"Please Don't Blame Dear Jack": Edgar Christian's Last Letters

"Please don't Blame Dear Jack ... I Loved him ... he Loved me. Very sel[dom] is there true Love between 2 men!" How I ever stumbled onto those lines remains a mystery. But while reading a book review by Ken Adachi, in the Toronto Star of June 21, 1980, there they were. He offered no explanation about these lines from the last letters that Edgar Christian, a young man of eighteen, wrote to his parents in 1927. I simply had to read the book being reviewed.

In 1980, George Whalley published Death in the Barren Ground, the reissued Christian's diary, originally published in 1937 as Unflinching: A Diary of Tragic Adventure. But Whalley had earlier, in 1962, published his biography of John Hornby, The Legend of John Hornby. This work on Hornby was the first to include Christian's suppressed letters to his father and mother, written just before his death around June 1, 1927. He didn't want his mother to blame Jack. He wrote a few other lines that would not be revealed until thirty-five years later.

More than twenty years after the appearance of Death in the Barren Ground, and after a few more books and plays have been published on the deaths of two others who shared Christian's cabin in 1927 in the Northwest Terrorities, we are not much closer to knowing what he meant. To me these lines were a declaration of a young man's love for another. But will we ever know the truth? Has much of the evidence been lost, destroyed, or ignored? Maybe the lives of the three men provide some clues, maybe not.

Edgar Christian (1908-1927)

In 1926, at seventeen years of age, Edgar Christian was off to the colonies. This was the dream of every young man during the inter-war period. The empire was awash with media coverage of great explorers like George Mallory, Ernest Shackleton, Robert Peary, and Robert Falcon Scott. Somehow, Christian missed the part about death playing a role in their stories. He was about to join their ranks by going to northern Canada -- and like these heroes, also going to an early death.

Photograph of Edgar Christian from Unflinching,1938

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

As his father lay dying, John (Jack) Hornby had returned to England. Sometime in early 1926, he visited his cousin, Marguerite Christian. The family was regaled with stories of adventure in the cold Barren Land of northern Canada. Edgar's grandmother suggested that Jack take Edgar, his second cousin, with him on his next adventure. Edgar was tall, more than six feet, and had blue eyes; Hornby had always said that he would only travel with blue-eyed men (Snow Man p.41; Legend p.186).

Right from the start, Edgar was surprised to note that Jack had made a "name" for himself, even among the stewards of the ship that took them east. In a letter home, Christian commented that he only needed to mention Jack's name and "I can get a good job" (Unflinching p.15; Death p.51).

Many people had tried to convince the naive young man not to go into the Barren Land with Jack. He was known for being a difficult person to travel with, narrowly escaping death due to starvation just two years earlier while traveling with James Critchell-Bullock.

When they met in Ottawa, Guy H. Blanchet, a government surveyor, had broached the subject of not going into the north (Legend p.258; Death p.52), and again when the three met in Edmonton (Legend p.271; Death p.62). Hornby was evasive and Christian was still in hero-worship mode. And he had promised to take along Harold Adlard, the third party member, who was ignored by Blanchet.

At his father's insistence, Edgar agreed to keep a journal. At the beginning there are many gaps, but once the trio arrived at the junction of the Thelon and Hanbury rivers of the Northwest Terrorities (NWT), Edgar kept almost daily entries. From October 14, 1926, the pages tell of privation and starvation in the Canadian north. A rather gripping story, it records the death of John Hornby on April 16, 1927; on May 4, Harold Adlard also died. The naysayers had been right: Hornby never prepared, was unreliable, and overly optimistic about feeding the trio from the caribou he expected to find in the Barren Land. For his blunder, all three perished.

Edgar placed his diary, letters, and other documents in the Thelon River cabin stove. He scratched a note "Who ... look in stove" (Unflinching p.4; Legend p.310). And perhaps, shortly afterwards, pulled a blanket over his head and died.

Yes, Edgar idolized Jack Hornby, but wrote that in fact they loved one another. In his suppressed letters, finally included in The Legend of John Hornby, Edgar wrote to his father: "Jack alone was one man in this world who can let a young boy know what this world & the next are. I Loved him he Loved me. Very seld[om] is there true Love between 2 men!" (Legend p.309; Death p.161-62). And to his mother: "[Dear mother] ... He loved you and me only in this world and tell no one else this but keep it and believe" (Legend p.309; Death p.162). Why were these lines left out of Unflinching?

