Taissumani: History August 2, 1840 – Inuluapik and Penny Re-Discover Cumberland Sound


(Continued from last week)

On July 27, 1840 the Bon Accord, under the command of William Penny, stood off Leopold Island, a small island off the coast of Baffin. To the south lay open water and then, in the distance, more land. This open water must be the mouth of a large inlet, thought Penny. It must be Tinujjiarvik, the body of water that Inuluapik had described as teeming with arviit – the bowhead whales that were the prize sought-after by Scottish and English whalers. Inuluapik confirmed Penny’s supposition. This was indeed Tinujjiarvik.

But Penny checked his maps and his latitude carefully and concluded incorrectly that this inlet was in the wrong place to be Cumberland Sound. It must be something altogether new. He named it Hogarth’s Sound, in honour of the owner of his previous ship, the Neptune. It would be a few years before the error was recognized and the original name restored.

Ice prevented an immediate entry to the inlet, but eventually a southeast breeze dispersed it. On August 2 Penny hailed two nearby ships, the Lady Jane of Newcastle and the Lord Gambier of Hull, which followed him into the fiord. They followed the northeast shoreline and eventually met two Inuit who came aboard the ship. Inuluapik told them about his adventures in the white man’s land. They promised him that they would pass on the news of his return to other Inuit, so that his mother might be informed.

Finally the ships crossed the sound to Qimmiqsut, Inuluapik’s birthplace. Offshore, they met a group of Inuit, two of whom were Inuluapik’s cousins. One might well wonder what would be the first of all his experiences the young traveler would relate to impress his relatives. Surprisingly, he didn’t tell initially about any of his experiences in Scotland. Instead he told of meeting Inuit on the Greenland coast and described the peculiar way in which they spoke. He also demonstrated the use of a gun that Captain Penny had given him as a gift during his long convalescence in Scotland.

Penny insisted that Inuluapik not leave the ship at Qimmiqsut but rather accompany him farther into the sound. He was concerned that they still had not seen any whales. At the head of the sound the Bon Accord anchored in a harbour near the Inuit village of Nulluk. The next day, in the ship’s boat, Penny set out on an exploratory voyage to the last long arm of Cumberland Sound, now called Clearwater Fiord. He was accompanied by Inuluapik and an old man named Aaniapik. Inuluapik wanted to impress the old fellow, for on the previous day he had received the man’s permission to marry his adopted daughter, Kunuk. In mid-August they returned from their unsuccessful search for whales. Penny was beginning to despair, but the Inuit informed him that whales would be numerous in the fall.

Back at Qimmiqsut, Inuluapik left the ship. Penny headed for the mouth of the sound to check the ice conditions. When he returned to Qimmiqsut, he was surprised to learn that Inuluapik had already disappeared inland on a hunting trip. He was even more startled to learn that he had already taken a wife – and it was not Kunuk.

Penny crossed again to the northern coast of the sound. Finally he found whales, but luck was not with him. His crew only managed to harpoon two, and they were both lost. The Bon Accord left the sound on September 22 without catching a single whale.

Thus the voyage that was of the most profound significance to the development of whaling in southern Baffin Island, although an exploratory success, was a financial disaster. The Bon Accord had been the only whaling ship remaining in Aberdeen, and her owner, a Mr. Crombie, was forced to sell her.

In the following years Cumberland Sound became the most important whaling ground in the Canadian Arctic. Inuluapik quite literally put Cumberland Sound back on the map. The chart he prepared for Penny in 1839 bore a close resemblance to the map Penny prepared the following year. In that peculiar way white men have of looking at discovery, Inuluapik had helped a man rediscover something he had known was there all along.

Inuluapik’s trip to Scotland was the first of many to be made from Cumberland Sound across the Atlantic during the next three quarters of a century while whaling flourished.

Taissumani: A Day in Arctic History recounts a specific event of historic interest, whose anniversary is in the coming week. 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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