THE FORTNIGHTLY CLUB
OF REDLANDS, CALIFORNIA  - Founded 24 January 1895

MEETING # 1573

4:00 P.M.

October 10, 1996


John Franklin
and the
Opening of the North,
1845 - 1859

by Richard Moersch M.D.

Assembly Room, A. K. Smiley Public Library


Shortly before eight-thirty on the evening of June eighteenth, 1815 the right flank of the French Army collapsed before the assault of the combined British and Prussian troops of Wellington and von Blucher at the Battle of Waterloo in southern Belgium.

The power and the threat of Napoleon were broken permanently. Within a month he had surrendered and was on his way to exile and an early death on St. Helena.

Europe breathed more easily and the effect upon the military forces of the victors was much like that in the United States following the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union. There appeared to be a great redundancy of personnel, and nowhere was this more marked than in England's Royal Navy which had grown enormously during the Napoleonic years and was regarded as the ultimate defense against a French invasion of Great Britain. At the time of Waterloo there were no less than 776 ships and 1 13,000 sailors in the fleet. A large percentage of these common sailors were unceremoniously discharged while the officers were retained, by custom, but constrained to eke out their lives at half-pay and with little or no chance of promotion. The time-honored custom had led to a situation where there was an officer for every three men.

One man emerged at this point in time to utilize these officers desperate for a means of advancement. John Barrow was a lancashireman of humble origins who had risen by single-minded energy, ability and the cultivation of the right people to the post of second secretary to the Admiralty, a post he was to hold for forty years. In the glow of the victory over their greatest foe, the British embarked upon a multitude of attempts to discover, map, civilize and organize the known and unknown world, and Barrow was an enthusiastic and determined advocate of that ethic. The "most honourable and useful" employment of the Royal Navy in peacetime, he believed, was to complete the survey work initiated in the previous century by such seamen as Cook and Vancouver. Within months of Napoleon's exile to St. Helena - which location Barrow had suggested - a Naval expedition was dispatched to the Congo..

The real interest of the Admiralty bureaucrat, however, was the Arctic; as a boy he had served on a whaler and had visited Greenland and he was never to lose his enthusiasm for the frigid areas of which he knew so little. He remained convinced throughout his career that a huge ice-free ocean surrounded the North Pole. He was also caught up in the idea that the first navigation of the Northwest Passage was a matter of national pride. Encouraged by Barrow, the Royal Society persuaded Parliament to put up a series of prizes: the first to reach 110 degrees West would receive five thousand pounds; the first to 130 twice that, at 150 fifteen thousand pounds and attainment of the Pacific was worth twenty thousand pounds, well over a million dollars in modern currency. He then sent off his first polar expedition under naval direction, under the command of Captain David Buchan. It was a complete failure, both ships severely damaged by ice and barely making it back in October 1818. The major importance for this chronicle is that the commander of the second, smaller ship was Lieutenant John Franklin, making his first journey to the frozen seas.

The following year he was the surprising choice to lead an overland expedition in the wilds of Canada. He was then thirty-three years old, had been in the Navy since the age of fifteen and had served at the battles of Trafalgar, Copenhagen and New Orleans. There was no question of his bravery and determination, but he was also plump, physically unfit and of an extraordinarally sensitive nature, even demurring at killing a fly. Religious and quite humorless, he was cheerful and humble and had no enemies - charm seemed to have been his greatest virtue. His assignment was to book passage with the Hudson's Bay Company to York Factory on the western shore of that inland sea and from there to trek overland to Lake Athabasca and onward to Great Slave Lake. North from there would be a march across the tundra to the headwaters of the Coppermine River and then down it to the Arctic coast. In total it represented five thousand miles on foot and by canoe through uncharted wilderness, picking up supplies from the rare fur-trading posts in the early stages of the outbound trip. He was accompanied by a surgeon-naturalist and three seamen and later joined by a larger party of Indian guides and hunters, interpreters and French-Canadian voyageurs. Over the next three years they struggled westward and then into the far north, finally reaching the Arctic coast at the mouth of the Coppermine River before retracing their route to safety. There was heroism but also ineptitude, fatally-flawed planning and leadership and a terrible lack of common sense and purpose. Supplies were insufficient, the situation aggravated by the fact that the Hudson's Bay Company was locked in bloody warfare with the competing Northwest Company from Montreal. The tradition-bound British of ricers did not help with any of the heavy work, leaving it all to the Indians and the ill-fed voyageurs, who gradually weakened and rebelled. The return trek was a horrific disaster marked by mutiny, desertion, starvation, death and probable cannibalism - eleven of the twenty men perished on the trip.

