‘Death in the Ice: The Shocking Story of Franklin’s Final Expedition’ exhibition at the National Maritime Museum, 14 July-7 January

The NMM is hosting a major exhibition exploring the fate of Sir John Franklin and his crew on their final expedition including 200 objects from the Canadian Museum of History (CMH) and the Inuit Heritage Trust alongside finds from expedition ship HMS Erebus, which was found in 2014.

I think it will be stunning.

The story of Franklin’s expedition is a tremendous one. The expedition set from the Thames on 19 May 1845 in two ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror to find the a North-West Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The expedition was last seen by European eyes in July 1845, in Baffin Bay. After two years passed in which nothing was heard of the men the first of a series of expeditions to be sent into the Arctic in an attempt to find them. In all, between 1847 and 1880, over thirty search expeditions were mounted.

Urged by Lady Jane Franklin, Parliament and the British press, the Admiralty dispatched expeditions both overland and by sea and in 1850 offered a substantial reward for news of the expedition or for assisting its crew.

Over the next 30 years, news and relics, such as tin cans, snow goggles and cutlery filtered back to Britain. They showed that the entire crew had died through a combination of factors including scurvy and starvation, and theories about cannibalism and madness brought on by lead poisoning.
In 1859 a piece of paper, known as the Victory Point Note (on display as part of the exhibition) was found that bore the date of Sir John Franklin’s death – 11th June, 1847.

Forensic anthropologist Dr Owen Beattie’s expeditions from the early 1980s onwards found evidence of lead poisoning, probably caused by lead in the expdition’s tinned food. The submerged wreck of HMS Erebus was discovered by Parks Canada in 2014 and then HMS Terror in 2016.

The exhibition includes the role of Inuit in uncovering the fate of the Franklin expedition, including Inuit oral histories and Inuit artefacts, including some incorporating materials of European origin, which were traded from explorers or retrieved from abandoned ships, will also be on display.

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