Canada's History : 2020-08-01

TRADING POST : 39 : 39


early death (June 1847) does raise questions. After the two ships disappeare­d, Lady Franklin orchestrat­ed an unpreceden­ted search. Between 1848 and 1859, she variously organized, inspired, or financed eleven of the thirty-five search expedition­s sent out by Great Britain and the United States — nearly one third. She wrote letters to internatio­nal leaders, conducted subscripti­on campaigns, consulted psychics, purchased sailing ships, and seconded officers from the Royal Navy. By stirring up public opinion and lobbying influentia­l friends, she exerted relentless pressure on the British Admiralty and the Hudson’s Bay Company to keep searching. After 1854, Jane Franklin fought tooth and nail to repudiate John Rae’s revelation­s that some members of the expedition had been driven to cannibalis­m. She acquired the support of Charles Dickens, who shamed himself with a racist denunciati­on of the Inuit that has damaged his reputation forever. Meanwhile, Lady Franklin repeatedly redefined the notion of geographic­al discovery to suit the lost expedition, ultimately advancing the nonsensica­l idea that halfway through the Northwest Passage, by reaching the Arctic coast of the continent, the starving sailors “forged the last link with their lives.” Even today, educated people who should know better deny geography and abandon logic to follow her in arguing that the Franklin expedition somehow discovered the Northwest Passage. Never mind. The search for the lost ships did accomplish the mapping of the Canadian Arctic. And Lady Franklin herself has earned a place in history as an early marketing genius. By erecting statues and memori- als of her husband hither and yon, from Lincolnshi­re and Westminste­r Abbey in England to Hobart, Tasmania, she turned her hapless husband into an Arctic hero. A nd so we arrive at final questions. From the note found at Victory Point on King William Island, we know that in April 1848 105 men departed the two icelocked ships. The note tells us that already nine officers and fifteen seamen had died. That represents thirty-seven per cent of officers but just fourteen per cent of crewmen, and the discrepanc­y is even greater if we subtract the three dead men buried on Beechey Island. Why so many officers? Why such disproport­ion? Researcher­s have spent vast amounts of time and energy inquiring into the deaths of the first three sailors to die, even to the point of exhuming and analyzing their remains. Did lead poisoning kill these men? Botulism? Zinc deficiency and tuberculos­is? But here’s another question: What if those three early deaths were anomalies that contribute nothing to solving the larger mystery? Perhaps those later twenty-one deaths resulted from some unrelated accident. A few scholars have wondered if those men ingested something the others did not. But none has connected the tragic fate of Franklin with the catastroph­e that befell Dano-Norwegian explorer Jens Munk. In 1619–20, while seeking the Northwest Passage, Munk led two ships filled with sailors in wintering at present-day Churchill, Manitoba. There his expedition lost a staggering sixty-two men out of sixty-five. 39 AUGUST–SEPTEMBER 2020