Photo of the Day

John Hornby’s cabin on the Thelon River as it appeared in 1978.

A Tragic Adventure

This is the story of a tragic expedition by three young Englishmen that went horribly wrong in the barren North West territory of Canada. Against the background of a tragic story of a trapping and a exploring expedition that ran foul of food shortage is the diary of written by one of the victims, a boy of 18 who started off with a boyish zest for adventure, hero worship for his older cousin, leader of the party, and who never flinched, no matter what fearful odds of death and starvation he faced. The diary was kept by the author until the day, he the last survivor died. The skeletons were found, three years later.

No trees. That is the Indian name for the great expanse of tundra…more than half a million square miles…spread across North-Western Canada. Samuel Hearne named it the Barren Ground. It is a wilderness rather than a desert…

Few white men had travelled through that country. One man… John (Jack) Hornby… was determined to learn how to live there. And he died there… of starvation… on April the 16th, 1927….

In the spring of 1926 John Hornby’s party… three men and one canoe… left Fort Resolution and travelled to the site of Fort Reliance at the Eastern end of Great Slave Lake. On their way they met a group of trappers… one or two parties of Indians… and at the end of the Lake, a topographical survey party homeward bound. They were delayed for a time by heavy ice. Then, by the classic route of Pike’s Portage, they entered Artillery Lake. After that there was silence….

Then in July, 1928 a party of geologists… led by Harry S. Wilson… came down the Thelon River by canoe on their way from Great Slave Lake to Hudson’s Bay. About thirty-five miles below the junction of the Hanbury and Thelon Rivers… at a sharp double bend in the river… they came upon a log cabin. It stood well back from the north bank in a stand of spruce.

They beached their canoe and called out. There was no answer. As they walked up towards the cabin, they noticed two rifles standing by the door. To the right of the door, still covered with snow, were two bodies, apparently sewn in blankets. Inside, the cabin was derelict. The three small windows, covered with sacking, let in no light….

In their groping inspection they dislodged a third body, which fell from a bunk to what was left of the floor. The Wilson party left everything as it was an continued on their way to Chesterfield Inlet. When they arrived there in the autumn, they made a report to the Mounted Police. It was now too late in the season for them to get into the Thelon. After carefully preparing caches of stores, an R.C.M.P. patrol reached the cabin on the 25th of July, of the next year.

The three bodies, now skeletons, had not been touched since the Wilson party left. On top of the stove in the cabin was a piece of paper, badly damaged by the wet. But a few words could be deciphered….

Who ever comes here look in the stove.

Buried in the ashes of the stove, the police found some letters and papers… and a diary written by Edgar Christian. From the papers and the diary the bodies outside the cabin were identified as John Hornby and Harold Adlard. The body that had fallen from the bunk was Edgar Christian’s. Christian was a few days short of his nineteenth birthday when he died.

Photograph of Edgar Christian by J.G. Worwell from Unflinching, 1938 (listed as J.G. Whorwell in 1937 edition).

Born to wealth and privilege, John Hornby and James Critchell-Bullock turned their backs on England’s comforts to seek adventure abroad: Hornby as “the Hermit of the North,” exploring Canada’s uncharted lands, Critchell-Bullock as a Bengal Lancer, defending the frontiers of Empire in Asia and Africa. Their paths crossed in 1923, when they set out together on an expedition to the Barren Lands, the vast, treeless sweep of taiga, lakes, and glaciers near Hudson Bay on the Arctic rim of North America. The goal was both simple and daring: to become the first Europeans to live an entire year in the Barrens, supported only by their wits and their weapons.

There are two ways of looking at Jack Hornby: lovable oddball-adventurer or hare-brained suicidal idiot. Either way, he’s a hard man to dislike. Even by the eccentric standards of British Arctic explorers, Jack’s life – and death – were spectacularly strange.

He was born in Cheshire in 1880, the son of Albert “Monkey” Hornby, a celebrated sportsman who captained England at rugby and cricket and played football for Blackburn Rovers. Like his dad, Jack was a pocket Hercules – short, wiry and strong. And like his old man, he was educated at Harrow. His was a life of pomp and privilege. And at the age of twenty-three, he threw it all in and left Britain in search of adventure.

Jack sailed to Canada and headed straight up into its extreme, frozen north – the so-called Barren Ground or Barrens. And for the next quarter-century, the tough little toff wandered aimlessly up there, embarking on some of the most fantastically ill-equipped and ill-judged expeditions of all time. He was what you might call a slapdash explorer. Unprepared and Unconcerned was his motto; surviving by the skin of his teeth his idea of fun.

