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Monday, September 23, 2019

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Franklin expedition

Posted to Maritime Musings (by on September 20, 2011

A doomed attempt to transit the Northwest Passage

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Arctic exploration captured the public interest.  The focus of most interest was the fabled Northwest Passage – a water route from the Atlantic to the Pacific across the top of North America.  It should be remembered that the original goal of Christopher Columbus was a shortcut to China.  The Americas got in his way.  Magellan had found a southern route, but it was lengthy and arduous.  A number of explorers, including Henry Hudson and William Baffin, attempted the voyage from the Atlantic side.  Others, including James Cook and George Vancouver, tried from the Pacific side.  In 1845, the British Admiralty persuaded Captain Sir John Franklin to lead a two-ship expedition on another attempt from the Atlantic side.  Franklin was a veteran of three previous Arctic expeditions, commanding two of them.  His two ships, the HMS Erebus and the HMS Terror, were ice-strengthened vessels previously used on an Antarctic voyage.  They departed England on May 14, 1845, with 24 officers and 110 men.  They were last seen by other Europeans in August 1845 as they prepared to enter Lancaster Sound on the north side of Baffin Island.  We now know that they wintered on Beechey Island where three crewmembers died and were buried.  During the summer of 1846, the ships sailed to King William Island, some miles south, in what is now called Queen Maud Gulf, just off the mainland of Canada.  The crew remained there until the spring of 1848.  Franklin died on June 11, 1847.  The crew gradually succumbed to starvation, hypothermia, and disease (including lead poisoning).  About 30 of the remaining crew tried to walk to civilization, starting in April 1848.  None survived.  After nothing was heard from the expedition for two years, and at the urging of Lady Franklin, relief expeditions were prepared.  They got underway in early 1848.  The Admiralty offered a reward for anyone rendering assistance to the Franklin party.  A number of ships joined the search and overland parties were also active.  Over the years, many relics of the Franklin Expedition were discovered, along with the remains of some of the crew.  The lasting legacy of the Expedition was exploration of the final uncharted portion of the Northwest Passage, done piecemeal by the various relief groups.