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TATTANNOEUCK (meaning “it is full,” also known as Augustus), Inuk interpreter; d. in late February or early March 1834 near Fort Resolution (N.W.T.).

Tattannoeuck was born and raised on the west coast of Hudson Bay, some 200 miles north of Fort Churchill (Churchill, Man.). He had at least one brother, to whom he was very attached. In the early 19th century the Hudson’s Bay Company hired young natives to winter at its posts, where they could be trained as interpreters, and Tattannoeuck was thus employed at Fort Churchill from 1812 to 1814 and in 1815–16. In the summer of 1816 he returned to his people. He was married by 1818, and he would have at least three sons.

In 1820 Tattannoeuck and another Inuk, Hoeootoerock (also known as Junius), were engaged as interpreters for Sir John Franklin*’s first expedition to the Arctic. They arrived at Fort Enterprise (N.W.T.) in January 1821. Franklin’s group departed for the Arctic coast on 14 June, and in the course of its explorations Tattannoeuck and Hoeootoerock demonstrated intrepidity and unflagging cheerfulness while providing an invaluable service. Franklin’s was the first expedition to venture down the Coppermine River since Indian guides with Samuel Hearne* had massacred a band of Inuit at Bloody Falls 50 years earlier. Rightly worried that the Inuit would be nervous on seeing Europeans and Indians again, Franklin sent Tattannoeuck and Hoeootoerock ahead to reassure them. The interpreters made contact, but on the sudden appearance of others from the expedition, the Inuit fled. The next band encountered also took flight. Tattannoeuck was nevertheless able to obtain information on the inhabitants, the resources they exploited, and the Arctic coastline from an old man too frail to escape.

The expedition explored along the coast and then turned back. The return to Fort Enterprise proved disastrous, however, more than half of the party dying, the majority from exposure or starvation [see Robert Hood]. Hoeootoerock disappeared on a hunting trip, and Tattannoeuck’s search for his friend was in vain. Later, starving but still energetic, Tattannoeuck impatiently moved ahead of Franklin’s struggling party and got lost. His eventual arrival at Fort Enterprise prompted an overjoyed Franklin to remark that “his having found his way through a . . . country he had never been in before, must be considered a remarkable proof of sagacity.”

In 1822 Tattannoeuck returned to Fort Churchill, where he was employed by the HBC. In the summer of 1823 the missionary John West* used him as an interpreter, and he converted to Christianity. The following spring, after visiting his family, he was hired as an interpreter on Franklin’s second expedition to the Arctic. Starting out on foot, he and a companion, Ooligbuck*, reached Franklin’s party at Methy Portage (Portage La Loche, Sask.) on 25 June 1825. In August, as the expedition descended the Mackenzie River, it surprised an encampment of Indians, who immediately sprang to arms. Franklin recorded that a “brave youth,” on perceiving Tattannoeuck’s Inuit face, “threw up his hands for joy and desired every one of [his] party to embark at once . . . and a friendly intercourse followed.” Tattannoeuck was “the centre of attraction,” Franklin continued, “notwithstanding Mr Kendall [Edward Nicolas Kendall*] and myself were dressed in uniform, and were distributing presents. . . . We could not help admiring the demeanour of our excellent little companion under such unusual and extravagant marks of attention. He received every burst of applause . . . with modesty and affability, but would not allow them [the Indians] to interrupt him in the preparation of our breakfast, a task he always delighted to perform.”

After wintering at Fort Franklin, the expedition continued down the Mackenzie in the summer of 1826, dividing into two groups at its mouth. Tattannoeuck accompanied Franklin’s party, which on 7 July encountered several hundred Inuit. Circumstances led to the Inuits’ pillaging Franklin’s two boats, and they were driven off only by threatening gun muzzles, the butts having proved no deterrent. That night Tattannoeuck, alone, met with 40 Inuit and boldly warned them to change their behaviour or forgo trading in the future. “My tribe were in the same unhappy state in which you now are, before the white people came to Churchill,” he told them, “but at present they are supplied with everything they need, and you see that I am well clothed.” He concluded by announcing that “if a white man had fallen [during the pillaging] I would have been the first to have revenged his death.” His efforts were unavailing; the Inuit planned to massacre Franklin’s party, including Tattannoeuck, the following day, but they did not get the chance.

