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No. 13, Further Evidence Is Found

Just before the time that John Rae brought home to England, in 1854, news of what might have happened to Franklin, the British government was getting tired of searching for Franklin; fortunes had been spent, and ships and men lost. It washed its hands of launching any further expeditions.

And how was Lady Franklin proceeding during these years. She took a very active part in leading those in England who craved a fuller story of what happened to her husband. In addition to the searches carried out by the government, Lady Franklin had "fitted out four ships almost entirely at her own expense."76

In 1857, having made entreaties to it, and having been advised by the British government that it was no longer in a position to send out further search parties, Jane Franklin determined to send out another, organized and paid for by herself. She purchased a "screw steamer," the Fox, and retained Captain Leopold McClintock to be in charge, his second being Lt. William Robert Hobson. Though the government could not fully sponsor any new searches, it did freely give supplies it had ready at hand to Lady Franklin's latest expedition. So too, private subscriptions were made which met half of the 6,000lb cost (2,000 to purchase the Fox and 4,000 to supply her and equip77 her for a 28 month period. The Fox was not a large ship. She carried a crew of only 26.78 She left England July 1st, 1857. The Fox spent her first winter frozen-in, in Melville Bay. It was only on April 25, 1858, was she able to enter Lancaster Sound; by August she was at Beechey Island, the site of Franklin's first winter as was discovered by Austin (HMS Resolute) and Ommanney (HMS Assistance) in 1850. (See Map.)

McClintock and his crew spent the winter of 1858-9 at Bellot Strait, a not-so-wide body of water that separates Boothia Peninsula79 from Devon Island, immediately north of it. (See Map.) That spring a sledging party set out to explore the western extremity's of Bellot Strait where it enters the southern portion of Peel Sound. (They were getting close.) Returning they determined to go forth with a larger group. On reaching Cape Victoria, two groups were established; one under Captain McClintock who was to explore directly south which took in the eastern side of King William Island. The other group, under Lt. Hobson, headed to the north part of King William Island, so to explore its western side.

Of course, and as it turned out, Lt. Hobson's group made some very significant finds, descriptions of which we will come to. McClintock in his different exploratory route, all the way through to Montreal Island, found nothing - though he recovered articles of the Franklin Expedition from the Inuit, so too - their stories. He determined, in his route back to the Fox, that he would follow a route more to the west which would bring him to Simpson Strait, cross it and explore the western side of King William Island, beginning at its southern end.

Going west along the shores of King William Island heading to Cape Herschel, McClintock made his first find, the bleached bones of a human with his European cloths spread about, in and around the snow. The clothing identified the man as a steward off of one of Franklin's ships. (The remains and the clothing were packed up and eventually they arrived in England.)80

Map Of King William Island

After their discovery, and collection of numerous artifacts and remains, McClintock's party continued west along the southern shore of King William Island to its farthest western point. The shore line then turned acutely to the east. After a day's travel they came across a boat "mounted on a sledge of unusual weight and strength."81 The boat, contained two skeletons. It also contained unbelievable piles of material which one might speculate led to the earlier expiry of the men, otherwise, than might have been expected. I quote Traill:

"Unhappily, too, the boat contained ominous evidences of that terrible overloading of the sledges ... Among an amazing quantity of clothing and toilet articles, McClintock found twine, nails, saws, files, bristles, waxends, sailmakers' palms, powder, bullets, shot, cartridges, wads, leather cartridge-cases, knives -- and diner ones --needle and thread cases, slow match, several bayonet scabbards cut down into knife sheaths, two rolls of sheet lead, and, in short, a quantity of articles of one description and another truly astonishing in variety, and such as, for the most part, modern sledge travellers in these regions would consider a mere accumulation of dead weight, but slightly useful and very likely to break down the strength of the sledge crews."82
We mentioned earlier how McClintock and his crew went down the eastern side of King William Island, and after awhile ventured along the southern side going west. In the meantime Lt. Hobson's group traveling from the north to the south on the western side made very significant finds. The principal one being a written record (as it turned out the only one ever found) of what happened to the Erebus and the Terror. It was found in a cairn "12 miles miles from Cape Herschel." It was on a printed form supplied to the ships by the Admiralty. It was a Admiralty form with the principal blanks filled in; postdated notes filled the margins. The essential information from this note, is as follows: the Erebus and Terror spent their second winter (1846-7) in Victoria Strait, just northwest of King William Island; it confirmed that the first winter was spent at Beechey Island; that in the fall of 1845, had discovered Cornwallis Island and had circumnavigated it; that the ships and those aboard, as of May 24, 1847, were "All well." The note, a year later, was dug out of the cairn by the retreating crews of Erebus and Terror and marginal notes were added. (It is surprising that they couldn't fine some paper amongst all of the stuff that they were carrying with them?) These marginal notes can now be set out:
"April 25, 1848. - H.M. ships Terror and Erebus were deserted on the 22nd April, 5 leagues N.N.W. of this, having been beset since 12th September, 1846. The officers and crews, consisting of 105 souls, under the command of Captain F.R.M. Crozier, landed here in lat. 69* 37' 42" N., long. 98* 41' W. Sir John Franklin died on the 11th June, 1847, and the total loss by deaths in the expedition has been to this date 9 officers and 15 men.
[Signed by both] F.R. Crozier and James Fitzjames
[A footnote shows] ... start to-morrow, 26th, for Back's Fish River."
McClintock returned to England in the Fox arriving there in September of 1859. For his discoveries McClintock was feted as a hero; he was to receive honorary degrees and, in 1860, he was knighted.

NEXT -- No. 14, Summation


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Peter Landry
2015 (2018)