Arctic shipwreck found after 170 years




That is really cool. Apparently there is some possibility of surviving daguerrotypes on the ship, which would be amazing.


I’m impressed they had sonar!


In Baffin’s Bay where the whale-fish blow
The fate of Franklin no man can know
The fate of Franklin no tongue can tell
Lord Franklin with his seamen does dwell.

Franklin’s last arctic exploration is mostly famous for being ridiculously badly equipped, with precious metal plates, cutlery and tea service and improperly preserved food. (This despite him serving on three previous arctic expeditions, all of which I think were at least slightly disastrous.)

The first few dozen times I heard Stan Rogers’ “Northwest Passage” I did not know that “the hand of Franklin” is a geographic feature, and I was imaging a frozen, possibly gnawed hand jutting out of a snowdrift.


Badly equipped from our perspective, but I think they thought of themselves as very well equipped at the time. Clearly they were wrong.

It’s hard to imagine ‘not knowing’ about the Arctic from our point of view, but for them it was unknown territory. Their ignorance of what was to come is obvious in retrospect, but I think we should give them a little credit for trying something truly epic.


I heard an interview yesterday with someone who knew a lot about the expedition (I think a descendant of one of the members). He said that Royal Navy ships of the time carried brass or copper tubes that could be sealed to contain the ship’s log and other documents - the black box recorders of their day. Finding one of these would be the holy grail for Franklin historians, and given the condition of the ship there is a decent chance of that happening.


That sonar image is impressive. I had no idea sonar had come such a long way.




Just have to use the opportunity to mention Dan Simmons “The Terror” here, as a great book (regardless of how you feel about Simmons himself). Almost sad to have them find the ship–the book was so good I prefer to think it was true accounting of what happened–blood-thirsty polar bear demi-god and all.


Badly equipped from the perspective of Franklin’s contemporaries, as I recall. And remember this was Franklin’s last expedition - he had three previous ones, at least one of which was notably disastrous, with over 50% casualties.

Totally agree! And in a way, Franklin’s mistakes are oddly endearing; they sort of typify the indomitable Victorian Gentleman Explorer, who is always dressed and equipped entirely inappropriately for his surroundings, yet possessed of enormous chutzaph and daring. Sort of like Mary Kingsley traveling darkest Africa wearing a bombazine bustle and carrying an American revolver in her clutch, you know?


Inuit in the area have known the approximate resting place of the ship for a long time. The story was passed down between generations in their oral tradition. They wouldn’t have known where to start using sonar without the information. It was only in 2008 that anyone searching for the ship bothered to ask the Inuit. Here’s hoping that the discovery will benefit the Nunavut population, and not just be an image booster for the PM.


People dislike Dan Simmons? I liked Hyperion even though the sequel didn’t wow me as much. 'The Terror" sounds pretty fun.


Oh, yeah. I’ve never bothered to delve deep, but mention his name and usually “wing nut” and “islamiphobe” are soon to follow.

I’m right with you on Hyperion. Loved it, but loved the sequels progressively less. I enjoyed"The Terror" the best though–completely captured me in its tense, dark mood–I remember feeling cold as I read it was so immersive. Not sure, though, that "fun’ is the right word for it.

Sort of gave up on him after reading “Song of Kali”, though, which I absolutely hated, although I hear “Carrion Comfort” is also very worth reading…


Kind of a Scott Card effect, huh. Had no idea.


There seems to be at least some disagreement there. FTA:

According to [maritime and shipwreck historian James] Delgado, the Franklin expedition was one of the best equipped and most experienced voyages to tackle the Northwest Passage in the mid-19th century.

Edit to add: I hope the vessel they found was the Terror, if only because that makes for an awesome horror movie set-up.


Interesting! I’m working from memory, but it seems to me that they spent vast amounts of money on heavy, useless crap they never needed and a great deal of their provisioning was canned meat, which was essentially a bleeding edge, unreliable technology at the time. They weren’t carrying enough scurvy preventatives, either, as I recall, but then again maybe my memory stinks.

I’ll give him most experienced, sure! And if by best equipped they mean “most costly” I could go with that too… I guess I’d be interested to see his criteria. It’s been ten years or more since I read up on polar exploration, I think. I was always fascinated by Franklin (and more recently by F. Alton Wade the Antarctic explorer).


I’m not sure if canning technology on the whole was considered an unreliable technology at the time, but it does sound like this particular batch was a poor quality rush job. From [Wikipedia][1]:

The latter was supplied from a provisioner, Stephen Goldner, who was awarded the contract on 1 April 1845, just seven weeks before Franklin set sail.[13] Goldner worked in haste on the order of 8,000 tins, which were later found to have lead soldering that was “thick and sloppily done, and dripped like melted candle wax down the inside surface”.

I remember watching one of those forensic documentaries (on PBS?) a few years ago where they tried to reconstruct exactly what happened. From the examination of the few crewmembers whose graves were found, it was hypothesized that lead poisoning from canned food may have impacted the long term mental state and overall health of the crew.

At any rate, they planned for three years of provisions and probably survived for a considerable time before succumbing to cold, disease and/or starvation. The poor bastards probably would have suffered less if they’d just drowned straight away.


Read it and, for a time, it scared the hell out of me. But yeah, good read, if a little long.


They’ll be banned from talking about this once people realize it suggests the world was colder back then.


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