IIt remains one of the greatest mysteries in naval exploration. What condemned John Franklin’s attempt in 1845 to navigate the Northwest Passage, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, in his ships Erebus and Terror?
The expedition claimed the lives of 129 men and has gripped the public’s imagination for the past century and a half. Now, Canadian investigators face a crucial decision about whether to relaunch attempts to find new clues to the fate of the ships.
In recent years they have already recovered hundreds of artifacts – from ceramic shoes and plates to a ship’s bell and a lieutenant’s epaulette – from the wreckage of the two ships after they sank in the Canadian Arctic.
But last year, marine archaeologists had to abandon shipwreck dives due to the Covid pandemic and are not sure if they will be able to return to ships this summer when the sea ice retreats enough to allow access to the ships. shipwrecks near King William Island.
Franklin left Greenhithe in Kent in 1845 to find the Northwest Passage, a polar route to the Far East. Their ships were equipped with steam-powered propellers to help them maneuver on ice, and their holds were stocked with three-year canned supplies. It was one of the best equipped marine expeditions of its time. So what happened to the ships?
Since its first disappearance, the mystery of the Erebus and Terror has taken over the public imagination. As Andrew Lambert says in his biography, Franklin, tragic hero of polar navigation: “At the heart of every Arctic story is John Franklin.”
Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Jules Verne, and Mark Twain wrote about the expedition. However, the projection of The horror On BBC Two, this month has sparked interest across Britain and brought viewers aboard the two unfortunate ships to see what life would have been like for the crew who had to endure -50 ° C temperatures for several winters arctic.
With both vessels trapped in the ice, this sad tale, based on Dan Simmons’ best-selling 2007 novel, traces not only a journey through the frozen wastelands of the Arctic, but also traces the conflicts that erupted between those responsible. Fundamentally, the script also pays due attention to the culture of the local Inuit, something that the Royal Navy adventurers often ignored and who later tried to find Franklin and his men.
Francis Crozier, who commanded the HMS Terror, is portrayed by Jared Harris (recently in Chernobyl) as the most cautious sailor who tries, despite a debilitating dependence on alcohol, to persuade Franklin (played by Ciarán Hinds) to abandon his mission as too dangerous. Other key characters include the ambitious first mate of Erebus, James Fitzjames (Tobias Menzies) and Henry Goodsir, known as Harry, a gentle Scottish surgeon and naturalist (Paul Ready).
Much of the drama follows Simmons ‘fictional conjecture that the split in crews’ loyalties contributed to the expedition’s eventual failure, though supernatural elements also dot the plot. The drama has been widely praised for its compelling production and depictions of the Arctic, which were digitally recreated using the same special effects that series producer Ridley Scott used in his film. The martian.
However, despite its television sophistication, The horror it does not answer the key question: what really doomed the Franklin expedition? Many theories have been suggested: the crews were killed by botulism; suffered lead poisoning from poorly sealed food cans; or they were misdirected by Franklin, who let his ships navigate a route frequently blocked by ice even in summer. What is known is that the surviving crew members eventually abandoned both ships and headed south on foot through King William Island. The cut marks on the skeletons make it clear that some indulged in cannibalism before dying.
It’s unclear why the expedition went so wrong, but our understanding would be transformed by the paperwork, says Claire Warrior, senior curator at the National Maritime Museum in London, and that’s the real hope for the dives that will eventually start again this year. . or next.
“If the documents about the Erebus and the Terror had been kept in sealed boxes or drawers, it is possible that they would have survived immersion in the dark and very cold waters,” he said. “The diaries or the written commands would make the most significant difference in terms of understanding what happened. That is what we hope you will find. “
In the end, the bodies of more than 30 ship’s crew were found on King William Island. Most still buried there, although two were returned to Britain. Lieutenant John Irving was identified from his personal effects and was buried in Dean Cemetery, Edinburgh, in 1881.
The second was initially identified as that of Henry Le Vesconte, a lieutenant from Erebus, before being buried under the Franklin monument at Greenwich Old Royal Naval College, London. However, in 2009, the monument was moved and a facial reconstruction was carried out from the remains, which produced a close match with a surviving Henry Goodsir daguerreotype. To a large extent, isotope analysis of tooth enamel suggested an upbringing in eastern Scotland (Goodsir was raised in Fife) but not Le Vesconte’s upbringing in southwestern England. The remains are now attributed to Goodsir.
“Obviously, we would like to have clues in the coming years as to what happened to all these men, but by themselves, the elements that have been recovered have transformed our appreciation of how they lived,” added Warrior.
“Pieces of accordion, pipes and books have been found. These are touchstones for those lives and they have incredible intensity. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism