Lady Franklin's Lament (The Sailor's Dream) [Laws K9] -- Part 03

DESCRIPTION: Conclusion of the notes to "Lady Franklin's Lament (The Sailor's Dream) [Laws K9]" [Laws K9]. -- Part 02
Last updated in version 4.1
NOTES: Franklin's last expedition was mounted in 1845, with the explorer acting as commodore commanding two ships (the reinforced bomb ships H.M.S. Erebus and H.M.S. Terror). Not a single man ever returned (MSmith, p. 164). It has been argued that they must have found the Northwest Passage. But it is certain they could not travel it. Their fate would not be learned for many years, and even now, much about it is unknown.
By the late 1840s, the world was growing very concerned about the Expedition. They had been given supplies for three years -- enough that they would probably last four. (When they set out, the ships had been so full that even Franklin's cabin had been filled with canned goods; Lambert, p. 162) But that time was about up, and nothing had been heard. A vast effort was mounted to try to learn the expedition's fate.
Looking at the fuller versions of this song, including the Murray broadside, we observe that the texts detail rescue attempts but do not recount the fate of Franklin's crew. I think it nearly certain that the piece originated in this period -- probably in broadsides of 1850-1851, when almost nothing was known and before it became clear that McClintock and Rae and McClure, not Austin and Ross and Grinnell, were the most important of the searchers.
It is possible that the Murray broadside is the original of the piece; it looks like a partial adaption of another lost-sailor song (in it, Lady Franklin is seen wandering by the Humber looking for her husband!). Nearly every other version, though, is shorter and frankly better; I suspect that there is at least one other deliberate recension standing between the Murray text and the large majority of traditional versions.
This song is surprisingly accurate in its details (another indication that it is contemporary), though later texts have mangled some names badly -- e.g. I can't imagine who captains Hogg(s) and Winslow might be (Mirsky, pp. 322-324, lists all Franklin search parties; neither name is mentioned, nor anything that sounds similar). Some examples of correct references in one or another text:
"I dreamed a dream, yes I thought it true": The idea of a sailor seeing Franklin in a dream is not just fiction; one W. Parker Snow had dreamed of finding Franklin near the North Magnetic Pole (which was about right; the Pole at that time was on the western side of the Boothia Peninsula, the expedition passed quite close to it shortly before Franklin's death. Had rescuers gone straight there at the first opportunity, they might have rescued some of his men, would almost certainly have learned his fate sooner, and might even have saved one of the ships. To be sure, it didn't take much psychic ability to guess he was there, since magnetic exploration was one of the expedition's goals; Lambert, p. 142).
(There were a lot of funny coincidences like this to the tale. When James Clark Ross explored the region he called Prince William Land, he named two capes he could see in the distance "Cape Franklin" and "Cape Jane Franklin." It was near those capes that the Franklin expedition was trapped, and that Franklin died.)
Snow joined one of the searches as a result of his dream, though he was of no other significance to the search for Franklin (Berton, p. 174, etc.). He later ended up having a major row with the later explorer Charles Francis Hall about a book they both wrote, but that is another story (Sandler, p. 269; Berton, p. 370).
Lady Jane Franklin, to her discredit, tried consulting spiritualists to seek her husband (MSmith, pp. 203-205), starting with one Ellen Dawson (Brandt, p. 323). Dawson seems to have pointed to the right place in the Arctic, and to have correctly stated that there were portraits of two women (Victoria and Lady Franklin) in Franklin's cabin -- but nothing came of it. And Dawson also said Franklin was alive when he had been dead for several years (Brandt, p. 323).
Lady Jane consulted a couple of other spiritualists, and another turned up later claiming to have had accurate visions but not revealing them until after the details of the expedition's loss had been published (Brandt, p. 324). In fact, the claim used place names that hadn't even been awarded yet!
There is a third spiritual link in the Franklin story, making you wonder how anyone could call this an enlightened period: Elisha Kent Kane, who tried to reach the North Pole while pretending to search for Franklin, was involved with a "spiritualist" named Margaret Fox; her ability as a "spirit rapper," according to Berton, p. 237, was "the mould from which all future mediums were fashioned." Berton's claims that no one tried to communicate with the dead are patently false (note that Saul is reported to have brought up the shade of the Prophet Samuel in 1 Samuel 28!) but Fox perhaps did found the modern industry of making a *profession* of lying to fools stupid enough to listen to them. Supposedly Kane tried to get her out of this business, but still, he was attracted to her.
"In Baffin's Bay where the whale fish blow...": The Northwest Passage does begin from Baffin Bay -- up the Davis Strait, into the Bay, through Lancaster Sound (which separates Baffin and Devon Islands) and Barrow Strait (between Somerset Island on the south and Devon and Cornwallis Islands on the north), with several alternatives from there (the straight path is through Viscount Melville Sound and McClure Strait, but these are almost always blocked by ice (after Parry was blocked by ice in the 1820s, no one even tried McClure Strait until the Manhattan in the 1960s -- Keating, p. 109 -- and even that ship and its icebreakers eventually gave up); the best route for small boats is south through Peel Sound, passing to the east of Prince of Wales and King William Islands, and then west along the north coast of the Canadian mainland). On July 28, 1845, in Baffin Bay, the Franklin Expedition was seen for the last time by Europeans; they met the whalers Enterprise and Prince of Wales before heading into Lancaster Sound.
(Whalers, we should add, did most of the original exploring of these northern regions; indeed, it was the report of a whaler, William Scoresby, that the ice was melting in the north, that helped encourage the British voyages of exploration after the Napoleonic Wars; see Berton, pp. 24-26. Whales, and hence whalers, are common in far northern and southern latitudes, because that's where the food is -- cold water holds more dissolved oxygen than warm.)
"Three ships of fame": Franklin's expedition of course consisted only of two ships, Erebus and Terror, but they had initially had the supply ship Barretto Junior along; it turned back before they went on the ice. In addition, H.M.S. Rattler, famous for being an early screw steamer, accompanied them as they left England; Cookman, p. 74. Some versions say he had only two ships anyway.
It is ironic to note that the skipper of the Barretto Junior was among the first to call for a rescue expedition (Lambert, p. 182), but the mere fact that he had been the last to talk to Franklin at length carried no weight at all; most sources don't even mention his concerns.
The two ships that went to the ice were indeed famous, given their Antarctic adventures with James Clark Ross; Mt. Erebus and Mt. Terror in Antarctica are named for them. Terror also participated in the bombardment of Fort McHenry that gave rise to "The Star-Spangled Banner"; as a bomb ship, she would have been responsible for at least some of the "bombs bursting in air." Since Terror had been part of George Back's arctic expedition of 1836, and both had been to the Antarctic with James Clark Ross, they were already adapted for arctic service, and were selected because they would need relatively little modification.
Indeed, according to Lambert, p. 134, the Franklin expedition to the passage was intended as a complement to the Ross expedition, involving a quick visit to the north magnetic pole to go with Ross's mapping of the southern pole; the idea (Lambert, p. 142) was to take measurements with more accurate data than Ross had had at the time of his earlier visit to the northern pole. Terrestrial magnetism at this time was a science of observation, not experiment (Brandt, p. 285, quotes the astronomer John Herschel on this point); the theorists desperately wanted more data.
But this is where 1840s technology became a problem. Bombs were immensely strong; no ships in use were better designed to withstand the pressure of the ice; they had been used for exploration as early as Middleton's expedition a century earlier (Williams-Delusion, pp. 62-64; Williams-Labyrinth, p. 101).
But bombs -- tubby, heavy, low-riding vessels -- were probably the slowest class of ships in the navy, and the modifications for Arctic service, which added to their weight and put them lower in the water, made them slower still. Almost painfully slow. Terror was particularly bad (during the Antarctic expedition, Ross in Erebus often had to shorten sail to let Crozier's ship catch up; MSmith, p. 84). Terror even before her refit was capable of only nine knots before the wind and five when close-hauled (Cookman, p. 74). Those figures probably fell by a third as refitted for arctic service.
It was hoped that steam might provide the answer -- Franklin himself said that the benefits of steam were "incalculable" (Williams-Labyrinth, p. 268). The two ships had revolutionary engines -- removable screw propellers powered by locomotive engines -- but the supply of coal was finite and could not be replaced, and the engines developed only a few dozen horsepower anyway. This was the result of Barrow's hurrying the expedition along; the Admiralty had little time to fit engines more suited to the actual ships.
And locomotive engines had a tradition in steamships -- the first iron steamboat had been powered by a locomotive engine (Fox, p. 142). Even the idea of transatlantic steamships was new; the first such was the Great Western, which had been designed in the 1830s and sailed in 1838 (Fox, pp. 74-80). But she was a paddlewheeler, which was clearly unsuitable for work in icy waters. So there was little practical experience to guide those who rebuilt the ships; they worked with the materials at hand. The result was that their engines gave them a speed of only about four knots (Cookman, p. 41; MSmith, p. 149, notes that Terror even on her test run under steam reached only four knots, implying that she would be slower still in field conditions).