Vilhjalmur Stefansson, writing years later, raised many questions, particularly related to the failure of the English to participate in the hunting and carrying. Nonetheless, Franklin returned to London in 1822, a national hero and public idol. Despite the suffering and tragedy, he could hardly wait to return.

Shortly after his return he began the turgid and cautious courtship of Eleanor Porden, much of it conducted by mail and with few romantic overtones. She was a sickly, frail lady, already weakening from the effects of tuberculosis that would lead to her early death. She was, however, a talented and published poetess and a protofeminist who conducted regular salons for the intellectual set. The courtship nearly foundered on his disapproval of her literary career and her utilization of Sunday for writing and entertaining, for her part, she worried that he was being dragged into the dreadful conformity of Methodism. He surrendered to her ultimatums and they were married just a year after his return. Less than two years remained to them before her death.

His return to the Canadian wilderness was scheduled for February, 1825 and she encouraged him to depart though she was dying, even embroidering a silken Union Jack to be planted on the Arctic shore. She succumbed just six days after he left. This time his plan was to proceed overland to Great Slave Lake and from there north down the Mackenzie River to the coast at Kotzebue Inlet close to Russian Alaska. The party included two of the men from the previous expedition and this time disciplined British sailors were brought to replace the voyageurs. More supplies were brought, including waterproof clothing and more durable river boats. In addition, the mercantile war had been settled and additional supplies were available from the fur traders. They would still be dependent on the Indians for fresh game; none of the English party had learned how to hunt.

After reaching Great Slave Lake they had a relatively placid trip down the Mackenzie to the Arctic coast and resumed to the lake to winter over. After an apparently cheerful nine months they returned to the delta and then split, following the coastline east and west. The main problems this year were the fog and the frequent gales; they also were attacked by Indians who thought they were interfering with the trade between the Indians and Eskimos. Nonetheless, both parties returned safely to Great Slave Lake, each having covered approximately 2000 miles and between them mapping most of the northern coast of North America. A small distance to the east remained untouched but it was felt this would yield easily and before long. As it turned out, it would be 25 years before an attempt was made and that attempt would be led by Sir John Franklin.

Franklin, of course, was not the only British naval officer sent off by the Admiralty and John Barrow during these years in an attempt to unlock the secrets of the Northwest Passage. The two principal explorer-investigators in fact were John Ross and William Edward Parry. Between 1818 and 1833 they were involved in six attempts to break through the barrier to the Pacific. Ross was the leader of the first voyage, having apparently been chosen because of two years service in the Baltic, as much cold water experience as any officer in the Royal Navy. At the time, there were 700 officers of the same rank (Commander), only 46 of whom were on active duty and he jumped at the chance. Parry was his second-in-command. Ross was of humble Scottish birth, an inventor and enthusiastic phrenologist, while the well-loom Parry was more polished socially, interested in theatricals and music. The two-ship party left in the spring of 1818 and by late summer were in the ice-clogged waters of Baffin Bay. One of the amusing cameos of the expedition is a sketch of the first meeting with Eskimos, the British officers in full dress regalia greeting the skin-clad natives. As a token of their peaceful intentions the naval party carried a flag with an olive branch on it - rather puzzling to people who had never seen a tree, let alone an olive.

The weather was particularly mild that year and they penetrated far up Lancaster Sound. Parry was optimistic that the Passage was theirs, but Ross was less so. Near the end of August Ross thought he saw a chain of mountains barring the way, named them the Croker Mountains, after the first secretary of the Admiralty, came about and headed for home.

