Franklin Ship Missing 169 Years Discovered in the Canadian Arctic

Wendy Redal September 19, 2014 0

World’s Greatest Maritime Mystery Solved: Check out this EXCITING NEWS involving One Ocean Expeditions, one of Nat Hab’s adventure cruise operators!

A sea floor scan reveals one of the missing ships from the Franklin Expedition of 1845. [Parks Canada/Canadian Press]

A sea floor scan reveals one of the missing ships from the Franklin Expedition of 1845, discovered by a search group aboard One Ocean’s Voyager on Sept. 9. [Parks Canada/Canadian Press]

Searching for a lost ship or sunken treasure is a staple in the annals of adventure travel. So when researchers and guest donors aboard One Ocean Expeditions’ Voyager made the stunning discovery of a shipwreck from the ill-fated 1845 Franklin Expedition in the Canadian Arctic earlier this month, they were awed and thrilled.

The discovery was especially momentous because this is exactly what those aboard the Voyager had hoped to find, despite multiple efforts for more than 150 years that failed to turn up the missing ships of the British expedition commanded by Sir John Franklin. Franklin’s foray, among several noted polar expeditions during the Victorian era, sought to locate the fabled Northwest Passage, a marine route connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

The Victoria Strait Expedition, commissioned by the Canadian government and operated by One Ocean in conjunction with the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, set out from Resolute Bay on August 26, 2014 to try to learn the fate of Franklin’s ships, the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. And on September 7, using sonar images from a remotely operated underwater vehicle, they found one of the vessels lying just off King William Island in Canada’s Nunavut Territory.

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Remains of members of the Franklin Expedition discovered on King William Island in 1945 by William Skinner and Paddy Gibson at King William Island in Nunavut. The British explorer's grave has yet to be located. [National Archives of Canada/Canadian Press]

Remains of members of the Franklin Expedition discovered on King William Island in 1945 by William Skinner and Paddy Gibson at King William Island in Nunavut. [National Archives of Canada/Canadian Press]

Skulls of members of the Franklin expedition were discovered by William Skinner and Paddy Gibson in 1945 at King William Island in Nunavut. While remnants of Franklin’s doomed 1845 Arctic expedition have been found, the British explorer’s grave has yet to be located. (National Archives of Canada/Canadian Press)

A number of polar explorers visited or spent winters on King William Island while searching for the Northwest Passage, and experts believe it was likely here that Franklin and all 128 members of his crew perished. When the two ships were trapped in the sea ice just northwest of the island, those aboard were forced to abandon them, and most are believed to have died from exposure or starvation as they tried to walk south along the island’s western coastline.

In the wake of the loss, more than 50 maritime expeditions were dispatched between 1848 and 1859 in search of Franklin and his men. While the crew and ships were not found, the search did unveil the long-sought Northwest Passage through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.

While multiple expeditions to the region since have done a great deal to scan and map the Arctic seabed in search of the lost ships, learning much about one of the world’s most remote and daunting environments in the process, none managed to locate either of Franklin’s ships until now.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper attributed the success to the use by Parks Canada of “the latest cutting-edge technology” that revealed the ship’s presence beneath layers of deposits on the ocean floor. Ryan Harris, an underwater archeologist who was Parks Canada’s project lead for this year’s search, said the wreck was “indisputably” one of Franklin’s two ships.

While searchers aren’t sure yet which of Franklin’s two ships they have found, sonar images reveal that the wreck appears to be very well preserved, even down to the wooden decking.

Harper said the discovery solves one of Canada’s greatest maritime mysteries. American underwater explorer Dr. Robert Ballard, the discoverer of RMS Titanic, has described the two missing ships as “the most important undiscovered wrecks in the world.”

The Victoria Strait Expedition was the sixth Canadian-led search since 2008, when the Canadian government began looking for Franklin’s ships as part of an effort to assert Canadian sovereignty over the Northwest Passage. The region, which has recently become accessible to ships due to melting sea ice, could become contested territory as it opens further to maritime traffic.

The participation of One Ocean marked the first time a commercial ship has been invited to be part of such an expedition. The Voyager was chosen as a research platform for its maneuverability and ice capability in Arctic conditions.

Franklin Expedition ships HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, as pictured in the illustrated London Weekly

Franklin Expedition ships HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, as pictured in the illustrated London Weekly

The quest will continue for the other Franklin expedition ship.

“Finding the first vessel will no doubt provide the momentum — or wind in our sails — necessary to locate its sister ship and find out even more about what happened to the Franklin expedition’s crew,” said Harper in a statement released Sept. 9 announcing the momentous find.

In the meantime, polar historians, marine archaeologists and mystery buffs are reveling in the discovery, which promises fresh attention to the Canadian Arctic. BBC News reports that “the find has been described as ‘the biggest archaeological discovery the world has seen since the opening of Tutankhamun’s tomb almost 100 years ago,’ according to British archaeologist and Franklin Expedition expert William Battersby.”

If you’d like to explore the Canadian Arctic Archipelago in the footsteps of Franklin and the modern-day Voyager, sign on for a Nat Hab adventure cruise aboard one of our carefully chosen collection of small ships, including those operated by One Ocean Expedtions. Visit our website for details, or call an Adventure Specialist at 1-800-543-8917 to discuss all the options.

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