Franklin's Erebus and Terror were not the first ships to use steam power in the Arctic -- Victory, sailed by John Ross in 1829, also used steam. But Ross supposedly hadn't told the people who had designed the engine how it would be used (Stein, p. 10,) and Ross found the engine so useless in arctic conditions that he actually yanked it out of his ship in 1830! (Fleming-Barrow, p. 283; Edinger, p. 33, mentions the curious fact that Ross didn't just toss the engine overboard, but carefully disassembled it and had it carried to a beach nearly a mile away. This was nice for historians -- Delgado, p. 91, shows a photo of some of the parts still by the seaside -- but a rather pointless burden for the crew. Ross's adventures inspired at least one song, "The Bold Adventures of Captain Ross," found in C. H. Firth, Publications of the Navy Records Society , 1907, p. 331, available in Google Books, though this shows some pretty substantial errors).
Steam technology had improved since then -- notably in the replacement of paddlewheels with screw propellers -- but steam engines were still not mass-produced; each had its own peculiar characteristics. And Cookman argues that the engines used coal that the expedition needed for heating. Erebus and Terror would be slow to make the passage even under ideal circumstances -- and ideal conditions never happen in the Arctic, and the ships were very unhandy if there were a need for fast maneuvering.
John Ross argued strongly that an Arctic expedition should use smaller, more nimble ships -- but no one listened to him. Lambert, p. 160, argues that small ships could not have done the magnetic studies that helped justify the voyage.
There was another drawback to the steam engines: They were not interchangeable. It had been settled policy for decades to send two nearly-identical vessels on exploring missions (Savours, p. 115; Williams-Labyrinth, p. 214); this meant that they could sail the same passages, move at the same speed, and exchange parts at need -- plus, if one ship sank, its crew would be able to fit on the other. Indeed, Erebus and Terror were close to identical as originally built. But there was no way they could swap engine parts. We have no reason to think it mattered -- but, with the fragmentary information we have, we can't prove it didn't, either.
Plus engine installation took up most of the preparation time allotted for the mission (Lambert, p. 156). This left less time to prepare the crew -- and, indeed, to recruit them, since the officers were worrying about what was being done to their ships!
Plus all that iron in the hold made magnetic measurements much more difficult (Lambert, p. 156). This may indicate some confusion of the mission -- was it scientific or exploratory?
Another side-effect of the hasty throwing-together of the expedition was the lack of a backup plan. Voyages to the Arctic *did* end in disaster -- as Ross's Victory expedition had shown; given supplies for only a year and a half, they spent four years on the ice, surviving only because of the caches left on Fury Beach years before by Parry. Ross had known about them, and planned all along to use those supplies -- though hardly intending to use them to survive two extra winters! (For details on how Victory was trapped, see Edinger, pp. 123-128; for her abandonment, pp. 170-177.) Franklin had no such emergency cache, and no backup route home -- and, like Ross, his ships would be iced in for more than one winter.
"Captain Perry of high renown": Not one of Franklin's officers; Captain F. R. M. Crozier commanded the Terror, which had also been his ship during Ross's Antarctic expedition, while the slightly newer and larger Erebus was under the immediate direction of Commander James FitzJames.
The choice of FitzJames, who had never been to the Arctic, was interesting. Battersby, p. 7, notes that he hid his family, and on pp. 23-27 concludes that FitzJames was illegitimate -- obviously a bar to promotion.
Yet he was so promising (Battersby, p. 43, notes that even as a teenager he was fluent in three languages and skilled in mathematics) and so well-versed in current technology that Secretary Barrow had thought about giving him command of the expedition (at least, that's the usual explanation for Barrow's favor toward him, an explanation which Battersby, p. 186, says goes back to Sir Clements Markham, whom he accuses of making it up; Battersby's own explanation involves an unknown favor Fitzjames had done for Barrow's son). But Fitzjames was considered too young at 33 (Sandler, p. 72; Cookman, pp. 55-57); MSmith, p. 138, is scathing about this nomination, which he thinks naked favoritism by Barrow, but none of the other authors seem to have thought him unfit, although Lambert observes his lack of magnetic experience -- but argues on p. 158 that Franklin, who was good at delegating authority, would be able to cover for that.
Instead, he was given the post of Commander aboard Erebus, where Franklin flew his flag -- making him, in effect, her captain, since Franklin would be commanding the whole expedition.
"Captain Perry" refers rather to the aforementioned William Edward Parry (1790-1855), an explorer active mostly from 1819-1825 -- and one of the best in terms of ground covered and casualties avoided; his first voyage had discovered Barrow Strait and Viscount Melville Sound and made it farther west than any expedition for more than thirty years. He, like James Clark Ross, had been offered command of the Franklin expedition -- and turned it down; he was long since done with adventure.
"Captain Ross": Either John Ross or his nephew James Clark Ross. The elder Ross, who led expeditions in 1818 and then commanded the aforementioned Victory expedition of 1829 (the primary subject of Edinger), had harmed the quest for the Passage by erroneously stating that Lancaster Sound was a closed inlet.
John Ross's four-year second expedition (1829-1833 -- the one that resulted in him tossing his steam engine on the beach) learned survival techniques that the Franklin expedition ignored to its cost -- but also produced a distorted map of King William Island, with what proved fatal consequences (Delgado, p. 93; Fleming-Barrow, p. 288; Mirsky, pp. 132-133; a copy is on p. 247 of Brandt and p. 238 of Williams-Labyrinth. Ross's map is very hard to read at this scale, but the map on p. 273 of Williams-Labyrinth makes it clear exactly what Franklin thought he had to deal with).
At 72, John Ross led an expedition to find Franklin in 1850 -- but found nothing, and came back with a third-hand report from Greenland that the entire Franklin party was dead. That was, in fact, true, but the details of the report were entirely wrong, and were (properly) ignored. Indeed, other interviews with the same source found that Ross had gotten the story all wrong (Brandt, p. 330). Lady Franklin bitterly remarked that, if she could have done so, she would have put after her name in the subscription list for Ross's expedition, "with a deep sense of gratitude to Sir John Ross for murdering her husband" (Edinger, p. 249). Nonetheless, the Admiralty sent more expeditions; they just didn't send Ross. He died in 1856.
Ross the younger, who had served under his uncle and under Parry, commanded Erebus and Terror on their Antarctic expedition (1839-1843), making many discoveries including the Ross Sea and Ross Ice Shelf (which were named for him). Though Ross had refused to command the Passage expedition of 1845 (in part because he had an irrational dislike of steamers; Stein, p. 12), he took a turn hunting for his friends Franklin and Crozier in 1848-1849 (and broke his health in the process).
"Captain Austin": Horatio T. Austin of HMS Resolute, one of the search vessels. A man of great experience and courage (Sandler, p. 115), he nonetheless proved a not very inspiring leader. Lambert, p. 198, says he was "a skillful and human leader, but his party found little more than scraps because they were looking in the wrong places." Clements Markham, a midshipman on the expedition, describes him as small and stout, an advocate of steam, a "great talker," "genial and warm-hearted," "fond of detail," and having "wide knowledge, though he was a little narrow in his views. But for managing the internal economy of an expedition... he was admirable" (Savours, p. 205).
He had been to the Arctic almost thirty years before, on Parry's third expedition that resulted in the loss of H.M.S. Fury; he was now too old and heavy to lead searches, so his role had to be organizational (Williams-Labyrinth, p. 287).
Austin and Erasmus Ommaney of Assistance were the first to find any traces of the Franklin expedition, in the form of discarded supplies on Devon Island, and later three graves and other artifacts on the peninsula known as Beechey Island (Berton, p. 180). But they did not learn the expedition's fate (and met public scorn on their return home in 1851). Having concluded that Franklin could not be west of Lancaster Sound, and could not have turned south because Peel Sound was blocked, they turned north into Jones Sound, where Franklin never ventured (Savours, p. 211)
The very fact that the Austin expedition's early return is not mentioned in the earliest known broadside hints that it dates from before they made it back. Austin would not serve in the Arctic after his first mission, and spent the last years of his career in what amounted to desk jobs (Sandler, p. 252). Indeed, there was an Admiralty inquiry into the (lack of) results of the expedition (Lambert, p. 215). And Lambert, p. 202, says the narratives of the expeditions were very exciting, but the song makes no hint of this.
"[Captain] Osborn": Given its context and the timing, this might be an error for "Captain Austin," but it might refer to Sherard Osborne, who as a lieutenant commanded the Intrepid during Austin's expedition and also served under Edward Belcher during the expedition of 1852-1854. Osborn was arrested by Belcher for arguing about the commander's plans -- but it wasn't held against him, because Belcher's expedition was a disaster. Osborne later wrote a book called Stray leaves from an Arctic journal (Savours, p. 206).