Controversy exploded in London on their return and a consequence of the quarreling was an Admiralty court of inquiry leading to the forced retirement at half pay of Ross; he was never again given a naval command. Parry, at age 28, was selected to lead the next attempt, the following year. He typified the English public school graduate, devoutly Anglican, well-read and convinced that British ways and ideals represented the culmination of the progress of civilization. He also had the good fortune to sail in 1819, the mildest year in a century, when Lancaster Sound was ice-free and placid. Where Ross had claimed to see the "Croker Mountains" was now only open water fib miles wide, which he named after his advocate Barrow Strait.

They continued west and soon passed the meridian of 110 degrees, claiming the five thousand pound bounty. Weather then worsened and they took over-winter refuge on Melville Island, named for the First Lord of the Admiralty. Parry had prepared for the mid-winter depression with a program of make-work chores, bible readings, costume plays and even a barrel organ. This organ now rests at the Scott Polar Research Institute at Cambridge and still plays quite pleasant tunes 170 years later. Surviving the dark, they remained trapped in the ice until mid-August the following year.

Attempts were then made to sail further to the west, but they were confounded and defeated by the enormous ice fields crowding down out of the Beaufort Sea. Surrendering to the impenetrable, they turned back, not knowing that no sailboat would ever go farther on this route and 124 years would pass before a motor-driven ship would reach the eastern end of Banks Island.

Fame and fortune awaited him in London and in the glow of this he elected to return as soon as possible, seeking a route through the Northwest Passage further south, closer to the Canadian mainland. "Oh how I long to be among the ice!" he told his friends, and six months later was returning with two ships and supplies for three years if necessary. Trying a more southerly course, they sailed through Hudson Strait and spent the next two years attempting to find a course through or around Melville Peninsula. Again he was defeated and returned home, and again was hailed as a hero and the epitome of the British explorer. And again he was sent out, the following year, for a third attempt, this time to be carried out through Prince Regent Inlet. This was even less successful and sixteen months of trying led to the loss of one ship, the Ably, one more ignominious retreat. He never returned to the Canadian north, but did make one assault on the North Pole, going east of Greenland. Turned back at 82 45', he retired to the life of a naval hydrographer and never left England.

At this point John Ross re-entered the picture. Refused further Naval command, he turned to his friend Felix Booth, the eminent gin-distiller, who advanced monies for a steam packet and supplies. They sailed west in the summer of 1829, little dreaming that they would spend four winters in the arctic. While going beyond Parry's farthest camps in Prince Regent Inlet, they never reached as far to the west and the chief accomplishments of the four years were the discovery of the magnetic north pole and the naming of the largest peninsula in the north after Booth's Gin. By this time, public and official enthusiasm for the search for the Passage was dying down. The Edinburgh Review said "It may doubtless gratify the national vanity to plant the standard of England even upon the sterile regions...but...if no advantage can be gained by revisiting such inhospitable regions, it must be admitted that the mere knowledge of their existence, and of the indentations of their shores, is comparatively useless, and utterly unworthy of that sacrifice or risk of life and resources by which it may have been acquired."

The years of the isolation of Ross in the Arctic were spent by Franklin in the Mediterranean. On his return from the Mackenzie explorations, a hero and a widower, he sought the company of his late wife's good friend Jane Griffin, and within a year they were married. Like Eleanor, Jane was an intelligent, intellectual social activist; at 36, she had spurned many suitors, including Peter Roget of thesaurus fame. She became the spur to her somewhat complacent husband's ambition and was partially responsible for the offer made to him of command of a frigate in the Mediterranean. During his years there she traveled widely, visiting Greece, Turkey, Egypt and the Middle East. When he returned to idleness in London after tour of duty, competing with other half-pay officers for the few available assignments, she made use of her considerable powers of persuasion and he was offered and accepted a post as the governor of Van Dieman's Land - present day Tasmania.

In 1836 Van Dieman's Land was primarily a large penal colony, with nearly 18,000 prisoners and 3,000 more arriving each year; there were 24,000 "free citizens", many of whom were former convicts. The new governor and his wife did not fit in well with this group, who were basically unsophisticated, cliquish and very conservative. Lady Franklin, in particular, was regarded by the colonists as a dangerous liberal and a meddler in their society. She investigated the natural life, took an interest in the aborigines and tried to establish the first college there, all of which antagonized the local power structure, led by Captain John Montagu, the Colonial Secretary. During the six years that they served there the obstructive warfare escalated, culminating in the suspension of Montagu by Franklin. The report of this action was sent to Lord Stanley in London for confirmation, on the same ship carrying Montagu, on his way to fight the dismissal and seeking revenge against Franklin. In this he succeeded, as the Secretary of State for the Colonies offered him another position, officially rebuked Franklin and ousted him as governor. This public humiliation ended the lowest years of his life and on their return to London he sought redemption in any way that he could.

