A brave endeavour to forge the last link in the discovery of the North-
A FEW lines scrawled on a single sheet of paper are the only first-
CAPT. SIR JOHN FRANKLIN, R.N., the famous Arctic explorer, who sailed from England on May 19, 1845, to complete the North-
On May 19, 1845. Capt. Sir John Franklin, R.N., already famous as an Arctic explorer, sailed from England to complete the discovery of the North-
And yet the expedition disappeared almost without trace. Not one of the 129 men who sailed in those two ill-
The sketch map shown below -
In 1819 Parry, sailing westward through Lancaster Sound, between Baffin Island (S.) and Devon Island (N.) had reached Melville Island (114° W.). But he had found further progress barred by immensely heavy ice-
Franklin’s official instructions, therefore, directed him to make for Cape Walker (74° N., 98° W.) and then to strike south-
Franklin’s ships had just been refitted after their strenuous three years’ work in the Antarctic under Sir James Ross. They were good sea-
Franklin, who hoisted his pendant in the Erebus, was a capable and enthusiastic officer with a splendid record, but he was fifty-
Some thought that they might win through to Bering Strait and thence to Petropavlosk (Kamchatka) in a single season; none doubted that they would do it in two seasons -
The two ships made their way up the west coast of Greenland and completed their stores and provisions, at the Whalefish Islands, from an accompanying transport. They sailed thence on July 10. On July 26 they were seen, made fast to the ice in Melville Bay (Greenland) in about 74° 48' N., 66° 13' W., by a whaler, the Prince of Wales, which learned that they were waiting for the ice to break up before they crossed over into Lancaster Sound. On or about July 30, 1845, they met another whaler, the Enterprise, which afterwards described them as having been in splendid health and spirits, abundantly supplied with stores of all kinds and impatient to begin their work. The Enterprise turned southward. On that day Franklin and his companions vanished from the sight of civilized men.
The year 1846 ran its course without bringing news of the expedition -
westward in a high latitude.
Pessimists, headed by Dr. Richard King, began to shake their heads and utter gloomy forebodings. King had accompanied Back when Back had discovered King William Island in 1834, and he now did his best to alarm his countrymen by a series of letters to high officials and to the Press. He contended that Franklin and his men were in imminent peril, that the Erebus and the Terror were beset in the ice somewhere to the northward of King William Island, that the crews could never reach civilization again without immediate help, and that the only effective way to help them was to send a rescue-
King seems to have been a rather boastful man, with an irritating manner; but he was a clear-
The Arctic summer of 1849 was unusually backward. As the ice offshore showed no signs of breaking up, Ross cut his way out of Port Leopold on August 28 and prepared to renew his search to the westward; but his ships were beset the next day and drifted helplessly out into Baffin Bay. As soon as he could get clear, Ross returned to England. The only real good effected by the expedition was that it gave one of the officers, Lieut. F. L. McClintock R.N., his first experience of Arctic sledging -
By this time Great Britain was thoroughly alarmed about Franklin and his men. Five years had gone by since they had sailed. If they were not already dead, they must be in desperate need of immediate help. So far, however, no one had even succeeded in discovering any indication of where they might be. And so, in the spring of 1850, a fleet of rescue-
The Admiralty sent H.M. ships Resolute, Assistance and Pioneer (steamer) under Capt. H. T. Austin, R.N., and two whalers, the Lady Franklin and the Sophia, under an experienced whaling captain, William Penny. Old Sir John Ross, who had promised his friend Franklin to go in search of him if need be, came northward -
The imposing collection of ships which assembled in Lancaster Sound accomplished little. The searchers devoted their time and energy to the northern side of the Sound, and to the Wellington Channel, and made scarcely any effort to search south-
It is one of the minor mysteries of the Franklin expedition that, although Franklin’s orders had enjoined upon him to build cairns and deposit records at all prominent points along his route, scarcely any of these have ever been found.
For the rest, Austin and Penny quarrelled, and the others dissipated their energies by fruitless searching of the most unlikely quarters. The U.S. ships were beset at the northern end of the Wellington Channel and drifted nearly 1,000 miles before getting free in Baffin Bay. By the end of 1851 all the ships, except those sent to Bering Strait, were home again.