(Arresting a subordinate was by no means unusual for Belcher. Savours, pp. 243-245, devotes three pages to a history of his arguments with junior officers. On p. 245, she cites a source describing which tells how Belcher *habitually* court-martialed his officers at the end of a voyage! Lambert, p. 230, quotes an admiral who told him, "A skilful navigator and a clever seaman you may be, but a great officer you can never be, with that narrow mind.")
All that can be said in defence of Belcher is that few men died on his watch. Otherwise, his expedition was an unmitigated disaster, learning nothing useful and resulting in the loss of four ships. And not to the ice -- Belcher (who had indicated little interest in the Arctic) after two years decided he had had enough, and despite the arguments of his subordinates abandoned four of his five ships, even though they were still intact. Berton, p. 244, calls him "one of... the most detested figures in the Royal Navy" and Sandler summarizes his actions as a "disgraceful performance"; p. 253. Belcher of course faced a court-martial, which concluded that his actions fell within his discretion, but they gave him back his sword "in stony silence" (Sandler, p. 145). By contrast, his subordinate Kellett was openly praised when his sword was returned (Brandt, p. 361).
Belcher was deprived of all future commands -- and his subordinate Osborn promoted for his actions (Mirsky, p. 153; Lambert, p. 246). Indeed, Osborn would campaign for expeditions to the Pole long after the Admiralty had decided to stop wasting ships and men on the Arctic.
(It was, incidentally, during Belcher's expedition that the supply ship Breadalbane was sunk off Beechey Island; MacInnis-Land, p. 38. The search for the Breadalbane was the subject of MacInnis's book; the ship was and is the northernmost known shipwreck. The ordeal of the ship shows the problems or operating in the Arctic. Erebus and Terror, despite a year and a half trapped in the ice, stayed afloat until abandoned, showing the strength of bomb ships. The unreinforced Breadalbane was not supposed to enter the ice -- but you can't avoid ice in the Arctic. Off Beechey Island, she was "nipped" by ice and sank in 15 minutes; MacInnis-Land, p. 116. Had the rest of Belcher's expedition not been based there, the entire crew would probably have been lost.)
"[Captain] Penny": Presumably captain William Penny, an experienced whaler. Lady Franklin managed to convince ("con" might be a better word) the Admiralty into sending this veteran arctic sailor on a search expedition in 1850-1851, but he didn't find much (Berton, p. 171); he was sent into Jones Sound (north of Lancaster Sound, and far away from the path Franklin had been ordered to follow; (Berton, p. 173). It was closed by ice, so he headed for Lancaster Sound, but that left him among all the other search vessels. His men were the first to find the traces on Beechey Island (Sandler, p. 115), but they would have been found soon anyway.
He then wanted to head north up Wellington Channel -- he headed back to England to argue for this and was turned down (Brandt, pp. 337-338), but even had this been permitted, that wouldn't have found Franklin either. Franklin had indeed gone up Wellington Channel and around Cornwallis Island, but he didn't stay there. Berton thinks that if Penny had had his way, it might have caused the search to be directed in a better direction (pp. 190-191), but I can't see how.
Penny ended up in a dispute with Austin, and went back to whaling after his one experience with the navy (Simpson, p. 264). It seems that Penny simply could not communicate in writing (Williams-Labyrinth, p. 195); the fact that he is mentioned here is an argument that the song was written before the results of the Austin/Penny expedition were known.
"Granville": Probably an error for Henry Grinnell, an American trader who was convinced by Lady Franklin to support the search. He paid for (but did not accompany) two expeditions; neither accomplished much except to make Elisha Kent Kane briefly famous for surviving a disaster he largely caused.
"With a hundred seamen he sailed away": Franklin's force initially totalled 134 men, one of the largest forces ever sent on an exploratory voyage; five were sent home sick before the ships entered Lancaster Sound and were the only survivors. Three of those initial losses were significant: the sailmaker from Terror and armorers (gunmakers) from both Erebus and Terror (McClintock, p. 231). The loss of the latter would make hunting for provisions much harder (and fresh food was the only way to get the Vitamin C to avoid scurvy); the loss of the former meant that the two ships -- never speedy, as we saw above -- might end up even slower.
It's perhaps worth reminding moderns, who never face scurvy, how deadly it was at the time. It affects the connective tissue especially, meaning that scars reopen; it also causes blood vessels to leak, resulting in bruises where there has been no trauma; it leaves men weak and gasping for breath, and kills when blood vessels in the brain rupture (Sobel, p. 14). For years, it had ruined crews on long voyages, opening old wounds, causing joint pains, eventually resulting in the loss of teeth as the jaws swelled up; it also affected the mind, so the victims did not realize how bad the problem was.
Scurvy is prevented by Vitamin C, but that is found primarily in fresh vegetables, and also to an extent in fresh meat (especially organ meat). Crews on sea voyages had none such, and the symptoms usually started to occur in four to six months. This is because crews lived mostly on biscuit and salt meat (as late as the Franklin search, the daily diet for sledgers consisted of 3/4 of a pound of salted meat and bacon, a pound of biscuits, a drib of many-year-old potatoes, and chocolate and tea; Savours, p. 263). By the time of the Franklin expedition, the use of lemon juice (frequently called "lime juice") was common -- but the juice loses potency over time.
Another curious fact about the expedition is that, though the crew was hand-picked, it had very little useful experience (MSmith notes that the Admiralty had given responsibility for choosing the crew to FitzJames -- ordinarily it would have been Crozier's job -- and blames him for botching it, even accusing FitzJames of "nauseous whiff of patronage"; p. 146. This was unfortunate in at least one way: It meant that the depressive Crozier had no close friends aboard the expedition; MSmith, p. 155). Apart from Franklin and Crozier, the only commissioned officer who had been to the arctic was Lt. Graham Gore of the Erebus (Fleming-Barrow, p. 373) -- and his experience was slight; he had been on George Back's disastrous expedition on the Terror, which would have taught him a lot about shipwreck but little about arctic survival. Plus he, like Franklin, would die fairly early on. Crozier was the only officer on the expedition to know about wintering in the arctic on a ship.
The crewmen were better. On paper, only about half a dozen sailors had arctic experience (Cookman, p. 61) -- but some of those who did had very extensive backgrounds indeed. Thomas Blanky, who had been first mate on John Ross's harrowing four-year expedition of 1829-1833 (Edinger, p. 244), meaning that he had more experience of wintering in the arctic than any man alive other than James Clark Ross, would go on to be Terror's Ice Master (cf. Savours, p. 127). One of the surgeons had been on whaling voyages; there was a whaling captain who served as an Ice Master (Savours, p. 178). Even the men who had not been to the Arctic -- who were the large majority -- were mostly veterans with good records.
"To the frozen ocean in the month of May": The expedition left the Thames on May 19, 1845, to arrive in Baffin Bay in June There was little point in arriving before June due to the ice, though a departure date a few weeks earlier might have allowed the expedition to make it a little farther before their first winter. At least in a normal year, though 1845 was more than usually icy (MSmith, p. 163).
Even if the ice had permitted, a departure date earlier than mid-May was impossible due to the rush with which the expedition was put together. In any case, it appears that there was ice in Barrow Straight in the first year of the Franklin expedition, causing them to make a useless circuit of Cornwallis Island before settling down to winter at Beechey Island. So to start earlier in 1845 would have done no good at all. The really strange part is that the expedition seems to have left no records on Beechey Island -- just empty cans and a few other artifacts and the three graves.
The phrase "the frozen ocean" predates this song; it is said to have been used in the early nineteenth century in a description of an attempt at the Northeast Passage (Mancall, p. 237).
"On mountains of ice their ship was drove": The phrase "mountains of ice" predates this song; Abacuk Pricket used it in his description of Henry Hudson's 1610 expedition (Mancall, p. 97), and it appears John Barrow used the wording in the period leading up the the nineteenth century explorations (Williams-Labyrinth, p. 172).
And certainly there was plenty of ice on Franklin's route. The whole Northwest Passage is around 70 degrees north; as early as 1631, Luke Foxe had proved that there was no passage south of the Arctic Circle (at least in his own mind, although some of his subordinates were dubious; Williams-Labyrinth, p. 64), and this was confirmed by explorations of the west side of Hudson Bay done in the eighteenth century.
Despite stories by men such as Juan de Fuca, the "Straits of Anian" (an easy Northwest Passage with at most a short stretch in the Arctic) had been definitively cast from the map by Samuel Hearne, who in 1771 (in the company with a party of natives) reached the mouth of the Coppermine River and became the first European to view the seas of the Arctic Archipelago. His journey proved that northern Canada was very large and contained no straights or sounds or passages (Williams-Delusion, pp. 231-233). The passage, such as it was, is all in the Arctic.
(Hearne, incidentally, was forced to witness a massacre along the way, and his sad retelling of the tale would much later inspire Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner"; McGoogan, pp. 1-3.)
