London, accompanied by a front page depiction of the Victory Point cairn as well as other Franklin relic sketches.  The newspaper credited Leopold McClintock as the source for their depiction (page 253):

The Illustrations we have published of “Breaking Open the Cairn,” and “Finding the Skeleton,” are from materials kindly placed at our disposition by Captain M’Clintock...

{ Illustrated Times, 15 October 1859, page 256. }   
{ ▽ Click to download at high resolution. }   

I showed this sketch around the Franklin research community in February of 2021, and was equally struck that, like myself, no one had before seen such a depiction.  Whilst the Illustrated London News had shown McClintock interviewing the Inuit and his ship ‘Fox’ wintering in the ice, the Illustrated Times chose to depict this far more graphic and disturbing scene.

A curious detail with this Illustrated Times’ sketch is that, by the orientation of the feet, the skeleton appears to be lying face-upwards.  A number of people remarked upon this apparent error, as in his book McClintock had highlighted the skeleton’s face-down orientation as agreeing with what the Inuit had told him earlier that month:

This poor man seems to have selected the bare ridge top, as affording the least tiresome walking, and to have fallen upon his face in the position in which we found him.  It was a melancholy truth that the old woman spoke when she said, “they fell down and died as they walked along.”
[The Voyage of the Fox, page 275 (1st edition).]

The second sketch of the Peglar discovery comes from a German book, Die Franklin-Expedition und ihr Ausgang (1861).  The composition bears enough resemblances to the Illustrated News sketch to be deemed derivative.  In both depictions we see the moment of discovery, with ‘Peglar’ closest to our viewpoint, and the search party in the distance coming towards us.  The tall ice pressure ridges in each scene are a significant match (but mirrored to disguise the fact).  The sledge manhauled by four men in the background is repeated, but the second sledge with rider – pulled by barely perceptible dogs in the Illustrated Times sketch – has here been simplified into a sledgeless man carrying a gun.

{ Die Franklin-Expedition und ihr Ausgang (1861), page 213. }   
{ ▽ Click to download at high resolution. }   

The most noteworthy difference, however, is that the German sketch has corrected the skeleton’s orientation, presumably gleaned from McClintock’s book.  This 1861 ‘Peglar’ is now lying face-down, as the scene is described in McClintock’s The Voyage of the Fox.  McClintock’s book was published in December of 1859 (London Daily News, 26 Dec 1859), giving ample time for a German artist in 1861 to alter their concept of the skeleton’s position.

This issue, of the skeleton’s orientation, turns out to be a critical point in Doug Stenton’s examination of the 1973 grave site.  It was therefore of interest that two contemporary sketches of the 1859 ‘Peglar’ discovery were drawn in disagreement on this same issue.

With Stenton’s identification of ‘Peglar,’ the last of the six bodies found by the British search for Franklin comes within reach.  Three graves had been found on Beechey Island, and then a decade later three skeletons were found on King William Island.  The graves on Beechey had never been lost.  The two skeletons at McClintock’s ‘Boat Place’ on King William Island were seen again in 1861 by In-nook-poo-zhee-jook, in 1879 by the Schwatka search, lost for a century, then found again by Ontario school teacher Barry Ranford in 1993, and finally had their full ‘Boat Place’ identity worked out by Douglas Stenton in 2017.

This work left only ‘Peglar’ from the original six.  However, as Stenton explains, the skeleton from the 1973 grave excavation is now missing.  While Stenton managed to find one more bone on the site in 2019, the rest of the skeleton was transferred in 1973 to a museum for further study — and disappeared.  Thus we have this unusual twist near the end of the story: that the last of the initial six Franklin Expedition bodies discovered by British searchers is now missing, not in the Arctic, but in Ottawa.

The End.
 – L.Z.  August 24, 2022.

Doug Stenton’s article is published this month in Polar Record: 
Finding “Harry Peglar”: Re-examining the discovery of a Franklin expedition sailor’s skeleton by the 1859 McClintock search expedition (link).

{ Fragment of the shirt found with the ‘Peglar’ body. }   
{ © National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London }   

The folding pocket comb found with the ‘Peglar’ body. }   
{ Upon discovery, this comb still held a few light brown hairs. }   
{ © National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London }   

The brush found with the ‘Peglar’ body. }   
{ © National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London }   

{ The neckerchief found with the ‘Peglar’ body. }   
{ © National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London }   

To see photography of these same relics immediately after their discovery in 1859, see slide #3 in my October 2020 article, “Cheyne’s Relics” (link).

Appendix 1:  The 1895 Mundell sketch.