The expedition’s arrival at Norway House (Man.) in June 1827 signalled the end of Tattannoeuck’s employment, and he wept at the separation. He spent much of the next three years at Fort Churchill, occasionally travelling north to visit his family. From 1830 to 1833 he and Ooligbuck worked for Nicol Finlayson* as interpreters and hunters at Fort Chimo (Que.). In the latter year Tattannoeuck learned that George Back*, a member of the two Franklin expeditions, was mounting one of his own to search for the explorer Captain John Ross*, presumed lost in the Arctic. Tattannoeuck hurried to Fort Churchill, where he bought a pound of gunpowder, two pounds of ball shot, and one-half pound of tobacco; with these meagre supplies he set out on foot, despite a lame leg, for Fort Resolution. He arrived several months later to discover that Back had moved on to Fort Reliance, 200 miles to the northeast. He pushed on but, losing his way, attempted to return and perished in bad weather on the Rivière à Jean (Jean River), only 20 miles from Fort Resolution.

Tattannoeuck was thought of with affection by the officers of Franklin’s expeditions. Informed of his death, a grieving Back wrote: “Such was the miserable end of poor Augustus! – a faithful, disinterested, kind-hearted creature, who had won the regard not of myself only, but I may add of Sir John Franklin and Dr. Richardson [Sir John Richardson*] also, by qualities, which, wherever found, in the lowest as in the highest forms of social life, are the ornament and charm of humanity.” Governor George Simpson* of the HBC described Tattannoeuck as “faithful attached intelligent.” Finlayson’s is the lone dissenting voice; he acknowledged that Tattannoeuck was a “good interpreter” but considered him a “bad hunter” and a “drunken sot.” Tattannoeuck’s attachment to the men he worked for was strong. During the return trip of Franklin’s second expedition he had detoured to visit Richardson (Franklin’s second officer and a member of the first expedition), then at Cumberland House (Sask.). On leaving Franklin’s men at Norway House he had assured them that they could count on him should he ever be needed, and in fact he sacrificed his life in a courageous effort to fulfil his promise.

In recognition of Tattannoeuck’s services to Franklin, a species of butterfly first collected at Cumberland House in 1827 was named – probably by Richardson – Theta augustus (now classified as Incisalia augustus), and a lake in the Northwest Territories was later named Augustus for him.

Susan Rowley

PAM, HBCA, B.42/a/138, 140–42, 144–45, 149, 151, 155–57; B.42/e/1/4, B.42/e/6/2. George Back, Narrative of the Arctic land expedition to the mouth of the Great Fish River, and along the shores of the Arctic Ocean in the years 1833, 1834, and 1835 (London, 1836), 24143, 253. John Franklin, Narrative of a journey to the shores of the polar sea in the years 1819, 20, 21 and 22 . . . (London, 1823); Narrative of a second expedition to the shores of the polar sea, in the years 1825, 1826, and 1827 (London, 1828). HBRS, 24 (Davies and Johnson). Robert Hood, To the Arctic by canoe, 1819–1821: the journal and paintings of Robert Hood, midshipman with Franklin, ed. C S. Houston (Montreal and London, 1974). John Richardson, Arctic ordeal: the journal of John Richardson, surgeon-naturalist with Franklin, 1820–1822, ed. C. S. Houston (Kingston, Ont., and Montreal, 1984). John West, The substance of a journal during a residence at the Red River colony, British North America; and frequent excursions among the North West American Indians, in the years 1820, 1821, 1822, 1823 (London, 1824; repr. New York, 1966). M. S. Flint, Operation Canon; a short account of the life and witness of the Reverend John Hudspith Turner . . . (London, 1949), 17. David Meyer, “Eskimos of west Hudson Bay, 16191820,” Napao (Saskatoon), 6 (1976), nos.12: 4158.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Susan Rowley, “TATTANNOEUCK,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed November 21, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/tattannoeuck_6E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/tattannoeuck_6E.html
Author of Article: Susan Rowley
Title of Article: TATTANNOEUCK
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1987
Year of revision: 1987
Access Date: November 21, 2014