The Journal and Paintings of Robert Hood


  • C. Stuart Houston



Beach erosion, Beaches, Intertidal zones, Lagoons, Sea ice, Shore ice, Berms, Alaskan Beaufort Sea, Chukchi Sea, Lay, Point, region, Alaska, Pingok Island


The expedition to the Arctic led by Sir John Franklin in 1819-22 was a major event in Britain's resumed search for the Northwest Passage. The members of Franklin's party were the first white men to travel along the mainland shores of arctic North America; in spite of extreme hardships, they discovered and mapped 675 miles of that coastline. The story of the productive but tragic journey, in which eleven out of twenty people perished on the return trek, is well known from the official account of Franklin (1823). One of the sources used by Franklin was the journal of a midshipman, Robert Hood, the only officer to die during that expedition. ... Hood offers a well-written, very human and less formal version of the events which occurred up to the time the expedition reached the Coppermine, and also provides an important account of the life of the Cree Indians near Cumberland House. Hood's journal and paintings have just been published. (Houston 1974). ... Hood's journal reveals him as a most intelligent, perceptive young man in his early twenties. His wide range of knowledge and interests are difficult to reconcile with the fact that he completed his formal schooling and joined the navy when only fourteen years of age. His accomplishments become somewhat more understandable, however, when it is realized that midshipmen - officers-in-training - received a considerable part of their education on board ship, with stress on subjects such as navigation, Euclid and Latin. Often they had access to recent books of science in the captain's cabin. Certainly Hood's knowledge, interests and aptitudes were directed towards science, so that he came to be Franklin's chief assistant in climatological, magnetic and geodetic matters and Dr. John Richardson's chief assistant in regard to natural history collections. The assistance he rendered to Franklin is amply recorded in Franklin's journal and is evident from Hood's own account. ... The amazing accuracy of Franklin's maps therefore reflects much credit on this young midshipman. ... Hood was the first to carry out a careful magnetic survey in what is now Western Canada, measuring the dip as well as the magnetic declination. ... However, it is in the area of natural history that Hood's contribution, through his paintings, is only now apparent. ... Indeed, one could argue that Hood's watercolours are as important as his journal. The two midshipmen, Robert Hood and George Back, no doubt chosen for the expedition because of their artistic ability, were the first artists to visit the present Canadian Northwest. ... The previously unpublished paintings by Hood of birds and mammals are of some scientific importance. It must be appreciated that the natural history of the remote fur countries was, as a result of Richardson's observations as naturalist on the first two Franklin expeditions, more completely catalogued than that of any other area of the North American continent at that time, with the possible exception of the Carolinas. ... By painting some important specimens that were later lost, Hood has added further to this store of knowledge. At the time that he painted them, no less than five of the birds and one type of fish were unknown to the scientific world. The black-billed magpie was the only one of the five newly-discovered birds painted by Hood which was to achieve "type specimen" status. ... Hood's painting of the evening grosbeak represents the first authentic record of this species anywhere. ... Hood painted two species under the name of "snowbird", the snow bunting and the hoary redpoll. However, it was 1843 before C. Holboell, the Danish naturalist, recognized the much whiter specimens of redpoll from Greenland as a separate species. Finally, the round whitefish was a new species when painted by Hood at Fort Enterprize, north of Great Slave Lake, in the spring of 1821. ... After the lapse of 154 years, the following paintings of birds and mammals from Cumberland House (53° 58' N, 102° 16' W) have been published along with Hood's journal. ...