David Cardno Exile at Kekerten”

Taissumani: 2009-01-23

By Kenn Harper

David Cardno's return to Peterhead in the fall of 1913 didn't last long.

Seven months later, on June 6, he left again for Cumberland Gulf, this time in the employ of Robert Kinnes of Dundee, who had purchased Crawford Noble's whaling and trading stations. Cardno took charge of Kekerten and another man from Peterhead, Jimmy Law, took over Blacklead Island. Although both men had been hired for two years, only one year's provisions had been sent, the idea being that a supply ship would come the following summer.

Three hundred Inuit lived at Kekerten. Cardno was known to most of them. He passed the winter pleasantly. He had a fresh supply of books, and 13 Harry Lauder records for his gramophone. The Inuit mimicked the singing of the famous Scotsman, and were especially taken with his song, "I love a lassie."

It is likely that this Scots phrase is the origin of the Inuit woman's name, Olassie.

Jimmy Law visited from Blacklead in April. His supplies had run out, so Cardno shared with him his remaining bread, tea, sugar, peas, barley and biscuits. By mid-September, he regretted his generosity because the supply ship had still not arrived and Cardno himself was now low on supplies. One day that month he smoked the last of his tobacco.

"It was a real blow for me," he wrote, 16 years later. "My pipe had been a great solace. I laid down my pipe and, since that day, I have not touched tobacco." He had only a half bag of biscuits and some tea and coffee left. Soon enough, the biscuits were gone.

No ship arrived in 1915. Cardno began to experiment with new ways of cooking caribou and seal, his diet for the coming winter.

"I had nothing to do but cook and keep myself fit," he wrote. "Every day I walked 10 miles across the frozen snow. My nights were passed in reading and playing patience. Never was a man more thankful of a pack of cards." His tea and coffee lasted until March. After that he drank hot water.

In April of 1916, Jimmy Law arrived with news. A ship, the Albert, had put in at a post outside Cumberland Sound the previous summer, and left newspapers for the Inuit to take to Blacklead Island.

From the papers, Law and Cardno realized that Europe was at war. From Law, Cardno also learned that their employer, Kinnes, had sent a ship in 1915. It was the Tilly under 73-year-old Captain William Stephen.

But high winds had blown the ship past Blacklead Island, she was wrecked on the rocks and the captain drowned. The ship-wrecked crew had passed the winter at Blacklead. ­Cardno, isolated only 40 miles away, had known none of this.

In 1916, a small ship, the Erme, owned by a competing trading company, arrived in the gulf and rescued the ship-wrecked sailors, but she carried orders from Dundee for Cardno and Law; they were to remain at their posts until another ship would arrive for them.

But again, no ship arrived. "Each day I went to the lookout post on the hill and scanned the horizon for a sail," Cardno wrote. "Sometimes I walked several miles to a point where I could see a good way down towards the mouth of the gulf. As the summer slipped by, my hopes faded. Could Germany have won the war? If they had, what had happened to my family, and what would become of me?"

In August of 1917, David Cardno was in his station house reading a book when Kudloo, one of the station workers, entered, smiling broadly. "A ship, Davidie," he said calmly. "A ship."

Cardno rushed outside. A three-masted schooner, Mary Smithers, was making for Kekerten. She had already been to Blacklead and picked up Jimmy Law.

By August 28, stores and coal for the station had been landed and Cardno's cargo of skins stowed aboard. On that day, David Cardno saw Kekerten for the last time. "Though my prayers for home had been answered, I left the place with sorrow in my heart," he wrote. "So much of my life had been spent in the lonely wastes of Baffin Land that I could not help but form some kind of attachment to the place and its people."

Cardno made his way home from the northern tip of Scotland to Peterhead by train. His wife met him at the ­station. She barely recognized him. "Is that my man?" she asked. "Davie, is that you?"

Cardno was a slim shadow of the thickly built man who had left Peterhead three years before. But he was home.

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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