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Cover image for Cold burial : a true story of endurance and disaster
Cold burial : a true story of endurance and disaster


1st U.S. ed.
Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's Press, 2002.
Physical Description:
xv, 264 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, map ; 22 cm
Hornby of the North -- Boyhood heroes -- Finest sons -- Feast -- Harold -- Canoe -- Towards resolution -- Hornby's channel -- Reliance -- Barren ground -- Log cabin -- Wind chill -- Famine -- Death on the Thelon -- Alone -- Cold Burial -- Verdicts -- Death of a lancer.
Recreates the ill-fated journey of three young adventurers determined to prove they could survive in the Barren Grounds of the Canadian Northwest Territories in 1926, from a journal found two years after their demise.


Call Number
971.92 Powell 2002
971.9202 POWELL

On Order



For schoolboys in the 1920s, too young to have experienced first-hand the horrors of World War One, theirs was yet the age of adventure. Their imaginations fired by the exploits of Robert Scott, T. E. Lawrence, Ernest Shackleton, and George Mallory, and by the novels of John Buchan and Jack London, they dreamed of exploring and conquering new frontiers. Lawrence had retreated from public life, and Scott, Shackleton, and Mallory were by then all dead, but their heroic feats remained the measure of British manhood, the standard to be carried forward.In the Spring of 1926, Edgar Christian, a young man of eighteen fresh out of public school, joined his dashing cousin, the legendary (if somewhat self-styled) adventurer Jack Hornby, and a friend named Harold Adlard on an expedition into the Barren Lands of the Canadian Northwest Territories. The plan was to hunt caribou and trap for fur. For young Edgar, the Barrens expedition offered a chance to prove himself and to find his direction in life; for Hornby, a veteran of the Great War as wellprevious forays into the Northwest (he was known in some quarters as "Hornby of the North"), it represented his latest date with disaster. Together they would demonstrate that civilized men could survive, even thrive, in one of the world's most inhospitable regions. They were proved wrong.Based in large part upon a diary left behind by Edgar, discovered when his body and those of his companions were found two years after their deaths, Clive Powell-Williams' account of the expedition is a gripping narrative of innocence and experience, youthful idealism and unyielding nature. It matters little that we know in advance the tragic outcome, for in its unfolding Cold Burial recounts a tale of courage, folly, and ultimately redemptive love that will haunt readers long after they've read the last page.

Author Notes

Clive Powell-Williams is a teacher at St. Martin's School in Middlesex, England. He was introduced to Edgar Christian's diary by the archivist at Dover College. Fascinated by what he read, Powell-Williams spent nine years researching the story behind the diary.

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

Powell-Williams reconstructs the doomed 1927 expedition of renowned adventurer Jack Hornby to Canada's Northwest Territories, using the diary of his 18-year-old cousin and fellow traveler, Edgar Christian. Hornby was part of a wealthy, aristocratic family whose lifestyle he rejected. On a trip home to attend his father's funeral, Hornby so captivated his young cousin with romantic tales of the wilderness that Christian soon begged Hornby to allow him on a trip to the Barren Lands of the Northwest Territories. This was a return trip for Hornby, then in his mid-40s, to the harsh, uninhabited land (temperatures of -30 degrees Fahrenheit were not unusual). Yet according to the author, Hornby, driven by an exaggerated sense of his invincibility and distracted by an unrequited love affair, prepared badly for the trip. He mistakenly decided not to take sled dogs, traveled with inadequate food and clothing, and miscalculated the availability of caribou for hunting. Christian's diary, found two years later along with three dead bodies (Hornby's friend Howard Adlard had also joined them) in the rough cabin they built, describes how the men were critically weakened by starvation and cold. As the last survivor, Christian provided a harrowing account of the deaths of Hornby and then Adlard before the diary broke off. In the end, Hornby's is an arresting story of a reckless wilderness gamble that did not pay off. Photos not seen by PW. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Kirkus Review

