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Monday, November 10, 2014

Franklin wreck identified

Lady Jane Franklin (pictured above) would be delighted.

She was the person who instigated the Sir John Franklin-led search for the Northwest Passage in 1844. The authorities weren't happy when she pushed her husband's eligibility: Sir John was too fat and too old -- in his sixtieth year -- but that made no difference to her plans.

She prevailed. The Navy organized the most ambition Arctic expedition to date, outfitting the 372-ton Erebus and the 325-ton Terror, and they put Sir John in charge of it, Sir Edward Parry writing to the Admiralty, "If you don't let him go, the man will die of disappointment."

They sailed on May 19, 1845, and Sir John certainly did die, taking all hands with him.  When exactly the demise took place is hard to tell, as it took two years before anyone got worried. And, of course, it was Jane who felt the first concern -- and did something about it, starting up a lobby for a rescue mission. By March 1848 she had a huge and popular following, and not only had the Admiralty caved in, offering a huge reward, but the challenge had met an enthusiastic response.  Ships set off, and most returned, and it all involved an awful lot of money.

The most successful was one of my heroes, John Rae (a terrific book about him is Ken McGoogan's Fatal Passage), who at the end of the year 1854 arrived in London with some strange articles -- crested spoons, one of sir John's medals -- that Unuit had sold him, saying that at the same time they told him even stranger stories, about white men staggering about and starving.  The Admiralty listened, gave Rae the ten thousand pound reward, and declared Franklin dead, and the matter closed.

Jane did not believe them.  Instead, she hit the roof, and kept on lobbying.  And so the searches continued .... but it took almost exactly another 160 years before even one of the ships was found.

And now, courtesy of the Globe and Mail, we know what ship it was.  It was the flagship. The 372-ton Erebus. 

With thanks to Martin Evans.

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