On December 28, 1929, the Toronto Daily Star commented on Christian's last letters, but only quoted parts, leaving out the sentence about loving Jack. The paper noted that "[Jack] always wished to see this country before he gave up the life in the Arctic regions, and wanted someone with him. And I was the one this time. I realize why he wanted a boy of my age with him, and I realize why one other should come -- in order to make sure I got out safe." ("Arctic's Ruthlessness Is Starkly Disclosed in Diary of Its Victim," p.4). The line about wanting a boy of his age was left out of Unflinching (p.141), but was returned in Legend (p.309), and in Death (p.161).

Why did the paper (or family) suppress the lines "I Loved him he Loved me. Very seld[om] is there true Love between 2 men"? When he used the lines Whalley did not comment on any homosexual reading of them. What did Inspector Charles Trundle, who found the bodies and papers in 1929, or Hornby's lawyer, Yardley Weaver, think of these lines when they read them? Trundle didn't know Hornby, but Yardley did. Hornby's defenders came out in force. And friends like George Douglas and James Critchell-Bullock, if they knew, never talked of the letters.

Harold Adlard (1898-1927)

We know very little about the life of Harold Adlard. Several photographs of him have been published, but his Thelon River diary and last letters seem to have disappeared (Death p.10). On October 17, 1929, in a Toronto Daily Star interview, his father talked of some surviving letter, but he admitted that so soon after Harold's death it was "too personal for public quotation" (p.25).

When the bodies were buried in August 1929, Adlard's small diary and a letter addressed to his father were all that was preserved in the stove with Edgar's diary. Inspector Trundle's report in Unflinching listed other material found in the cabin: "one or two private letters" of Adlard's (Unflinching p.155, 157). It was Trundle who read all the private communication that survived, but he never divulged its contents. Even Yardley, the Edmonton lawyer, to whom he delivered the diaries and letters, remained quiet about the content of the material in his possession. The material was then forwarded to the Adlard, Christian, and Hornby families.

Adlard arrived in Canada in 1923, and met John Hornby in Edmonton when he was about to travel with James Critchell-Bullock. Critchell-Bullock refused to allow Adlard to join their expedition moving north. There was something that Critchell-Bullock disliked about the young man. It could have been his inexperience. He was thought unfit for the harsh north, and was "not physically fit" (Legend p.265; Death p.63). Others thought that Adlard had suffered emotionally while fighting in World War I (Cold Burial p.63). There is little evidence to support this.

Adlard, down on his luck, found a job as a counter clerk in a dry goods store in Onoway, Alberta (Legend p.265; Death p.63). He was a good cook and enjoyed cooking for Hornby's relatives, the Armitsteads (Legend p.266; Death p.63). These traits certainly would not be useful in the Barren Land.

Christian and Hornby visited the Armitsteads in Onoway before departing for the Barrens. Adlard met them and reminded Hornby of his earlier promise to take him into the Barrens. Christian was happy for the addition of another "greenhorn" (Unflinching p.18) and only rarely mentioned Adlard's failings in his diary (Unflinching p.67). And Adlard had become an experienced farmhand, was useful with an ax, and was rapidly becoming a good shot (Death p.63). There is, however, not enough evidence to describe Adlard's life in detail.

Guy H. Blanchet, the surveyor/naturalist, met Hornby in Fort Chipewyan, Alberta, and tried to convince Christian not to travel into the Barren Land. When this failed, he offered to take Hornby and Christian with his crew, but did not want Adlard to join them (Death p.71; Cold Burial p.83). Hornby declined the offer and took both young men into the Thelon River area.

While on the Thelon, under much stress and starving in 1927, Adlard grew quiet, not talking for great stretches (Legend p.290; Death p.115). Edgar, always the optimist, thought he was "not quite playing the game" and carrying his weight (Unflinching p.82; Legend p.293). Whalley wrote, "Adlard was odd man out and cannot have failed to feel with increasing force his isolation from their mutual affection" (Legend p.290).

On April 6 Christian wrote in his diary "Jack had to curse Harold eventually to stop his carrying on ... He is very queer at times now and one must keep an eye on him" (Unflinching p.101; Legend p.301; Death p.139). After Hornby's death on April 16, 1927, Adlard comforted Christian, but his own death by starvation was to come in a few weeks.

In a 1937 letter to Edgar's father, Col. Wilfred F. Christian, James Critchell-Bullock mentioned the affection between Hornby and Christian, as well as why he thought that Adlard should not have gone along. He used the common belief that a crash in the war had affected Adlard (Legend p.266). Whalley in turn wrote, "Hornby and Christian, in their affection for each other, and in the silent understanding that needed neither commentary nor emphasis, were stronger than Harold Adlard: perhaps it was their strength that was breaking Adlard" (Legend p.302).

