If you head out East toward the Lincolnshire coast and you get fed up with the main road, you might take the old road through Spilsby. And if you decide to take a break there, you may, as I did some time ago, come across the memorial in the main square commemorating the life and death of Spilsby born and Louth educated Sir John Franklin, who died trying to find the Northwest Passage.
Interesting enough in itself perhaps, but suddenly in the news, with today’s confirmation by Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada, that one of the two ships used for Sir John Franklin’s fatal attempt to find the Northwest Passage has been discovered over 160 years since it was abandoned somewhere in the frozen wastes of the Canadian Arctic.
The reason for search for the Northwest Passage was that, if it existed, it might provide a shortcut for trading ships between the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans. It cost Sir John and his crew their lives, as they were never seen again alive.
Later, search parties hunted for the crew until 1859, but no sign of either ship was discovered until now. A few clues have emerged over the years, including discovery in the 1980’s of the bodies of three crewmen. In the absence of facts, the disappearance of the Naval expeditionary force has attracted plenty of speculation, including the inevitable claim that the sailors resorted to cannibalism after the ships became ice-bound in the Victoria Strait in the Arctic territory of Nunavut.
Today’s news is the first outcome of a determined attempt to solve the mystery, started in 2008. On August 1st Parks Canada’s Ryan Harris described this year’s Franklin Expedition search, including the tools and technology that will be used, the extent of the search and what finding the lost ships could mean for Canada:
The Franklin legend has also inspired musicians, notably in the many performances of the English traditional song Lady Franklin’s Lament, whose lyrics celebrate the ill fated expedition. Here is a classic version from Pentangle:
Lady Franklin is remembered above all for the search she organized from 1850 to 1857 for Sir John Franklin’s lost Arctic expedition in which relics were found suggesting that Franklin had indeed achieved his aim of discovering a Northwest Passage. The efforts that had been made as a result of her own racking anxiety added enormously to geographical knowledge. It was said: ‘What the nation would not do, a woman did’. She died in England on 18 July 1875. There were no children.