Monday, 12 September 2016


Sir John A. Franklin
After nearly two centuries of query, search and indefatigable hope, the second of Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated vessels, the HMS Terror has been found in a Nunavut Bay (appropriately named "Terror Bay") some 92 km South of it’s long assumed burial site (believed to have been somewhere under the frigid waters of King William Island and Victoria Island in Canada’s Arctic Archipelago) by private charitable organization The Arctic Research Foundation.

The historic find comes just two years after it’s sister ship, the HMS Erebus was located in Canadian waters on the second of September 2014 by a Parks Canada team headed by Ryan Harris and Marc-André Bernier as part of the nation’s effort “to reinforce Canada's claims regarding sovereignty over large portions of the Arctic.”[1]

The present find, and that of the HMS Erebus in 2014 has huge implications in the annals of both Canadian and British history (Franklin was English) and the modern interpretation of Franklin’s doomed route across the frigid waters of the Great White North that had led the Naval Officer to pursue a brave effort to smash though (i.e. to complete) a crossing of the Northwest Passage.
The Expedition Entering Baffin Bay in Search of John Franklin
Stuart Henry Bell, 1850.
The Erebus, commanded by James Fitzjames under Sir John Franklin, and the Terror, by fellow British Naval Officer Francis Crozier (also under Franklin), failed to achieve it’s mission when both vessels famously became ensconced in the unforgiving icy waters of the Canadian North, forcing crews (some 105 remaining explorers of an original crew of 129) to navigate on foot – braving harsh weather, fatigue and starvation – perhaps even succumbing to cannibalism in a brazen attempt to survive – as they unsuccessfully sought out a trading post via the Back River, many hundreds of miles to the South.

All men would succumb to the elements, exhaustion and disease (pneumonia and tuberculosis); the unforeseen divergence had already taxed the rationed supply of food, giving way to scurvy. 20th century expeditions to retrace Franklin’s mission led by Canadian anthropologist Owen Beattie in the 1980’s would also reveal certain crew members had suffered the pain and psychosis brought about by botulism – courtesy of poorly sealed tin cans laced with the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, and lead poisoning - the key ingredient used to solder the poorly sealed cans.

The precise location of each wreck – kept under lock and seal for preservation and to avoid looting – has been designated a National Historic Site of Canada, thus granting the country a further stronghold over disputable autonomous regions in the North.

Learn more about the historic discovery and the “pristine” condition of the Terror (includes exciting footage of the wreck!) by viewing the news segment below and by perusing the links that follow:

(External links):
  • HMS EREBUS FOUND: at The Star


What a time to be alive! I was just but 10 years old when I first ‘discovered’ the ill-fated tale of the doomed Franklin Expedition. There I was: a little girl-bibliophile, enthusiastically perusing the latest Scholastic inventory when I stumbled upon the synopsis for Owen Beattie’s “Buried in Ice: The Mystery of a Lost Arctic Expedition.”

John Torrington, discovered by Beattie's team in 1984.
Noble men, a brave endeavor, man’s perseverance, and his fragility – in pioneering, camaraderie, disease, tragedy – death – what was not to love? I set my eyes on the frozen cadaver of John Torrington – inset on the book’s cover – grim, perhaps – fascinating – you bet! There Torrington lay, perfectly preserved in his blue striped tunic, his expression denoting a peaceful oblivion spent submerged under frigid waters – Canada’s waters – MY waters – and I knew right then and there, I was to be a student of history - and the fate of this man and that of his comrades has both mesmerized and fascinated me ever since. 

But it didn't stop there. Beattie’s ‘expedition’ piqued my curiosity far beyond a mere historical aspect as I became navigator, peeling through page after page – only to close the back flap and start once more from the beginning. I would come across the cadavers of shipmates John Hartnell and William Braine – both in equally pristine condition, and I began to marvel at the preservation of man and the persistence of nature, even long after death.

As I read about scurvy and the rat infestation that had plagued both ships, it became immediately clear to me that when pressed and taxed to the utmost extreme, the human body – engendered by an emboldened spirit – could be quite capable of superhuman strength, and astonishing ability.

Somewhere along the way, my interests in history, anatomy and remarkable human feat would bring me into the realm of classical music and opera – not just through the shared enormous physical and emotional effort it requires, but via it’s equally rich history: it’s association with Kings and Conquerors, it’s presence in times of war and times of détente, it’s dogged quest for Nationalism, recognition, remembrance – and above all, for it’s ingenuity, it’s perseverance over generations past, and the richly rewarding future it’s history will bestow upon generations to come.

With the Erebus, and now the Terror, once more laying claim to our collective conscience, I am reminded of the spirit of those brave men, who, much like personal favorite composers like Wagner and Mozart, courageously sought dominance over uncharted waters – and who, while preternaturally meeting an untimely and most unfortunate demise – have absolutely conquered though the eyes of posterity.

What a truly prosperous day for Canada and the Commonwealth!

Today's Quote of the Day is perfectly suited for capturing the essence of this proud historical event, and comes to us courtesy of Edvard Grieg.* Celebrate the HMS Erebus and the HMS Terror with a recording of the lustrous Solveig’s Sang - incidental music penned by the composer for Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen's 1867 play Peer Gynt. (Barbara Bonney Soprano): 

“The winter may pass and the spring disappear
The summer too will vanish and then the year
But this I know for certain: you'll come back again
And even as I promised you'll find me waiting then...”

- *text by Henrik Ibsen. From Solveig's Sang (Song), Peer Gynt, Edvard Grieg


[1] Source (quote) Wikipedia: HMS Erebus (1826)