Much of the Passage, including Lancaster Sound, is well north even of the Arctic Circle. Even in summer, the waters are never entirely free of ice; in winter, they all freeze over, and it's a matter of luck which ones thaw out in any given spring. (It took some time to realize this; there was a hypothesis in the nineteenth century that sea water never froze -- Williams-Labyrinth, p. 133. Ridiculous as this sounds to us, it should be remembered that this was a time when artificial refrigeration did not exist.)
Every arctic expedition at some point found itself frozen in, and those which handled their ships badly would see them crushed by the ice. Franklin was neither the first nor the last to come to grief this way, though severe weather in 1847 probably sealed the expedition's fate. (Beattie, p. 128, notes that ice cores show that "the Franklin era was climactically one of the least favorable [i.e. coldest and iciest] periods in 700 years," while MSmith, p. 179, mentions an Inuit report that "there was no summer between two winters" in the time the ships were trapped in the ice.)
The history of ships in the passage shows how deadly the ice could be. Parry's H.M.S. Fury was lost to it on his third expedition. The ice had trapped John Ross's Victory, forcing him to abandon the ship. Terror herself had nearly been wrecked in George Back's expedition of 1833-1835 -- the ice "once hurled his battered vessel forty feet up the side of a cliff" (Berton, p. 130); the ship wallowed back across the Atlantic and had to be beached on the Irish coast. Breadalbane, mentioned above, lasted only a few days in the Arctic. And H.M.S. Investigator never escaped Mercy Bay after being trapped in the Franklin search -- it was found, largely intact, in the bay in 2010 (Stein, p. 250), although so far only limited archaeological work has been done at the site.
"Only the Eskimo in his skin canoe Was the only one to ever come through": The Inuit did indeed use skin kayaks, and they did know the paths through the ice -- and, as it turned out, saw some of the Franklin refugees. They had saved John Ross's 1829 expedition, which would have perished due to starvation and scurvy without them. But not every European commander had the diplomatic skills or wisdom to work with them (no one prior to Charles Frances Hall in the 1860s really tried to make friends with them), and no one bothered to talk to them about Franklin until John Rae in 1854. Even more important, Franklin had too many men for the Inuit to be able to provide useful supplies; the natives travelled in small bands and were barely able to feed themselves even so.
"For my long-lost Franklin I'd cross the main": Lady Franklin did not physically participate in many searches (Sandler, p. 86, says that she volunteered to join John Richardson's search, only to be politely rejected), but she did in fact go to the Americas during the hunt, and during the great push starting in 1850, she was hovering around the edges of the search.
"Ten thousand pounds would I freely give": When Franklin had been gone for three years, the Admiralty offered 100 guineas for word of him -- and Lady Franklin 2000 pounds (Williams-Labyrinth, p. 279).
The amounts increased with time. The Admiralty for a while was offering twenty thousand pounds for anyone who could rescue the Franklin expedition (Williams-Labyrinth, p. 286), and half that for definitive word of Franklin's fate, but eventually dropped it, though Rae did manage to collect. (Lambert, p. 250, suggests that Rae was publicly blamed for the bad news of cannibalism he brought back, even though the officials privately accepted it; "As an outsider, a man of trade and the wild frontier, he could be hung out to dry to serve official ends, and paid off later." Brandt, p. 369, describes how the British public simply refused to accept the truth.)
Lady Franklin spent much of her limited fortune financing search parties; McClintock's final expedition, which found the key evidence telling of the expedition's fate, was relatively small mostly because of Lady Franklin's need to keep costs down (Berton, pp. 317-318): it consisted of one small ship, with the officers serving as volunteers. The exact amount she spent is unknown -- I've seen estimates as low as 3,000 pounds and as high as 35,000 (so Berton, p. 333, although that total probably includes contributions from others) -- but it was substantial.
Brandt, p. 320, observes that by about 1849 Lady Franklin was offering a thousand pounds of her own money to any whaler who found her husband. She later raised this to three thousand pounds (Brandt, p. 322). Fortunately for her, she often was able to gain free lodging and assistance on her travels because of her fame and sorrows. She devoted so much money to the quest that her rich father eventually cut her out of his will to keep her from wasting more money (Brandt, p. 326).
As noted above, Berton, pp. 202-203, and Brandt, p. 233, say that Lady Franklin brought ten thousand pounds to their marriage, and that part of the estate was one of the things he left her in his will. Thus, if she did spend ten thousand pounds, it was the entirety of her own money. (But she spent more than her own money, by every indication; Franklin had left his first wife's dowry to his daughter Eleanor, and she quarreled with her stepmother, arguing that Jane Franklin had wasted her estate.)
Lady Franklin's dedication did do some slight good for feminism: She would be the first woman to be given the Patron Medal of the Royal Geographic Society.
As we see, the song ended before the fate of Franklin was known. So what happened to him?
From what was learned later, we know that the ships were caught on the ice; eventually they were abandoned and wrecked (this was verified both by Inuit accounts and by wreckage; Collinson found some as far away as Dease Strait, some ten degrees west of where the ships went down; Savours, p. 233), but the men were unable to reach civilization.
Bad maps probably played a role. The Northwest Passage can be thought of as proceeding from Baffin Bay in four stages: The first is Lancaster Sound, then the Barrow Straight. The obvious third stage was the straight path through Viscount Melville Sound (which runs north of Victoria Island). This path, however, is usually frozen and useless; Parry had made it part way on his first voyage, but no one every sailed the full path. The more practical alternative was to head around the east and south sides of Victoria Island. No matter what the third stage, the fourth stage would be due west to the Beaufort Sea and out the Bering Strait.
The first, second, and fourth parts were known, but no one had even mapped a route for the third stage. It was known, e.g., that there was a straight path to the south of Victoria Island, but no one knew how to get make the southern connection past Victoria Island from Barrow Straight.
Franklin's first attempt at finding the third stage was an unfruitful exploration of Cornwallis Island; this led nowhere. Franklin then properly headed south through Peel Sound and past Prince of Wales island, just to the west of the Boothia Peninsula.
The question then was whether to pass east or west of King William Island, which lies in the area between the Boothia Peninsula and Victoria Island. Lambert, p. 149, suggests that the route south through Peel Sound was taken not because it was the way to the Passage but as an attempt to reach the north magnetic pole, because Franklin would have thought Peel Sound a dead end. This is dubious; it was the area by King William Island that was thought to be closed off.
As they approached King William Island, Franklin had to make a guess. And the charts he had were not only incomplete but inaccurate. John Ross had drawn a map of the area, based on his nephew James Clark Ross's explorations, which closed off the eastern passage around King William Island (which, in any case, was narrow and shallow; it would have been hard to navigate -- MSmith, p. 171). Ross even called the area "Poctes Bay," implying that he *knew* it was blocked by land. Apparently Franklin even wrote to James Clark Ross saying that he knew he could not pass that way (Lambert, p. 164). In fact, the strait east of King William Island was the only way to make the Passage.
(To add to the irony, an expedition under George Back had intended to map the relevant area while searching for John Ross, but when Ross was found, the expedition was redirected and the map never completed -- to Franklin's cost.)
Another error seemed to imply a useful passage further west which did not exist. (Lest we criticize, the Arctic Archipelago -- called the "District of Franklin" when they were still part of the Northwest Territories -- is among the hardest places on earth to map; I have an atlas from 1967 which still contains significant errors, such as showing Borden and Mackenzie King islands as one. Brant, p. 32, notes that this region was not fully mapped until the mid-twentieth century, and that mostly by air.)
Given that misinformation, Franklin chose to steer west of King William Island. That route, while short in air distance, is exposed to pack ice coming down McClintock Channel. While technically ocean, the route almost never thaws -- there is so much ice that it periodically throws floes high up on King William Island (Fleming-Barrow, p. 288; MSmith, pp. 170-171, quotes James Clark Ross's observations of the ice on the island). Franklin seems to have entered it at one of the few times when it was partly open. His ships were frozen on the ice for almost two years before they were finally abandoned.
Franklin did not live long enough to know the worst. He died, of unknown but probably natural causes, aboard Erebus on June 11, 1847; his body has not been found. His loss shouldn't have been fatal -- after all, that left the veteran F. R. M. Crozier in command.
But the loss of their paunchy admiral seemed to take something out of the expedition. Crozier, though an intelligent self-made man, had never held an independent command (Lambert, p. 338). And, somehow, he never seemed to gain any recognition (MSmith, p. 132). Plus, though reportedly respected by his crews, he is said to have been a strict disciplinarian (MSmith, p. 97) and probably was not loved.
His mental state wasn't the best, either. Crozier told the wife of another officer that he didn't expect to return alive from the Franklin Expedition (MSmith, p. 156). His last letters hint strongly at depression (Cookman, p. 54), and Lady Franklin wrote that he "seemed... ill and dispirited when he left" (Savours, p. 192). He felt, with some justice, that his record should have earned him more recognition than he had been given. Bitter and pessimistic, he was hardly the man to save a bad situation.
After being frozen off King William Island for two winters, Crozier finally abandoned the ships and tried to head back to a possible rendezvous point by the Great Fish River (now the Back River). Lambert, pp. 340-342, thinks he did not expect to succeed but had to try something. Lambert, p. 341, adds that neither Crozier nor his second in command FitzJames made any personal statement in their last record, which to him indicates that they had no hope -- but which could indicate they expected to survive.
But there would be no rescue ships at the Great Fish River , and indications are that the crew broke up into smaller groups, all of which died.
Several bodies have been found which seem to come from the Franklin Expedition -- and which show obvious signs of cannibalism (Lambert, p. 347, noting that evidence of cannibalism was found in the nineteenth century by Schwatka, and perhaps McClintock as well, as well as by twentieth century explorers, and that Rae and Schwatka and Hall all heard Inuit stories of it. Lambert, p. 348, says that the only actual question is whether the men died before being eaten, or if they were killed for their flesh. This even though Rae's tales of cannibalism were formally written out of the story by authors such as Clements Markham; Lambert, p. 326, in effect declares Markham's works historical fiction.)
The last written record of the expedition comes from the spring of 1848, as they abandoned the ships, although most of the men certainly lived somewhat longer.
In 2014, explorers finally found the wreckage of one of the ships, identified as Erebus, right where the expedition's report said it would be. It is in very good shape. In September 2016, it was announced that the Terror had been found nearby, and even entered by a remotely operated vehicle; it too is in good shape. The finds may yet reveal more about the expedition, but as of this writing, no one has announced anything particularly useful.
Franklin's problem, perhaps, could ultimately be put down to "bad luck" -- i.e. lack of actual genius; his 1819 expedition had ended in disaster through minor errors in what we would now call "staff work," and that is perhaps part of what happened here: When he needed to be inspired, he instead got bogged down, wasting time circling Cornwallis Island, failing to leave cairns to mark his progress (or building cairns but leaving no records in them; see, e.g., Savours, p. 292), and then dying before he could rectify his mistake.
(Most books seem to take a position that is either strongly pro- or anti-Franklin. I must admit that I find this hard. Of the men most qualified to know -- Parry, James Clark Ross, and Crozier -- all initially approved of his appointment; although Crozier became depressed, he had written to Ross somewhat earlier expressing his approval of Franklin; Savours, p. 178. Reading the passages from Franklin's notes compiled by Savours, pp. 169-177, it appears he was wiser about the Arctic than his superiors. And yet -- he *did* fail. My best guess is that he was a better-than-average commander for the task -- but that the task, given the weather conditions in the late 1840s, needed someone who was better than better-than-average.)
(Lambert, p. 350, would view it another way: "Franklin was neither a bungler nor an explorer. An inspirational leader, the noblest of public men, he made important contributions to polar navigation and magnetic science.... He did not 'discover' the North West Passage -- instead he discovered that Hell can be found in the hearts of men, in Van Diemen's land rather than in the high Arctic.")
All this was reconstructed from the findings of the expeditions sent to look for Franklin. There were many (Beattie, pp. 262-263, list some 17 ships sent out by 1850, plus some land expeditions; Delgado, p. 149, says that 32 expeditions were mounted from 1847 to 1859), but the initial searches were rather a failure; although the ships charted some new territory, few discovered anything and several managed to come to grief themselves.
Lady Franklin did not get any useful word until 1854. At that time, John Rae -- who wasn't even searching for Franklin; he was exploring the Boothia Peninsula for the Hudson's Bay Company (it was he who finally proved that King William Land was King William Island; Brandt, p. 366) -- met sundry Inuit (Savours, pp. 270-272) who had collected a few relics (including the Franklin Medal) and had also seen a company of perhaps forty white men struggling south in the snow. The Europeans had starved to death (Savours, p. 273), and the Inuit had collected the relics.
Rae had hoped to proceed north, into the area where we know Franklin's men died, but there was too much ice that year (Brandt, p. 341).
An 1855 land expedition led by James Anderson and James Stewart found some additional artifacts in the area of Montreal Island, but was unable to converse with the Inuit and so couldn't add much to the story.
While that located the expedition in the waters west of the Boothia Peninsula -- an area that no one had bothered to search, though Lady Franklin had urged it -- it left at least two-thirds of the men unaccounted for, though Franklin on the evidence was surely one of the casualties. The Admiralty was satisfied; it closed the books (Cookman, pp. 1-2, prints the preliminary Admiralty order to pay off the men's widows after a certain date if no word was heard. This was before Rae reported; obviously his report just made it final).
The Navy declared the seamen dead (Moss, p. 140, says that this is good, since it started the pension process, but pensions cost them far less than regular wages), passed out a few knighthoods, and sent its fleet to fight in the Crimean War (where the British forces suffered more wastage than they ever did in Lancaster Sound, and for even less use. The Northwest Passage expeditions not only charted new ground, but they made biological, geological, and anthropological discoveries, though hardly enough to justify the lives they cost).
Brandt, p. 343, points out that, with steam becoming an efficient means of transportation and the Suez Canal complete, China and India were now only two weeks' steaming from Britain. So the Passage had lost any commercial significance. No one really cared any more.
Lady Franklin wasn't satisfied, but from now on, she was on her own. She would finally learn her husband's fate in 1859.
In 1857, Lady Franklin had chartered a last expedition, under Francis McClintock. They had only a single small ship, the Fox, a 177 ton topsail schooner, formerly a yacht, with auxiliary steam (Savours, p. 284) that had to be crammed to the bilges to hold all the men and supplies (Savours, p. 285) -- but they finally went to the right place, searching (mostly by sledge) around King William Island and the Boothia Peninsula. They also talked to the Inuit. And McClintock, unlike most of the other searchers, understood sledging and the ice, which made him a better explorer (e.g. Lambert, p. 279).
During their search, they found skeletons, more relics -- and two of the expedition's summary reports (Franklin had had orders to leave reports, sealed against water, at regular intervals, though only a handful were ever found, most from very early in the expedition; in effect, we have only one document of the last stages. The problem may have been that the records were supposed to be dropped into the sea, so that they could be used to evaluate currents as well as trace the expedition's fate; Brandt, p. 305).
It was Lieutenant William Hobson who found the writings (Lambert, p. 280, who says on p. 281 that McClintock assigned Hobson that territory to help him earn promotion). These two summaries were written on the same sheet of paper in a cairn (for details of the finding, see e.g. Sandler, pp. 182-185, plus of course McClintock, pp. 190-192).
The first report, from May 28, 1847, was optimistic. The expedition, after wasting most of 1845 circling Cornwallis Island, had spent the winter of 1845-1846 at Beechey Island. Once the ice broke up the next spring, Franklin had headed south, spending the winter of 1846-1847 off King William Island. At the time the report was written, the ships were still stuck there. Still, there seemed to be hope.
The second report, from (probably) April 25, 1848, was a grim addendum written in the margins of the first; the ships had been ice-locked by very cold weather for more than a year and a half. Both Franklin's subordinate captains, Crozier and FitzJames, were alive to sign the report (McClintock, p. 193, believed that the note was written by FitzJames himself, save the last words which were by Crozier; he does not give reasons for this, but Savours, p. 292; Lambert, p. 280; and Williams-Labyrinth, p. 341, accept it). Franklin, though, had been dead for ten months, and a total of two dozen men -- 20% of the expedition's total -- had been lost. There seemed no way to escape by sea. On April 22, Crozier ordered the 105 survivors to abandon the ships and head for the mainland.
The 1848 report did not tell the fate of the last survivors, of course. Most think they simply tried for the mainland (the report says they would "start tomorrow... for Back's Fish River") and failed to make it. But David Woodman speculated that they wanted to hunt and fish at the river to restore their strength, then return to the ships (Delgado, p. 163). This would explain why there were relics found at so many places -- and also why the one ship's boat that was located was found on a sledge heading *north* (Savours, p. 296). On this theory, some of the crew may have lived until 1851 or 1852 -- and could have been rescued had anyone looked in the right place (Williams-Labyrinth, p. 355). But they were never seen again by Europeans.
They may have made severe mistakes in planning this last stage -- McClintock found they took a lot of junk, such as books and silverware, with them, though it has been argued that they simply emptied the ships (perhaps of materials not needed for the final part of the voyage, or perhaps to keep them available should the ships sink).
They may not have been in shape to travel. Their sledges were ill-designed and heavy. It is little surprise that most died along the trek. It appears that quite a few simply dropped as they walked, and died where they fell (Beattie, pp. 80-81). Then, too, the evidence of cannibalism is overwhelming (Rae observed it at once -- Savours, p. 273 -- and others later confirmed it), in the form bones carved by knives and often scattered in a completely unnatural way (Delgado, p. 168; Sandler, pp. 150-151; Cookman offers additional details on pp. 176, 178, then proceeds on p. 184 to accuse Crozier of killing living men to feed the others. Of course, the only evidence of that is Cookman's dreams).