In 1929, Canadian Mounties found three skeletons in a cabin in the Arctic regions of the Northwest Territories. They also found a diary, which forms the basis for this book. The leader of the hapless trio was Jack Hornby, an English WWI hero and freelance explorer obsessed with the Far North. The charismatic Hornby's energy was not matched by organizational ability; his expeditions often ran short of supplies and ended in cold, misery, and near starvation. (The author suspects Hornby took pride in his ability to suffer.) On a visit to England in 1924, his stories captivated teenage cousin Edgar Christian; Hornby's decision to take the naive, inexperienced boy on his next expedition was the first of many acts of poor judgment that plagued it. After reaching Canada, the team added a third inexperienced member, bought supplies, and proceeded north. Using Christian's diary (the one discovered by the Mounties), letters, newspaper accounts, and other documents, British author Powell-Williams (With All Thy Might, not reviewed) delivers a fascinating account of the group's 1,200-mile struggle by river from the railhead to their Arctic destination. Traveling more slowly than skilled outdoorsmen, they arrived late in summer to begin building a cabin and laying in a stock of consumables. The cabin wasn't finished until November, so they spent two months of winter in a tent. Confident the area contained plenty of game, Hornby hadn't brought much food, a fatal error that led to increasingly desperate searches for something to eat. The men might have survived had they planned properly, traveled faster, packed more victuals or the proper accessories-more than one parka each, for example. This gripping chronicle of deadly ignorance will sound depressingly familiar to anyone who's read about Robert Scott's disastrous South Pole expedition. Not quite as provocative as Roland Huntford's blistering dissection of Scott's blunders in The Last Place on Earth, but a strong entry in the explorers-who-should-have-known-better genre.

Booklist Review

In the summer of 1926, professional wanderer Jack Hornby and his young cousin, Edgar, set out for the barren wastes of northern Canada. For the record, it was a scientific expedition to record temperatures and observe the wildlife. In fact, Jack simply couldn'st bear to live a sedentary lifestyle in civilization, and Edgar worshipped Jack, with all his tales of living off the land. Joined by a friend along the way, they gradually made their way by canoe to "the Barrens" to settle in for the winter. Although friends and other travelers along the way argued that the three were dangerously undersupplied, Hornby was unconcerned and overconfident, gambling their lives on his perception of caribou migration patterns. The story that follows is one of hardship, endurance, but ultimately failure. Powell-Williams draws from the diary kept by young Edgar, as well as letters written home by the three men, and the testimony of others they encountered along the way. A well-researched account and heartbreaking story of three men and an adventure gone horribly wrong. --Gavin Quinn

Library Journal Review

In 1926, the Barren Lands of the Canadian Northwest Territories were rightly regarded as an inhospitable region of appalling weather where the threat of starvation, accident, and loneliness always lurked a place where men (i.e., Europeans) would be tested to the limit. Troubled World War I veteran Jack Hornsby, a drifter and adventurer, had been there and he had liked it. He organized an expedition with two young and inexperienced friends, with the intention of wintering north of the Great Slave Lake. They would hunt and trap to support themselves, and Hornsby would collect scientific data. Hornsby was knowledgeable about the region, but he failed to make basic preparations despite warnings. After many hardships and colossal mistakes in judgment, all three died. Two years later, Mounties found their bodies, letters to parents, and the detailed diary of one of Hornsby's friends. The author has used the diary and a number of surviving letters to reconstruct the adventurers' trip in great detail. An interesting counterpoint to the many stories of survival under harsh conditions but rather depressing. For comprehensive subject collections. Edwin B. Burgess, U.S. Army Combined Arms Research Lib., Fort Leavenworth, KS (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. ix
Forewordp. xi
Acknowledgementsp. xiii
Note on the Textp. xvii
1. Hornby of the Northp. 1
2. Boyhood Heroesp. 16
3. Finest Sonsp. 27
4. Feastp. 40
5. Haroldp. 58
6. Canoep. 71
7. Towards Resolutionp. 87
8. Hornby's Channelp. 101
9. Reliancep. 117
10. Barren Groundp. 132
11. Log Cabinp. 148
12. Wind Chillp. 161
13. Faminep. 173
14. Death on the Thelonp. 193
15. Alonep. 209
16. Cold Burialp. 229
17. Verdictsp. 241
18. The Death of a Lancerp. 253
A Note on Sourcesp. 263