Sunday, 14 September 2014

Sir John Franklin's Lost Ship Discovered

One of the greatest mysteries of the Victorian era of exploration has been solved this week, with the remains of former Tasmanian Lieutenant-Governor Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated 1845 voyage to the Northwest Passage discovered on the ocean floor off Canada. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently announced sonar had captured images of one of the vessels, following a government-sponsored hunt that began in 2008. The discovery of the wreck was confirmed on Sunday, Sept. 7, 2014, using a remotely operated underwater vehicle recently acquired by Parks Canada. Details of where exactly the ship was found have not yet been released.

Sonar Image - Parks Canada

In 1845, celebrated former Tasmanian lieutenant Governor Sir John Franklin vanished during a voyage on the edge of the Arctic Circle north of Canada. Sir John Franklin led the two ships and 129 men in 1845 to chart the Northwest Passage in the Canadian Arctic. The expedition's disappearance shortly after became one of the great mysteries of the age of Victorian exploration. Franklin, who served as a reformist leader of island colony from 1836 until his removal in 1843, led an expedition of two ships and 129 men to the Arctic two years later but the explorers vanished soon after.

Sonar Image - Parks Canada

Franklin was searching for a way through the Northwest Passage, hoping to find a northern sea link between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. The loss of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror prompted one of largest searches in history, running from 1848 to 1859. The mystery has gripped people for generations, in part because no one knows for sure exactly what happened to the crew. Experts believe the ships were lost when they became locked in the ice near King William Island and that the crews abandoned them in a hopeless bid to reach safety.

Sir John Franklin's wife spearheaded an attempt to find him, launching five ships in search of her husband and even leaving cans of food on the ice in the desperate hope he would find them. Stories gleaned from the local indigenous people, the Inuits, suggest the expedition became locked in ice and perished. In desperation, it was claimed the stranded party resorted to cannibalism. However, Lady Jane Franklin refused to accept her husband met such a horrid fate and continued raising money to fund searches many years after he was last heard from and long after most authorities had given up hope of his survival. Despite a great number of search expeditions over the following decade, no sign had ever found of the HMS Erebus or the HMS Terror.

Three bodies discovered over a century later in the 1980s were found to have a high lead content and to this day, many people believe the 129 crew members were poisoned by leaking lead in their poorly soldered tin cans. More recent research suggests the canned food supplied to Franklin was not acidic enough for that to happen and the lead was more likely to have come from the internal pipe system on the ships.

The search resulted in the discovery of the Northwest Passage, which runs from the Atlantic to the Pacific through the Arctic Archipelago. The discovery of Franklin's vessels is considered one of the most sought-after prizes in marine archaeology. A team of Canadian divers and archaeologists has been trying to find the ships since 2008.

Sir John and Lady Jane were in Van Diemen’s Land between 1836 and 1843 and left an enormous legacy, establishing a museum, university and helping develop the island’s reputation beyond that of a penal colony. Their contribution to Tasmanian society is significant and positive. Franklin’s legacy is still visible in Tasmania today, with both a river and village named after him and his wife, his statue a prominent feature of Hobart’s Franklin Square, while University of Tasmania residential college Jane Franklin Hall was named after his widow.

Main Text written by Duncan Abey - “The Mercury” newspaper, September 11 2014
Extra text from BBC World news - Fabled Arctic Ship Found
Extra text from “The Mercury” September 11 2014 - Ice Thaws on Franklin Find

Sir John Franklin Biographies & Historic Photos
Wikipedia - Sir John Franklin
Australian Dictionary of Biography - Sir John Franklin

Alison Alexander’s Book – The Ambition of Jane Franklin - Jane Franklin

Video from CBC's "The National" Youtube Channel