The No-Longer-Lost Franklin Expedition

Deborah Savage, Librarian, History & Genealogy Department,
HMS Terror and the HMS Erebus by G. Hartwick in "The Polar World," 1874
Illustration of the HMS Terror and the HMS Erebus by G. Hartwick in "The Polar World," 1874.

On Sept. 8, 2014, the Canadian Prime Minister announced that one of the ships from the doomed Franklin Expedition had been found in the Arctic. Canadian scientists have been searching for the ships since 2008. The ships eerily named the HMS Terror and the HMS Erebus, have been the object of several searches since 1848, three years after the ships left England in search of the Northwest Passage. Before 1859, over fifty search parties were launched to find the ships. The expedition leader, Sir John Franklin, became a folk hero despite the fact that both ships and all 129 crew members were lost, presumably after being locked in ice. Over the years, objects and bodies from the expedition have been found, hinting at the horrific idea that crew members survived for months and even years, falling victim to disease, hypothermia, and starvation. Local Inuit stated that some of the sailors abandoned the ships and attempted to walk out for help. It is hoped that the well-preserved ship will yield clues that will solve one of the world's most enduring shipwreck mysteries. British archaeologist William Battersby, who has written about the expedition, called the find "the biggest archaeological discovery the world has seen since the opening of Tutankhamun's tomb almost 100 years ago." The following books are a selection of volumes found in the History Department about Franklin, his infamous expedition, and the men who risked their lives searching for the ships and the crew.

Resolute, by Martin Sandler. The HMS Resolute was a British naval vessel which was sent in search of the Franklin Expedition. It became locked in Arctic Ice. The crew, more fortunate than Franklin's, was able to walk to help. A year later, an American whaling ship found the HMS Resolute and it was returned to England. After the ship was retired, Queen Victoria gave President Rutherford B. Hayes a desk made from the ship's timbers. This historical piece of furniture was featured in the iconic photo of John F. Kennedy, Jr., playing under his father's desk in the Oval Office.

Weird and Tragic Shores, by Chauncey C. Loomis. The story of Charles Hall, a Cincinnati businessman who led three search parties to the Arctic despite his lack of scientific training. He was the first Arctic explorer to live among the Inuit and learn their way of life and their survival skills. On the third voyage, funded with a grant from the United States Congress, his leadership broke down and he lost control of his 25 men. He died under mysterious circumstances, possibly poisoned. The author of this book exhumed Hall's body in 1968 and solved the mystery of Hall's demise.

The Fate of Franklin, by Roderic Owen. Written by a descendant of Franklin, who used family papers and other sources to write a masterful, comprehensive account of Sir John Franklin and his lost men.

Frozen in Time, by Owen Beattie and John Geiger. Details the authors' research parties to Beechey Island in the 1980s. Franklin's winter camp was on this bleak island, and it has long yielded numerous artifacts from the ships. The authors exhumed three sailors buried on the island and conducted autopsies to find more clues about the expedition.

Fatal Passage, by Ken McCoogan. Being an Arctic explorer was a rough job. John Rae spent several grueling winters in the Arctic in the 1840s and 1850s looking for Franklin's party. He made remarkable scientific discoveries, including finding the final link in the long-sought Northwest Passage. However, he honestly reported that local Inuit reported seeing dead white men in the area and that these starving men had resorted to cannibalism. Immediately, Franklin's widow led a smear campaign against Rae. Victorian culture was repulsed by his reports. He was discredited and ultimately forgotten.

Ice Blink, by Scott Cookman. Reconstructs the lives of the sailors and the events of the Franklin Expedition. Cookman sorts through all of the available evidence to try to answer how a technologically advanced ship and a highly experienced explorer could meet such a terrible fate.

While you are reading these grim yet fascinating tales, enjoy the final warm days of summer and appreciate a nice cold beverage. Take a moment to be grateful for all of the brave explorers who gave their lives in the name of science.