In the same issue of the Illustrated Times that contains the ‘Peglar’ discovery sketch (15 Oct 1859) are several Franklin relic sketches, on pages 253 and 256.  A curious fact about these is that some are identical to sketches published the same day by the Illustrated London News, ostensibly that newspaper’s professional rival.  Examples of similarly-drawn sketches in each paper include the medicine chest, the dip circle, the stove, etc.  Most notably, their flat renderings of McDonald’s prize medal are perfectly identical.

{ ▽ Illustrated Times, 15 October 1859, page 253. }   

Publishers in this era seemed to liberally swipe older illustrations from one another – but these newspapers both appeared on October the 15th.  In order to not believe that one rival illustrated newspaper was generously sharing their work with a competitor, we have to assume that they both drew from the work of some neutral artist working ahead of them.

That strange solution is somewhat borne out by the sketch below.  Note in particular the lower right roundel.

{ ▽ Stories of North Pole Adventure (1895) by Mundell, page 107. }   

This illustration was (presumably) created decades later, published around 1895.  In the lower right roundel, we can now instantly identify another ‘Peglar’ discovery sketch, the feet pointing upwards.  It would seem to be derivative of the Illustrated Times sketch.

One would naturally think, then, that the roundel to the right (of the Victory Point cairn being opened) would also be derived from the Illustrated Times.  It is, however, a mix of unique details from both the Illustrated Times and the Illustrated London News sketches of that scene.

{ Cairn sketches comparison. }   

Two of the figures in the Illustrated Times (top) are distinctly in the roundel sketch.  Yet the roundel sketch also has the “shovel, axe, and boot” troika centered in front, exactly as seen in the Illustrated London News.  It seems unusual not merely that the roundel’s artist would mix elements of these two sketches together, but that they would have both sketches on hand at all, a generation later.  Seeing them together, it is also of note that both early Victory Point cairn newspaper sketches (Illustrated Times and Illustrated London News) have quite a lot in common in terms of their composition.

Which leads us to the same strange possibility inferred from the similar relics sketches:  both newspapers may have been drawing from the work of another artist for their Victory Point cairn depictions.  And, as well, perhaps the 1895 roundel artist is not “mixing” two newspaper sketches, but instead had access to the same original source artwork that the newspapers had drawn from.

As we saw in the main article, the Illustrated Times tells us that their illustrations, “...are from materials kindly placed at our disposition by Captain M’Clintock.”

If those “materials” were original illustrations created with McClintock’s direction or approval, then it would lend significant weight to the details within them.  It would be important to find the originals, if they still exist.  This would also mean that the editors of the Illustrated London News likely saw the ‘Peglar’ sketch source artwork and deliberately chose not to publish it.  It also presents a question as to why the ‘Peglar’ scene was sketched but not the Boat Place — or, was it?  And, finally, it is very curious that such sketches would not appear in McClintock’s book just a few months later: The Voyage of the Fox contains no depictions of the ‘Peglar’ scene, the Boat Place, the opening of the Victory Point Cairn, nor any relics (not counting the facsimile of the Victory Point Record).

One week prior, the Illustrated London News had published a sketch of McClintock and his sledge team encountering the Inuit (8 Oct 1859, page 355).  Its caption contains an interesting credit that may have a bearing on this topic:  “From a sketch by one of the officers of the expedition.”

Appendix 2:  Lantern slide.

{ ▽ ‘Peglar’ discovery lantern slide. }   

In 2023, I found this lantern slide for sale, again derivative of the Illustrated Times sketch.  The tag reads: “Arctic Discovery of Skeleton.”


Cyriax, Richard J. & Jones, A. G. E.
    1954.  The Papers in the Possession of Harry Peglar, Captain of the Foretop, H.M.S. Terror, 1845.  The Mariner’s Mirror, 40:3 (March 1954), 186-195 (link).

Jones, A.G.E.
    1984.  Henry Peter Peglar, Captain of the Foretop (1811–48).  Notes and Queries, 31(4), 463–468.

“The [seaman’s] certificate is almost illegible, but the narrative of Peglar’s services at sea, illiterate and incomplete as it is, makes it possible to follow his career in some detail, which is seldom possible for a man on the lower deck in the nineteenth century.”

McClintock, Francis Leopold.  
    1859.  The Voyage of the Fox in the Arctic Seas: A Narrative of the Discovery of the Fate of Sir John Franklin and His Companions.