If there was some deep emotional attachment between Hornby and Christian early in the trip, why would they invite a third person to join them? In her introduction to Unflinching B. Dew Roberts commented about the close relation between the two cousins and how Adlard might find himself intruding, "breaking in on an already close friendship" (Unflinching p.19). It would be useful to know more about Adlard's years in Edmonton and Onoway, but even that record does not seem to exist.

John (Jack) Hornby (1880-1927)

Jack always meant to write more; he never could finish his proposed book, "In the Land of Feast or Famine." If it wasn't for Edgar's diary, Hornby would be merely a footnote in Canadian history. He had his detractors, almost equal in number to his supporters, but he also created his own mythology. After his death, two men continued to defend his name: James Critchell-Bullock and George Douglas. Both men had traveled with Hornby, and knew his character flaws to perfection. Whalley would write "Hornby had found in George Douglas his greatest friend, a loyal confidant who could always be trusted" (Legend p.80).

In 1912-13 Hornby and Douglas explored the Coppermine River area of NWT. Douglas was impressed by Hornby and remained a friend, even if their paths seldom crossed. Correspondence was the way that they communicated. Whalley noted that with Douglas "John Hornby had been amiable, gregarious, amenable, gay" (Legend p.130). He also wrote that "John Hornby lived out much of his life in solitude ... sharing nothing fully with anyone, he had a habit of covering his tracks behind him" (Legend p.4).

Critchell-Bullock spent the winter of 1924-25 with Hornby in a cave in the Artillery Lake area and traveled along the Thelon River. Based on his diary and experience with the "Hermit of the Arctic," Snow Man (1931), a highly romanticized version of their months together, was written mostly by Malcolm Waldron. Snow Man painted a picture of a difficult Hornby, nearly mad or suffering from cabin fever (Snow Man p.249; Legend p.220).

Critchell-Bullock believed that Hornby could never marry, since he was in love with the north. "Hornby and the Barrens were inseparable. Without the Barrens there could be no Hornby. The lone lands were his life and his love" (Snow Man p.281). And women, it seemed, played no part in his life.

"His thoughts, for instance, were uncommonly clean for a man. In matters of sex, where laxity often follows a let down in personal fastidiousness, he was ... above reproach" (Snow Man p.88). Sex and marriage played no part in his life. "My life has always been with men," Hornby noted (Legend p.180).

Hornby is quoted as saying: "A woman only marries for a home. There is no such thing as love outside books and the drivel of young pups. It's all passion. Yes, yes, passion. I have never spoken a word of love to any woman. I have never had anything to do with native women" (Snow Man p.19). Critchell-Bullock "wondered if Hornby ever thought of women. It was unlikely, or he would have mentioned it" (Snow Man p.115).

Why did Hornby lie about women? From several reports, he had an affair with Arimo, who later married D'Arcy Arden. "The legend includes a circumstantial account of a trial of jealousy between Arden and Hornby for possession of Arimo; but this is completely out of character for all three persons concerned" (Legend p.126).

George Douglas, in turn, wrote to Whalley commenting on the triangle of Hornby, Arimo, and Arden. He noted that in an argument, Hornby said, "She was my woman before she was yours [Arden's]" (George Douglas to George Whalley, November 4, 1955, George Whalley fonds, 1032C Box 2, Queen's University Archives).

Arden wrote a letter to Whalley; he didn't have much to say except that "John Hornby was a queer man " (D'Arcy Arden to George Whalley, [1953], George Whalley fonds, 1032C Box 2, Queen's University Archives).

And then there was Hornby's affair with Olwen Newell, which nearly drove a wedge between Critchell-Bullock and Hornby (Legend p.261). He told Critchell-Bullock, "I never knew any woman who would marry me" (Snow Man p.95), and yet on his way north with Christian, he had stopped to visit Newell in Winnipeg. There he supposedly proposed to her, but she refused (Death p.60). In a letter, Hornby wrote of Newell, "I must admit I got to like her, but I candidly told her, that I had never loved any girl nor ever would" (Legend p.172). Whalley quoted her as saying of his visit, "Jack now seemed ‘even less normal' " (Legend p.262).

Christian noted that he had "seen lots of trappers who have been on the trail with Jack and many wont go again because he is too tough" (Unflinching p.24, Legend p.273). In Unflinching (p.30), he noted that Jack always believed in traveling light. "Jack is still the only one because he has a reputation of Living off the Land only without any white mans grub" (Legend p.276). Jack made many mistakes that year.