The Inuit would indicate that, after Erebus and Terror were abandoned, one sank and one was crushed by ice (Sandler, p. 180). This seems likely, and would accord with a few pieces of wreckage which have been found, but unlike the Breadalbane, their wrecks have not been discovered (it's a lot easier to search around Beechey Island, where the waters open almost every year and which is close to regular sea routes, than the often-frozen waters off King William Island).
The crew's strange behavior in these final months led to speculation that the men were slowly losing their minds. Much would be made of this in the next century -- perhaps by over-reaction to the idolization of Franklin in Victorian times. As Lambert notes on p. 286, McClintock's book was in print for half a century (and was reprinted in the twenty-first century), and it helped shape Franklin scholarship for a long time. And the government set up a memorial to Franklin at Lady Franklin's urging -- but "from concept to motto the monument was a lie, one that made Jane the widow of 'a great explorer'" (Lambert, p. 295).
It is an irony of the search for Franklin that it finally *did* find the Northwest Passage; explorers from the west, led by Robert McClure, discovered McClure and Prince of Wales Straits and followed each far enough to sight Melville Sound and Parry's Winter Harbour (where that explorer had wintered in 1820), "forging the last link." (It was Franklin's friend John Richardson who first said the that Franklin's party "forged the last link of the Northwest Passage with their lives." Richardson's piece was included in the Encyclopedia Britannica, so the phrase became a commonplace; Lambert, p. 260). Both McClure's routes, however, were blocked by ice and unusable (and are close enough to the arctic pack that they rarely open).
McClure managed to sledge to Winter Harbor, the westernmost point reached by any expedition from the east, but he and his ship Investigator did not come through -- and indeed blundered around so much that the ship was lost. Having first risked a winter in open ice (Mirsky, p. 145), McClure the next year entered a cul-de-sac he called "Mercy Bay," where the ship was trapped (Berton, pp. 228-232). He probably should not even have tried for that second round of exploration, since many of his provisions had been lost or spoiled (Williams-Labyrinth, p. 302), and Mercy Bay was so open to the local ice flows that it was not until 2007 that it was ever seen to be ice-free (Stein, p. 249), but McClure wasn't the type to abandon a hope of fame just because it was the only sensible thing to do....
Shortly before they were found, McClure engaged in a brazen attempt to send more than half of his crew to their deaths so that the remainder (the strongest) would have a better chance to survive (Sandler, pp. 131-132; details on pp. 199-201 of Stein). If the ship's doctor is to be believed, the men knew what McClure was up to; he had to use the marines to enforce his decisions (Stein, pp. 201-202). Fortunately, they were found before he managed to execute his plan.
As Lambert comments on p. 228, "McClure's single-minded ambition wrecked the careful planning, limited the science, and destroyed any chance of completing the tasks" of the mission. It is noteworthy that his every act was in defiance of his orders -- he even technically mutinied to get away from his superior officer Richard Collinson. He also took a dangerous, largely unknown, route through the Aleutians to assure he arrived in the Arctic before Collinson (Brandt, p. 348). Even his officers seem to have disapproved of his conduct (Williams-Labyrinth, p. 298), and from the very beginning he was intent on undercutting and humiliating his second-in-command (Stein, p. 29).
Even when McClure's crew was rescued by sledges from ships in the east, he tried to leave his sick crew on his ship, so he could try to claim the prize money for making it through the passage (Stein, p. 218) -- but he couldn't convince the crew to do it (Berton, p. 248). Fleming-Barrow, p. 405, calls his behavior at this time "a little mad," which may be an understatement; three of his crew were already dead, all had scurvy, and clearly they weren't strong enough to sail the vessel, but McClure tried to trick his superior into forcing them to stay with his ship.
He also pushed his crew to abandon the journals which would have documented his behavior (Savours, p. 222; Stein, p. 213, describes how he wrote this orders to pretend he was safeguarding the records). Some survived to show how badly he managed things (Williams-Labyrinth, p. 308), but Stein, p. 254, notes that in several cases there is a gap at just the time when McClure's conduct was at its worst; it is as if they have been censored.
In the end, he had to be ordered to abandon his ship, even though it was clear that she could not be rescued; this little maneuver let him maintain that he had not lost his ship and that he had discovered the Northwest Passage (Stein, pp. 222-223). In writing all this up, he very carefully glossed over the five men who had died, and the others who were injured or ill, because of his vainglory (Stein, p. 227; Stein, p. 237, adds that several who survived probably had their lives shortened by their privations).
What it came down to was that McClure's crew made the passage (from west to east) -- but no ship did. In the end, the eastern expeditions returned east, and the one surviving ship that had gone in from the west went back west, without their vessels meeting. Lambert, p. 244, suggests that the Admiralty accepted McClure's absurd claim of navigating the Passage just so they could shut down the Arctic mission and stop wasting time and money. But they also promoted McClure to captain (Stein, p. 228), so they don't seem to have really appreciated how badly he had performed. And they awarded 10,000 pounds for the discovery of the passage, including 5,000 to McClure (by comparison, his senior officers got 271 pounds, six shillings, four pence; able seamen were given 29 pounds, one shilling, five pence; Stein, p. 240).
On top of it all, Stein, p. 234, argues that McClure set things up to hand out medals to the sailors who had proved most loyal to him, not those who had done the best service. His wife was not so easily fooled; he blamed her, not himself, but he said that "I can never meet her again" (Stein, p. 235). Knighted in 1855, he commanded the Esk in the Second China War -- and was notorious for the extreme punishments he inflicted on his sailors. He was not given another command, although he was promoted rear admiral after he left the service (Stein, pp. 242-243).
Captain Richard Collinson, McClure's nominal boss, also discovered a passage (Delgado, p. 133), approximating that later used by Amundsen, and he did some good science while he was ati it (Lambert, pp. 228-229). Amundsen would later say that Collinson would get far too little credit for what he did; Savours, p. 307. All that was needed after that was for someone to actually sail the passage it. (Although, if Collinson had tried, he might have gotten into real trouble, because his conflicts with his officers were so intense that they all were under arrest by the time he was done; Williams-Labyrinth, p. 314; Stein, p. 238).
Collinson might well have learned the fate of Franklin, too, except that his interpreter had sailed with McClure, so he couldn't talk to the Inuit (Lambert, p. 229; Williams-Labyrinth, p. 313; Stein, p. 44, explains that it was because there was more room on McClure's ship). Collinson didn't learn anything, but he was the only one in position to find out.
Poor Collinson gained little credit for his work, in part because McClure made it home first and in part because Collinson didn't actually follow the passage; according to Brandt, p. 362, the Admiralty never gave him another command. Lambert also suggests, pp. 237-238, that the Admiralty by that time wanted to suppress any mention of the Arctic. Yet, as his brother noted in editing his journals, he "demonstrated practically that it is navigable for ships" (quoted by Savours, p. 231) -- that is, Collinson, though he mapped only a small part of the Passage, was the first to sail a ship through large portions of it.
Ultimately, it was Collinson, not McClure or Franklin or anyone else, who proved that it was possible to get a ship through the Passage. Collinson also was the one who analyzed the Franklin reports found by McClintock and showed that Ross's erroneous map of King William (Is)land probably led Franklin to make his final mistake of passing west of that island (Lambert, p. 282).
It was not until 1903-1906 that Amundsen in the Gjoa made the actual passage from Baffin Bay to Beaufort Sea -- and even he didn't take the Lancaster/Melville/McClure route, but turned south from the Barrow Strait to take the route east and south of King William Island and then south of Victoria Island -- in effect combining the first part of Franklin's path with the main part of Collinson's.
Finally, in 1944, Larsen made it through the icy Lancaster/Melville passage. (Amazing to realize that, now, there are actual settlements -- Resolute and Grise Fjord, among others -- north of that route. Though Wilkinson, p. 78, notes an interesting point about Resolute: It is mostly a military base and airfield, designed to watch the Pole -- and it was supposed to be set up at Parry's Winter Harbor. But there was too much ice to get there, so they set up on Cornwallis Island instead. Winter Harbor ended up being the place where the first Arctic oil drilling began, though -- Wilkinson, p. 99.)
On January 25, 2011, I had the privilege to hear a talk by Roger Swanson, who sailed the passage in a boat called Cloud Nine in 2007 (a schooner-rigged sailing vessel with an auxiliary engine, built 1975), and afterward to talk for a few minutes with his wife Gaynelle Templin. For their trip, they had dramatic advantages over Franklin. For starters, they had better foods and knowledge of nutrition. Also, there are now enough settlements in the Canadian Arctic that they were able to refuel along the way. Plus they had radio -- and satellite-derived ice charts which allowed them to plan their route. And, even so, they had failed in previous attempts at the passage in 1994 and 2005; in the latter case, they had to be rescued by an icebreaker which happened to be nearby.
