Oh Franklin, My Franklin

The Canadian Arctic Archipelago has many places named for British explorers and their ships. It’s not only successful men, either. In a sad turn of events, the lost Franklin Expedition gave way to the naming of several of those sites. Beechey Island, the site where the first three sailors from the Franklin Expedition had succumbed to tuberculosis and pneumonia, was named after Frederick William Beechey. This was in 1819, almost forty years before Sir John Franklin and his men came to the island and left behind Petty Officer John Torrington, Royal Marine Private William Braine, and Able Seaman John Hartnell. These men would later be found relatively well-preserved by Dr. Owen Beattie, and their causes of death found to be lung disease and possibly lead poisoning.

(In a strange turn of events, where Dr. Beattie’s crew thought the lead-soldered cans of food were the cause of lead poisoning, studies that happened afterward suggest that it was actually the system of water distillation that the ships used which caused the sailors to go slightly mad with lead poisoning. A gentleman by the name of K.T.H. Farrer said, “It’s impossible to see how one could ingest from the canned food the amount of lead (3.3mg/day over eight months) required to raise the PbB to the level…at which symptoms of lead poisoning began to appear in adults.”)

Other bone fragments that were found from the crew had pitting that was often associated with Vitamin C deficiency (scurvy), and de-fleshing patterns which are consistent with cannibalism. The first-hand accounts from the Inuits who said the crews of the Erebus and Terror resorted to cannibalism were disregarded because it didn’t sit well with the heroes the crew had been made out to be at home. It wasn’t until more recent years that this fact became more widely accepted.

Giving way to the hero-naming of the Franklin Expedition, also in the Arctic Archipelago are Terror Bay and Erebus Harbor, both named for the ships HMS Erebus (Franklin’s ship) and the HMS Terror.  It occurred to me that the ships’ names cannot have boded well for the crew and the voyage. “Erebus” was a Greek deity thought to be the personification of darkness. His name translates to “deep darkness or shadow”. So they sailed under deep darkness, and died in terror. (Should I ever obtain a ship and decide to sail the Arctic seas, I will name it Sunshine and Food Aplenty.) The Erebus was found late last year, possibly bringing with it a slew of new discoveries that can either shed more light or confirm suspicions we already have about the expedition. The ships were both incredibly technologically advanced for their time (minus the internal piping that gave way to lead poisoning), and even included heating systems for the crew.

It’s a shame that this did nothing in the end to help save the one hundred twenty-nine men who resorted to cannibalism to stay alive that much longer.

One thought on “Oh Franklin, My Franklin

  1. You bring up some very interesting points. I loved that you brought up the ship names. I was thinking the same thing! Why would you name you ships names that were so terrible? It’s also like that would be bad luck! And according to the article I wrote, I read that these ships where the crown jewels of the Royal Navy. Talk about poor planning. These ships had new technologies and someone was like… yea… Darkness and Terror. I wouldn’t have wanted to climb aboard either ship. Sunshine and Food Aplenty? Sign me up! I think it’s hilarious that they were never renamed, considering how superstitious everyone was back then.

    You mentioned that Beechey Island was found before Franklin’s crew landed there! I think it’s crazy how this expedition when crazy and that it didn’t happen 40 years before or 60 years later – but just to this crew. It totally blows my mind. I think that is what makes us all so curious, because it just doesn’t make sense. I wonder how Beechey and his crew did it?

    The last thing that you touched on was cannibalism. That’s scary and discussing. I can’t image being on an island, starving and thinking, “Today, I’m going to eat my crew-mate.” How did Franklin’s crew not ask the Inuit people for help? I recognize that there must have been a language barrier, but it’s hard for me to imaging that human being couldn’t look past their differences to help out other human beings. But, the search parties that asked the Inuit, didn’t even believe them on the cannibalism route that the Franklin crew and started on, then why would Franklin’s crew ask for help when they were already sick in the mind?

Comments are closed.