Franklin’s Lost Expedition

The Franklin Expedition, a seemingly straightforward mission to explore the last uncharted areas of the Arctic Circle, took an extreme turn for the worse in one of the biggest lost expeditions to ever happen.  A group of 129 men set off from Britain in 1845 with the goal of finally exploring the remaining sections of the arctic circle.  Their job was to take a 1,040 mile path near the north pole and then return to Britain in a timely manner.  It seemed as if the mission would be straightforward and routine, until, however, the expedition failed to return over two years later.  The crew was led by John Franklin.  Franklin was first picked, reluctantly, by John Barrow, who was at the time the secretary of the Admiralty.  John Franklin was not his first or even second choice of candidates to lead the trip.  His top three candidates all opted out of the trip for various reasons, including being newlywed or just being plain sick of exploring the Arctic Circle.  The expedition would consist of two ships, the Erebus and the Crozier.  The expedition took off on May 19th, 1845, and the crew was seen for the last time in July of that year in Baffin Bay when they were waiting out poor weather conditions.  The ships and crew then went missing for over two years.  John Franklin’s wife, as well as members of the parliament, organized a search party afterwards.  The search party consisted of one land group and two sea groups.  One of the sea expeditions would go up through the Canadian Archipelago and the other through the Pacific side.  After all three of these groups failed to find anything, the quest was called an endless crusade, and was paused until 1850 when several more ships were sent out.  This was when the first remnants of the expedition were discovered.  It was a small camp and the graves of 3 crew members.  There was nothing else found until four years later when John Rae began surveying the Boothia Peninsula.  He spoke with some Inuit people there that spoke of a group of 35-40 white men that starved the death in the area.  The Inuit also said that they were fairly sure that cannibalism became involved towards the end of their lives.  They showed John Rae several objects that belonged to the lost ships including a lifeboat, silverware, and notes.  The notes contained things such as the dates of the expeditions, names of crew members, and other personal things.  One of the notes found stated that the ships had become stuck in ice in 1847, two years after the expedition began.  It was then concluded through all of the random evidence found, that the crew had run out of food, succumbed to diseases such as Pneumonia, and resorted to cannibalism as a last resort.  All of these factors, as well as the extremely harsh Arctic climate, would lead to the death of all 129 members of the expedition.  Most of the bodies and the actual ships would never be found.  In the midst of this tragedy, there is one positive light, however.  As Richard Cyriax said, “the loss of the expedition probably added much more [geographical] knowledge than its successful return would have done.”

1 thought on “Franklin’s Lost Expedition

  1. The most amazing thing that I found out about the Franklin’s expedition has to be the case for lead poisoning in the remains of the three dead sailors that they found. The bodies of three crewmembers was found buried else were in what appear to be a case in which they died earlier than the rest of the crew. The two surprising this that was found was high lead contain in the bones and cuts on bones which may indicate some form of cannibalism. The case of the cannibalism would not be hard to suspect since they seem to have lost all of their provisions by 1847. The case of their extreme levels of lead is a lot more interesting.
    Early examination at the time pointed to the fact that much of the food containers had high percentage of lead in them which could have poison the crew. This would work if not for the fact that these containers were being used throughout the British Empire at the time and it appears that they didn’t raise lead levels anywhere around the world. So like any good researchers the investigators look elsewhere for the possible lead poisoning. One thing that the ships had that was not common on other British fleets was specialized water cleaner. Many experts points to this being the reason that the crew had high level of lead. That also means that it was most likely not poison, just people not realizing that lead is poisonous. To understand what fully went down with Franklin’s expedition is to get further evidence from either finding the ships or finding the remaining crew.

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