Murder at Repulse Bay Part 1″

Taissumani: 2007-09-07

By Kenn Harper

In 1864, Charles Francis Hall launched his second shoe-string expedition to the Canadian Arctic in search of survivors of the missing Franklin expedition. He was accompanied by his Inuit friends and interpreters, Joe and Hannah, who had spent two winters in the United States with him.

Lacking funds for his own ship, he hitched a ride north with whalers, travelling with Captain E. A. Chapel on the Monticello. Although he hoped to make his base at Repulse Bay, he and his party were landed at Roe's Welcome Sound, over 60 kilometres. south of Wager Bay. He spent his first winter there, before finally moving north to Repulse Bay.

In the fall of 1867, he arranged a contract with the whalers to borrow some men from their crews. Patrick Coleman was one of those men.

The following March, Hall traveled north to the Ooglit Islands, south of Igloolik, in pursuit of more information about alleged sightings of Franklin's men some years previous. From there he explored part of the Melville Peninsula before returning to Repulse Bay. He intended to pass a quiet summer there with the Inuit and his five whalers. But something terrible happened to mar the tranquility he sought.

Exactly what happened is unclear. Hall's journal has a gap of three weeks. But what happened during that period is recorded, as if by Hall himself, in the "Narrative of the Second Arctic Expedition Made by Charles F. Hall," not published until after Hall's own death two years later. Perhaps his posthumous editor had found the missing journal pages.

On July 31, Hall convinced himself that Patrick Coleman and a few others of the whalers had not been carrying out his orders entirely to his satisfaction. Hall was a volatile man obsessed with his "mission" to find the fate of Franklin. He had a hair-trigger temper and was often on the verge of violence. He confronted the men at their tent:

"I told them … that it became them to be as expeditious as possible whenever I had work for them to do… This was followed by a burst of real mutinous conduct on the part of Pat and Antoine, to which demonstration Sam and Peter seemed to be a party. Pat was the leader, and I felt for my own safety that something must be done to meet so terrible a blow as seemed ready to fall. I appealed to Pat especially to stop his mutinous talk and conduct. I was alone, though a small distance off were all the Innuits of the tent-village looking upon the scene. Pat was standing in the door of the tent… where he was delivering himself of the most rebellious language possible. I made an approach to him, putting my hand up before him, motioning for him to stop. He at once squared himself, doubling up his fists and drawing back in position, as it were, to jump upon and fight me."

Hall considered simply giving Coleman "a good drubbing." but realized that Coleman was a powerful man and that he risked having Coleman's friends come to the man's assistance. Instead, the report continues:

"I demanded of Peter my rifle, which he gave me. I hastened to my tent, laid down the rifle, and seized my Baylie revolver, and went back and faced the leader of the mutinous crowd, and demanded of Pat to know if he would desist in his mutinous conduct. His reply being still more threatening, I pulled the trigger, and he staggered and fell."

After handing the gun over to one of the astonished Inuit, Hall then ran back and assisted Coleman to his tent. "I supposed he could not live five minutes," he wrote, "but a Mightier hand than mine had stayed the ball from a vital part."

Patrick Coleman took two weeks to die. Nourse, who edited the published account, said that "Every effort was made by Hall to save his life by the use of all remedies at his command and by the most careful nursing …"

Only two days after Coleman's death, two whaling ships, the Ansel Gibbs and the Concordia, arrived at Repulse Bay. The remaining four whalers deserted, but Hall chose to remain among the Inuit for one more year.

When he finally returned to the United States, he had some explaining to do.

Continued next week.

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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