First, there is the intrepid and independent journey by Ron Carlson in his DeHavilland Beaver. Carlson is flying solo over the route travelled by the survivors with unique thermal photography equipment that he hopes will suggest where bodies from the expedition may have been buried, perhaps even Sir John Franklin's. Check Carlson's blog for background, updates and photos of his journey, including a discovery of a lost Hudson Bay Company outpost and an abandoned church with stainglass donated by Lady Franklin. Russell Potter puts this search in some context.
Second, Parks Canada is quietly preparing for another search expedition this summer. After the numberous Franklin-related stories and discoveries from last summer, most especially the discovery of HMS Investigator, can we expect even more this summer? (Still waiting for any details from the very interesting and curious northwest passage of Bear Grylls and the discovery of a possible Franklin site find.)
Search for ill-fated, historic Franklin expedition could continue this summer
By Randy Boswell, Postmedia News
June 19, 2011
Parks Canada is quietly organizing a third season of searching this summer for the lost ships of Sir John Franklin — the 19th-century British explorer whose ill-fated expedition to the Canadian Arctic in the 1840s ended with the sinking of the ice-trapped HMS Terror and HMS Erebus, as well as the deaths of Franklin and all 128 men under his command.
While a Parks Canada spokeswoman told Postmedia News that plans are “fluid” and that the agency isn’t yet ready to disclose details of the proposed mission, she said officials are working with several partners in the federal and Nunavut governments “towards obtaining various authorizations and securing the necessary logistical support to be able to have the most productive search possible.”
Two previous searches in 2008 and 2010 were successful “in charting a navigation corridor to an area where we believe, through historic research, there is a high probability of finding the lost ships,” Parks Canada’s Natalie Fay told Postmedia News. “The area of surveying was approximately 150 square kilometres.”
The disappearance of the Franklin vessels, a profoundly traumatic moment for Victorian-era Britain and its Canadian colonies, prompted a series of Royal Navy rescue attempts that failed to find the ships but mapped much of the Arctic archipelago, ultimately securing sovereignty over the vast region for the future Canada.
The final resting place of the Franklin wrecks, which are believed to lie somewhere in the ice-choked waters off Nunavut’s King William Island, has eluded recent generations of searchers determined to locate one of the great global prizes of underwater archeology.
The Canadian government announced in 2008 that it was launching an unprecedented, three-season hunt for the sunken ships, so central to the story of Canada that they’ve already been declared national historic sites despite their unknown location.
Extensive sweeps of the Arctic sea floor were conducted in the 2008 and 2010 searches by Parks Canada and its partner agencies, including the Government of Nunavut, the Canadian Hydrographic Service and the Canadian Coast Guard.
A planned search in 2009 was called off when the Coast Guard icebreaker required by archeologists for sea floor surveys was unavailable because of other commitments related to Canada’s increased strategic interest in its Arctic frontier.
But federal archeologists said the resumed search for the Franklin ships in 2010 ruled out another large swath of seabed near King William Island and significantly narrowed the target zone for the 2011 expedition, which would begin in August if Parks Canada’s plans come together as expected.
Last year’s landmark discovery of the most famous of the Franklin rescue ships — HMS Investigator, which was abandoned in the Western Arctic pack ice in 1853 — has buoyed hopes for an even greater find this summer.
The Investigator — which had became hopelessly frozen in at Mercy Bay, just off Banks Island in today’s Northwest Territories — was finally pinpointed on the ocean floor last year by a Parks Canada team that won international acclaim for solving the long-standing mystery of that ship’s whereabouts.
The Investigator’s commander, Capt. Robert McClure, had led his crew off the ice-locked ship onto Banks Island, where they deposited a cache of supplies that has also been excavated by archeologists.
Both the shoreline area and the bay where the Investigator went down are today part of Aulavik National Park.
McClure and his men, facing sickness and starvation, eventually trekked across the sea ice to Melville Island and were rescued, at last, by another British ship.
But their combined travels by ship and foot marked a banner achievement in global exploration that Franklin and his doomed men had helped make possible — the traversing of the final link in the Northwest Passage, the polar sea route sought for centuries by European adventurers.
“With the arguable exception of the vessels from the Franklin expedition, the Investigator is the most significant shipwreck in the Canadian Arctic,” Jim Prentice, the former minister for Parks Canada, said after the July 25 discovery last year.
Though the Franklin ships vanished more than 160 years ago, the expedition’s many enduring mysteries have continued to attract attention from archeologists, wreck hunters, historians, songwriters and authors of popular books.
Earlier this year, a team of British scientists announced that they had re-identified one of only two sets of human remains from the Franklin Expedition returned to Britain for burial.
For more than 140 years, a sailor’s remains found on King William Island in 1869 — then transported to a memorial chamber in Britain — had been identified as those of Lt. Henry Le Vesconte, one of Franklin’s perished officers.
But the first modern scientific study of the entombed bones and teeth determined that the skeleton probably belonged to another of Franklin’s officers: expedition naturalist and assistant surgeon Harry Goodsir.
The study also shed fresh light on the theory that a disastrous illness, perhaps scurvy or tuberculosis, had caused or contributed to the demise of Franklin and his men.
“No evidence of these diseases was found on the bones, and DNA tests proved negative for tuberculosis,” English Heritage, a British government advisory agency, stated in its summary of the new scientific findings.
Another prominent theory about the tragedy — that lead poisoning from tinned food or the ships’ water supplies had sickened the sailors during their Canadian voyage — is still being tested using the bones.
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