Much of the public lack of interest in the arctic had dissipated during the Tasmanian years and Barrow and the Admiralty were pushing for a final well-organized attempt to find and navigate the Northwest Passage. The obvious candidate to lead such an expedition was James Clark Ross, the nephew of John Ross who had just returned from very successful explorations in the Antarctic. He, however, had just been married upon his return and had promised his wife and her parents that he would not go to sea again. Lady Franklin campaigned hard for her husband as did many of their friends, primarily in the hopes that it would restore his crushed ego and reputation. In his letter to the Admiralty, Parry said "If you don't let him go, the man will die of disappointment". All of this was done in spite of the fact that he was now 59 and in poor condition, with no recent arctic experience, in essence, they would select him to lead this largest of England's expeditions because they felt sorry for him.

The sources put at his disposal were impressive. The ships Terror and Erebus had served James Clark Ross well in the Antarctic and had been strengthened since for arctic ice. Steam power was added: the Admiralty purchased a 15 ton 25 horsepower locomotive from the London and Greenwich Railway, removed the wheels, and installed it in the hold of the Erebus. A similar one was placed in the afterhold of the Terror. Among the supplies were 62,000 kilograms of flour, 17,000 liters of liquor, 8,000 tins of meat and vegetables and 3,200 kilograms of tobacco. There were 2,900 books, hand organs and mahogany writing-desks, as well as a new invention, the camera. Finally, there were 4,200 kilograms of lemon juice to prevent scurvy. One hundred and thirty-four officers and men were to fill the two crowded ships. Success seemed certain and the president of the Royal Geographic Society summed up the public mood, stating "The name of Franklin alone is, indeed, a national guarantee". So sure of success were all that that no provision for a relief expedition was ever considered.

On May 19, 1845 they sailed out of the Thames; a transport vessel, the Barretto Junior, accompanied them as far as the west coast of Greenland, where the ten oxen it carried were slaughtered to provide fresh meat. It then returned home, taking five incapacitated sailors, and the Terror and the Erebus, with 129 men, a dog named Neptune and a pet monkey named Jacko sailed west. At the end of July they met two whaling ships, the Enterprise and the Prince of Wales. Franklin and several of his officers enjoyed dinner aboard the whalers and spirits were reportedly high. A return visit aboard the Erebus was scheduled for the following night, but shifting winds and fog sent them apart and the Franklin Expedition disappeared forever into the Arctic.

There was little concern initially; the two ships were stocked with supplies sufficient to last the men three or more years, as well as a wealth of non-essential detritus typical of nineteenth century naval travel. This included heavy silverware, fine china and cut glass, dress uniforms and additional brass buttons plus tins of polish. No real concern was expressed even after two years had passed; at a meeting of the new "Arctic Council" of the Admiralty James Ross remarked that "there was not the smallest reason of apprehension or anxiety for the safety and success of the expedition...". The only public worrier was the aging John Ross and he was ignored. It was only the following year, three overwinters after their departure, that the Admiralty offered a reward of twenty thousand pounds to anyone who "might render efficient assistance in saving the lives of Sir John Franklin and his squadron". A three-pronged attack plan was advanced by the government, with searches from the east, south and west. James Clark Ross, abandoning his promise to never venture norm again, was to command two ships following Franklin's trail up Lancaster Sound from the east, while Sir John Richardson, Franklin's overland trail companion a quarter century earlier, would go up the Mackenzie River and comb the arctic shoreline. Meanwhile, two more ships would probe the Beaufort Sea through the Bering Strait.

