Intriguing narrative of English explorer Sir John Franklin’s fatal fourth expedition to the Arctic in 1845, emphasizing the ongoing drive to uncover the mystery of the icy unknown.
Obsessed with the discovery of a Northwest Passage since the 16th century, British explorers weren’t going to give up simply because it hadn’t been found yet. In this engaging work by Vancouver-based journalist and photographer Watson (Where War Lives, 2007, etc.), a winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the George Polk Award, among other honors, the expedition by Franklin, an aging explorer hoping to reclaim lost glory, becomes less visceral and significant than the myriad attempts to find his body and the two lost ships, the Erebus and the Terror. In 2014, Watson accompanied the Canadian Coast Guard Victoria Strait Expedition, which ultimately found the Erebus some 168 years after the initial sinking and broke the news in the Guardian. The disappearance of Franklin and his 129-member crew on the Royal Navy–sponsored expedition of 1845 was full of mysteries, and it constituted the worst disaster in the Admiralty’s polar exploration history. After getting stuck in the ice, the ships were eventually abandoned just north of King William Island. A few groups set out across the ice, some men already dead perhaps by botulism from tainted tin cans of food (rather than by lead poisoning, a theory discounted) and others disoriented by starvation and cold. Watson offers a sympathetic account of the Inuit who encountered some of the shipwrecked men and offered them food and supplies, as well as the native shamans who later were able to locate the wrecks (the Terror was discovered in 2016) with remarkable accuracy—if the English had only listened. Watson’s narrative also closely involves the dogged attempts by Franklin’s widow, Jane, who never gave up trying to fund and launch recovery expeditions during her lifetime.
A keen, entertaining chronicle of the various attempts to locate a sensationally doomed expedition.