The graves of the Franklin expedition
10 August 2013 | Beechey Island
Today, after a further 15 hours of voyage, we arrived on Beechey Island, just to the SW of Devon Island, where we encountered a lot of pack ice in and around the area.
There are 4 graves on the beach, of which 3 of members of the Franklin expedition who died here during the winter of 1845/46. After about 50 years of numerous attempts by the British to discover the NW Passage (and open a direct trade route to Asia), the British Admiraltyfinally sent John Franklin to the Arctic with a crew of 128 and the two strong boats Erebus and Terror. Both ships were state of the art, with 25 hp engines, and had been in Antarctica a few years before. Franklin and his men spent the first winter in the ice here on Beechey Island, and then went down the Peel Sound where they spent another two years enclosed in the ice, before they all perished. Many died from lead and food poisoning of the newly developed cans of food they had taken along to fight scurvy. The rest died from hunger, cold and cannibalism. The expedition went down as the biggest disaster in British exploration history.
The boats and most graves were never found, despite the many search expeditions that were subsequently sent by the British Crown and Franklin’s wife. During these search expeditions, more mapping of the area took place until the passage to the east of King William Island was found. During 1903-1906, Amundsen finally was the first person to sail the Passage on board his Gjoa with a crew of 6. He spent two years in today’s Gjoa Haven with local Inuits to learn how to hunt, dress, dog sled and survive in the Arctic, knowledge which he later used in his conquer of the south pole. While in the area, he also researched the magnetic north pole and was the first person to prove that it is not a fixed point but constantly moving.
In any case, Beechey Island is a place with a lot of history and it is fascinating to be here, in this desolate, lonely place.