Newly discovered Robert Hood watercolours help tell Canada’s Arctic history

On April 16, 1821, midshipman Robert Hood made the last entry in his journal. A 24-year-old British Royal Navy petty officer under the command of Captain John Franklin, Hood participated in an expedition to chart the Coppermine River as part of the search for the Northwest Passage. Hood’s final journal entry ended his descriptions of the daily activities as the group of British sailors, Canadian voyageurs, Aboriginal guides and interpreters trekked from York Factory to Cumberland House and then on to Fort Enterprise and the Coppermine River. Although the journal entries discontinued, Hood continued to note weather conditions and navigational data in other expedition volumes, and to produce at least one more visual record.

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is pleased to announce the recent purchase of four watercolours from a Hood family descendant.

Portraits of the Esquimeaux Interpreters from Churchill Employed by the North Land Expedition is likely the final surviving work of Robert Hood. Completed in May 1821, the watercolour depicts Tattannoeuck (Augustus) and Hoeootoerock (Junius).

Watercolour portraits of two young Inuit men wearing western-style clothing. One is captioned Augustus and the other, Junius.

Portraits of the Esquimaux Interpreters from Churchill Employed by the North Land Expedition, May 1821 (MIKAN 4730700)

Three other watercolours were acquired that were painted during the previous year while the expedition wintered at Cumberland House.

In January 1820, he drew a mink as it dipped a paw into the water along a rocky shore and a cross fox just as it caught a mouse in the snow.

Watercolour of a mink on a riverside dipping one of its paws into the water.

Mink, January 20, 1820 (MIKAN 4730702)

Watercolour of a fox having caught a mouse in a snowy landscape.

Cross fox catching a mouse, January 26, 1820 (MIKAN 4730703)

Two months later, Hood set out on a trek to the Pasquia Hills where he encountered a group of Cree. Invited into their tent, he recorded with extraordinary detail this watercolour, The Interior of a Southern Indian Tent [original title]. This image would be the basis of the print, Interior of a Cree Tent, which appeared in Captain John Franklin’s account, Narrative of a Journey to the Shores of the Polar Sea in the Years 1819, 20, 21 and 22.

Watercolour showing the interior of a tent. Seven people are sitting around a fire. One is a mother with a child in a cradleboard. Pelts or meat are drying on a cross beam and a pot of food is over the fire. There is a musket and a bow and arrows leaning on the side of the tent. One person is eating and another is smoking a pipe while the others appear to be listening intently.

Interior of a Southern Indian Tent [original title] (MIKAN 4730705)

Unfortunately Robert Hood would not live to see his paintings published in Franklin’s account. Plagued by horrendous weather and insufficient supplies, the expedition resorted to eating lichens to survive. By early October 1821, it was clear that Robert Hood had become too weak from hunger to continue the journey. He was left behind with two British participants, while the others set off for Fort Enterprise in search of food and supplies. One of the voyageurs, Michel Terohaute, changed his mind and left Franklin’s group, returning to the Hood camp. On October 23, 1821, while the two other men were out searching for food, Terohaute shot and killed Robert Hood. Captain John Franklin managed to retrieve Hood’s journal and watercolours, which were given to Hood’s sister and distributed among her grandchildren. LAC was fortunate to acquire these four previously unknown watercolours which document a key expedition in Canada’s Arctic history.

Related resources

 

Sir John Franklin Expedition

On May 19, 1845, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror left England under the command of Sir John Franklin in search of the Northwest Passage. This expedition was without a doubt a most ill-fated venture, as not a single member returned alive.

An iceberg, HMS Terror and some walruses near the entrance of Hudson Strait.

An iceberg, HMS Terror and some walruses near the entrance of Hudson Strait
Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1979-49-1. Source

Major search efforts were launched to find the missing men, including three expeditions to the Arctic in spring 1848. Rewards were also offered in 1849 and 1850 for any information about Franklin’s expedition. These searches did produce results: in 1850, the first relics—the graves of three crewmen who died in 1846—were found at Beechey Island, west of Devon Island.

In July 1857, Lady Franklin also financed an expedition under the command of Francis McClintock aboard the ship Fox. On May 5, 1859, William Hobson, Lieutenant of the Fox, found a document placed beneath a cairn containing two messages. The first, written by Franklin on May 28, 1847, indicated that the crew of the two ships had spent the winter of 1845–46 off Beechey Island, and that all was well. The second message, dated April 25, 1848, indicated that the Erebus and Terror had been trapped in ice since September 1846, west of King William Island, and that 24 men had died, including Franklin on June 11, 1847.

In the wake of expeditions undertaken to find Franklin, numerous maps were drawn, including the Discoveries in the Arctic Sea, 1616-1927 and the Chart showing the vicinity of King William Island. These identified the sites Franklin visited, the places where his group wintered and the site in which his ships were abandoned. The second map also mentions the diverted courses the two wrecks may have followed.

Although we now know the fate of the members of this expedition, every attempt to find the wrecks of the Erebus and the Terror has been unsuccessful, despite the magnitude of the searches and modern technologies deployed.

For more information about the period prior to the expeditions:

For more information about the periods prior to and following the expeditions:

For more information about the period following the expeditions:

Publications, bibliographies and guides held at Library and Archives Canada:

Please visit our Flickr album for more photographs.