The Barrens are brutal: a landscape of icy plains and lakes that stretch flat and treeless for a thousand miles along the Arctic Circle. It has a terrible beauty. Winter lasts nine months; temperatures plunge to glacial depths; snowstorms can kill a man in minutes. Yet the harder things got, the more Jack enjoyed himself. The colder and hungrier he became, the more he felt alive. “Not many men know how to starve properly,” Jack once boasted, “but I think you can be taught.”

He would be gone for months, sometimes years – heading out into the Great Unknown with little more than a rifle, a fishnet and a belly-full of British pluck. He moved around by canoe, dog sledge or on foot, dragging his gear behind him. He built his own shelters. He hunted and trapped his own food. Sometimes he travelled with Indians, sometimes with other hunters and adventures – but mostly he operated alone.

When he did come in from the cold, his reappearance always caused a stir. His hair would be long and tangled his beard bushy, his trousers ragged. Jack never washed in the Barrens and didn’t care who knew it. And once he’d stocked up on fresh supplies of tea and bullets, he was always in a tearing hurry to get back to the wilds.

Jack’s grit and stamina became the stuff of legend. They called him the Hermit of the North. He was the lone wolf, the white man who could live off the land like an Indian – even in the frozen sub-Arctic. The Edmonton Journal reported that the eccentric Englishman “could out-run any Indian on the trail could outlast any Indian in endurance and could out-starve any Indian when there was nothing left but starvation.”

The outbreak of 1914-18 war saw Jack in France, where he fought with honour in the trenches. But within a year of that blood-bath ending he was back in the Barrens and pulling off his oddest feat yet: enduring a bitter winter living alone in an abandoned wolf’s den. He headed out to the wilds alone again the following year – one of the coldest on record – and nearly starved to death as the thermometer sank to minus 62F. The winter of 1924-25 was a similar desperate struggle for survival, this time spent holed up in a freezing cave with another adventurous Englishman, James Critchell-Bullock.

“Rather more than eccentric” was Critchell-Bullock’s verdict on Jack when the skeletal pair finally crawled back to civilization. Joining mad Jack in the Barrens had nearly cost Critchell-Bullock his life. Yet the newcomer found it impossible to dislike his reckless, gutsy little companion. Critchell-Bullock called him “the most lovable creature I ever knew”.

Jack headed to Europe again in 1926 for his famous dad’s funeral. And while he was there he picked up another fan – his young cousin Edgar Christian. Just seventeen and straight out of public school, Edgar was a trusting, ambitious kid in awe of his heroic relative. He was also tall and strong and keen to see the Canadian wilds. So Jack, agreed to take the lad on his next expedition – the trip, he figured, would make a man of him.

Imagine, if you can, that you are a 17-year-old boy in England in 1925, and have just finished your studies at a private boys school, passing out successfully, but not distinguishing yourself in any way. As the son of an officer in the British army, you have been imbued with a sense of pride in your family’s standing. You feel undefined expectations placed upon you, and yet you have no idea what to do next. Then your mother’s favourite and rather eccentric cousin, some 30 years your senior, comes to visit your family’s comfortable country home and enthrals you with wild tales of Canada’s North. It would, surely, seem like the most exciting place imaginable to a young mind that had been, as much as anything, somewhat stultified by academic challenges. So, when the suggestion is made that you might accompany your cousin, whom you call “Uncle Jack,” on his next trip to Canada, you fairly beg your parents for permission to go, not only for the adventure, and the answer to your uncertainty of direction in life, but also to demonstrate to your father that you have what it takes. Such is the story of Edgar Christian.

Edgar Christian was born with the spirit of adventure in his blood. This is not surprising, since he was a descendant of Fletcher Christian, who led the mutiny on H.M.S. Bounty; his father was a hero of the First World War; and his cousin, John (Jack)Hornby, won fame as an explorer and hunter in the far north of Canada.

As a schoolboy at Dover College, Edgar had admired from afar his cousin John’s exploits, and everything he heard and read about Hornby made him resolve to become a man of action. He met his renowned cousin for the first time in the winter of 1925-26. Edgar was a manly looking, fair-haired boy of 17. Hornby, back in England for a well-deserved leave, was nearly 40.

From the start of their friendship, Edgar was enthralled by Hornby’s accounts of his adventures in the Hudson Bay area. As for Hornby, he believed his young cousin would make a first-rate explorer; for Edgar had piercing eyes of ice-blue, and Hornby considered that only men with eyes of that colour could possibly stand the hardships of Arctic life!