All three of the rescue parties met with trouble. The ships supplying the team from the west were badly delayed and did not arrive north of Alaska until July of 1849, a year late. Two years were then spent in small boats covering the shore as far east as the Mackenzie delta and then north to Banks Land (Island). With no sign of anything to be found, they returned to England in October, 1851, convinced that Franklin had not got west of the Mackenzie. The Richardson team was joined by John Rae, a Chief Trader for the Hudson's Bay Company and a man who had walked more miles of the far north than any man alive, but two seasons of searching were unsuccessful as well. The third and largest group was that directed by the younger Ross, with two large ships heading up Lancaster Sound for Barrow Strait on Franklin's proposed course. He found, however, his course blocked by heavy ice and spent his first winter at the northern tip of Somerset Island. Scouting trips on both coasts of the island showed them nothing, although Franklin had actually passed down the now-frozen Peel Sound two years before. Throughout the years that were spent on the search, none of the seekers seemed to grasp the fact that waters open one year might be frozen solid the next; In fact, at one point he was within 180 miles of the two lost ships. Nonetheless, he had nothing to report returning to London after escaping further ice entrapment. England's arctic consciousness was by now full aroused again despite the failure of these first three expeditions, and within months further were scheduled. In all, six separate expeditions were sent out in 1850.

The first of these utilized the two ships, the Enterprise and the Investigator, that Ross had just brought back. Captain Collinson and Lieutenant McClure, both of whom had been with Ross, headed the expedition and the ships were directed around Cape Horn to approach from the west through Bering Strait. The previous explorers of the western approaches would not return for another year with their negative report and it was hoped in London that Franklin might have got that far to the west. Knowing that it would take nearly a year to simply get in position off Alaska, Lady Franklin was distraught and determined to send off her own small expedition. Money to fund a private attempt started to flood in, not only in support of her proposal but also to aid another proposed by old John Ross. To lead her expedition she chose William Penny, no naval officer but the tough-minded chief of the Davis Strait whalers. Under intense public pressure, the Admiralty agreed to not only fund her expedition but to also send the largest search group yet, one of four big ships, commanded by Captain Horatio Austin. The final ships to depart were the Felix and the Mary, commanded by John Ross with money supplied by the Hudson's Bay Company as well as by public donation. Thus, the spring of 1850 saw ten British ships heading for the Arctic in search of Lord Franklin and his men. They were soon joined by two American ships sponsored by Henry Grinnell, a New York philanthropist responding to a plea by Lady Franklin directed to President Zachary Taylor. Two months after the departure of this assorted flotilla, the 90 ton Prince Albert, a converted pilot boat commanded by Lt. Charles Forsyth, a man with no arctic experience who Lady Franklin had met in Van Dieman's Land, left to join the others. This expedition was different from the other twelve ships in that it was the only one planning to search south of Lancaster Sound. Despite the fact that Franklin's orders had directed him to the south, the failure of James Clark Ross the previous year had, unfortunately, focused all attention to the north.

Only one of the ships returned to England that year; the rest were all frozen-in in the ice of Barrow Strait and Wellington Channel, joined there by the two American vessels, Advance and Rescue. In these crowded waters six ships under three commanders were less than a half mile apart off Beechey Island when discovery was made of graves and evidence that they had stumbled upon Franklin's winter quarters. The graves were those of three young sailors who had died five years before, in the spring of 1846 - and who will later return to our account. Much encampment debris was about, including over six hundred empty meat tins and a pair of officer's gloves laid out to dry, but no message telling of the departure of the party or in what direction they were headed. As the maps show, channels lead in all directions from Beechey Island and the mystery only deepened. The British utilized the winter with numerous sledge expeditions for hundreds of miles in all directions with no further trace of the Franklin party, but successfully mapping much of the central arctic archipelago. Amid petty squabbling and disappointment, the fleet returned to England (the Americans having left earlier) that summer.

The tantilizing clues had whipped British interest to a frenzy. One writer declared "The Christian world has not so unanimously agreed on anything as the desire to recover Sir John Franklin, dead or alive, from the dreadful solitude of death into which he has so fearlessly ventured.". Lady Franklin sent the Prince Inert back, this time under the command of a half-breed Canadian trapper, seconded by a cherubic French sub-lieutenant on leave, both volunteers. By the fall of 1851 this small William Kennedy-Joseph-Rene Bellot party was the only ship in the eastern arctic seas. And they were in trouble; Separated by ice and wind Kennedy and four men were lost somewhere at the tip of Somerset Island and the Prince Albert was in the hands of the 25 year old Frenchman. Despite his alien status, energetic little Bellot was so beloved by all that the English crew supported him completely. Heroic marches along the shoreline by Bellot and his loyal crew located Kennedy and the reunited party explored 1,265 miles of Somerset and Prince of Wales Islands during the winter, finding no trace of Franklin.

