Thursday, September 11, 2014
In 1845, Captain Sir John Franklin led a major exploration of the Arctic in an attempt to traverse the last unnavigated section of the Northwest Passage. His two ships became icebound near King William Island, and the entire expedition -- which included Franklin and 128 men -- was lost.
The British desperately launched a search for the missing expedition in 1848, which at one point involved eleven British and two American ships. They found the graves of three crewmen on Beechey Island, and a few pieces of equipment. In 1854, explorer John Rae found more equipment and collected stories from Inuit who told of survivors from the Franklin party. A search party led by Francis Leopold McClintock in 1859 discovered a note left on King William Island with details about the expedition's fate.
Scientific investigation in the late 20th century revealed that the crew might have come down with tuberculosis, and gotten lead poisoning from badly soldered cans of tinned food or from the ship's fresh water system. The bones recovered from Beechley Island showed signs of cannibalism.
On September 9, 2014, a Canadian expedition announced that it had located one of Franklin's two ships. While it is not known which of the two has been located, it is preserved in very good condition, with side-scan sonar picking up even the deck planking!!!!
Sir Edwin Landseer's painting Man Proposes, God Disposes, unveiled in 1864. It depicts two polar bears, one chewing on a tattered ship's ensign, the other gnawing on a human ribcage, and is one of the more powerful imaginings of the Franklin expedition's final fate.