This strange theory, coupled with Edgar’s boundless enthusiasm, led the cousins to sail for Montreal in April, 1926. Their plans were to make their base at Edmonton, the capital of Alberta, and then to travel to the Thelon River, where they would spend the bitter winter months.

Surprisingly, Edgar’s dad, Colonel Wilfred Christian, agreed to let his son go. He wrote wishing the lad every success in his “great adventure” with Jack. “You are out to lay the foundation of your life…” the colonel told Edgar, “all your future depends on how you face the next few years.” No one warned the boy how savage the Barrens can be. And Edgar was too young to know that lovable lunatics like Jack Hornby can be dangerous men to follow.

The cousins sailed to Montreal and trained it across Canada to the northern city of Edmonton, the stepping off point for expeditions into the Barrens. People they met along the way wondered what Jack thought he was doing taking a teenager with him up to the edge of the Arctic. Some tried to talk him out of it. But Jack waved them away. He was confident that this trip, like all the others, would work out just fine.

In Edmonton, the pair ran into Harold Adlard, a young shop worker from Dorking in Surrey who was also mustard-keen to see the Barrens. Jack had known and liked Harold for years – so on a whim he too was enlisted. It doesn’t seem to have bothered Jack for a moment that both his young companions were “greenhorns.” Neither had any experience of survival in the wilds. Each was putting his young life in Jack’s gnarly hands.

The unlikely trio set out on 25 May, travelling by train for a day and then, when the rail line ended, transferring to a large canoe and taking to the water. They paddled north for more than a thousand miles – along mighty rivers, across enormous lakes, past remote Indian villages and Christian missions, beyond the last isolated cabins and trading posts, then further north still till they crossed the tree-line where the Canadian forest stops suddenly and the flat, naked plains of the Barrens begin.

The going was rough. Progress was slow. The mosquitoes made mincemeat of Edgar. And the three adventurers had to keep dragging their boat out of the water and carrying it overland, together with all their equipment and supplies, around rapids and waterfalls.

The kit, although basic, still weighed about a ton: they had rifles, ammunition, axes, stoves, a tent, tea, blankets and animal traps. But oddly Jack had taken no shotgun, the best weapon for hunting small animals. And the few hardy fur trappers and frontiersmen they met on route noticed something else about Jack’s little party: their supplies of flour and dried meat looked alarmingly thin for a winter in the Barrens.

Jack and the lads travelled slowly north for more than three months. In June, Edgar turned eighteen. In July, they met a Swedish trapper going in the opposite direction – he was the last person they saw on their journey.

In the spring they would push eastwards from the Great Slave Lake until they reached Hudson Bay. A friend of Hornby’s, an ex-airman called Harold Adlard, was to accompany them. Edgar wrote that he was pleased that he would not be the only greenhorn in the camp.

After the three explorers had set off on their adventure, Edgar sent a long letter home to his parents in England. In it he said that the first part of the journey – 300 miles north from Edmonton to a place called Waterways – was done by a goods train with one compartment for passengers. From then on they travelled by canoe, visiting many colourful Indian communities along the way.

It was now July, and no record exists of how the two men and a boy spent the next three months. Then, on 14th October, 1926, Edgar started the diary which is one of the most poignant and moving documents ever written. It was published under the title of, Unflinching, a Diary of Tragic Adventure. The book, unfortunately, is now out of print, though it can still be obtained from some public libraries.

Edgar Christian opened his account of their sojourn beside the Thelon River with these words:

Weather turned much milder and made travelling on [snow] shoes bad so could not get in rest of meat. I took a short walk down stream in morning but saw no tracks beside weasel. All spent rest of day digging out sand from the house and fixing up the roof permanently. Temp 26 °F. Wind moderate, north easterly.

He continued four days later: October 18 — Jack returned in the evening with glad news having seen 30 caribou on a distant ridge behind camp, so tomorrow we all go out in last effort for winter’s grub. October 19 — We all started out early to see if caribou were grazing still on ridge behind camp but were soon disappointed in seeing nothing for miles around.

In August, the trio watched in awe as thousands of caribou (reindeer) thundered past on their annual southward migration. And at the start of September, later than expected, they finally arrived at their destination, a wooded bend on the Thelon River, high up in the Barren Ground.

