The Search for the Arctic Passage An overview of a complex…and baffling history Denis A. St-Onge, O.C. 2007
The main actors William Baffin 1584-1622 Martin Frobisher 1535?-1594 John Ross 1777-1856 W.E. Parry 1790-1865 Thomas Simpson 1808 - 1840 John Franklin 1786-1847 John Rae 1813-1893 Francis Leopold McClintock 1819- 1907
THE SEARCH FOR THE NORTHWEST PASSAGE … and Canada’s first Bre-X British Admiral Martin Frobisher First trip 1576
FIRST MEETING BETWEEN FROBISHER’S CREW and THE INUIT OF BAFFIN ISLAND 1576 Painting by Francis Back
An Inuk and his Kayak captured by Frobisher in an attempt to find five sailors who disappeared with the only row boat
THE GABRIEL ANCHORED AT KODLUNARN Is. 1576 “ Tokens of Possession”
REMARKABLE EXPLORERS Thomas Simpson (1808-1840) & Francis Leopold McClintock (1819-1907
Peter Warren Dease and Thomas Simpson’s travels 1838 & 1839
Peter Dease who was a chief factor of the Hudson Bay Co. in the Athabaska region had been selected to lead the expedition to be “a steadying influence on the impetuous and mercurial Thomas” “ Dease was a worthy, indolent, illiterate soul and moves just as I give the impulse”(Simpson in a letter to his brother) The expedition left Fort Confidence for the Coppermine on 6 June 1838
Fort Confidence, Great Bear Lake. This sketch of the Fort rebuilt in 1848 was drawn by Dr. John Rae (HBC Archives, Manitoba) Simpson spent the winters 1837-38 and 38-39 with Peter Warren Dease’s family in Fort Confidence
To Simpson’s inexpressible Joy they met a group of Eskimos
During the middle of the day on August 20 1838 they passed Point Turnagain The furthest east reached by Franklin’s 1 st expedition. Fearing that he was heading to a dead end bay Simpson climbed a high cape: “ a vast and splendid prospect burst suddenly upon me. The sea, as if transformed by enchantment, rolled its free waves at my feet, and beyond the reach of vision to the eastward…” Simpson called this Cape Alexander after his brother. “The morning of the 25 th was Devoted…to the erection of a pillar of stones on the most elevated part of the point.”
On 15 June 1839 Dease and Simpson leave Fort Confidence for the Coppermine. They reached the western shore of Boothia Peninsula on August 20 at Cape Sir John Ross. Names they added: Richardson River, Cape Barrow, Cape Franklin, Cape Alexander, Trap Point, Minto Inlet, Cape Roxborough, Melbourne Island, Gloucester Hills, Ellice River, Whitebear Point, Grant Point, Cape Seaforth, Thunder Cove, Simpson Strait, Richardson Point, Pechell Point, Cape Selkirk, Cape Britania.
At Cape Britania “…on this part of the coast, we erected a conical pile of Ponderous stones, fourteen feet high; which, if it not be pulled down by the natives may defy the rage of a thousand storms. In it we placed a sealed Bottle, containing an outline of our proceedings; and possession was taken of our extensive discoveries, in the name of Victoria the First…It was only on occasions like this that we regretted the want of any kind of liquor with Which to treat our faithful crews.” Starvation Cove James Savelle An example of a large cairn
THE RETURN TRIP Leave Cape Selkirk on Augusty 20, reach mouth of Coppermine September 16, 1839
THE UNFOLDING OF A WORLD CLASS TRAGEDY When last seen in Disko Bay July 1845
THE BEGINNING OF A CATASTROPHY Erebus and Terror Bay, Beechey Island Erebus and Terror, first winter Near Beechey Island
Stark memorials Beechey Island Headland Painting by John Hamilton William Braine, April 3 rd, 1846, age 32 John Hartnell, January 4 th 1846, age 25 John Torrington, Jan. 1, 1846, age 20 Thomas Morgan, 1854 Belcher exp.
