Page Heading for Arctic Archipelago

Link to Table of Contents

No. 14, Summation

And so, with the discoveries of Francis McClintock in the Fox we are in a position to bring this work to an end. It is not that looking for clues came to an end in 1857; men have been looking ever since. For instances, there were the searches carried out by the American, Francis Hall, in 1864, and that of another American, Frederick Schwatka. (See Date List.) The most recent one is that carried out by the Canadian government, which in 2014 resulted in the spectacular discovery of the Erebus, there lying whole at the bottom of the comparatively shallow waters of the Victoria Strait just off shore of an island83, likely just where the Inuit said it was, years ago.84 (See Map)

Portrait of John Franklin

On a review of my pages I see that I had not set out a portrait of John Franklin, well, to the right we see him as likely he looked as he went off to meet his fate in 1845. As for a summation or wrap-up of what is thought to have happened to Franklin and his men, we turn to Schwatka's work:

"The two exploring ships passed their first winter at Beechey Island, in the spot discovered by Captains Penny and Austin; but they had previously explored Wellington Channel as far as 73 N., and sailed down again into Barrow Strait, between Cornwallis and Bathurst Lands. In 1846 they appear to have steered through Peel Channel, until beset by the ice off King William Land, on the 12th of September. In May 1847 Lieutenant Graham Gore and Mr. des Voeux landed and erected a cairn a few miles south of Point Victory, depositing in it a document which stated that on that day all were well, with Sir John Franklin in command. Within a month, however, -- that is, on the 11th of June, -- that great navigator died; happily for him, as he thus escaped the terrible trials which overtook his followers. The ice did not break up, and they were doomed to a third winter in the Polar wilderness. It proved fatal to nine officers and fifteen men. On April 22, 1848, the survivors, one hundred and five in number, under the command of Captains Crozier and Fitzjames, abandoned their ice-bound ships, and started for the Great Fish River."85
Down the west coast of King William Island, Crozier and Fitzjames led the men. (See Map) At about half way between Point Victory and Point Herschel a significant discovery was made. Material lay all about, poking out of the snow. In particular, there was a piece of wood sticking out.
"... it proved to be a portion of one of the boats. This stood upon a heavy sledge, and contained a couple of skeletons. The one in the bottom of the stern-sheets was covered with a quantity of cast-off clothing; the other, in the bows, seemed to have been that of some unfortunate who had crept there to look out, and in that position had fallen into his last sleep. Close at hand stood a couple of guns, loaded and ready cocked, probably for use against wild animals. Around this boat lay another heap of cast-off articles; and it is assumed that the party in charge of her were returning to the ships, having found their strength unequal to the terrible journey before them. The stronger members of the crews, meanwhile, went on their dreary way."86
Franklin was directed by the Admiralty
"to throw overboard daily a copper cylinder, containing a paper stating the ship's position. It was also understood that he would cause piles of stones or signal-posts to be erected on conspicuous headlands at signal-posts to be erected on conspicuous headlands at convenient times ..."87
It would not appear that Franklin followed the directions of the Admiralty: no cairns were likely built, at least none that were ever discovered. The building of cairns is, as Traill wrote, "one of the most important duties of an Arctic explorer."88 The scenario faced by Franklin was much like that of McClure. In 1850, on a search for Francklin, McClure was in command of the Investigator. She came in from the west and ended up coming upon the western shores of Banks Island. (See Map) The Investigator became frozen in at Mercy Bay, Banks Island. While the Investigator had to be left behind, McClure and his party were rescued by a ship that was in these waters at the time, Resolute. The Resolute was under the command of McClintock. McClintock, coming in from the east, in 1852, found on the south shore of Melville Island (Winter Harbour), one of McClure's cairns. It was a clue, a pointer, which was followed up the following summer, to the relief of McClure and his men. Thus the scenario for McClure was much like that of Franklin's. The difference was that McClure built cairns, one of which led to his rescue.

There is another arctic voyage to which we are obliged to refer, which shows another defect in the approach that Franklin (or rather his officers at the end of it) took to extricate themselves. This was the voyage of the Victory undertaken by John Ross beginning in 1829. Ross and his fellow explorers spent three successive winters on the east coast of the Boothian Peninsula. (See Map) This was because the Victory got stuck in the ice. During their time there, however, Ross and his men carried out land searches which included explorations on King William Island; on the west coast of this island Ross built a cairn or monument on Point Victory, a cairn which figures very much into our larger story. Ultimately, the Victory was abandoned in the frozen waters of Victoria Harbour. The party then proceeded in May and June 1832 to cover a distance of over two hundred miles to Fury Beach, where a great load of stores had been deposited by William Parry in 1825. The Ross party wintered at Fury Beach and the next season going along in their whaleboats John Ross and his men were rescued by another ship. Of course, what historians have asked, Is, Why did not the men of the Erebus and the Terror do what Ross did? Checking a map one will see that the distances were about the same. Instead they elected to go south after abandoning their ships. Fury Beach, which still would have had crates of frozen supplies left by Parry, ought to have been their objective!

