I’ve been away for a couple of days so this “news” is a little out of date, but while I was in London visiting my daughter I was excited to hear that one of the ships of Sir John Franklin’s 1845 Northwest Passage expedition has been found after countless searches – both at the time and in the present day using modern technology.
I wrote a biography of Franklin a few years ago called Deadly Winter, during the course of which I became fascinated by both the man and his expeditions. His final one was to seek a navigable channel along the northern coast of Canada. He took two ships, and the expedition was a well equipped and, by the standards of the day, a hi tech one. They knew the ships would get frozen into the ice during the first winter, but expected them to be freed in spring or summer so they could continue. However, the ships had to be abandoned and the men set off on foot across the ice – but none of them survived. The ships were carrying enough food to last them three years, so exactly what went wrong has always been a mystery.
I’m not sure this development will shed much more light onto the episode, unless by some miracle papers in a sealed box or tin are discovered intact. However, since most of the mystery and controversy relates to what happened after the ships were abandoned, I’m afraid even then we might not be much the wiser. The discovery of one of Franklin’s ships – they were almost identical so no one yet knows which it is – is still amazing news though and I can’t wait to hear more!