Sunday, September 28, 2008

Ah, For Just One Time I Would Take the Northwest Passage To Find the Hand of Franklin Reaching for the Beaufort Sea.........

My interest in historical sailors and sea voyages has led me to another fascinating book. (one of these days I gotta quit looking on ABE books site) The title of this little gem is "Frozen in Time unlocking the secrets of the Franklin expedition".

First a wee bit of a back round.

Man has always been on a quest to find the Northwest Passage, a water route from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean through the Arctic. This would have been a short cut to the treasures of the Orient and would have made the country that discovered this route both wealthy and powerful. There were many attempts to locate the passage all ending in failure. On May 19th, 1845 an expedition consisting of two ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror and 129 personnel commanded by Sir John Franklin set sail for the Arctic. The ships were last seen in the Arctic in August of that year never to be seen again.

Frozen in Time recounts the attempts at locating the Franklin expedition as well as trying to figure out what went wrong. After all this was one of the best prepared and equipped expeditions that had ever been sent out. They had 5 years supplies which could have been easily stretched to 7 years without many problems. So what went wrong?

The authors through archeology and forensic pathology make some surprising discoveries. To get this information, the authors as a part of a scientific study excavated the graves of three members of the Franklin expedition who had died in 1846. Because the graves were in permafrost the bodies of these three men were remarkably preserved. It was necessary to thaw out the bodies with warm water. This book has multiple photos of the bodies as they were being excavated and while they are graphic, somehow they invoke a degree of pity and compassion.

Testing on the bodies reveled that they contained a very high level of lead in the tissues. So much lead that it had affected the health of the seamen. But where did the lead come from?

The largest portion of the supplies packed for the expedition were packed in the newly developed tin cans. Based on empty cans found in relationship to other Franklin artifacts the cans were not sealed properly and had very large exposed seams sealed with lead. The hypothesis is that lead leached into the food product from the exposed lead and also some foods were cooked while still in the can thus giving even more lead exposure. With this much lead in a person's system it debilitated the body to such a degree that they were both prone to chronic sickness as well as mental instability which in the deadly conditions of the Arctic would lead to death.

Sadly enough, the very thing that was suppose to save the lives of the crew, served as the cause of their deaths on the cold, lonely Arctic waste.

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