In 1845, Captain Sir John Franklin departed England on a voyage to pass through the last unexplored part of the Northwest Passage. He never returned. What happened to the lost Franklin Expedition?
The Disappearance of the Franklin Expedition?
By 1845, large portions of the Canadian Arctic had been explored. The last remaining section covered about 70,000 square miles and was considered extremely important since it was believed to contain a route allowing sailors to travel from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. Eager to locate this Northwest Passage, the Second Secretary of the Admiralty, Sir John Barrow, recruited Sir John Franklin to sail into the unknown.
Franklin wasn’t Barrow’s first choice. In fact, he was the sixth choice. But the other candidates either refused or weren’t considered right for the task. Franklin accepted, a decision that he would soon regret.
On May 19, 1845, the Franklin Expedition set sail with 24 officers, 110 men, provisions for seven years, and two ships – the Erebus and the HMS Terror – under his command. It never returned.
What happened to the Franklin Expedition?
In 1848, the first of many search parties were launched to find the lost Franklin expedition. In 1850, a second search effort uncovered a winter camp site and three graves. Subsequent expeditions have uncovered additional graves, messages etched on rocks, and oral accounts from the local Inuit people who claimed to have seen the Erebus and HMS Terror lodged in ice.
Most historians believe that the two ships hit ice in Victoria Strait, which is near King William Island. The crew travelled south to hunt for food and Franklin died shortly afterward. After a year in the Arctic, the Franklin Expedition had lost 15 men. The survivors grew sicker, due to a mixture of pneumonia, scurvy, tuberculosis, hypothermia, starvation, and lead poisoning caused by poorly soldered canned goods and/or the expedition’s distilled water systems. Eventually, they were forced to resort to cannibalism of their dead comrades. Around 1848, the survivors abandoned ship and vanished.
Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis
Despite numerous searches, the ships and Franklin himself have never been found. Recently, a Canadian expedition threw its hat into the ring, only to come up empty. Its not surprising. The terrain is vast, icy, indistinguishable, and always changing. Plus, the ships were lodged in moving ice for several years and may have drifted hundreds of miles during that time.
For the moment, the lost Franklin Expedition remains lost. But the search continues. Someday soon, explorers will hopefully find the missing ships and Franklin’s frozen corpse. Then we can finally put to rest one of the greatest explorers in history…as well as one of the greatest mysteries of history.