Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Who can show the artifacts of Erebus and Terror?

Pretty sure that's a Canadian archaeologist at work
Dean Beeby, for CBC News, reports on the first exhibition of materials from the newly found Franklin shipwrecks -- in England, at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, even though the exhibition is curated by the Canadian Museum of History
The first major exhibition of artifacts from the sunken Arctic wreck of HMS Erebus is planned during Canada's 150th birthday next year — but Canadians will have to travel to Britain to see it....
The exhibition is scheduled to be presented at the Canadian Museum of History only in 2018. -- a year after the British display. As Beeby notes,
Sending upward of 22 HMS Erebus objects to Greenwich for next year's exhibition is also fraught, because Canada requires an export permit signed by the owner or owners — something still in flux and potentially in dispute.
... because Nunavut and the Inuit assert their own claims to hold and present the Franklin artifacts.

At Visions of The North, Franklin scholar Russell Potter calls Beeby's story "misleading" and declares there is no problem giving primacy to the National Maritime Museum:
[T]hat's actually to Canada's benefit, as they will be the centerpiece of a series of events in London, co-ordinated by Canada House, marking this important anniversary there.
Canadians, I suspect, will be able to estimate quite accurately just about how much the British will care about a Canadian 150th anniversary event.

Some years ago, I too would have understood the Franklin expedition as a perfectly British disaster, organized by the British Navy for its own purposes, without any participation by the provinces of British North America.  But the search for and discovery of the Erebus and the Terror were driven and directed by Canada and became something of a national endeavour. The program also relied heavily on Inuit information and support, and in the process the Franklin expedition has become a significant episode in making Inuit history better known and appreciated.

The original expedition may have been British, that is, but the discovery has been uniquely Canadian. The handful of artifacts hurriedly salvaged from the Erebus in 2014 will hardly be the definitive exhibition of Franklin finds, but it remains deeply inappropriate that their first formal, curated showing should be outside Canada. Particularly since, as Visions of The North makes clear:
As items from the navy of a nation, these newly-recovered Franklin relics would have been the unquestioned property of Her Majesty's Government -- but in the 1997 memorandum of understanding between the UK and Canada, the UK transfers all claims in the wrecks and their contents to Canada (an exception being made only for any gold found on the wrecks) as soon as they are positively identified.
Finding Erebus and Terror was a remarkable feat of Canadian exploration, and their exploration will be a great event in Canadian underwater archaeology. Canada should be starting the exhibition here, probably in Gjoa Haven as well as Ottawa, not sending it overseas as some misplaced courtesy.

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