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No. 04, - John Franklin: "Battle of New Orleans," Then A Turn To The Arctic

In was in December of 1814 that The Battle of New Orleans began. Franklin was still on the Bedford. The navy's principal job in this battle was to get the troops ashore. This proved, given the shallow waters and muddy bottoms, to be a very onerous task which took days. The navy also sent certain of its marines ashore to get in on the fight. At one point Franklin was landed with a squad. The upshot of The Battle of New Orleans was that the British army was cut to pieces by Jackson's sharp-shooters. At some point, in all of this, Franklin was wounded; he was honourably mentioned in dispatches and received a metal for his bravery.

As it happened, beginning in 1815 with the conclusion of the wars, the Admiralty took a greater interest in exploration, particularly in the north of North America. It was still held by many, but discovered by none, that it was possible to sail north over the continent of American to the Pacific and thus shorten the route to the spices of the orient. All that was necessary was to find the fabled North-West Passage. Franklin, came to the attention of the Admiralty as one who could undertake arctic exploration; he was very keen to do so.

The Admiralty's latest plan to locate the North-West Passage was more involved than previous plans. It included sending ships, as they did in the past, going east to west trying, through the ice, to go over the top. However, in addition, they would send another overland expedition, starting from the western shores of Hudson Bay. There were reports through the fur traders that the native people of the north were of the belief that to the north there was an Arctic Sea. The best road to it would be to travel first west then north to find the Coppermine River (See Map) which flowed into this northern sea. Discovered by Samuel Hearne of the Hudson's Bay Company, the mouth of the Coppermine River was located somewhat midway between the most northern cape on the west side of Hudson Bay and the eastern boundary of present day Alaska. This overland route to be taken by the British explorers would be a most arduous journey. Once the Arctic Sea was found, then, these British explorers were to go along the shores chancing it might meet up with the two ships which were making their way west. Franklin was put in charge of this overland group; William Parry was in charge of the two ships proceeding west.

Before we examine, in some detail, these explorations of northern Canada just outlined, let us touch on Franklin's first trip into the arctic seas in 1818. It was determined to go north on the sea; it was somehow thought that it might be possible to sail right up to the geographical location of the north pole. The fact is, that it is located in the middle of a frozen ocean, to be reached, and not reached for many years, by traveling over the frozen ocean. This first trip of Franklin's, in 1818, was to sail straight north to the east of Greenland, above a frozen group of islands know as Spitsbergen. During April of 1818, HMS Dorothea (Captain David Buchan), a ship of "370 tons burdon" and HMS Trent, a ship of "250 tons" with Lieutenant Franklin, then at the age of 32, as of the captain of the Trent, reporting to Buchan). This pair of ships set out to find the North-pole. Frederick Beechey was the second lieutenant aboard the Trent with Franklin. "The Dorothea and Trent failed to get any nearer to the Pole than between the 80th and 81st parallels of latitude, at which point their progress was arrested by an impenetrable barrier of ice; and a subsequent attempt to force a passage westward in pursuance, no doubt, of the alternative plan prescribed in their instructions, was equally unsuccessful."12 Badly damaged, the pair of ships arrived back in England on October 22nd.

NEXT -- No. 05, Franklin's First Arctic Expedition (The Coppermine, 1819-22)


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Peter Landry
2015 (2018)