Ship from Lost Arctic Expedition Found
In 1845, Sir John Franklin led two ships and 129 men on an expedition in the Canadian Arctic to find the famed Northwest Passage, linking the Atlantic to the Pacific through Arctic waterways. The expedition was lost with all hands, the ships never seen again. Since then finding the lost ships, the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, has been one of the biggest challenges of maritime archaeology.
A Canadian team has just announced that they have found one of the two ships (although they have no way of knowing which one).
“I am delighted to announce that this year’s Victoria Strait expedition has solved one of Canada’s greatest mysteries, with the discovery of one of the two ships belonging to the Franklin Expedition,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement.
The team has been searching since 2008. During this years expedition their sonar images returned the clear shape of a ship in Victoria Strait near King William Island. It is likely that the other ship is nearby and so may be found soon. The researchers hope the ships will contain preserved information about the expedition.
In the 1980’s archaeological expeditions to King William Island discovered artifacts and remains of the crew, including frozen mummies with preserved soft tissue. Analysis of the bones and tissue found they suffered from lead poisoning. It is possible that a combination of lead poisoning and scurvy contributed to the crew’s death. Lead poisoning can impair brain function, and so the decision-making of the crew may have been impaired. It is clear that after their ships became locked in ice, they abandoned the ships and set out over the ice where they eventually died.
The discovery of one of the Franklin expedition ships opens up the possibility of reconstructing the fate of the Franklin expedition and crew in much greater detail.