Franklin's last expedition: will the mystery be solved?


Last night Channel 5 ran a documentary on Sir John Franklin’s Expedition to find the North West Passage, always an interesting subject, however this programme did not throw up anything new despite being billed as Lost Expedition: Revealed.

Some years ago I was told a fascinating story about the ill-fated bid to find a northern route around the Americas from Europe to Asia. The officers of a large ship were creeping through the icy seas of the NW Passage, when from high up on the bridge they spotted something black far away on the ice. Through binoculars they made out what they thought were the remains of a sailing ship. They took bearings and a position. I do not know what they did next.

But it is a haunting thought that one day, with the ice-cap melting apace, we will discover what happened to Erebus and Terror which got jammed in ice off King William Island and were abandoned by Franklin’s 134 sailors and officers. Some say as they hauled a ship’s boat southward they died from scurvy and starvation, others that they were poisoned by the lead solder used to construct the 8,000 tins of food they took with them. Inuit hunters found many corpses and concluded the men had resorted to eating each other to survive. But the mystery remains: why did they leave the ships?