More on the Lost Ships of the Franklin Expedition

Nearly a year ago we blogged on how rising temperatures and the melting Arctic ice meant a race was on to find the HMS Erebus and Terror, the lost ships of Sir John Franklin’s expedition, which became ice-bound during a search for the Northwest Passage in the 1840s.

As I wrote last September,

For those unacquainted with the story, the Franklin Expedition set sail from England in 1845 in search of the Northwest Passage, a route between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans through the Arctic Ocean along the northern coast of North America. 

By September, 1846, the ships had become trapped in ice off King William Island and were finally abandoned by their crews in April, 1848. 

Eventually the whole of both crews — 128 men in all — would perish, most probably from starvation, though not before resorting to cannibalism; other factors in their demise may have been scurvy and lead poisoning.  According to a message left behind and discovered by a search party in a cairn in 1859, Franklin himself had died in June, 1847.

Despite repeated efforts to locate the vessels over the last century and a half, their final resting places still remain a great mystery.  But if found, owing to the low temperatures in the Arctic, they are likely to be extraordinarily well-preserved, veritable time capsules of information about the expedition and its fate. 

As I said in my earlier post, these lost wrecks rouse the imaginations of historians, explorers, and adventurers to an unprecedented degree, much like Robert Ballard’s quest for the HMS Titanic did many years ago — so much so in fact that the Erebus and Terror are not unjustifiably called the “Holy Grail of marine archaeology.”      

Last September’s post was prompted by publicizing of yet another search to be led by Rob Rondeau of Procom Diving Services, a private effort which had conflicted with the Canadian government over its failure to consult with local authorities.

More to the government’s liking is the approach of Parks Canada, which relies heavily upon testimonies and traditions of native Inuits on the fate of the Franklin Expedition.

Now there’s word of a new Parks Canada effort to find the ships — they had earlier mounted a search in 2008 — and in addition to their quest for the Erebus and Terror Parks Canada will also be looking for a lost rescue ship which sailed from England in 1848, the HMS Investigator.

If you’re as intrigued as I am by the story of the Franklin Expedition and the efforts to solve the mystery of these lost ships, try Scott Cookman’s Ice Blink:  The Tragic Fate of Sir John Franklin’s Tragic Polar ExpeditionBuried in Ice by Owen Beattie and John Geiger (juvenile); The Man Who Ate His Boots:  The Tragic History of the Search for the Northwest Passage by Anthony Brandt; The Arctic Grail:  The Quest for the North West Passage and the North Pole, 1818-1909 by Pierre Berton; Ordeal by Ice:  The Search for the Northwest Passage by Farley Mowat; or Across the Top of the World:  The Quest for the Northwest Passage by James P. Delgado, all available from Greensboro Public Library.

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One Response

  1. […] We have previously posted a couple of times on the famous lost expedition of Sir John Franklin, including this summer when Parks Canada made yet another attempt to find Franklin’s vessels, the Erebus and […]

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