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Tookoolito, from an 1862 engraving

Tookoolito (Inuktitut: Taqulittuq) (c. 1838 – December 31, 1876) known as "Hannah" among whalers of Cumberland Sound, was an Inuk woman who served as translator and guide to Charles Francis Hall, an Arctic explorer involved in the search for Franklin's lost expedition in the 1860s and 1870s. Her husband, Joseph Ebierbing (Inuktitut: Ipiirviq):, known as "Joe," worked alongside her as a guide and hunter, and they both accompanied Hall on the United States Polaris Expedition.[1]

Early life and family[edit]

Tookoolito was born at Cape Searle in the Cumberland Sound or Qikiqtaaluk Region, or Baffin Island area. Her brother, Eenoolooapik, traveled in 1839 with whaler William Penny to Aberdeen.[2] Other relatives, Totocatapik and Kur-king, were also renowned as travelers.[3]

In 1852, Tookoolito began learning English from a British whaler, William Barron.[4]


Tookoolito, with her husband and children, traveled extensively through the Arctic, and to England and the United States.


In 1853, a whaling captain named John Bowlby (sometimes called Thomas Bowlby), brought her with Ebierbing and an unrelated child, Akulukjuk ("Harlookjoe"), to England. The three Inuit were exhibited in various venues throughout the north of the country (see Human zoo). They were eventually brought to London, where they were received by Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle.[5] She and Ebierbing dined with the Queen and Prince Albert. Unlike many less scrupulous showmen, Bowlby returned the group to the Arctic.

First Arctic Expedition: Baffin Island[edit]

In 1860, the explorer Charles Francis Hall met Tookoolito and Ebierbing, hiring them as translator and guide on his first expedition to search for remains of the Franklin expedition. Local inhabitants led him to the remains of the Frobisher expedition instead. Sidney Budington captained the expedition's ship, the George Henry.

United States[edit]

She and Joe returned with Hall in the fall of 1862, and appeared alongside him at his lectures.[6] Later that year, Hall arranged for them to be exhibited at Barnum's American Museum in New York, where they drew enormous crowds, advertised as "Esquimaux Indians ... from the arctic regions ... the first and only inhabitants of these frozen regions ever brought to" the United States.[7] Not long after, Hall agreed to a second exhibition at Boston's Aquarial Gardens, but when no payment was forthcoming, decided that such shows were not worth the risk to Hannah and Joe's health.[8] Nevertheless, they accompanied him on his East Coast lecture tour throughout the early months of 1863, and possibly as a result, Tookoolito's young son "Butterfly" became ill and died of pneumonia. Inconsolable, Tookoolito became suicidal, but eventually regained her health.

Second Arctic Expedition: King William Island[edit]

Along with Ebierbing, she returned with Hall to the Arctic on his second land expedition from 1864 to 1869.[9] During this expedition, Tookoolito gave birth to a son "King William," who died in infancy; she and Joe then adopted a two-year-old Inuit girl whom they called simply "Panik" (the Inuktitut word for "daughter").

Tookoolito's grave, Groton CT (2008 photo)

Polaris expedition[edit]

She and Joe also accompanied Hall on his final voyage, the voyage of the Polaris (1871–1873). Along with their daughter Panik and the Greenlandic Inuit hunter Hans Hendrik, they were among the party left behind after Hall's death, when the ship abruptly broke loose of the ice and failed to return. This party endured a remarkable six-month drift on a gradually-shrinking icefloe, kept alive only by Joe and Hans's hunting skills; the entire party was rescued by a sealer in April 1873. During the investigation into Hall's death, both Tookoolito and Ebierbing testified, both corroborating Hall's belief that he had been poisoned, but their evidence was discounted.[10] For the main entry, see Polaris Expedition.

Later life in Groton[edit]

They returned to Groton, Connecticut to a home that whaling captain that Hall and Sidney O. Budington had helped them establish. Joe returned to the Arctic several times to work as a guide, while Tookoolito remained behind, caring for Panik and working as a seamstress. After Panik, whose health had been poor since her experience on the ice floe, died at the age of nine, Hannah fell into declining health. Joe was with her when she died on December 31, 1876; she was buried in the Starr Burying Ground not far from the Budington family plot.

Tookoolito Inlet, located at 63°5′N 64°45′W / 63.083°N 64.750°W / 63.083; -64.750 on the western side of Cornelius Grinnell Bay in Nunavut, and Hannah Island, in the mouth of Bessels Fjord, North Greenland, are named after her.


  1. ^ Loomis, Weird and Tragic Shores, p. 258
  2. ^ Nuttall, Mark. Encyclopedia of the Arctic. Routledge, 2004.
  3. ^ Dictionary of Canadian Biography,
  4. ^ Foster, Merna. 100 Canadian Heroines:Famous and Forgotten Faces. Dundurn Press, Toronto. 2004.
  5. ^ Loomis, Weird and Tragic Shores, p. 86
  6. ^ Potter, Arctic Spectacles, p. 168
  7. ^ Display advertisement, New York Times, November 15, 1862, available online here
  8. ^ Potter, Arctic Spectacles, p. 173
  9. ^ Loomis, Weird and Tragic Shores, pp. 159–160
  10. ^ Petrone, Northern Voices, pp. 66–72


  • Foster, Merna. (2004) 100 Canadian Heroines. Dundern Press, ISBN 1-55002-514-7
  • Harper, Kenn. (1989) "History on a Headstone: A Long-forgotten chapter of Inuit Heroism". Above and Beyond 1(2):53–62.
  • Jones, HG. (Jan 2002) "Teaching the Explorers: Some Inuit Contributions to Arctic Discoveries". Polar Geography 26(1): 4–20.
  • Loomis, Chauncey. (1971) Weird and Tragic Shores: The Story of Charles Francis Hall, Explorer NY: Alfred A. Knopf, ISBN 0-394-45131-7
  • Nickerson, Sheila. (2002) Midnight to the North: The Inuit Woman Who Saved the Polaris Expedition. Tarcher Books, ISBN 1-58542-133-2
  • Petrone, Penny. (1988) Northern Voices: Inuit Writing in English. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, ISBN 0-8020-7717-X
  • Potter, Russell. (2007) Arctic Spectacles: The Frozen North in Visual Culture, 1818–1875. Seattle: University of Washington Press, ISBN 0-295-98680-8

External links[edit]