Jack had passed here the previous year and marked it down as a perfect spot to overwinter. The place was a little miracle: an oasis of trees, grass and flowers in the middle of the bald, rocky Barrens. Jack was convinced they’d find plenty of animals to eat amongst all that foliage – even in coldest months, even when most creatures had moved south or gone to ground. And the icy months would soon be on them. The river was about to freeze making travel impossible. So he ordered a halt and the men made camp.

Hornby’s original plan was to take as little food as possible and try to live off the land. This was obviously a failure. Edgar wrote: “Jack (John Hornby) returned in the evening with glad news, having seen thirty Caribou on a distant ridge behind camp, so tomorrow we go all out in a last effort for winter’s grub.”

But, by 27th November, the meat gained on their “last effort” was running short. Five days later, with no more caribou in sight, the temperature plunged to minus 37 degrees, and in December Edgar was writing, “Now we must throw up trapping and practically den up, and get hold of any grub we can without creating a big appetite by hunting on short, cold days.”

This was Jack Hornby at his most slapdash. He had previously seen the Thelon “oasis” in high summer – there was no evidence to suggest it’d be teaming with life during winter too. Yet he felt confident that he and his young companions would be okay here. He convinced himself they’d be able to catch fish, trap birds and shoot prime caribou in these woods till spring arrived. He was sure of it. He was positive. And, not for the first time, he was spectacularly wrong.

It took a further two months for Jack, Harold and Edgar to build a log cabin and storehouse, and by the time that work was done they were already hungry. Jack’s imagined herds of caribou never arrived. The men caught next to nothing in the traps they set. And as winter started to bite the river ice got so thick, fishing became a nightmare.

Edgar wrote in his diary, Jack, he notes, had already started to leave the Thelon woods and go out onto the freezing, windswept Barrens to look for caribou. But he shot nothing. Instead the hungry men had to make do with the occasional trapped bird or weasel or scrawny fox. Sometimes they ate mice. And then, at the end of October, the first blizzard of winter arrived, trapping the men in their cabin.

Things got worse in November. The days closed in, the snow underfoot became deep and treacherous. Frostbite threatened if the men spent too long outdoors hunting or chopping firewood. On 27 November, Harold marked his twenty-seventh birthday in subdued style. That same day Jack was forced to dig up an emergency stash of fish that he’d buried in the frozen earth only a few weeks earlier.

Through December the adventurers continued to scrape by on slim pickings: a hare one day, a wolverine another, a trout the next. Some days they caught nothing at all. Two long hunting trips into the Barrens proved fruitless. Harold became dull and silent from hunger – “not quite the ticket”, according to Edgar. And the teenager himself was near-paralyzed by the cold.

Only Jack remained unbowed. The caribou had failed and other smaller animals were thin on the ground – but he remained upbeat. Something would turn up, he was sure of it. There was still some flour and sugar left which would keep them going for a while. And after that, well, Jack figured they would just have to tough it out – his young companions would have to learn how to “starve properly”.

In January the thermometer fell to minus 54F. A three-day blizzard made gathering food impossible. Jack kept his companions going by collecting old bones that lay discarded in the snow outside the cabin, and then smashing and boiling them to make a nutrient-rich grease which he mixed with flour to make a meal of sorts.

Somehow the explorers survived the 80-degree frosts of January – although Harold Adlard was showing signs of cracking from the strain.

At the start of February, a small miracle – Harold shot a scrawny caribou spotted wandering on the Barrens and it gave them enough meat for six days. But by 15 February, things were once again looking grave. More fish and animal scraps were found in the snow and boiled. “Hope to God, we get caribou soon as nothing seems to get in traps…” writes Edgar in his diary, “flour is nearly gone & we are grovelling round for rotten fish.” Hornby was delighted when he found some frozen blood, “which makes a great mixture with flour”.

After suffering painfully from a frost-bitten nose, Adlard refused to go out and chop any more wood for fuel. Morale was dropping along with the temperature, and on 26th March the explorers were forced to eat the skins of wolverine, and restricted themselves to two meals of hide a day. The one thing that kept them sane was the thought of the caribou, which would soon “come north, and then what feasting we can have!”

Hornby was now “suffering agonies” from a leg condition which had been giving him trouble for some time. Edgar entered this in his diary, saying: “Jack during the night decided that, as the weather seemed milder, he should make an effort to get in Caribou guts . . . as his leg is getting worse and he feels it is the last day he can move on no more grub than we have without eating Wolverine.

It was now so cold Edgar could barely bring himself to step outside. Harold’s face was frostbitten so he too had to stay indoors. But as the lads slowed down, Jack went into overdrive, determined to keep his two greenhorns afloat. He gave them his share of the food scraps they’d scraped from the snow, convinced that he could run on empty. And, despite a frostbitten hand, he took up his rifle almost every day and forced himself to march out onto the frozen plains to look for caribou. Each night he returned empty-handed.

By the middle of March, Edgar was starting to worry about his cousin. Jack’s toughnut behaviour was unsustainable; he was beginning to fail. He “looks very poor”, Edgar notes in his journal, “and must feel it though he will keep a-going”. Jack did keep a-going, until 4 April. On that day he made his last desperate – and once again fruitless – trip out onto his beloved Barrens. But then Jack Hornby’s strength was spent.

All three men were now filthy, soot-covered skeletons. And for the next fortnight, not one of them trapped or shot a single animal. They were surviving solely on ground-up bones, discarded fish guts and boiled animal hides – anything that might bring them a drop of nourishment. Too weak to cut fresh wood, they began dismantling the storehouse they’d worked so hard to build and feeding the logs into their stove to keep warm. Harold was staggering round in a fog, a broken man. Edgar was so weak he could barely stand. And on 9 April, Jack collapsed in agony, pain tearing through his left leg which he’d hurt in a fall and was refusing to heal.

The next morning, Edgar’s diary has Jack “looking very bad… [he] seems to be all in”. And that evening, after six months of near-starvation, Jack finally admitted defeat and set down his will, leaving everything to his young cousin. He also wrote to Edgar’s parents, calling their boy “a perfect companion” and expressing hope for the lad’s safe return. And then, after doggedly clinging to life for another grim week, Jack Hornby, the Hermit of the North, the slapdash explorer, died of hunger.

His death knocked Edgar for six. The boy sat stunned as Harold took care of Jack’s bony body, wrapping it in a groundsheet and dragging it outside the cabin. By the next day the plucky teenager had regained his balance. “We are both very weak,” he writes in his diary, “but more cheery and determined to pull through and go out to let the world know of the last days of the finest man I have ever known and one who has made a foundation to build my life upon.” But the teenager was being hopelessly optimistic. Within days Harold too was sinking fast. On 27 April, he suffered a hunger-induced stroke. Five days later, he had another. And by the next evening Harold too was dead, leaving eighteen-year-old Edgar Christian alone in the Barrens.

In spite of his feeble condition, Edgar Christian managed by himself to perform for Harold Adlard’s body the same decent offices they had accorded to John Hornby. The diary entries now become slightly more light-hearted, as though an intolerable weight of anxiety had suddenly slipped away from him. His flickering power is concentrated upon a single issue. Day after day–sometimes at intervals of only a few hours–he records, with a miser’s minuteness and a millionaire’s detachment, the precise content of his larder– The struggle was no longer confused by the question of hunting or trapping. No sign of panic. He knew there was plenty of food–of a sort–round about the cabin. He could hold on indefinitely–if only he could induce his crazy body to assimilate the miserable garbage he scraped up from the snow. He had watched his two companions die; he had weighed and considered all the symptoms; Hornby had gone over the whole thing very carefully with him before he died; he knew what he must do. His mind was mercifully numb, fixed upon a tiny pitiless cycle.

The boy was now so skinny his “joints seemed to jerk in and out of position instead of smoothly”. He was suffering nose bleeds. Moving around was “a wobbly process”. But it was May – spring was close. The lad knew that soon, any day now, the caribou would come thundering north again in their thousands. If he could hang on till then and shoot one, he’d be able to regain his strength. The caribou migration would save him, just as Jack had predicted. He would escape the Barrens. He would make his cousin proud.

Despite his suffering, Edgar kept up that diary. He records fighting off fevers. He describes moving around like a zombie, his brain sluggish from lack of food. But he never panicked and he never gave up. Every day Edgar waited for the caribou’s return and for spring’s sunshine to once again fill the Thelon oasis with life. And he waited in vain: the sky above him stayed cold and grey, the clump of trees around his cabin remained dead and wintry.

The Graves of John Hornby, Edgar Vernon Christian and Harold Adlard 1929. The crosses were erected by the RCMP in 1929 to mark the graves of the three men.

Edgar Christian last diary entries:

5th of May. Yesterday I dug in the snow and ice near the house for 3 hours during the afternoon, and found food enough for more than one day to keep myself a-going. Fish scraps enough for a good supper, the guts of a Fox and Wolverine which had the liver of the Fox and a little gut fat–1 day’s food what with boiled bones added.

