Franklin Arctic expedition remains a mystery

August 08, 2015

King William Island (Bernd F. Laeschke – August 2010): The search for the two ships of the Franklin Arctic expedition ended without discovering the Erebus and Terror in 2010. Parks Canada said that a six-man survey team, supported by the Canadian Coast Guard vessel the Sir Wilfrid Laurier, searched about 150 square kilometers of sea floor in the Queen Maud Gulf near O’Reilly Island. The same area remained unsearched, and Parks Canada had one year left on a planned 3-year expedition to find the ships.

Captain Sir John Franklin, a Royal Navy officer and experienced explorer, left England in 1845 to traverse the last unknown section of the Northwest Passage. The two expedition ships with a crew of 128 men became trapped in ice in the Victoria Strait in the Canadian Arctic. The Admiralty launched a rescue mission three years after Franklin’s original departure, and many subsequent expeditions joined the search.

In 1859, Scottish doctor and explorer John Rae discovered relics on King William Island that were left behind by the Franklin Arctic expedition. Cut marks on human bones were seen as possible signs of cannibalism among the crew members. The combined evidence of all studies suggested that hypothermia, starvation, disease, lead poisoning, and exposure to a hostile environment lacking adequate clothing and nutrition, killed everyone on the expedition.

While the search for the 372 ton HMS Erebus and the 325 ton HMS Terror continues, the 2010 Parks Canada expedition did find the wreck of the HMS Investigator earlier in the summer. The former merchant vessel was purchased by the British Admiralty in 1848 to search for the Franklin Arctic expedition.