The only effective result of two seasons’ work was the discovery at Beechey Island (near the southern entrance to the Wellington Channel) of three graves, some abandoned huts and a pile of empty preserved-
In the autumn of 1851 (October 5) considerable sensation was caused by the fall at Wootton Lodge, near Gloucester, of a small balloon. To its car was attached a card which bore the following inscription:
“Erebus. 112° West longitude, 70° North latitude. September 3rd, 1851. Blocked in.”
The excitement soon subsided, however. The Admiralty quickly pointed out that neither of Franklin’s ships had been supplied with a balloon, with the materials for making one, or with the means of inflating it. The perpetrator of the hoax, unfortunately, was not discovered.
THE RESULTS OF THE FRANKLIN SEARCH EXPEDITIONS between 1848 and 1854 are indicated in this map. The coast-
But a much greater and more justifiable sensation was aroused, in the spring of 1852, by the belated revelation of an almost incredible story which, there is every reason to believe, was perfectly true.
In April, 1851, the English brig Renovation, in the course of a passage from Limerick to Quebec, met early one morning a large ice-
On top of the floe, not far apart, were two three-
They remained visible for about an hour before going out of sight astern, and were seen through the telescope by most of the Renovation’s crew. Unfortunately, her master was sick and would not permit any attempt to close or board them. They were also seen later, in much the same position, by the German brig Doctor Kneip, of Wismar.
An account of this extraordinary experience, written by the passenger Lynch, appeared in an Irish newspaper (May 28, 1851), but at the time it attracted no attention. The Admiralty first heard of the matter in March, 1852, when it made a most exhaustive inquiry. That the ships were not optical or other illusions, but had undoubtedly been seen, was definitely established. Inquiries on either side of the Atlantic indicated that they could not have been abandoned whale-
The Renovation’s strange story, in any event, gave no clear indication as to the fate of Franklin and his men; and in the spring of 1852 the Admiralty sent out the last of the official search-
THE STEAM AND SAILING SHIP PHOENIX was one of several ships fitted out to search for the lost Franklin expedition. The first party sent by the Admiralty to find the missing explorer left England in the spring of 1848. This party, conducted by Capt. Sir James Ross, R.N., under whose command were two ships, returned empty-
The one bright spot in Belcher’s expedition is the wonderful work done by the sledging-
It is pleasant to turn from this protracted, gallant bungle to the activities of the Enterprise and the Investigator, which had been sent to Bering Strait in 1850 with orders to begin their search for Franklin from the Pacific end of the North-
The Investigator, under Comdr. Robert McClure, who had been her first lieutenant in Ross’s 1848-
A FRANKLIN RELIC. This sextant belonged to Frederick Hornby, mate of the Terror. It is now in the Royal Naval Museum at Greenwich.
Next spring (1851) three sledge-
This he did. It was an extraordinary feat of seamanship. He took the Investigator -
For she never got free. A winter (1851-
Even then, McClure was anxious to stay by his ship, but he could not find thirty volunteers to remain with him. Ultimately he was compelled by direct orders from Kellett, Belcher’s second-
In its way, the performance of the Enterprise (Capt. Richard Collinson, R.N.) was no less remarkable than that of the Investigator. Collinson passed through Bering Strait later than his subordinate and, finding himself unable to make much progress eastward, turned back to winter at Hong Kong. Next spring (1851) he followed in the track of the Investigator along the Canadian coast, up Prince of Wales Strait (where he found a notice left by McClure) and down again, wintering at the southwest entrance of the strait. In the following season (1852) he took his ship through Dolphin Strait (between Victoria Island and the mainland) and wintered (1852-
The First Clue
Collinson’s voyage is one of the most remarkable ever made in the Arctic. During a three-
AT THE END. A vivid impression of the last of the ill-
On March 31, 1854, the names of Franklin and his officers were officially removed (“presumed dead”) from the Navy List; on October 21 of the same year a London newspaper remarked, in a leading article:
“It would have been well-
Within three days -
The news had been brought by Dr. John Rae, an employee of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Rae had spent many years of his life in northern Canada and was one of those gifted hunters who can “live off the country”, in apparently barren regions, for months or even years at a stretch. He had already taken part in two overland searches for Franklin, during one of which (1847) he must have been within 150 miles of the Erebus and the Terror while their crews were still on board the ships. On this occasion, in the course of his ordinary duties, he had accidentally solved the problem of Franklin’s fate.