IN MEMORY OF A YOUNG MAN John Torrington From HMS Terror died January 1, 1846 (as he appeared when excavated Owen Beattie in 1984)
PART OF THE PROBLEM! And a Cenotaph erected by Belcher in 1854 “ To commemorate Bellot and others…who died Searching for the Franklin Expedition”
Erebus and Terror Crawling along a lead in pack ice West of King William Island
ARTISTS’ RENDITION OF THE FRANKLIN TRAGEDY Abandoning ships west of King William Island Spring 1848 Franklin died on June 11, 1847 Nameless and Desperate heroes
Memorial to Lieut Irving RN, HM Ship TERROR Dean Cemetary, Edinburgh, Scotland
“ In memory of Lieut John Irving RN, HM Ship TERROR. Born 1815 died in King William’s Land 1848-9. Her Majesty’s ships EREBUS and Terror left England in May 1845 under command of Sir John Franklin KCB to explore a north-west passage to the Pacific. After wintering 1845-6 at Beechey Island they sailed south down Franklin’s Strait and entered the NW passage. Having been there beset with ice for two years, Sir J Franklin, 8 other officers & 15 seamen having died, the survivors – 105 in number – Lieut Irving being one – landed on King William’s Land and attempted to march to Canada but all died from cold and want of food. In 1879 Lieut of the American Searching Expedition discovered Lieut Irving’s grave. Through his kindness the remains of this brave and good officer were brought away and were deposited here on 7 th January 1881.”
THE KABLOONA WITH THE LONG LEGS John Rae, the consummate Arctic Traveler Surveyed 2, 825 km of new territory Traveled 10, 490 km on snowshoes and sailed 10, 720km in small boats Aided by a few native people he solved the two great Arctic mysteries: -the fate of the doomed Franklin in 1853 - 1854 -the final link of the NW passage. This brought the wrath of the formidable Lady Franklin
RELICTS OF A TRAGEDY The home of a forgotten hero!
Lieutenant William Robert Hobson Captain Francis Leopold McClintock Captain McClintock, R.N., LL.D. The Voyage of the Fox in the Arctic Seas 1857 - 1859
The Fox was a 160-tonne yacht built by British nobleman for luxury cruising. It was purchased by Lady Franklin following a public subscription. The Fox Was merely a vehicle for getting as close as possible to King William Island. The search would be conducted by sledges.
In late August-early September McClintock made 5 attempts to cross Bellot Strait and was always stopped by ice in the western part of the Strait. A small bay at the base of Mount Walker (Port Kennedy) was selected for the winter anchorage.
Burial in the ice. Fox’s engineer died of injuries from a fall. A hole was cut in the ice and his body was slipped into the ocean to bury him “at sea.”
“ On the 20 th April, in latitude 70 1/2o N., we met two families of natives, comprising twelve individuals;…” “… we learned that two ships had been seen …one of them was seen to sink in deep water, and nothing was obtained from her, a circumstance at which they expressed much regret; but the other was forced on shore by the ice, where they suppose she still remains but is much broken.” “… the body of a man was found on board the ship; that he must have been a very large man, and had long teeth;…” “… it was in the fall of the year – that is, August or September – when the ships were destroyed; all the white people went away to the “large river,” taking a boat or boats with them. And that the following winter there bones were found there.”
“ We found here ten or twelve huts and thirty or forty natives…” “ I purchased from them six pieces of sil;ver plate, bearing the crests or initials of Franklin, Crozier, Fairholme, and McDonald…” “ There had been many books they said, but all have long been destroyed by the weather; the ship was forced on shore in the fall of the year by ice.” “ She said many of the white men dropped by the way as they went to the Great River.” “ Shortly after midnight of the 24 th May…I cam across a human skeleton…This victim was a young man, slightly built…the dress appeared to be that of a stewart or officer’s servant…blue jacket with slashed sleeves and braided edging, and the pilot-cloth great-coat with plain covered buttons. We found also, a clothes brush near, and a horn pocket-comb.”