During that same winter of l 851-52 Lady Jane kept pressure on Parliament and the Admiralty to sent yet more ships in a search for her husband and his crews. In this she was joined loudly by most of the British press and by a second group adding their voice - the families of the men of the Investigator, McClure's ship last seen two years previously in the Bering Strait after being separated from Collinson. There were now two missing parties in the Arctic! The navy gave in to these pleadings; it would send five ships under Edward Belcher, dividing it into two parts, one to head up Wellington Channel looking for Franklin and one heading west toward Mellville Island in search for McClure. This was not enough for Jane Franklin: she bought the steam yacht Isabel and hired Edward Inglefield to join the others. This he did, although overpowering ambition sent him far to the north through Jones and Smith Sounds looking for new routes as much as for Franklin.

Where was McClure for two years? Like Inglefield, he was ambitious and saw opportunity before him: if he should find Franklin or the Northwest Passage he would be famous and wealthy. Leaving Honolulu, after the long voyage around Cape Horn, five days after Collinson, he elected to forego the planned rendezvous Kotzebue and made a daring dash through the foggy Aleutian chain and headed into the western Arctic without waiting for his superior. Captain Henry Kellett of the frigate Herald attempted to dissuade him, but with the flimsiest of excuses he took off. Following the coast, he was eventually forced northward by the ice to Banks Island and the Prince of Wales Strait to the east. By September ninth he had been driven within sixty miles of Barrow Strait and had he attained it he would indeed have completed the course of the Northwest Passage. At this point fate intervened however and he was driven backward by the ice and his ship nearly destroyed in a storm. Wintered in at this site along Banks Island, he was able to confirm by sledge trips that he had indeed found the water route across North America. Attempts to sail north the following summer were further blocked by ice and he elected to sail around the west side of Banks Island. Staying close to shore and with good fortune and good weather he rounded the island and sailed east in the strait that now bears his name. Having been trapped by ice in that same area I can testify to the enormity of the ice pack pushing down from the pole in McClure Strait. In September be found a bay in which he took refuge for the winter, naming it Mercy Bay. Almost immediately he realized he had made a mistake and the ice would trap them in the bay. They would remain there for two years and the ship would never leave it again.

Starvation and madness appeared to be their fate in Mercy Bay, isolated and dying on quarter rations. The second year was worse than the first and a catastrophic ending similar to Franklin's appeared inevitable. In the face of this, in March 1853 he kept the strongest of his party with the ship and sent the others off on an attempted trek to civilization. In effect he was sending them to their death in the hope that the stronger might survive. The day they were to leave, however, a sledge was seen in the distance and before long Lt. Pim, serving under Captain Kellett, now on the Resolute, greeted them. McClure had been saved again!

During the last year of 1852-53, while McClure's men were facing starvation at Mercy Bay, Inglefield had surveyed Smith and Jones Sounds to the north while Belcher's squadron had split as planned' Belcher going north into Wellington Channel and the Resolute and Intrepid under Kellett (who had tried to stop McClure two years earlier off Alaska) headed west, searching for McClure and Collinson who was also missing. It was Pim, sledging for this purpose who rescued the gaunt survivors at Mercy Bay. The proud McClure at first refused rescue, fearing it would interfere with his claim of navigating the Northwest Passage, until evacuation was ordered by Kellett. The troubles of McClure's crew were not over; they had moved less than a hundred miles east with their rescuers when they were icebound once more and had to spend a final winter in the arctic aboard Kellett's ships. Then, in the spring of 1854 came an anticlimactic problem: Belcher, probably the poorest of the many commanders sent to the Arctic, wanted out of the cold waters in any fashion and ordered Kellett to abandon his two ships and bring his men and McClure's to Beechey Island to be loaded aboard supply ships there to turn home. The incredulous Kellett protested vehemently but to no avail, and when he arrived at Beechey he discovered that Belcher had also abandoned his own two ships . All crowded aboard the supply ships and headed for London, leaving behind four seaworthy ships as well as the still-missing Collinson. An interesting aftermath of this retreat was the discovery, a year later, of the Resolute floating freely in Davis Strait. Without captain or crew it had been moved from Mellville Sound by the ice and currents into the Atlantic, where it was salvaged by the American Navy.. Collison returned a year later, after five years in the arctic, having seen much but discovering nothing and with no word of Franklin.