With a small party of followers, Rae was exploring the coast of Boothia Peninsula, on foot, in the spring of 1854. At Pelly Bay, on April 20, he met some Eskimos, from whom he learned that a party of white men had died of starvation at a place some distance to the west. Later, he heard other stories of the same type. The substance of them all was as follows:
Four years earlier (that would be 1850, but it proved later to be 1848) the Eskimos had seen a party of some forty white men, all very thin, dragging a boat southward, over the ice, near the west shore of King William Island. None of them could speak Eskimo, but by signs they indicated that their ships had been wrecked. Later in the same year, the natives found the dead bodies of some thirty of the white men at a spot on the north shore of the Canadian mainland, and five other bodies on an island not far away.
This was only hearsay evidence -
During Rae’s absence in England, the Hudson’s Bay Company sent one of its chief factors, James Anderson, down the Great Fish River to search for further traces of Franklin’s expedition. The search,-
Although the scene of the catastrophe -
But the indomitable Lady Franklin, although impoverished -
AN ESKIMO CAMP near Coronation Gulf, Canadian North West Territories. Dr. John Rae, an employee of the Hudson’s Bay Company, took part in overland searches for the lost Franklin expedition. In 1854 Dr. Rae met some Eskimos who told him of white men they had seen, suffering from starvation and dragging a boat southward over the ice. The Eskimos later claimed to have found bodies of the explorers. Dr. Rae also bought a number of relics from the Eskimos, including a silver plate which had belonged to Sir John Franklin.
Helped by sympathetic friends, Lady Franklin raised enough money to buy and equip the little steam-
The Fox sailed on July 1, 1857, bound for King William Island. The start of the voyage was unfortunate, and almost disastrous. In Melville Bay the little Fox was beset by heavy pack-
During this time she covered 1,385 miles and was several times almost destroyed. Nothing, however, could discourage McClintock, and when he had extricated his ship he headed for Lancaster Sound again. This time he got safely through, and after calling at Beechey Island he wintered (1858-
Next spring, accordingly (April 2, 1859) two main parties left the Fox. One led by McClintock searched the eastern coast of King William Island and went as far as Montreal Island, in the estuary of the Great Fish River. The other, led by Hobson, examined the western shore of King William Island. It is typical of McClintock that he should have allotted the western coast -
So it proved. McClintock, in his journey to Montreal Island, found one or two small relics and bought some more plate from the natives. On his return by the western coast of King William Island (already searched by Hobson) he found several unburied skeletons (two in an abandoned boat, mounted on a sledge) and several depots of discarded clothing and equipment.
To Hobson had fallen the honour of discovering, in a cairn at Victory Point, a written record signed by Crozier himself -
Two Fateful Messages
His trials were not over yet -
The Fox reached Portsmouth on September 21, 1859, and was welcomed as warmly as such a gallant and successful expedition deserved. Parliament voted £5,000 to Captain McClintock and his men, and £2,000 for the erection of a statue to Franklin (now in Waterloo Place, London). McClintock also received a knighthood and rose to the rank of Admiral on the active list. He died in 1907.
FOUND IN 1859. The only written record left by the Franklin expedition was discovered by Lieut. W. R. Hobson, R.N., of the Fox, which sailed in 1857 on a privately financed search for the lost explorers. The record, found at Victory Point, King William Island, had originally been deposited there in a tin cylinder in June, 1847. The cylinder had been reopened in April, 1848, and an additional message written round the margin of the paper. Full transcriptions of the two messages will be found below.
The record found by Lieutenant Hobson at Victory Point is tantalizingly brief and curtly formal in manner. It could scarcely have been otherwise. It was written, in circumstances of great difficulty, on the narrow margin of a printed form intended to be left for the information of later explorers and bearing a request, in six languages, that the finder would return it to the Admiralty. It was originally deposited (in a tin cylinder) in June, 1847. The cylinder had been re-
The original message:
28 of May, 1847 H.M. Ships Erebus and Terror Wintered in the Ice in Lat. 70° 5' N. Long. 98° 23' W Having wintered in 1846-
Sir John Franklin commanding the Expedition. All well. Party consisting of 2 Officers and 6 Men left the Ships on Monday, 24th May, 1847.