"Edgar Loving Jack Made Some Difference"

Is there a homosexual subtext to the relationship between Hornby and Christian? I'd say yes, but some of the evidence may have been suppressed or destroyed.


There may have been pages removed from Christian's diary, either by him or someone else after it was recovered. Whalley noted that the Thelon pages of the diary begin on page fourteen, and several pages were ripped from this ledger. He noted that the complete diary begins on page eleven, with torn out pages eleven to thirteen being pasted in with glue. "The numbered pages 1-10 may have contained rough notes or something else that Edgar or his parents did not wish to preserve" (Death p.183).

Whalley noted, "After reading the diary and making a cursory examination of the other papers the police decided that an inquest was not necessary" (Legend p.323). Inspector Trundle made no mention of the letters to Christian's parents.

The University of Toronto's Robarts Library copy of Unflinching still has the stamp "CANADA INT OP CENSORED 50." Even in the late 1950s, as Whalley began his work on the biography of John Hornby, censorship was still an issue. His sources, who knew Hornby, were guarded about revealing anything personal. Homosexuality was a crime under the Canadian Criminal Code until 1969. The subject was taboo, and Whalley was protective of the Christian family, although Marguerite Christian was willing to be slightly more open.


Whalley, Hornby's biographer, confused the relationship between Christian and Hornby. He noted, "One companion landed with him [Hornby] from the ship ... his name was Edgar Christian and he was Hornby's nephew" (Legend p.9). Others also assumed that Hornby took his nephew into the Barren Lands. They were, in fact, second cousins.

Was there any need to introduce Christian as Hornby's nephew? Some men even assumed that Adlard was a nephew. Claiming that they were nephews allowed Hornby a degree of intimacy and affection without raising any suspicion. The affection that Edgar wrote about in his journal, and final letters, has been interpreted as hero worship, not of love, despite what he told his parents.

In an interview (Edmonton Journal, March 6, 2002), Clive Powell-Williams, the latest author to use the Christian diary in his Cold Burial (2001), mentioned that homosexuality was very much in evidence in his first reading of the diary. Later, he came to believe Edgar was just naively overwhelmed with hero worship. In print, this was the first time the word "homosexual" was attached to the story. The play, Who Look in Stove (1993), by Lawrence Jeffery played with this storyline. But the family suppressed any mention of love, homosexual or otherwise. In the 1930s, it was impossible to talk about this. Whalley seems to never have broached the subject; his closeness to the family may explain this.

Christian's parents probably had read about the trials of Radclyffe Hall in 1928, when she tried to publish her novel on sexual inversion, The Well of Loneliness. Hall was charged under the Obscene Publications Act and her book was banned in Canada as late as 1950 because of subtle lesbian undertones (Mind War, 1978, p.10). For the Christians to include any reference to homosexuality in Edgar's diary could have led to a court case. The media coverage of the Oscar Wilde trials of 1895, and his imprisonment for "the love that dare not speak its name," could not be forgotten by anyone living in England, even thirty-five years later. Self-censorship was the best way to approach Edgar's final letters.

And what of Adlard being a "counter-jumper," a young man in a profession stereotypically dominated by homosexuals? There is not enough evidence to describe his life in any detail. No one was willing to say why they disliked him. And, like Hornby, Adlard's personal feelings remain a mystery.

Hornby' s comments to others, over many years, paint a picture of a lonely man. Whalley wrote, "So about Hornby himself, among those who knew him well, there has been since his death almost a conspiracy of silence; and genuine information about him has been very hard to come by" (Legend p.324).

The Family and Supporters

On December 28, 1929, the Toronto Daily Star, quoted from Christian's letters, but held back several lines including, "I Loved him he Loved me." Did Christian's diary contain pages written before October 14, 1926, which is when the published versions begin (Death, p.99)?

Christian wrote in his last letter to his parents, "I realize why he wanted a boy of my age with him and I realize why one other should come in order to make sure I got out safe ... I know why now and Jack alone was one man in this world who can let a young boy know what this world & the next are" (Legend p.309).

George Douglas is often mentioned as a supporter of Hornby (Legend p.76). Yet, his correspondence with Whalley is anything but supportive. In a letter of September 15, 1955, he noted, "When Hornby & his unfortunate, ignorant & deluded youthful companions were beyond any chance of human aid they perished" (George Douglas to George Whalley, George Whalley fonds, 1032C Box 2, Queen's University Archives).

