There are few more dramatic stories in Canadian history than the account of Sir John Franklin‘s death in the Arctic on June 11, 1847. His expedition to discover the Northwest Passage sailed from Britain in May, 1845. His ships, the Terror and Erebus, were last seen at the entrance to Lancaster Sound in July. It took fourteen years of searching by many expeditions before it was learned what had happened. A record was found in a cairn at Point Victory giving the history of the expedition until April 25, 1848.
After spending the winter of 1845-1846 at Beechey Island, North Devon, the expedition reached the west side of Cornwallis Island and followed a route that had been especially assigned before Franklin had left Britain. He navigated Peel and Franklin Straits southward, but had been stopped by ice coming down McClintock Channel. The ships were ice-bound on September 12, 1846. Franklin died the following June. By that time, the death toll of the expedition was 9 officers and 15 men of the total of 129 who had sailed from Britain.
The survivors stayed in the Erebus and Terror until April 22, 1848, when it was decided to trek overland to Back’s Fish River. Not a single man survived. Eskimos saw them trying to make their way over the ice, but said they died as they walked.
At one stage of Franklin’s career, he had been Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen’s Land, Tasmania, where British convicts were sent. When he was lost, the colony gave Lady Franklin £7,000 to finance a search. She not only sent out expeditions but went on one herself. It tried to get to the Arctic by going up the Fraser River from the Pacific, but was stopped at what is now known as “Lady Franklin’s Rock.”
The record found at Point Victory included the information that Franklin had discovered a channel leading south along the west of North Somerset, discovered by Parry in 1819. Franklin knew he could reach the Bering Sea through it, the long-sought Northwest Passage. Discovery of the Passage, however, was officially credited to Captain McClure who charted it when searching for Franklin in 1850. His was only one of forty expeditions sent during the fourteen-year search.
Some of you will certainly want to learn more than what’s in this post, so I can suggest a few sites. You can begin with Sir John Franklin Was Here – it’s a real treat! Then, there’s The Canadian Encyclopedia for a complete look at Franklin’s life and legacy. Another very interesting site, I suggest visiting Elisha Kent Kane Historical Society written by Russell A. Potter, Ph.D.. I found another good article at Canadian Geographic. Of course, another source that you can always depend on is CBC!
- Last Words Missing – The Mystery of Sir John Franklin and Polar History’s Greatest Catastphrophe (adventureblog.nationalgeographic.com)
- A Review Of Frozen In Time: The Fate Of The Franklin Expedition by Owen Beattie & John Geiger (wyrdwordsandeffigies.wordpress.com)