When I first visited Dundas Harbour I was struck by many things. It is a place of splendid isolation, and I often reflect on what it would have been like to be posted there in the 1920's, with no one to police and only one way in or out. Of course for two of our members it is their final resting place, where they will spend eternity. There is also the grave of a child there, Davidee Panipakichoo, born premature in December 1950 only to die shortly after. In our cemetary there was also the headstone of a Scottish Whaler, John Davidson, but as it turns out, it isn't his final resting place, and the story of finding it is what follows.
Fellfoot Point on Devon Island would be a lonely place to spend eternity. It marks the eastern mouth of Maxwell Bay, and although people have visited and lived lives here since at least 3,500 years ago, no one inhabits this place. In fact, no one lives at all on Devon Island, although Inuit hunters visit from time to time and some scientists spend summers here at the Mars Research Station at the Haughton Crater. But Fellfoot Point is the final resting place for John Davidson of Peterhead Scotland, a bosun on the SS Resolute, and it is here that his mortal remains will spend eternity.
The Resolute was a whaler from Dundee Scotland, plying Canadian Waters for Bowhead Whales and Seals. In the spring of 1885 she was off the coast of Newfoundland and Arthur Jackman, a Newfoundlander, was the Captain. That spring they harvested 38,800 seals, the most in the Dundee fleet. In the summer they came north to the High Arctic to try and match that success with whales. It was to be John Davidson’s last voyage.
Tuberculosis was not uncommon at that time, and indeed right up to the mid 20th Century. A famous arctic grave, that of the Franklin Expedition’s John Torrington, on Beechey Island gave evidence of that. An autopsy on his well preserved body in the 1980’s showed that he succumbed to TB. Ironically it saved him from having an anonymous resting place scattered on the shores of King William Island like many of his expedition mates. Tuberculosis took John Davidson also, on the 1st of August 1885, while at sea. According to the Register of the Resolute he died of a cerebral infection brought on by consumption. Cared for by the ship’s unqualified surgeon until his passing, he left the world at the age of 42, or perhaps 37. His surgeon, a 19 year old from Nairnshire on his first voyage, would have been able to do little, except give him comfort. He was a long way from home.
Someone, probably the ship’s carpenter, carved John a nice headstone, carving down into the oak so the letters were raised. Then he was buried on the shores of Devon Island at Fellfoot Point. The Captain probably conducted the service for him, and stones were placed over his grave. Then the Resolute would have sailed away, for there were whalefish to catch. They had moderate success, managing to find 4 Bowhead and 200 “white whales”. At that the Resolute returned to Dundee, never to return to the Arctic or John Davidson’s grave, for she was crushed by ice and sunk off Fogo Island Newfoundland the following spring. But the story doesn’t end there.
To be continued...