Though there likely is a number of causes for the loss of Franklin and his people, two stand out. First there were the tin cans of food which was put on Franklin's ships in great quantities. Researchers, those who examined the remnants of Franklin's first winter at Beechey Island, determined that a number of them were defective. They were not as air tight as they must be. (There were more empty cans found at Beechey Island than ever could have been used by these men during the first winter; seems plain, that upon opening the contents, for many, the contents had become putrid and the men immediately threw these cans away.) So too, because lead was used to seal the cans when they were manufactured, it is suspected that a number of the men likely came down with "lead poisoning." Further, no thought, it appears, was given to exploring their immediate environment, let alone, critical as it turned out, were they trained or equipped so that they might be able to rescue themselves overland. The other problem, identified by Traill, was that their sledges and equipment were too heavy for travel in the arctic. The men were attempting to go south overland and carried, dragged and pushed an "a quantity of articles of one description and another truly astonishing in variety" which was to these sick and tired men but a "mere accumulation of dead weight."89

Traill continued to point that there was hardly any food supplies in the boat, "neither biscuit nor meat." A number of silver spoons and forks were found "with the initials or crests of various officers of the expedition, eight of them bearing the crest of Sir John Franklin." Trail located the spot where the boat was discovered. It "was about 50 miles as a sledge would travel from Point Victory, and therefore 65 miles from the position of the abandoned ships. On the other hand, it was 70 miles from the skeleton of the steward and 150 miles from Montreal Island, the limit of McClintock's southward search." (See Map) Traill speculated that such a sledge and boat would have had to have "some twenty or thirty men" in harness to pull the heavy load. Yet, only the two skeletons were found. What became of this group? Were they pushing on without the boat, or was there a determination made to go back to the ships, hoping that the ice might break up in the coming summer - even though the ships had not moved for near two years. Who knows?

Overall, the question must be asked - Was Franklin up to the job?

"For Crozier, whose powers of personnel were limited to choosing his personal steward, there was a new sense of isolation and awkwardness; in a letter posted to Ross from Greenland he lamented that he had 'no congenial spirit' on board the Terror. Though he admired Franklin, he wondered whether his commander was truly fit for the rigors of the ice, which – in terms of commanding a Naval vessel – Franklin had not experienced in nearly thirty years, since his service under Buchan in 1818. Again to Ross, he expressed private doubts about Franklin’s judgment, concluding that 'I fear we will blunder in the ice.' Most of all, he badly felt the absence of Ross, to whom he wrote in his last letter 'I wish you were here, I would then have no doubt as to our pursuing the proper course.'"90
McClintock, in his little Fox, discovered - outside of Beechey Island - more than any of the others that had proceeded him - though likely, he built on their discoveries (or non-discoveries). It is to be remembered that there were numerous expeditions that had been sent out prior to McClintock, including large British war ships sponsored by the government, often in pairs. The problem was that most of these discovery ships just moved through the water and ice. What was necessary, was to get off the ships and search the shores in sledges and dogs with appropriate dress, equipment and supplies for arctic travel; which is how McClintock went about it.

Map of the routes of the <I>Gjoa</I> (1903) and the <I>Larson</I> (1940-44

Another polar explorer who had learned the ways of the natives of the far north, was the Norwegian Roald Amundsen. Amundsen was the first to sail through the Northwest Passage in 1903-1906. He did so in a small ship91 called the Gjoa. The trick was to follow Franklin's track down Peel Strait, and then, rather then proceeding further down the Victoria Strait on the west side of King William Island, as Franklin did, Amundsen went down to the east side of it through the James Ross Strait. (Franklin, likely thought that King William Land could have been a peninsula of the mainland; and, if so, he stood a chance of being dead-ended if he had proceeded down the east coast. So down the the ice choked Victoria Strait Franklin went, there to meet his end.) (See separate Map) Amundsen knew the difference, and went down the east side of King William Island, through Rae's Strait (discover by Rae in 1854) and from there to the open waters that are to be found along the North American northern coast. More recently, Henry Larsen (1899-1964) in the RCMPV St. Roch, as is shown in the map to the right, transversed the Northwest Passage, 1940-44; one way then the other.

As sad as the story is, Franklin's loss brought on arctic exploration that would have not taken place for many, many years after the Loss of the Franklin Expedition.92 Without the British expeditions to find Franklin, it is questionable whether the modern state of Canada could assert its claim, as it indeed does, of sovereignty over the large area cover by the Arctic Archipelago. The British territory in northern North America, on Canada becoming a nation onto itself, was handed over to the new country. Though international law93 plainly supports Canada's claim to the Arctic Archipelago, not everyone agrees, most certainly the United States does not. American ships (including nuclear submarines) breeze in, around and under the waters of the Arctic Archipelago and do not feel that any particular permission from Canada is required.94

- End


Found this material Helpful?


Peter Landry