“The ghastly truth dawned upon me that it was three graves that I at last stood beside”

One of the most annoying things in my life as a Robert Anstruther Goodsir researcher is the man’s infuriating reluctance to put his real name on many of the articles he wrote. But he’s out there if you know where and how to look.

One lead started life as a thrilling paragraph published in the Scottish press after his death in January 1895. This direct quote was from a seemingly unpublished Robert piece. In it, he described in cinematic detail what it felt like when he found the Beechey Island graves in 1850.

An expanded extract in a later article in The Scotsman referred to Robert reading a report about Schwatka’s expedition. This article had been about the recovery of Franklin relics, and had prompted Robert to write something in response.

So I went looking for the Schwatka news report. Almost immediately, I stumbled over Robert’s full account, which had been published in Australia under a pseudonym. (Robert, *honestly*. No consideration for future researchers.)

I first published this find in the Remembering The Franklin Expedition Facebook group back in September 2018. It was later featured in a great blog post by Prof Russell Potter at Visions of the North.

1850-51 SEARCH

The article by Robert – or “An Arctic Man of Two Voyages”, as he styles himself here – contains the lovely line that inspired the title of this blog. It also has some great pen-portraits of the leading characters on the 1850-51 search expedition.

Age had dimmed Robert’s memory, no matter what he states in the piece. He has got a couple of things wrong – and he completely forgets to mention Sophia captain Alexander Stewart, who was in charge of the search party.


But it’s still a vivid and invaluable eye-witness account of the first sight of the graves of John Torrington, John Hartnell, and William Braine.

Pleasingly, it also corroborates another early eye-witness account – that of Johann August Miertsching, in 1854 – that the original headboards on the Beechey graves were black, not white.

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