Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Russell Potter and John Geiger

I had the great good luck and fortune to meet with Professor Russell Potterauthor of several Franklin Expedition/Arctic books including Finding Franklin: The Untold Story of a 165-Year Search which he launches tomorrow in Toronto, and of course the writer behind the Visions of the North blog, and John Geiger, co-author of Frozen In Time: The Fate of the Franklin Expedition (the "gateway" book to the Franklin Expedition for so many of us) and CEO of the Royal Canadian Geographic Society

Russell and John were asked to speak on Charles Adler's SiriusXM radio show and needed an old fashioned landline, which I was in the fortunate position to offer to them. 

 John Geiger and Dr. Russell Potter

Dr. Russell Potter, some guy in a suit and John Geiger

Thanks for dropping by, gentlemen. And thanks for your decades of research, writing and contributions to the history of the Franklin Expedition.

Mysterious Inuit tale leads researchers to the 168-year-old wreck of the HMS Terror

From Jeva Lange at The Week:

Mysterious Inuit tale leads researchers to the 168-year-old wreck of the HMS Terror

In 1848, the ill-fated and ominously-named HMS Terrorwas lost along with the HMS Erebus in the worst polar disaster to ever hit the British Royal Navy: all 129 men in Sir John Franklin's Northwest Passage expedition were killed. For 11 years after the doomed trip, search parties continued to look for the Franklin expedition to no avail; the Inuit people now say bad spirits wander the island near where the ship went under.

But at long last, the arctic strait has given up its secrets, The Guardian reports. The HMS Terror has been discovered practically perfectly intact near King William Island, although it was found much farther south than it was thought to have been abandoned. "This discovery changes history," Canadian philanthropist and Arctic Research Founder Jim Balsillie told The Guardian. "Given the location of the find [in Terror Bay] and the state of the wreck, it's almost certain that HMS Terror was operationally closed down by the remaining crew who then re-boarded HMS Erebus and sailed south where they met their ultimate tragic fate."

The Terror almost wasn't discovered. An Inuk crewman on the team's research ship, Sammy Kogvik, 49, was talking with the Arctic Research Foundation's operations director, Adrian Schimnowski, when he recalled a hunting trip in Terror Bay, where he posed for a picture with a large piece of wood sticking out of the sea ice, which resembled a mast. When Kogvik got home and discovered his camera gone, he decided not to speak of the experience, believing the missing camera was an omen of the bad spirits that wander the island.

But by following Kogvik's tip, the researchers focused on the north end of Victoria Strait, eventually making their fateful discovery.

"This vessel looks like it was buttoned down tight for winter and it sank," said Schimnowski. "Everything was shut. Even the windows are still intact. If you could lift this boat out of the water, and pump the water out, it would probably float." Read more about the strange and incredible discovery of the HMS Terror at The GuardianJeva Lange

Monday, September 12, 2016

My interview on News Talk 770 about the finding of HMS Terror

My interview on Rob Breakenbridge's show on News Talk 770 can be found here. Select the 2:00pm timeslot and then scroll forward to 34:00.

HMS Terror Found!

And apparently it is in "pristine" condition, all hatches closed, even glass windows in place.

It's about 92 miles from where it was believed to be stuck in the ice. This may raise as many new questions as it does answers, as pointed out by Russell Potter at Visions of the North and William Battersby at The Franklin Site.

One thing seems now clear: Both ships were not simply abandoned, followed by a long death march along the western coast of KWI, but they both seem to have been remanned. This was certainly what you would conclude from Inuit oral testimony as re-told by David Woodman.

 Unbelievably, the ship was found very close to shore, in sight of land and, ironically, in Terror Bay. According to a comment from David Woodman, the ship was found near a known large shore encampment. Again, something supported by Inuit testimony. As would be the fact that it is in pristine condition consistent with a quick sinking.

This story was broken by The Guardian:

Ship found in Arctic 168 years after doomed Northwest Passage attempt 
Exclusive: Perfectly preserved HMS Terror vessel sank during disastrous expedition led by British explorer Sir John Franklin

The long-lost ship of British polar explorer Sir John Franklin, HMS Terror, has been found in pristine condition at the bottom of an Arctic bay, researchers have said, in a discovery that challenges the accepted history behind one of polar exploration’s deepest mysteries.
HMS Terror and Franklin’s flagship, HMS Erebus, were abandoned in heavy sea ice far to the north of the eventual wreck site in 1848, during the Royal Navyexplorer’s doomed attempt to complete the Northwest Passage.
All 129 men on the Franklin expedition died, in the worst disaster to hit Britain’s Royal Navy in its long history of polar exploration. Search parties continued to look for the ships for 11 years after they disappeared, but found no trace, and the fate of the missing men remained an enigma that tantalised generations of historians, archaeologists and adventurers.
Now that mystery seems to have been solved by a combination of intrepid exploration – and an improbable tip from an Inuk crewmember.
On Sunday, a team from the charitable Arctic Research Foundation manoeuvred a small, remotely operated vehicle through an open hatch and into the ship to capture stunning images that give insight into life aboard the vessel close to 170 years ago.