Gm Gore, Lieut.
Chas. F. Des Voeux, Mate.
The added message:
(April 25) 1848. -
Sir James Ross’ pillar has not however been found, and the paper has been transferred to this position, which is that in which Sir J. Ross’ pillar was erected -
Captain, H.M.S. Erebus.
F. R. M. Crozier
Captain & Senior Offr. and start on tomorrow 26th for Back’s Fish River.
The last sentence, added by Crozier, is perhaps the most pathetic of all. He was heading for the Fish River -
With the help of the information given by this invaluable record, Franklin’s route can be plotted with fair accuracy. In their first sea son, the Erebus and the Terror did go up the Wellington Channel (presumably finding their advance to the south-
If he had steered round the eastern coast of the island he would have found his way into Simpson Strait (between the island and the mainland). He would have completed the North-
This was done, in 1903-
Such is the sum of what we know about the Franklin Expedition. There are many questions left unanswered. For example, what possessed Crozier to make for the Fish River when he could more easily have crossed to Fury Beach, where, to his own knowledge, were many tons of stores of all kinds, and where he would have had much more chance of getting help from the whalers of Lancaster Sound? Why did he start long before he could hope to meet with any game? Did he die with his men, or is there any truth in the traditions collected by C. F. Hall (an American explorer), that, knowing Eskimo ways and the Eskimo language, he survived the disaster and lived the life of a native for some twenty years?
Who were the two men whose headless skeletons McClintock found in the boat? Why had each fired a single shot? Had the Eskimos, as they claimed, assisted the starving stragglers -
To these questions, and many others, there is no ready answer. All that we know with certainty is written on the record found by Hobson. No sadder story was ever told in a few lines. For the rest -
The bodies and the bones of those
Who strove in other days to pass
Lie withered in the thorny close,
Or blanched and blown about the grass.
Some of the survivors certainly reached Montreal Island at the mouth of the Fish River. One or two may have got some way up, but none came back to civilization, and probably none ever could have done so. A small, healthy party of trained hunters might, as was shown later by Rae and Schwatka (who re-
For a large party of men, most of them scurvy-
There was similar tragic evidence of overloading in the boat discovered by Hobson. In addition to clothes and lighter articles there were nails, saws, bullets, shot and even two rolls of sheet lead. The men who started with such loads were fated. And now the western coast of King William Island is dotted with graves that show where they fell down and died.
The fate of the Erebus and the Terror, too, is entirely uncertain. The Eskimos told McClintock that the two ships drove ashore, and were wrecked, on opposite sides of King William Island. He never succeeded in seeing a vestige of either wreck for himself. What is more remarkable, he did not come across a single piece of wood in Eskimo possession that might have formed part of either ship. This fact alone casts grave doubt on the natives’ veracity. No white man who has visited the locality, from McClintock down to Major Burwash -
In such circumstances there is much ground for believing that the ships seen on the floe by the Renovation were the missing Erebus and Terror, and that the slow drift of the ice had carried them into Barrow Strait and thence westward and southward to Newfoundland. The same thing is known to have happened to the Resolute, of Belcher’s squadron.
She was abandoned at the western end of Barrow Strait, in lat. 74° 40' N., long. 101° 20' W., in May, 1854, being then firmly beset. She was picked up, floating freely, off Cape Mercy, Davis Strait, by an American whaler named Buddington. She was not far from the Atlantic, and had covered nearly 1,000 miles from the spot where she had been abandoned. There is nothing improbable in supposing that by some freak of fortune the Erebus and Terror may have done the same. They would not necessarily have sunk when the floe carrying them melted; such immensely strong wooden ships would probably still float, awash or little more, until they fell to pieces or were driven ashore.
Where did they go? Did they drift round and round the North Atlantic, as other derelicts have done, for years? Did they go back northward again -
H.M.S. PLOVER, one of the many naval vessels despatched in search of Sir John Franklin’s expedition. After many attempts to solve the Franklin mystery, the Admiralty declined to send further ships to the North-
“Supreme Feats of Navigation” on this website.