Theirs was the first American sailing vessel to cross the passage from east to west. It is their opinion that, even today, a sailing vessel without auxiliary power cannot make the passage. And that means that Franklin's ships, with their weak engines and limited coal supplies, could not make it either.
Nonetheless, the ice from Melville Sound to the Beaufort Sea opened completely in 2007 (Brandt, pp. 4-5), and we're seeing Russians taking tours in icebreakers (Brandt, p. 31). The passage is likely to be commercially viable soon. We're already seeing contests between Americans, Russians, and Canadians over who owns the land -- some recent Franklin exploration, including underwater searches for his ships, has been done by the Canadians in their attempts to stake their claim to the Passage territories (Brandt, pp. 8-9).
But why did the expedition fail to make it home? Why did they make the strange decisions they did, and why weren't they able to make it home? The ships could not make it through, but why did not the men come back? Crozier and company were far from anywhere when they abandoned ship, but they should still have had enough supplies to make it to one or another Hudson Bay Company outpost.
This is the second Great Mystery of the Franklin Expedition -- the one that endures to this day.
The obvious answer is, Scurvy, or vitamin C deficiency (cf. MSmith, p. 174, who estimates that the disease would have turned serious just about when Franklin died). As noted above, this had been the constant companion of long sea voyages for as long a men could remember; it nearly ruined Magellan's first circumnavigation of the globe.
Franklin's crews of course were given the standard rations of lemon juice -- but the standard ration is not by itself enough to prevent scurvy. On most ships, this doesn't matter; the crews get at least some fresh food. Not in the Arctic, though! And Vitamin C has an unfortunate tendency to degrade when exposed to light and air, so a dose of lemon juice that might have prevented scurvy in 1845 would have been too weak to do much good in 1847. Plus, Sherard Osborn noted that no canned materials were found among any of the relics found along King William Island. If the survivors had any provisions left, they were in the form of salt meat and biscuits, which had no vitamin C at all (Savours, p. 297).
What's more, scurvy affects both the mind and the body; a man too badly afflicted might make the sort of strange decisions Crozier and his surviving officers are accused of having made. Williams-Labyrinth, pp. 354-355, thinks it the main explanation for what happened.
Yet many deny the possibility of scurvy (e.g. Fleming-Barrow, p. 416 thinks it killed too quickly). Owen Beattie had another hypothesis. In 1984 and 1986, he autopsied the bodies of the first Franklin men to die (the three buried on Beechey Island in the first winter). He found extremely high levels of lead. He also looked at bones of the skeletons found along the path of the Franklin Expedition. He found strong evidence of scurvy (Beattie, p. 16) -- and more lead.
Emsley-Molecules, pp. 218-219, explains why lead is so dangerous: It interferes with the manufacture of hemoglobin, and causes the buildup of a precursor chemical. The intestines are heavily affected; there is also a high likelihood of fluid on the brain. Beattie's theory is that the men were driven mad by lead poisoning, which would explain their erratic behavior, and of course would make them less able to bear the privations of an arctic journey.
This would also explain the scriptural references on the graves of two of the three men on Beechey: "Thus saith the Lord of Hosts, consider your ways" and "Choose ye this day whom you will serve" (Williams-Labyrinth, p. 190; the quotes are from Haggai 1:5 or 1:7 and Joshua 24:15). Williams considers these to be rather strange and ominous quotes, perhaps indicating some sort of mental defect, but I don't really see it.
Beattie states clearly in his work that lead did not kill the three men he autopsied on Beechey, though it may have weakened them and left them vulnerable to other illnesses. Nonetheless, the lead theory has been widely repeated, often without even Beattie's cautions -- e.g. Emsley-Molecules, p. 217, blames the deaths on Beechey, and the failure of the Franklin expedition, solely on lead.
Emsley-Elements, p. 302, gives the measured opinion, "Lead may not have caused the deaths of the members of the expedition but it must have seriously weakened them and there is evidence that they also suffered from scurvy.... Whatever happened, the members of that ill-fated expedition certainly suffered from lead poisoning."
But while the lead theory has become popular, the evidence is far from complete -- Beattie examined only a handful of bodies, and only the three from Beechey Island were intact. And even if lead poisoning caused some of the other deaths, we cannot be sure if these men were typical.
If anything, the evidence for lead poisoning is stronger in the search expeditions -- e.g. nearly everyone in James Clark Ross's 1848 rescue crew came down sick for extended periods, and their problem does not appear to have been scurvy (Sandler, p. 93); it has all the hallmarks of lead affecting the digestion. (On the other hand, Lambert, p. 188, notes that the crew of this expedition was not carefully chosen, and their provisions may have been poor due to the problems of Irish famine relief; the real problem may just have been that it was an improperly-mounted expedition. James Ross had refused even to consider taking a steamship; Lambert, p. 185.)
Against the lead theory may be set the fact that the last message, written and signed by Crozier and FitzJames, seems largely coherent and reasonable. The men were debilitated, but not entirely mad. Berton, p. 146, mentions the lead theory but says flatly that "the main cause of death was clearly scurvy." MSmith, p. 181, and Lambert, p. 340, note that Crozier's decision to abandon the ships in April 1848 was rational: although the weather would be warmer later on, this was the best time to travel across the ice, which would still be firm after the winter. The decision may have been wrong, but it was probably the best Crozier could have done in the circumstances.
In any case, there is the question of where the lead came from. *This* question we can answer: It came from their food. It is not absolutely certain, as is widely stated, that the lead came from their canned goods. Lead was surprisingly common at this time -- "sugar of lead" (lead acetate) was still used as a sweetener (MacInnis-Poison, p. 53), and yellow lead as a food dye, and red lead was added to snuff and used to color Gloucester cheese (MacInnis-Poison, p. 45).
Still, about a third of the provisions supplied to the Franklin Expedition came from canned food -- in tin cans sealed with lead. And yet, other expeditions also sailed with lead-sealed cans, and survived. Indeed, thirty-some years later, the Jeannette expedition suffered from lead poisoning (in the form of stomach cramps) -- and they identified the condition and corrected it (Guttridge, p. 158; or see "Hurrah for Baffin's Bay" for more on the Jeannette).
Still, canning was a new technology in 1845 -- the first version was developed by a Frenchman, Nicolas Appert, shortly before 1800 (Satin, p. 122). His method worked well, but it was based on glass bottles, which were fragile. What was wanted was a metal can. But this required experimentation -- because no one knew why Appert's method worked. Although the first British patent was granted in 1811, people were still tinkering with the techniques. The contract to supply the Franklin Expedition was so large that most canners had backed out. One who did not was Stephan Goldner -- who submitted by far the lowest bid.
Cookman, whose book is mostly about canning, portrays Goldner as the extreme villain of the piece, deliberately cheating the Admiralty. This need not follow -- but it is quite clear that Goldner was not up to the job he had contracted for. He was supposed to supply a variety of provisions -- canned vegetables, meats, soups -- mostly in small cans. He delivered almost nothing by the contract date, and was allowed to substitute large cans (cheaper and faster to manufacture) at the last moment (Satin, pp. 132-133, probably summarizing Cookman).
By the end of the 1850s, it would become clear that Goldner's methods simply didn't work. The hypothesis at the time was that oxygen caused spoilage (Satin, p. 125), which led to misunderstanding of how canning worked. The real problem was that Goldner did not cook the contents of the cans (especially the larger cans, which had a higher volume-to-surface-area ratio) sufficiently. Plus he didn't solder them tightly enough; the contents, in addition to being saturated with lead, very often rotted in the cans, or in some instances burst.
Franklin's wasn't the only expedition troubled by bad canned goods; both the McClure and Collinson parties found that much they had carried was rotten (Williams-Labyrinth, p. 313).
Cookman thinks that Goldner probably adulterated what he shipped, as well; since he was canning in the spring, there would have been few fresh vegetables, and little fatted meat, available. Between the inferior ingredients, the inadequate cooking, and the undeniably unsanitary conditions in Goldner's factory, the canned goods would almost certainly have been breeding grounds for bacteria. Including botulism bacteria.
Williams-Labyrinth, p. 367, offers some indirect support for this: Amundson, half a century after the Franklin expedition, talked to some Inuit who reported that their forebears had eaten canned goods presumably from Franklin's ships -- and some had become ill and some had died. But had they eaten from sealed cans, or from canned goods that had been opened and spoiled?
In any case, is this a quality control problem or deliberate cheating? Cookman thinks the latter -- but it appears that some contemporary Goldner products had proved acceptable (Beattie, p. 65), and that Goldner had given satisfaction in the past (Beattie, p. 45). And Cookman is demonstrably wrong in one charge against Goldner (p. 87, where Goldner, correctly, argued that round cans are structurally more sound than square. Goldner's explanation is imprecise, so Cookman calls it a lie even though the gist of it is true).