Two events in 1854 altered the great search completely. The first was the onset of the Crimean War which meant that the Navy could no longer spare men and ships for arctic exploration. The second was the recovery, by John Rae, the Hudson's Bay Trader, of artifacts from the Terror and the Erebus. He obtained them from Eskimos while surveying territory on the west side of Boothia Peninsula, and they included silver plate and watches belonging to the crew. With this evidence, Rae returned to London and successfully claimed the ten thousand pound prize offered for this information, over the protests of Lady Franklin. She continued her campaign to convince the Admiralty to send one more expedition to resolve the remaining mysteries; she wrote to world leaders from the American President to the Russian Tsar and she enjoyed widespread support at home, including the Prince Consort. An ironic sidenote was the gift to the British people of the Resolute, Kellett's old ship that had been found floating in Atlantic waters, this from the American government to be used for one more attempt. In the end, the Admiralty declared Franklin and his men dead, the Resolute unseaworthy and refused any further help. Faced with this, Jane Franklin purchased the Fox, a small, schooner-rigged steam yacht and persuaded Leopold M'Clintock, a veteran of three of the searches, to take it to the Arctic. In a chivalrous gesture, neither M'Clintock or any of his officers accepted any pay from Lady Franklin for the expedition.

On June 30, 1857 the Fox left the Orkneys but in a bad-weather year they were quickly ice-bound and during the winter they were pushed backward in the ice, almost 1400 miles in the wrong direction. By the following August they had freed themselves and made their way to Bellot Strait, separating Boothia Peninsula and Somerset Island. Attempts to pass through it to reach Peel Sound were beaten back by the ice, and they settled down for a second winter. This time they were close enough to mount forays by sledge and M'Clintock and Lieutenant Hobson led teams to explore both coasts of King William Island as well as the continental mainland, some 250 from the winter camp. In doing this the only answers that would ever be found regarding the fatal expedition were found.

On the northwest corner of the island Hobson found a cairn and in it two notes, both scrawled around the edges of a standard Admiralty form. The first was dated May 28, 1847, eleven years earlier and it had the cheerful message "All well", adding that Franklin had gone up Wellington Channel and around Comwallis Island before settling in at Beechey Island the winter of 184546. The following winter found them icebound just off King William Land (they did not yet know it to be an island) but in no trouble. The second note, added to the same scrap of paper, was written a year later and was much more ominous. It stated that Franklin had died, just a month after the earlier message, that 24 others were dead and that the remainder had abandoned the ships and were trying to reach the Canadian mainland. Careful investigation of this area and the route subsequently uncovered a tragic trail of bleached bones, savaged bones indicative of wolf predation as well as probable cannibalism and amazing piles of discarded debris including heavy cookstoves, curtain rods, silverplate and a library of books. Interviews with Eskimo tribes in the area told a story of lines of figures struggling along until they collapsed in the snow. The final irony was that in that desperate march they discovered that King William was an island they could have safely rounded to the east, away from the ice, and they had, if indeed, found a navigable Northwest Passage. By the time that M'Clintock returned to London in September 1859, losing men himself to the dreaded scurvy, the southern Arctic was mapped and charted in its entirety.

During the twelve year span the Royal Navy lost six ships and over two hundred men. The British government spent 675,000 and Lady Franklin over 35,000 trying to find her husband. In addition, the United States government contributed $ 150,000 and Henry Grinnell $ 100,000. While thee Northwest Passage would never prove commercially viable, the desire to describe and map an unknown part of the world had been met. This was the forerunner of the equally quixotic struggles to reach the North and South Poles. As a failed hero, Franklin was elevated to near-sainthood at home. Tennyson wrote the epitaph for his memorial at Westminster Abbey:

Not here: the white North hath thy bones, and thou Heroic Sailor Soul art passing on thy happier voyage now toward no earthly pole.

