Taissumani: May 31

Hector Pitchforth — Alone in the Arctic


In 1923 the Sabellum Company acquired a ketch named Rosie, as a replacement for the Vera which lay wrecked on the tidal flats of Sisimiut.

Aboard her was Hector Pitchforth, an eccentric Englishman, returning to the Arctic. The Rosie would deposit him at Kivitoo, north of present-day Qikiqtarjuaq, on the east coast of Baffin Island.

It’s not very clear what his position within the company was. He was not in charge of the station at Kivitoo, for it was managed by an Inuit woman, Qaunnaq. He seems rather to have been a roving company representative, sent to oversee generally the affairs of the company and make recommendations to the head office in London on its future expansion.

Despite his lack of authority, he seems to have enjoyed his first year. Shortly after the Rosie left, he went walrus hunting in Brodie Bay and shot 20 walrus.

He travelled locally by dog-team during the first two weeks of December. In early January he travelled to Cape Henry Kater and back. Then in February, the coldest month of the year, he travelled with Inuit south to Durban Harbour where an Inuk named Durban Harry maintained a post for the company, and from there overland from Padle Fiord to Kingait Fiord in Cumberland Sound, and on to Pangnirtung.

There, as well as meeting his competitor with the Hudson’s Bay Co., he met Inspector Wilcox of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. He also met the Sabellum Company’s trader in the sound, Kanaaka, who was ill in Pangnirtung. Pitchforth returned home via the same route by which he had arrived, finally reaching Kivitoo on April 25.

In a letter to Jobson, his employer, Pitchforth wrote enthusiastically about his travels:

“At a very conservative estimate I have travelled over 2000 miles and can honestly say that I have earned my pay. I had lived nearly all winter and spring in snow igloos and tents. I have never had a day’s illness and excepting snow blindness [I am] as hard as iron and as sound as a bell. During those long journeys I have walked or run at least 1500 miles as my sledge was overloaded and we had not sufficient dogs and the poor brutes were starving nearly all the time.”

In other letters, Pitchforth voiced his suspicions about the honesty of the Inuit traders who worked for the company. They had all been recruited by James Mutch in the days before the Hudson’s Bay Co. was active at Clyde River or Pangnirtung, but now that there was competition, Pitchforth suspected that they were trading with the enemy.

In the summer of 1924, the Rosie returned, bringing another Englishman, a Londoner named Harry Wigglesworth, to winter with Pitchforth. But Pitchforth dissuaded him from staying, because he had decided that Kivitoo was declining and that the trade would be better at Cape Henry Kater. He determined to relocate there, but the company’s house at Kater was only eleven feet by six, hardly comfortable for two men.

Young Wigglesworth, only eighteen years old, duly returned to England. The Rosie departed, leaving Pitchforth still at Kivitoo, but later that year he did manage to relocate to Cape Henry Kater.

That year, the Canadian government ship, Arctic, met Pitchforth on the coast. Aboard was inspector Wilcox, whom Pitchforth had met earlier in Pangnirtung.

Wilcox was concerned about Pitchforth’s health and took it upon himself to write to his superiors in Ottawa about the trader: “He is almost blind and very deaf, which defects the Eskimos will take every advantage of, in fact he is regarded by them as a ‘joke’, and in the event they should ever abandon him, which they will do under the least excuse, either at the Post or on a journey, his physical defects will result in his death. Mr. Pitchforth appears to be a well educated and capable business man, and healthy in every respect except the senses above mentioned, but for these reasons he is unsuitable for his present environment.”

When these comments eventually reached Jobson in London, he didn’t take them seriously. He replied to Ottawa, saying, “We are afraid Mr. Pitchforth has been endeavouring to magnify some hardship he has voluntarily undertaken. Our vessel was at Kivitoo last August, when he was in his usual state of health and made no complaints.”

The following year, the Rosie, still under Captain Pearson, was unable to reach Kater or Kivitoo. She landed an Inuk, Naujarvik, who had spent the winter in England and Scotland, at Cape Haven on the end of the promontory separating Cumberland Sound from Frobisher Bay. Naujarvik would make his way up the coast, carrying supplies and a letter for the lonely trader.

Next Week – More on the fate of Hector Pitchforth

Taissumani recounts a specific event of historic interest. Kenn Harper is a historian, writer and linguist who lives in Iqaluit. Feedback? Send your comments and questions to kennharper@hotmail.com.

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