Tuesday, June 24, 2008
69. Frozen in Time: The Fate of the Franklin Expedition - Owen Beattie and John Geiger

In 1845, Sir John Franklin led his two ships, the Terror and the Erebus, on a voyage of exploration. His goal: to discover the Northwest Passage through the Arctic to Asia. Despite having an able crew, the latest technology and plenty of supplies, Franklin's expedition ended in disaster within the Arctic's frozen seas. A number of follow up expeditions were undertaken to try and discover Franklin's horrible fate. While three graves were discovered, along with a number of artifacts, very little could be learned about what happened to the ships and their crew.

Fast forward almost 150 years later. University of Alberta anthropologist, Owen Beattie, and a team of researchers head to a small island in the Canadian Arctic to try and uncover the truth. Could it have been that most feared enemy of sailors in the 19th century, scurvy? Perhaps restless natives, blood thirsty polar bears, madness, famine? Surprisingly, it was part of the seemingly innocuous cargo lying silently in their ship's hold that precipitated their ultimate demise.

"The source of their defeat was not the ice-choked seas, the deep cold, the winters of absolute night, the labyrinthine geograph or the soul destroying isolation." (p. 254) While all of these played a part, it was the one thing that they believed would help counteract the effects of scurvy many were beginning to experience during their first winter on the ice which doomed them before they had even left port in England. It was....their food.

Growing up, I remember watching a documentary on Beattie and his team's efforts in Canada's north to uncover the truth behind the failed expedition. Years later, I was fortunate enough to attend lectures he gave while I was a student at the University of Alberta. Frozen in Time is a fascinating look at one of exploration's great mysteries and the book is filled with portraits of key players, sketches by team members, and photographs of Beattie's work with the graves on Beechey Island (including the autopsies of the bodies of three crew members).
Captain reommended.


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