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Diary translation leads to discovery

By Janet Harron

The work of religious studies professor Dr. Hans Rollmann has shed some light on an iconic mystery of Canada's North.

In 1845 John Franklin and his crew set sail to discover the infamous Northwest Passage. Three years later the HMS Investigator was purchased by the British Admiralty to search for Franklin's lost expedition. Ultimately the Investigator was abandoned in 1853 after being trapped for two years in the inhospitable Arctic ice.

A Parks Canada team of scientists, archaeologists and surveyors (led by archaeologist Henry Cary, who received his MA in archaeology from Memorial) ultimately discovered the wreckage of the Investigator in 2010 and found the graves of three crew members who died of scurvy in April 1853.

It was Dr. Rollmann's translation of passages from Johann August Miertsching's diary that contributed to the discovery of the graves. Miertsching was a Moravian missionary in Okak, Labrador, who accompanied the Investigator's search party as their Inukitut interpreter.

An earlier translation of the diary suggested that the men were buried "on the shore" but Mr. Cary used Dr. Rollmann's translation which indicated the men were buried further inland.

Dr. Rollmann says Miertsching's qualities as a pastor and a keen observer make his diary invaluable.

"On the ship, Miertsching's door was always open to the crew ... during the afflictions of two long winters and increasingly small rations, he visited and spoke comfort to the sick and dying. Twice he nearly got lost himself in the eternal snow," he said.

Dr. Rollmann's contributions have been recognized by Parks Canada Chief Executive Officer Alan Latourelle who recently awarded him a CEO Award of Excellence for his "extraordinary contribution and exemplary service" to the project.