Franklin Expedition Ship Discovered in Arctic
(from the Canadian Press & published in the Spectator September 10, 2014
The key to unlocking the mystery of the missing Franklin Expedition came just days ago when a coast guard helicopter pilot spotted a dark U-shaped object in the Arctic snow the size of a man's forearm. The time-ravaged orange-brown hunk of metal, vaguely in the shape of a tuning fork, bore the markings of the Royal Navy. It was a davit ~ part of the lifting mechanism, likely for a lifeboat, for one of the two lost Franklin ships.
On Tuesday, the davit sat on display in Parks Canada's Ottawa laboratory, the only tangible link to one of the most tangible mysteries in both Arctic Circle and Canadian history. “That's the clue that tells you: Look Here. That's the flag,” said John Geiger, president of the Royal Canadian Geographic Society. Geiger was with the search team that finally confirmed the discovery of one of two lost ships from Sir John Franklin's doomed Arctic expedition.
The remarkable find completes one half of a puzzle that long ago captured the Victorian imagination and gave rise to many searches throughout the 19th century for Franklin and his crew. The search team confirmed the discovery in the early morning hours of Sunday using a remotely operated underwater vehicle recently acquired by Parks Canada. They found the wreck 11 metres below the water's surface.
It is not known yet whether the ship HMS Erebus ~ the flagship on which Franklin himself was sailing and believed to have died ...or HMS Terror.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper who recently came close to the search area on his annual northern trip, could barely contain his delight Tuesday as he delivered news of the 'great historic breakthrough'. “For more than a century, this has been a great story and mystery.” The ship appears to be well preserved. A sonar image projected at a media conference showed the ship five metres off the sea floor in the bow and four metres in the stern.
Ryan Harris, a senior underwater archeologist and one of the people leading the Parks Canada search, said the sonar image showed some of the deck structures are still intact, including the main mast, which was sheared off by the ice when the ship sank. “The contents of the ship are most likely in the same good condition,” Harris added. “You can see the tackle from the ship...different riggings in the centre.” 'This shows you how intact it really is,” added Andrew Campbell, a vice-president at Parks Canada, as he screened the underwater footage of the ship on a large flat screen television. The entire profile of the ship is there!”
Campbell said a combination of previous Inuit testimony, past modelling of ice patterns by the Canadian Ice Service and the actual measurements of the two lost ships ~ they are both so similar, they can't yet be told apart ~ convinced the searchers that this was a Franklin ship.
The discovery came a day after a team of archeologists found the tiny fragment from the expedition in the King William Island search area. Until Tuesday, those artifacts were the first ones found in modern times. The two ships of the Franklin Expedition and their crews disappeared during the 1845 quest for the Northwest Passage. They were the subject of many searches throughout the 19th century, but the mystery of exactly what happened to Franklin and his men has never been solved.
“The moment the ship was discovered this past weekend” said Geiger, “we were surrounded by ice ~ we were in the noose of ice ~ and so it was a real sense of connection, of immediate connection to Franklin and the men on those two ships. A few of us said a prayer to sailors lost at sea at that moment because we felt a real personal bond.”
Since 2008, Parks Canada has led six major searches for the lost Franklin ships.
“Franklin Expedition an Enduring tale of Misery, Death,”
writes John Ward of the Canadian Press.
Expedition's crew dealt first with crowding, terrible cold...and eventually cannibalism.
The ill-starred Franklin expedition was a quest for the Northwest Passage, the Holy Grail of Arctic exploration for three centuries. It ended in suffering, misery and death and has haunted Canadian imaginations for almost 170 years. The saga resurfaced in dramatic fashion, heralding the beginning of the end of one of Canada's greatest mysteries. The Northwest Passage intrigued mariners since the 16th century when Martin Frobisher, John Davis and William Baffin made tentative forays north. A northern route would have shaved months from voyages to the Orient by avoiding the long southern loop around either Cape Horn or the Cape of Good Hope.
In 1845, the British Admiralty decided the biggest and best-equipped expedition ever! They gave the command to Sir John Franklin, a naval officer, who as a young man, mapped hundreds of kilometres of the Canadian Arctic coast. Franklin had two ships...HMS Erebus and HMS Terror...small vessels of 372 and 325 tons, respectively. They were specially strengthened for the ice and were each fitted with a 20-horsepower steam engine. Jammed to the gunwales with provisions for three years, the ships captained by John Franklin and Francis Crozier left England May 1845. At the end of July, they were seen by whaling ships off the west coast of Greenland. Then, they turned west and sailed into legend.
The 129 men aboard the ships would spend three winters in the Arctic, crammed into claustrophobic lower decks of their ships. By modern standards, the level of crowding would have been impossible for us either to conceive or accept; the stench alone must have been overpowering. But the hardships were always there. Men had to go in the bitter cold and darkness to chop away ice and shovel snow from the decks. The only communication from the expedition that survived was a piece of paper tucked in a cairn on King William Island and found by an 1859 search mission. The first message, dated May 1847, said the two ships had wintered in the ice and were continuing. Franklin and the crew were well.
The second note, scribbled around the margin of the paper a year later, was more dire. It said Franklin died June 11, 1847. The ships had been locked in ice since September 1846 and the crews abandoned ship on April 22, 1848. They were planning to head south for the mainland. By this time, the note stated that nine officers and 15 men of the original complement had died. It didn't say how. Relief expeditions found other relics, including bodies. One boat was found with two bodies in it and a clutter of useless baggage, including silver plates and spoons and a copy of the novel, 'The Vicar of Wakefield'. It appears the last survivors did reach the mainland, only to die at a spot later named, Starvation Cove.
What happened to Captain John Franklin & Captain Francis Crozier was tragic!
Still a mystery...was the discovered wreck that of the 'Terror' or the 'Erebus'?
Be sure to read Part 3 of this historic saga.
Merle Baird-Kerr...written October 2, 2014
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