Death in the Ice, the mystery of the Franklin expedition

This is the title of the special exhibition at the Canadian Museum of History in Ottawa that we went to visit.

The exhibit is well worth seeing even for us who have spent the last couple years reading every book published about Arctic exploration. The thing is that seeing the artifacts for real and almost touching some of them was incredible. It seems to make our attempt at transiting the NWP more intimidating and more eerie. There is still much that we don’t know about what truly happened by King William Island from 1846 to 1848.

I am adding a few pictures taken there and the chronology of events.

China from the Terror and Bell from the Erebus


In 1845, when Sir John Franklin left Britain in command of the Royal Navy’s most ambitious Northwest Passage expedition.

May 19, 1845: The Franklin Expedition departed from Greenhithe, near London, England.

July 4, 1845: The ships arrived at the Whale Fish Islands, Greenland, after a stormy Atlantic crossing.

July 12, 1845: Officers and crewmembers mailed their last letters home.

July 29 or 31, 1845: HMS Erebus and Terror were sighted in Baffin Bay by whaling ships. This was the last time the ships and their crews were seen by Europeans.

Winter 1845 to 1846: The expedition spent its first winter in the Arctic off Beechey Island. Three members of the crew died, and were buried on Beechey Island.

Summer 1846: The expedition headed south into Peel Sound.

September 1846 to Spring 1848: The ships were beset — surrounded and stuck in ice — northwest of King William Island.

June 11, 1847: Sir John Franklin died. He was 61 years old and had served in the Royal Navy for 47 years.

April 22, 1848: The expedition had been stuck off of King William Island for over a year and a half. Fearing they would never escape, the men deserted the ships.

Food tin no longer thought to be responsible for death of the crew by lead poisoning.

April 25, 1848: The men landed on King William Island. Nine officers and 15 seamen had already died. There were 105 survivors. Officers left a note stating their plan to trek to the Back River.

January 20, 1854: Franklin’s Expedition is missing for more than eight years. The Admiralty announce that its officers and men will be declared dead as of March 31, 1854.

1847–1880: More than 30 expeditions sailed, steamed or sledged into the Arctic from the east, west and south. Very few found any trace of the expedition.

2008: A renewed search for Franklin’s ships began under the leadership of Parks Canada.

September 1, 2014: An important clue is found on an island in Wilmot and Crampton Bay: an iron davit pintle (fitting). Parks Canada refocuses its efforts near that island.

September 2, 2014: 167 years after the British Admiralty’s search began, the first wreck, HMS Erebus, is found.

2016: Almost two years to the day after the discovery of Erebus, Terror is located in Terror Bay, off the southern coast of King William Island.

Summer 2018: More diving is planned to explore the wrecks.

A truly enjoyable read of the whole Franklin expedition to the Arctic, current with the latest developments and the preservation of the wrecks.

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1 Response to Death in the Ice, the mystery of the Franklin expedition

  1. Marc Owen-Flood says:

    Great photos and comments…. I love the dish ware!

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