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Voyages of John Franklin

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Jan 1, 2022
article - Voyages of John Franklin

Sir John Franklin (1786-1847) was a British Royal Navy officer and explorer of Arctic North America who also served as Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen’s Land (now called Tasmania) from 1837 to 1843.

. . . Voyages of John Franklin . . .

Supposed route of Franklin’s expedition 1845-48

He led three expeditions between 1819 and 1845, disappearing on his last, an attempt to chart and navigate the Northwest Passage on HMS Erebus and HMS Terror.

The expedition set sail from Greenhithe on the morning of 19 May 1845, with a crew of 24 officers and 110 men. The ships stopped briefly in Stromness harbour in the Orkney Islands in northern Scotland, and from there they sailed to Greenland with HMS Rattler and a transport ship, Baretto Junior; the passage to Greenland took thirty days. After a few early fatalities, the two ships and their crews, a total of 129 officers and men, became icebound in Victoria Strait near King William Island in the Canadian Arctic, in what is today the territory of Nunavut. After being icebound for more than a year, Erebus and Terror were abandoned in April 1848, by which point Franklin and nearly two dozen others had died. The remaining members of the expedition, now led by Franklin’s deputy Francis Crozier and Erebus’ captain James Fitzjames, set out for the Canadian mainland, and were never seen alive again.

Pressed by Franklin’s wife, Jane, Lady Franklin, and others, the Admiralty launched a search for the missing expedition in 1848. Prompted in part by Franklin’s fame and the Admiralty’s offer of a finder’s reward, many subsequent expeditions joined the hunt, which at one point in 1850 involved eleven British and two American ships. Several of these ships converged off the east coast of Beechey Island, where the first relics of the expedition were found, including the graves of three crewmen.

An independent rescue mission, led by Scottish Arctic explorer John Rae in 1854, were the first Europeans to visit and map the strait between King William Island and the Boothia Peninsula (today named Rae Strait), while searching for Sir John Franklin’s 1845 lost expedition and the Northwestern Passage itself (any of these prizes would be surely be extra handy, financially, for him); Franklin’s ships actually sank around this island, on a correct passage route. Rae came to map the whole passage, but came short of resources to complete the journey, and earned the enmity of Lady Franklin (and the British system) for his correct reports about Franklin’s death and cannibalism among the survivors. British tireless efforts to glorify Sir John and his crew meant that Rae and the evidence he discovered were effectively damnatio memoriae’d by them. Roald Amundsen, however, came to study and emulate his explorer’s approach.

  • 51.4811-0.0055561 National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, UK. Its collections hold many items related to Franklin. (updated May 2020)
“Discoverer of the North West Passage”, Waterloo Place, London
  • Statues of Franklin. A statue of Franklin outside the Athenaeum Club in London bears the inscription: “Discoverer of the North West Passage”. A statue of Franklin and in the High Street of his home town, Spilsby (Lincolnshire), bears a similar inscription. (updated May 2020)
  • -42.8775147.3361111 Franklin Square, Hobart, Tasmania. This oak-lined public space in Central Hobart is named after him. Between voyages, he served as Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen’s Land (as Tasmania was then known) from 1837 to 1843. The centrepiece of the park is a statue of him, with an epitaph by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. (updated May 2020)
  • Wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site (near King William Island, about 70 km west by boat from Gjoa Haven, Nunavut, Canada). It protects the wrecks of HMS Erebus (discovered in 2014) and HMS Terror (2016), the two ships of Sir John Franklin’s last expedition. The site is jointly managed by Parks Canada and the local Inuit people. Public access to the site is not permitted as of 2020. However, on 5 September 2019, passengers of Adventure Canada on MS Ocean Endeavour were permitted to visit the site of the wreck of HMS Erebus as part of a trial by Parks Canada in creating a visitor experience for the wreck site. (updated May 2020)
Model of Erebus trapped in the ice, Nattilik Heritage Centre, Gjoa Haven, Nunavut
Ship’s bell recovered from the wreck of HMS Erebus, Nattilik Heritage Centre, Gjoa Haven, September 2019
  • 68.6239-95.87151 Nattilik Heritage Centre, Gjoa Haven, King William Island, Nunavut, Canada. There is a plan to expand this centre to include the history of the lost expedition, and artefacts from the wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. The toponym “Gjøa Haven”, bestowed by Amundsen on September 1903, may underline the fact that he (unlike his British rivals) studied John Rae’s writings while planning his trip, and chose to emulate his exploring methods. (updated May 2020)

. . . Voyages of John Franklin . . .

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. . . Voyages of John Franklin . . .