IN the summer of 2014 Parks Canada archeologists finally found one of Sir John Franklin’s ships. The last time anyone outside of the Arctic saw Franklin or his 128 men alive was 170 years ago. The Erebus and the Terror, legendary bomb ships that the British Navy had refitted for severe Arctic service, were spotted by some whalers entering the eastern passage into Lancaster Sound. After that, they were gone.
Since then the holy grails of the Franklin mystery were Franklin’s grave, which presumably would’ve contained at least some of the captains logs, or either ship. Last summer the ping of a sonar revealed the Erebus, resting upright in 11 metres of water off the Adelaide Peninsula. Seven hours of diving brought back video of a hull in incredible condition. This year divers are going back — and it’s impossible not to speculate on what amazing things they’ll find inside.
In 1846 Francis Crozier, the captain of the Terror and second in command of the expedition after Franklin himself, left a note in a cairn at Victory Point that said Franklin was dead and 105 survivors were going to try and escape the Arctic on foot. To this point, it is the only correspondence from the expedition ever found.
In 1854 the Scottish explorer John Rae was able to confirm that Franklin’s men never managed to make it our alive. Rae gathered information from some Netsilik Inuit who said they’d seen a team of “kabloonas” pulling a sledge with a boat on it. Later, they found the desperate remnants of a camp littered with dislocated bones and signs of cannibalism. One of the Inuit hunters who spoke to Rae was wearing a British officer’s cap band. They had bags of random personal items scavenged from “starvation cove:” plates, watches, a bone knife handle with the name “Hickey” etched down the side. Cornelius Hickey was a Petty Officer on the HMS Terror.
In advance of the next Parks Canada’s descents to the Erebus this spring, 90th Parallel has teamed up with Lion TV UK to make a documentary, “Franklin’s Lost Ships (April 9th on CBC’s The Nature of Things).” We’ve imagined what it must have been like for those men who tried to save themselves, ill equipped for being away from the safety and warmth of their doomed ships, left exposed to the most brutal climate on earth.
Our team did an outstanding job bringing those crew men back to life, so we could get a glimpse of how awful their finals days must have been, fending off death.