The reasons for the failure of the Franklin Expedition are many and most prominent among them would have to be the unwillingness of the English to learn from the native peoples of the far North or their inability to do so. Certainly, fur-lined clothing, ice-houses, light sleds and hunting would have significantly increased their chances for survival and success. The avoidance of military and social trappings such as the individual monogrammed silverware for each officer would also have helped. But I would like to treat of two other matters that, I believe, played equally important roles. The first of these is scurvy. This is produced by the lack of vitamin C or ascorbic acid; this is necessary for collagen formation in connective tissue, bones and teeth. The disease itself is characterized by lassitude, weakness and irritability, and its prevention had been well-known since before the time of Captain Cook. The use of limes - or, more commonly, lemons - had led to the term "limies" for English sailors, and Franklin's ships carried lemons on their voyage. The amount provided was less than optimal however, and on all of the multi-year expeditions mounted during these years some degree of scurvy became apparent. The fact that the Eskimos in the same area never experienced such problems with scurvy never struck the navy and indeed it is now known that the blubber and meat of arctic animals is an effective anti-scorbutic. Those few expeditions in which hunting was done, by the sailors or by friendly Eskimos, suffered no such problems. Scurvy did strike the Franklin team and its stigmata was evident when bodies scattered along the fatal trail on King William Island were examined by Canadian researchers 140 years later. The odds of survival were reduced immensely by the ravages of scurvy.

The other discovery by the Canadian team was even more intriguing; Routine studies carried out on bone fragments of Franklin sailors as well those of Inuit Eskimos found in the same area revealed one striking difference. The lead content of the Eskimo bones was within normal limits while that of the single Englishman examined was twenty times higher. The team from the University of Alberta believed that further investigation was warranted and their attention fumed to the lonely graves on Beechey Island. Following prolonged and difficult permission-gathering, exhumation and autopsy studies were carried out during brief summer periods in 1984 and 1986.

The foreshore of Beechey Island is as desolate and unwelcoming as any I have seen - it is a small, sloping gravelly plain facing out onto the windswept waters of Barrow Strait, but it was here that Franklin had over-wintered in 1845-46 and where the graves of the three young sailors remained. The procedures on John Torrington, John Hartnell and William Braine were carried out with both care and dignity; when the studies were complete, the young men and their clothing were re-interred as before. The most interesting finding at the time was the remarkable state of preservation a century and a half in the permafrost had provided. All three bore the ravages of their illness but otherwise looked ready to come back to life.

When tissue, bone and hair samples were analyzed back in Edmonton the lead contents were again dramatically high. Of these the most important were the hair samples, as they indicated that the increase had occurred during the course of the voyage and not during prior years in England. A number of sources of the lead contamination existed, including lead-wrapped tea leaves, pewterware and lead-glazed pottery, but attention soon focused on the thousands of tin cans carrying the food for the officers and men.

The tin container was invented in England in 1811 and widely used thereafter by the Navy for stocking all their ships at sea. They were formed from a tinned wrought-iron sheet bent around a cylindrical form, overlapped, and then soldered inside and out to provide a seal . A small area at each end was left unsoldered to provide for the addition of the top and bottom of the can. The solder itself was 90% lead and would not flow easily making it difficult to obtain a perfect seal. Stephan Goldner was the low bidder for the contract to supply tins to the Franklin expedition and not only had quality problems with later naval orders but was under time pressures, twice requesting extensions for completion of the work. The opportunity, at least, existed for faulty tins and lead contamination.

Lead poisoning in adults produces disabling personality changes as well as headache, loss of appetite and a myriad of gastrointestinal symptoms and would certainly interfere with attempts to carry out the extremely demanding of a polar exploration. Combined with scurvy, it probably made the difference of life and death as Franklin and his men attempted to escape their polar prison.

Tragedy though it was and an enormous consumption of time, men and monies, the expedition itself and the fifty relief parties over the twelve years between 1845 and 1859 essentially opened up and mapped the vast archipelago lying north of North America.


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