“We have successfully entered the mess hall, worked our way into a few cabins and found the food storage room with plates and one can on the shelves,” Adrian Schimnowski, the foundation’s operations director, told the Guardian by email from the research vessel Martin Bergmann.
“We spotted two wine bottles, tables and empty shelving. Found a desk with open drawers with something in the back corner of the drawer.”
The well-preserved wreck matches the Terror in several key aspects, but it lies 60 miles (96km) south of where experts have long believed the ship was crushed by ice, and the discovery may force historians to rewrite a chapter in the history of exploration.
The 10-member Bergmann crew found the massive shipwreck, with her three masts broken but still standing, almost all hatches closed and everything stowed, in the middle of King William Island’s uncharted Terror Bay on 3 September.

The bell of the HMS Terror. The bloody bell!

After finding nothing in an early morning search, the research vessel was leaving the bay when a grainy digital silhouette emerged from the depths on the sounder display on the bridge of the Bergmann.

“Everyone was up in the wheelhouse by that point in awe, really,” said Daniel McIsaac, 23, who was at the helm when the research vessel steamed straight over the sunken wreck.
Since, then, the discovery team has spent more than a week quietly gathering images of the vessel and comparing them with the Terror’s 19th century builders’ plans, which match key elements of the sunken vessel.
At first, the Terror seemed to be listing at about 45 degrees to starboard on the seabed. But on the third dive with a remotely operated vehicle, “we noticed the wreck is sitting level on the sea bed floor not at a list - which means the boat sank gently to the bottom,” Schimnowski said Monday.
About 24 metres (80ft) down, the wreck is in perfect condition, with metal sheeting that reinforced the hull against sea ice clearly visible amid swaying kelp.
A long, heavy rope line running through a hole in the ship’s deck suggests an anchor line may have been deployed before the Terror went down.
If true, that sets up the tantalising possibility that British sailors re-manned the vessel after she was abandoned at the top of Victoria Strait in a desperate attempt to escape south.
One crucial detail in the identification of the ship is a wide exhaust pipe rising above the outer deck.
It is in the precise location where a smokestack rose from the locomotive engine which was installed in the Terror’s belly to power the ship’s propeller through closing sea ice, said Schimnowski in a phone interview.
The ship’s bell lies on its side on the deck, close to where the sailor on watch would have have swung the clapper to mark time.
And the majestic bowsprit, six metres (20ft) long, still points straight out from the bow as it did when the crew tried to navigate through treacherous ice that eventually trapped Erebus and Terror on 12 September 1846.
The wreck is in such good condition that glass panes are still in three of four tall windows in the stern cabin where the ship’s commander, Captain Francis Crozier, slept and worked, Schimnowski added.
“This vessel looks like it was buttoned down tight for winter and it sank,” he said. “Everything was shut. Even the windows are still intact. If you could lift this boat out of the water, and pump the water out, it would probably float.”

The Arctic Research Foundation was set up by Jim Balsillie, a Canadian tech tycoon and philanthropist, who co-founded Research in Motion, creator of the Blackberry.
Balsillie, who also played a key role in planning the expedition, proposed a theory to explain why it seems both Terror and Erebus sank far south of where they were first abandoned.
“This discovery changes history,” he told the Guardian. “Given the location of the find [in Terror Bay] and the state of the wreck, it’s almost certain that HMS Terror was operationally closed down by the remaining crew who then re-boarded HMS Erebus and sailed south where they met their ultimate tragic fate.”
The 21st-century search for Franklin’s expedition was launched by Canadian former prime minister Stephen Harper as part of a broader plan to assert Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic and promote development of its resources – including vast reserves of oil and natural gas, which will be easier to exploit as the Arctic warms and sea ice disappears.
Parks Canada underwater archeologists have led the mission since it began in 2008. Now they must confirm the wreck is Terror, either by examining the foundation’s images or visiting the site themselves. With the first winter snow already falling in the High Arctic, Terror Bay will soon be encased in thick sea ice.
The latest discovery was made two years and a day after Canadian marine archeologists found the wreck of Erebus in the same area of eastern Queen Maud gulf where Inuit oral history had long said a large wooden ship sank.
The same stories described startled Inuit stumbling upon a large dead man in a dark room on the vessel, with a big smile. Experts have suggested that may have been a rictus smile, or evidence that the man had suffered from scurvy.
Parks Canada archeologists found Erebus standing in just 11 meters of ocean. Sea ice had taken a large bite out her stern, and more than a century of storm-driven waves had scattered a trove of artifacts around the site.
So far, archaeologists have brought up the bell from Franklin’s flagship, a cannon, ceramic plate and other objects.
Inuit knowledge was also central to finding the Terror Bay wreck, but in a more mysterious way. Crewman Sammy Kogvik, 49, of Gjoa Haven, had been on the Bergmann for only a day when, chatting with Schimnowski on the bridge, he told a bizarre story.
The double-wheel helm. The helm!