Today I resumed my digging and again had luck in finding more good food which had been discarded: 1 very fat Wolverine gut and kidneys – now I have guts for 1 day, heart and liver for 1 day, meat scrapings for 2 days.

7th of May. 10 a.m. I write my thoughts down just now while I think about it all, and explain my day’s actions and reasons for such. Last night I went to bed eventually at 9:30 having relished my supper. I awoke at 8 having slept well. I felt much better, but to my surprise, I was as thin as a rake about my rump and my joints seemed to jerk in an out of position instead of smoothly. This I believe to be exactly the same thing as happened to poor Jack and Harold….I now think my best plan is to just concentrate on clearing my system, and do as little walking as possible, keep as warm as I can. I must stick to my guns and endeavour to cure myself now.

8th of May. At last a change has come; sunshine all day and thawing in the sun, but still blowing from the North…..After my breakfast….I felt very weak…….my back aches badly……At midday I got a Whisky Jack in a trap, so I had a cup of tea and ate it straight off….Ptarmigan have been out in front of the house again; they must have been there when I was pounding bones this morning–yet I am keeping a keen eye out at all times, and have 2 rifles just outside the door. Moving around seems to be a wobbly process.

11th of May. Feel as if I don’t know what to do with myself…..As soon as I get outside my ears begin to get queer…My back and spine very painful all day and walking difficult…My word if I could only get 1 or 2 Ptarmigan to put me on my feet I would be O.K. However, must hang on and hope for better days and a few birds to come along soon.

12th of May. Feeling much more fit today….and appetite very keen..

13th of May. Before my breakfast cooked, I went out, got some water and cut a little wood I had outside, and found I could hardly stand. What food I now eat is near the door in a heap of ice so that it cannot go bad; therefore I think it best not to dig today but try and get strength for wood cutting in the evening…and see how things are tomorrow.

8:30. Did not go for wood, but after a good night’s rest and a good supper I should feel better than this….

14th of May. Woke early, at 4 a.m. Got my breakfast of fish scraps on to cook and then sat in bed reading and thinking. How long the grub will last on the scrap pile I don’t know; I certainly cannot get strong on it. Even if mild weather did come, I might be too crocked to move at all, and all the animals would at first be on the Barrens. However, there’s always a chance of Caribou coming down the river.

Evening. I see it is a full moon tomorrow, besides being the 15th of May; and that’s the date from which Jack said to look out for birds coming North. But there’s no incentive for any bird or beast to come to this land of ice and snow just yet by the looks of it as present; however, I must carry on and live in hopes and trust something comes along.

17th of May. Another bad day; no fine weather; couldn’t move out to get wood, so eventually I cut the bed-pole to burn. If I cannot get grub tomorrow, I must make preparations.

18th of May. Weather changed. I managed to pound up bones out in the sun and gathered in some scraps…Ptarmigan came near to the house once, but I could not get them. One Swan flew over, and I saw 1 Raven and 3 Robins.

19th of May. Thawing in the morning, so got out again. Then there was snow in the afternoon so I had to den up and hope. I must rest till tomorrow and then if there is any sun I might get out again.

20th of May. No entry was written under this date. In the night and on the morning of June the First, he wrote his last entry.

For a time he staved off death with scraps of fish and frozen flesh. Then his hunger fell from him.

Just five days before his not-to-be-reached 19th birthday, he made his last diary entry:

Like Jack before him, he describes feeling “all in” and “weaker than I have ever been in my Life.” Then he pulled out a separate sheet of paper and wrote farewell notes to his parents. “Bye Bye now Love & Thanks for all you have ever done for me,” he tells his dad.

“I have grub on hand,” he wrote, “but weaker than I have ever been in my life . . . Weaker than ever. Have eaten all I can . . . Sunshine is bright now. See if it does any good to me if I get out and bring in wood to make a fire . . . Got cut, too weak and all in now, Left things late.”

“Please don’t blame dear Jack,” he asks his mum. And after stashing his papers safely inside the cabin’s empty stove, he dragged himself onto his bunk, pulled a red blanket up over his hollow face, closed his eyes, and waited for sleep to take him.

Just over a year later a party of mining prospectors passed along the Thelon River and discovered Edgar Christian’s body still lying on the bunk. A search of the log cabin turned up the boy’s diary and a few ounces of tea, but no other food. Outside the prospectors found the remains of Harold Adlard and Jack Hornby lying head to toe in the dirt. It was July 1928 now, high summer in the Barrens, and all around them the wooded bend on the Thelon River was teeming with life.

 


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