In an earlier letter of August 2, 1955, Douglas wrote, "He [Hornby] was certainly carried away by a fantasy of his own imaged excellence." He criticized the Christian family for allowing Edgar to fall into "hero worshipping" (George Douglas to George Whalley, George Whalley fonds, 1032C Box 2, Queen's University Archives and Legend p.249).

Douglas wrote to Canadian explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson about Unflinching, "[It is] so false a presentation of J. Hornby, and because the reasons for the brave but unnecessary death of the fine young diarist Edgar Christian were not truthfully analysed." (George Douglas to Vilhjalmur Stefansson, September 22, 1950, George Douglas fonds, 79-002/1/1, Trent University Archives).

And Marguerite Christian wrote a few revealing letters to George Whalley. Yes, Edgar told her not to blame dear Jack (Unflinching, p.141). "Edgar as you know did not want me to blame Jack but its difficult not to. I am sorry for him he had a bitter streak. I think disappointed at home. If you were nearer to here to talk, guess I could explain more easily. One spark of relief in the tragedy I think, Edgar loving Jack made some difference to his last days. But, oh, what a sacrifice!!" (Marguerite Christian to George Whalley, November 16, 1962, George Whalley fonds, 1032C Box 3, Queen's University Archives.)

She also wrote:

"Edgar always wanted to do something worthwhile in life to be remembered & I do feel you have done this in the book you have written for which I am truly very grateful to you for Jack had some stirling qualities but I do feel that at the last of all his improvident way of life. He did not really care if he lived or died. He needed someone who wanted him & really cared for him. Aunt Ada Mrs A.N. Hornby was wrapped up with her 1 son the others meant little to her. Please keep this to yr self. It's a streak in the Ingrams because I remember remarks made to me about my own family. Even Jack remarked to me about it, because I was as fond of Edgar as the others & he did not understand it. Poor Jack." (Marguerite Christian to George Whalley, January 3, 1963, George Whalley fonds, 1032C Box 3, Queen's University Archives.)

Hornby wrote of his mother, "Though I am fond of my Mother ... and, as you know, consider her second to no woman, my life has always been with men" (Legend p.180). And it was with two men he ended his life. One left proof of this love, and knew enough to ask his mother to remember this love, but asked her to tell no one. She finally told George Whalley.

Alan V. Miller, June 2003


Death = Edgar Christian. Death in the Barren Ground. Edited by George Whalley. Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1980.

Legend = George Whalley. The Legend of John Hornby. Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1962.

Snow Man = Malcolm Thomas Waldron. Snow Man. London: Jonathan Cape, 1931.

Unflinching = Edgar Christian. Unflinching: A Diary of Tragic Adventure. With an introduction and conclusion by B. Dew Roberts and a preface by Major Hon. J.J. Astor, MP. London: John Murray, 1937.

Other References Cited:

Adachi, Ken. "Compelling Tale of a Slow Death." Toronto Star, June 21, 1980, p.H04.

"Arctic's Ruthlessness Is Starkly Disclosed in Diary of Its Victim: Document of Young Edgar Christian Is Epic Tale of Privation and Death." Toronto Daily Star, December 28, 1929, p.1,4.

Birdsall, Peter and Delores Broten. Mind War: Book Censorship in English Canada. Victoria, B.C.: CANLIT, 1978.

Christian, Edgar. Unflinching: A Diary of Tragic Adventure. With an introduction and conclusion by B. Dew Roberts and a preface by Dr. Henry C. Link. New York; London: Funk and Wagnalls Company, 1938. (First published London: John Murray, 1937.)

Horton, Marc. "Into the Barrens." Edmonton Journal, March 6, 2002, Final Edition, p.C1.

Jeffery, Lawrence. Who Look in Stove [and] The Edgar Christian Diary. (play) Toronto: Exile Editions, 1993.

Powell-Williams, Clive. Cold Burial: A Journey into the Wilderness. London: Viking, 2001.

Somerville, Henry. "English Father Proud of Dead Son's Courage In Wilds of Dominion: Parents Treasure Last Letter of Harold Adlard, Who Perished With Two Others." Toronto Daily Star, October 17, 1929, p.25.

Valpy, Bruce. "Hornby." (play) Canadian Theatre Review, 73 (Winter 1992), 60-76.

See also: Bibliography of Related Works and Sources

Excerpts from the letters of Edgar Christian are reprinted from Death in the Barren Ground by permission of Oberon Press.

Excerpts from the letters of George Douglas from Trent University Archives, George Mellis Douglas fonds (79-002 Box 1 Folder 1).

Excerpts from the papers of George Whalley from Queen's University Archives, George Whalley fonds (1032C Box 2).