“… I ascended the slope which is crowned by Simpson’s conspicuous cairn …now only four feet high; the south side had been pulled down and the central stones removed…nothing whatever was found, nor any trace of European visitors in its vicinity”
… a sad and touching relic of our lost friends… There is an error in the first “All well” document Apparently written by Lt. Gore : over wintering at Beechey Island was in 1845-46 not 1846-47. Second message written around the margin is more Ominous: “ April 25, 1848.-H.M. ships ‘Terror’ and ‘ Erebus’ were deserted on the 22 nd April, 5 leagues N.N.W. of this, having been beset since 12 th September, 1846. The officers and crews, consisting of 105 souls, Under the command of Captain F.R.M. Crozier, landed Here in lat. 69o 37’ 42’’ N., long. 98o 41’ W. Sir John Franklin died on the 11 th June, 1847; and the total loss by deaths in the expedition has been to this date 9 Officers and 15 men.” Signed Signed F.R,N. Crozier James Fitzjames Captain and Senior Officer Captain H.M.S. Erebus “ and start (on) tomorrow, 26 th for Back’s Fish River.”
… in the morning of the 30 th May (1859) we encamped alongside a large boat- …
“ A vast quantity of tattered clothing was lying in her…not a single article bore the name of its former owner.” “ This boat measured 28 feet long, and 7 feet 3 inches wide;…she had neither oars or rudder, paddles supplying their place…” “ The weight of the boat alone was about 700 or 800 lbs but she was mounted upon a sledge of unusual weight and strength, It was constructed of two oak planks 23 feet 4 inches in length, 8 inches in width and with an average thickness of 2 ½ inches….I have calculated the weight of this sledge to be 650 lbs.; it could not have been less, and may have been considerably more. The total weight of boat and sledge may be taken at 1400 lbs. “ But all these were after observations; there was that in the boat which transfixed us with awe. It was portions of two human skeletons….Close beside (one) were found five watches; and there were two double-barrelled guns- one barrel in each loaded and cocked…eight pairs of boots…silk handkerchief…a quantity of articles of one description and another truly astonishing in variety, and such as, for the most part, modern sledge-travellers would consider a mere accumulation of dead weight, but slightly useful, and very likely to break down the strength of the sledge-crews.” “ in the after part of the boat we discovered eleven large spoons, eleven forks, and four tea spoons, all of silver;…” “ I was astonished to find that the sledge was directed to the N.E., exactly for the next point of land which we ourselves were travelling. The position of this abandoned boat is about 50 miles – as a sledge would travel – from Point Victory, and therefore 65 miles from the position of the ships;… A little reflection led me to satisfy my own mind at least, that the boat was returning to the ships: and in no other way can I account for two men having been left in her, than by supposing the party were unable to drag the boat further… ” “ Whether all or any of the remainder of this detached party ever reached their ships is uncertain; all we know is, that they did not revisit the boat, and which accounts for the absence of more skeletons in its neighborhood; and the Eskimaux report that there was no one alive in the ship when she drifted on shore, and that but one human body was found by them on board of her.
Victory Point “ On the morning of the 2 nd of June (1859) we reached Point Victory.” “ A great quantity and variety of things lay strewed about the cairn, such as even in their three days’ march from the ships the retreating crews found it impossible to carry further. Amongst these were four sets of boat’s cooking stoves, pickaxes, shovels, iron hoops, old canvas, a large single block, about four feet of a copper lightning conductor, long pieces of hollow brass curtain rods, a small case of selected medicines containing about twenty-four phials, the contents in a wonderful state of preservation; a deep circle by Robinson, with two needles, bar magnets, and light horizontal needle all complete…and even a small sextant engraved in the name ‘Frederick Hornby’ lying beside the cairn without its case.” “ The clothing left by the retreating crews of the ‘Erebus’ and ‘Terror’ formed a huge heap four feet high.”
Cairn at Cape Lady Jane Franklin Photo: Prof. James Savelle