But deciding that Goldner was evil allowed Cookman to evolve a vision of the expedition which makes Franklin and Company look much better: At every stage their behavior was rational. They just kept dying of food-borne illnesses. The idea is old: as early as Austin's expedition, Captain Ommaney, counting the number of tins left on Beechey Island, thought that some of Franklin's food might have been bad. The only problem with Cookman's version it is that it's about 10% facts (the facts being Goldner's problems, the large number of cans in the cairn on Beechey Island, and the known places where Franklin artifacts were found) and 90% Cookman -- and Cookman's writing tends to substitute speculation for fact; his history of the expedition often includes descriptions of events no one witnessed or could reconstruct from the available data (e.g. he actually tells us, p. 95, which hatches were bolted on Franklin's ships during the winter).
Still, MSmith, p. 150, mentions the botulism theory with some approval. Satin, who knows more about food chemistry, however says on p. 136 that "Although this premise is theoretically possible, it is unlikely." He points out on p. 137 that at least some of the canned products would have been consumed on the trip from England to the Davis Straight -- but no one died in that time. This argues that Goldner's cans were not directly poisoned.
That Goldner's products were inferior is certain; there were many complaints in the years after the Franklin expedition, and eventually the Admiralty imposed such stringent conditions on him that he appears to have been driven out of business. Even if his products weren't filled with lead or fatal bacteria, many of the cans probably contained spoiled food.
This would fit Beattie's autopsy of Marine Private William Braine, who was very tall for the period (about 6 feet/180 cm.) but utterly emaciated (about 40 kg/90 pounds); botulism frequently affects the digestion first, and other forms of food poisoning target the digestion even more.
In this regard, the Admiralty's decision to fit out a large expedition was probably largely to blame: The ships were modernized and up-to-date -- but, with so many hands, the crew could not possibly pick up enough food locally to significantly supplement their diets. (Indeed, it appears they didn't have anyone trained as a hunter.) They had to rely on provisions taken from England -- which, whether lead-contaminated or not, whether poison or not, whether vermin-infested or not, lacked Vitamin C and were guaranteed to produce scurvy.
It seems to me that all the individual theories have contradictions. If the problem were lead alone, then there was enough food, so why cannibalism? If it were scurvy alone, again, why cannibalism? If it were botulism alone, then why were there so few deaths on Beechey Island? Hundreds of cans were discarded, yet only three men died, at least one of them primarily of tuberculosis. Even when the men abandoned the ships, the casualties were still only in the dozens. Goldner's cans may have been filled with junk, but at most a tiny fraction could have contained actual toxins. And if there were no toxins, then Cookman's diatribe against Goldner has no point.
One thing I note is that very many Arctic expeditions -- e.g. those of Kane, Hall, and Greeley, for which see "Hurrah for Baffin's Bay," and the Karluk voyage, for which see "Captain Bob Bartlett" -- ended in madness and insubordination. Keating, p. 44, refers to "Arctic madness" as early as the time of Henry Hudson.
It probably started even earlier than that. Martin Frobisher, the first man to seek the Northwest Passage, came to blows with some of his captains during his third voyage to Baffin Bay (McGhee, pp. 143-145). Henry Hudson's crew set him adrift in Hudson's bay because he would not abandon the weaker members of the party (Mirsky, pp. 62-63; Woodman, pp. 36-40, thinks that the madness was actually Hudson's, not his men's, but either way, someone was nuts).
Williams-Labyrinth, p. 67, describes quarrels between Luke Foxe and his subordinates as the reached the far north. Williams-Delusion, pp. 16-17, tells of exploring parties sent by the Hudson's Bay Company in which men -- often the leaders -- lost their minds; in a later expedition, two ship captains ended up quarrelling over something as trivial as who distributed ptarmigan brought in by Indians (Williams-Delusion, p. 173), and the officers were accusing each other of plotting murder (Williams-Delusion, p. 175).
The Arctic brought out the worst in men, and not just because of hunger and scurvy. Noah Hayes, who was on Charles Francis Hall's 1871 expedition, wrote "I believe that no man can retain the use of his faculties through one long [Arctic] night" (quoted in Fleming-North, p. 145).
Thomas Collinson, who edited the journals of his brother Richard Collinson, confessed "there appears to be something in that particular service... that stirs up the bile and promotes bitter feelings" (Berton, p. 296); Berton himself says on pp. 392-393, "The history of Arctic exploration is riddled with irrational decisions and events."
That there was an Arctic disorder seems clear. I've not seen any writing fully explaining it, though -- seasonal affective disorder might play a part (the Inuit actually had a name for that; they called it "perlerorneq"; MSmith, p. 175) , but it hardly seems sufficient. Besides, Joseph-Elzear Bernier still found it striking his men in the twentieth century, when they had electric lighting (Williams-Labyrinth, pp. 370-371; he describes his men as depressed). Perhaps SAD plus incipient vitamin deficiency? Or calcium deficiency? In Robert Peary's later expedition, his Inuit were sometimes attacked by a disease called piblokto, which produced vicious and erratic behavior; it is now thought to be caused by lack of calcium (see Fleming-North, p. 359). Reading the accounts of Dr. Frederick A. Cook's arctic quest, I thought his behavior evidence of some sort of mental disturbance, and Bryce, p. 844, quotes another source who had the same thought.
Lambert, p. 339, declares "arctic scurvy" to be "a more complex phenomenon" than ordinary scurvy, suggesting that other vitamin deficiencies were involved. Williams-Labyrinth, p. 78, suggests that men in the arctic drank more to keep warm (or at least to feel warmer), and this might make the effects worse.
Whatever the "arctic madness" was, who is to say it didn't affect the Franklin expedition?
The books I've consulted all seem quite certain about their hypotheses. But it appears that, barring additional evidence, we simply cannot be sure. It is true that occasional relics continue to turn up, but they don't tell us much. Barring some other written record -- and, after 150 years, such a record is unlikely to be found -- we will remain as uncertain as the author of this song.
Probably the best conclusion is Satin's (p. 136), that scurvy, disease, malnutrition, and lead all played a part. Similarly, Lambert, p. 343, suggests a combination of factors: Mostly scurvy, a little seasonal affective disorder, some lead, plus despair and other dietary deficiencies (although on 345 he declares, "Faced with ample evidence that the men died of scurvy and starvation there is no need for speculation"). No one item was fatal. Together, they were.
Lambert, p. 345, makes another point: That, at the time the ships were abandoned, nine officers had already died, leaving only six officers still alive -- hardly enough to control the men and navigate their routes.
It's pretty useless at this stage to assign blame, but it's worth noting that not everyone thinks Franklin entirely at fault for the disaster. His reputation has had a curious history -- the British at first treated him as a near-saint. Then came the reaction in which he was treated as a fool. Now there are various attempts to vindicate him. The truth probably lies somewhere in between. A wiser man would probably have done better with the materials he had at hand, but it was not Franklin who designed the expedition. That was done by John Barrow, the Admiralty Second Secretary. Cookman, p. 204, blames Barrow explicitly; Fleming-Barrow implies it repeatedly. Ironic, then, that I have never seen a version of this song which mentions Barrow.
Moss, p. 221, suggests that the Franklin Expedition suggested The Hunting of the Snark. I grant some faint similarities, but the differences are tremendous -- and it should be remembered that Carroll told us how the Snark came to be, and it was composed from the last line backward, with no hint of which way the plot would go.
Still, the Franklin search did inspire a lot of poetry, although this seems to be the only traditional song. Tennyson's epitaph for his kinsman can be seen on the Franklin monument. A few snippets of some of the others can be found on pp. 394-395 of Brandt.
For the later fates of some Franklin searchers, who then turned to North Pole exploration, see "Hurrah for Baffin's Bay."
It's interesting to note that the Fox, which discovered the fate of the Franklin Expedition, herself became the subject of a sort of hunt. After her work under McClintock, she spent decades running supplied around Greenland, ran aground and was abandoned in 1912, broke up in 1940, and was recently explored by archaeologists (DelgadoHunter, p. 188). - RBW
Greenleaf/Mansfield states that 151C is a different song from 151A and 151B. The text is
We sailed away down Baffin Bay,
Where the nights and days were one;
And the Huskimaw in his skin canoe,
That was the only living soul.
The ice-king came with his eyes aflame,
Perched on our noble crew,
And his chilly breath was cold as death,
It pierced our warm hearts through.
- BS
It is noteworthy that Laws does not list that song with this piece, and most of the lines quoted above are not normally found in "Lady Franklin's Lament." The reference to Eskimos, however, *is* found in other Franklin versions, so (given the rarity of this version), I'm still lumping the songs for the moment.
Incidentally, though the word "Huskimaw" for "Eskimo" seems to be extinct today, it was common enough in the past that it gave rise to the name "husky" for arctic dogs. (Thanks to J. V. Arkle and Lyle Lofgren for bringing this to my attention.) - RBW
Last updated in version 4.1
File: LK09B

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