Friday, February 17, 2017

A Dreadful Penny Dreadful

typorgraphical cover of The Dreadful Fate of Sir J. Franklin. It is a simple pamphlet on yellowing paper.When Sir John Franklin and his crew disappeared into Arctic waters in search of a northwest passage, it set off a massive hunt that lasted years. Expeditions from the United States and Great Britain failed time after time to find any trace. In 1854, nine years after Franklin set sail, John Rae discovered evidence of the demise of Franklin and his crew and sent the news back to England. It caused a sensation.

The search had captured the popular imagination, and the public still held out hope that the ships were in safe harbor, so Rae's bad news did not sit well. But there was one industry that was fully prepared to spread the news: the publishers of "penny dreadfuls." These inexpensive little publications reveled in the sensational and rushed to print the details they could glean from more respectable sources--sources that cost more and appealed to a different social stratum.  The Dreadful Fate of Sir J. Franklin (London: Saunders, Bros, 185_) describes the "melancholy termination" of Franklin's expedition. Included was this quote from Rae's official report:
From the mutilated state of many of the corpses and the contents of the kettles, it is evident that our wretched countrymen had been driven to the last resource--cannibalism--as a means of prolonging existence."
Just what the medium begged for. To read the sad tidings, ask for Stef G660.D72.

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