It was announced yesterday that one of Sir John Franklin’s ships had been found after it disappeared in the Arctic more than 160 years ago.
Sir John Franklin was a British explorer and a Fellow of the Society. He led three expeditions in search of the illusive Northwest Passage – a waterway joining the North Atlantic to the North Pacific via the Canadian Arctic.
Alasdair MacLeod, Head of Enterprise and Resources, said yesterday: “This discovery is a remarkable achievement for Canada and will provide long sought-after evidence of the fate of one of Franklin’s lost ships for contemporary researchers and historians alike.”
Expeditions sent in search of the Northwest Passage sought to answer one of the big geographical questions of the time, which was also of scientific, political and military interest.
Franklin’s first expedition proved eventful - he ate his own boots to ward off starvation – but he is best known today for his ill-fated third and final expedition (1845-48). Franklin died suddenly after the expedition’s two ships, Erebus and Terror, become trapped in ice in Victoria Strait. His later team died in an attempt to reach a trading post by land.
“The search for Sir John Franklin and the missing ships is one of the most remarkable episodes in the history of exploration,” says Principal Librarian Eugene Rae. “Between 1847 and 1859, at least 26 expeditions went to look for the missing men. Many of them brought back useful geographical knowledge and helped to fill in the blanks on the Arctic map, but they all failed to achieve their primary aim – to find Franklin and those ships.”
Discover for yourself
The Society holds a significant historical collection of maps and artefacts relating to the search for the Northwest Passage and subsequent search missions to locate Franklin and the two ships.
To mark the discovery a display case in the Society’s Foyle Reading Room will showcase selected original items relating to Franklin and the search for the Northwest Passage. It will be on display from Monday 15 September.
Schools can learn about the Northwest Passage and its geographical importance today – it could become a major shipping route, but there remain questions as to who owns it – by visiting the Society’s Discovering the Arctic website.
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The Map Room is part of the Society's neo-classical extension, which was commissioned in 1930. Its proportions mirror those of the original Lowther Lodge, built in the 1870s.
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