In the 3rd edition to this book (1869, page 310), McClintock first revealed the name of ‘Peglar,’ as found by Frederick George Netherclift (also the creator of the 1869 facsimile of the Victory Point Record):  “ the aid of chemical re-agents, Mr. F. G. Netherclifft [sic], of 32 Brewer Street, Golden Square, has been able to decipher the name of Hy. Peglar, together with several particulars respecting him — stature, 5 ft. 7¼ in.; hair, light-brown, &c.”  For more information on Netherclift and his facsimile, see my March 2022 article “A Bestiary of Victory Point Record Facsimiles” (link).

Mundell, Frank.
    c.1895.  Stories of North Pole Adventure.

Source of the ‘Peglar’ sketch discussed in Appendix 1.

Potter, Russell.
    2016.  Finding Franklin: The Untold Story of a 165-Year Search.

See section 2 of Chapter 3.

Rosenberg, Allegra.
    2021.  Henry Peglar’s Beer Hall.  All well: Polar notes by Allegra Rosenberg, 4 November 2021 (link).

Stein, Glenn Marty.
    2007.  Scattered memories and Frozen bones: Revealing a Sailor of the Franklin expedition, 1845–48. Journal of the Orders and Medals Research Society, 46(4), 224–232 (link).

Stein presents a case for Gibson over Armitage regarding the ‘Peglar’ skeleton’s identity.

Stenton, Douglas & Park, Robert.
    2017.  History, Oral History and Archaeology: Reinterpreting the “Boat Places” of Erebus Bay.  Arctic.  Vol. 70, No. 2. (June 2017) P. 203 –218 (link).

The surprisingly recent article which works out which of three sites on Erebus Bay was the original ‘Boat Place’ found by McClintock’s search.

Stenton, Douglas.
    2022.  Finding “Harry Peglar”: Re-examining the discovery of a Franklin expedition sailor’s skeleton by the 1859 McClintock search expedition. Polar Record 58(e25): 1–14 (link). 

Wagner, Hermann.
    1861.  Die Franklin-Expedition und ihr Ausgang: Entdeckung der nordwestlichen Durchfahrt durch Mac Clure, sowie Auffindung der Ueberreste von Franklin’s Expedition durch Kapitän Sir M’Clintock, R.N.L.

I have seen the following publication dates on the title page of this book:  1861, 1867, 1874.  I have also seen a Dutch edition dated 1862.

Newspaper articles:

23 September 1859.  The Times.  Page 7, columns 2–6.  “Fate of Sir John Franklin’s Expedition.”  [McClintock’s initial report to the press (usually cited by Cyriax and others to The Times).  Much earlier than the publication of The Voyage of the Fox, this would have been the first public description of the ‘Peglar’ site discovery.]

8 October 1859.  The Illustrated London News.  [A sketch of McClintock meeting the Inuit on page 355, referenced in Appendix 1.]

15 October 1859.  The Illustrated Times.  [The sketch of the discovery of ‘Peglar’ (page 256).  The rest of the issue contains several relic sketches, and a depiction of the opening of the Victory Point cairn on the front page.]

15 October 1859.  The Illustrated London News.  [Several relic sketches, and a depiction of the opening of the Victory Point cairn on page 366.]

29 October 1859.  Harper’s Weekly.  Pages 696–97.  [The well-known American sketch of the Boat Place.  An image is available at the top of my article “Reversing the Chronometers at the Boat Place” (link).]

29 October 1859.  Once A Week.  “The Last Voyage of Sir John Franklin (Part II)” by Sherard Osborn.  [This may have been the first public statement describing the ‘Peglar’ body as face-down (page 367, bottom of column 2):  “And he still lies as he fell, on his face, with his head towards his home.”]

26 December 1859 (Monday).  London Daily News.  Page 3, column 2.  “Lady Franklin to Captain M’Clintock.”  [“Captain M’Clintock’s eagerly-expected narrative of the discovery of the fate of Sir John Franklin, was published on Saturday.”  That Saturday would have been the 24th of December: Christmas Eve, an unusual date for such a story.]

Artifacts at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London: 

‘Peglar’ pocketbook.  AAA2114 (link).
‘Peglar’ buttons.  AAA2117 (link).
‘Peglar’ shirt.  AAA2119 (link).
‘Peglar’ comb.  AAA2115 (link).
‘Peglar’ brush.  AAA2113 (link).
‘Peglar’ neckerchief.  AAA2116 (link).

I first posted the Illustrated Times ‘Peglar’ sketch on 9 February 2021 to Twitter (link) and Facebook (link).

– L.Z.  August 24, 2022.
    – Updated August 28, 2022:  Added the Osborn article in Once A Week to the bibliography.
    – Updated December 27, 2023:  Created Appendix 2, to show a new lantern slide depiction of the grave discovery that I recently found for sale.