About six years ago, Kogvik said, he and a hunting buddy were headed on snowmobiles to fish in a lake when they spotted a large piece of wood, which looked like a mast, sticking out of the sea ice covering Terror Bay.
In a phone interview, Kogvik said he stopped that day to get a few snapshots of himself hugging the wooden object, only to discover when he got home that the camera had fallen out his pocket.
Kogvik resolved to keep the encounter secret, fearing the missing camera was an omen of bad spirits, which generations of Inuit have believed began to wander King William Island after Franklin and his men perished.
When Schimnowski heard Kogvik’s story, he didn’t dismiss it, as Inuit testimony has been so often during the long search for Franklin’s ships.
Instead, the Bergmann’s crew agreed to make a detour for Terror Bay on their way to join the main search group aboard the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier and the Royal Canadian Navy’s HMCS Shawinigan, at the north end of Victoria Strait.
That is where the only known record of the Franklin expedition provided coordinates for what experts now call the point of abandonment.
A scrawled note dated 25 April 1848, and concealed in a stone cairn at Victory Point on northern King William Island, said Erebus and Terror had been abandoned three days earlier, stuck in sea ice.
Crozier was in command of “the officers and crews, consisting of 105 souls”, because Franklin had died on 11 June 1847, the note continued, “and the total loss by deaths in the expedition has been to this date 9 officers and 15 men”.
Crozier and Captain James Fitzjames signed the note, which had what seemed a hurried postscript, scrawled upside down in the top right corner: “and start on to-morrow 26th for Back’s Fish River”.
Survivors apparently hoped to follow the river – now known as Back river – south to safety at a Hudson’s Bay Company fur trading outpost.
None made it, and for generations, the accepted historical narrative has described a brutal death march as the Royal Navy mariners tried to walk out of the Arctic, dying along the way.
Now Franklin experts will have to debate whether at least some of the dying sailors instead mustered incredible strength, fighting off hunger, disease and frostbite, in a desperate attempt to sail home.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

HMS Erebus!

They have identified the found Franklin ship as HMS Erebus.
Franklin expedition ship found in Arctic ID'd as HMS Erebus By Evan Solomon, CBC News Posted: Oct 01, 2014 2:09 PM ET| Last Updated: Oct 01, 2014 2:30 PM ET The wrecked Franklin expedition ship found last month in the Arctic has been identified as HMS Erebus, CBC News has learned. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is expected to announce the news today in the House of Commons. Two ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, were part of Sir John Franklin's doomed expedition in 1845 to find the Northwest Passage. The ships disappeared after they became locked in ice in 1846 and were missing for more than a century and a half until last month's discovery by a group of public-private searchers led by Parks Canada. It was not known until now which of the two ships had been found. The Erebus is believed to be the ship that Sir John Franklin was on when he died. The wreck of the Terror has not yet been found.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

My Interview on NewsTalk770

I was interviewed about the Franklin Expedition and the ship finding today on the Roger and Rob Show on NewsTalk770 out of Calgary today.

Here's the audio. Choose September 11 at 11:00am. I'm on right after the news.

Didn't think my voice sounded so nasally. Guess I'll stick with my day job.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Blog Round Up: What Franklinophiles are writing about the finding

As the world starts to pay attention to our little big passion, I thought it worthwhile highlighting the commentary of the passionate few who have been following this story for years before it became an international story.

What Franklinophiles are writing about the finding of the Franklin Expedition ship in the Arctic:

The prolific Ken McGoogan, author of several books and articles on Arctic exploration (including the must-read seminal research quadrilogy of Fatal Passage (on John Rae), Ancient Mariner (on Samuel Hearne), Lady Franklin's Revenge (on Jane Franklin), and Race to the Polar Sea (on Elisha Kent Kane)):

Russell Potter, of course, editor of the Arctic Book Review and author of Arctic Spectacles: The Frozen North in Visual Culture, 1818-1885, has already written many posts on the finding from several different angles:
Then there are the excited observations William Battersby, author of James Fitzjames: Mystery Man of the Franklin Expedition.

Over at the Kabloonas blog, Andres can barely contain himself over the news.

Of course, there really is no few things to read these days about the historic finding of one of the lost Franklin Expedition ships.