Johan Carl Christian Petersen, a Danish Greenlander adventurer, was born June 28, 1813. Petersen served as interpreter on several Arctic voyages of the 1850’s, including William Penny’s search for the missing Franklin expedition in 1850-51, and Elisha Kane’s second voyage of 1853-55. This probably gave Petersen the credentials to be invited aboard the Fox when Francis M’Clintock set out on his own search for Franklin in 1857. M’Clintock was the one who discovered the fate of the Franklin expedition, finding documents that attested to Franklin’s death and the abandonment of the two ships. M ‘Clintock’s narrative of the voyage of the Fox was thus highly anticipated–so much so that Mudie’s Lending Library negotiated to secure 3000 copies of M’Clintock’s book before it was even printed. Petersen seems to have concluded that in such a market, there was room for his own narrative, even though he was just an interpreter, and so in 1860, he published Den Sidste Franklin-Expedition med “Fox” (The Last Franklin Expedition with the “Fox”).
The text of Petersen’s book is of great interest because of its different point of view, but we are going to focus today on the images. Petersen apparently had access to M’Clintock’s drawings, for Petersen’s book has many of the exact same images, except that Petersen’s illustrations are tinted lithographs, whereas those of M’Clintock were wood engravings. So in comparing the two books, we have the rare opportunity to see what difference the medium makes in conveying the message. We show above three of Peterson’s lithographs: a detail of a funeral in the ice with a paraselene in the sky (first image); the Fox amidst some ice floes (third image); and an Inuit village set against a glacier (fifth image). Right next to each is the corresponding wood engraving from M’Clintock’s narrative (second, fourth, and sixth images). Petersen may have been just a hired hand on board the Fox, but he certainly outshone his commander in his visual style.
In 2013, Greenland honored Petersen with a postage stamp (seventh image); the view on the stamp of a sledge team was taken from another lithograph in Petersen’s narrative. We showed that image in our 2008 exhibition, Ice: A Victorian Romance.
Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City. Comments or corrections are welcome; please direct to firstname.lastname@example.org.