Meeting Minutes - Dr. Robert Park: Franlin's 3rd. Arctic Expledition - May 16th. 2019
The meeting opened at 9:57 am with 51 members in attendance. President Martin Alderwick welcomed today’s presenter, Dr. Robert W. Park as well as new guests, Chris Gimmer and Darrel Henderson.
President Alderwick announced the passing of one of the Club’s founding members, Ron Usborn, who was a Club activist who served on several committees.
Announcements Activities – Ray Biffis - September 23rd night at the horseraces at Elora has 30 attendees signed up; - Some sheets are on the greeting table for members to indicate their preference in a theatre event at a local theatre in the coming months.
Coffee – Andy Curtis - Next Thurs., May 9th coffee will be at the Boathouse and the alternative meeting location is the Airpark Café.
John Sneyd introduced today’s guest speaker, Dr. Robert Park. Bio: For four decades Dr. Park has participated in archaeological fieldwork in Southern Ontario, Yukon, Northwest Territories, and especially Nunavut. Most of his own research over that period has been into the Inuit of Canada’s Arctic, exploring the development of their way of life over the past five thousand years. However, he’s also been involved in research studying the early European exploration of that region from the 1800s through the 1930s. He’s been on the fringes of research into the famous third Franklin expedition for many years but his participation in the current search goes back to its beginning in 2008. Since then he’s been assisting the Nunavut Government in the land-based component of the archaeological research.
Topic: For centuries the challenge of finding a navigable sailing route through the Canadian Arctic drew European explorers into that daunting region, but in the 1840s those attempts culminated in the catastrophic loss of Sir John Franklin's third expedition—two ships and 129 sailors. Almost continuously since then, people have been attempting to understand why and how this unprecedented disaster occurred. This presentation described how recent archaeological investigations, informed by testimony from the Inuit people of the region, located the last remains of Franklin's expedition and are shedding new light on this 160-year-old mystery.
Presentation: Dr. Park began his presentation by briefly referencing the history of the Arctic about 200 hundred years ago but also said the Inuit have lived in Arctic area for 4000 years following the retreat of the last ice age. At that time the northern hemisphere was a big blank area on maps.
In 1818 the Napoleonic Wars had ended and Great Britain went back to the interest of Elizabethan times when there was much interest in finding the Northwest Passage through the top of the northern hemisphere. After the Napoleonic Wars, Britain had the biggest navy in the world and had a lot of trained sailors but not too much to do with them so Britain decided to use some of these sailors to find the Northwest Passage. Some exploration had already been done so it was decided in 1841 to try to complete finding the route. The pattern at that time of how exploration in this part of the world was conducted was to sail around in the area from July when there was open water until about late September when there was a freeze-up and then winter on the wooden ships in a nice little harbour until the following year. The sailors then wintered on the ships.
The following April the men loaded provisions onto sleds and set off to explore the surrounding area travelling hundreds of kilometers while the ships were still frozen in. In July and August the ocean would unfreeze again and the sailors continue exploring the uncharted waters or sail for home again.
In 1845 only some of the waters north of the area now known as Prince of Wales Island were charted but Franklin’s expedition spotted an area where they determined a gap between the islands. They believed if they could get through that area and follow the waters west from where they were to the Bering Strait they could complete the Northwest Passage.
The ships they were given for this expedition were the HMS Terror and the HMS Erebus which had originally been bomb ships designed for bombarding shore emplacements. These had to be unusually strong ships to withstand the recoil of the cannons. These ships were overhauled to be used for Arctic exploration.
This Arctic expedition was the third one captained by John Franklin but the previous two expeditions had been overland expeditions. By 1845 Franklin was a British naval hero having served at the Battle of Trafalgar under Nelson. He was a renowned Arctic personality but he was getting on in years. Before he set out on this expedition he had told everyone that they wouldn’t hear from him for three years. The expedition was provisioned for three years and they didn’t think that they would likely go through the passage in less time unless everything went perfectly. So for the first two years nobody worried when they didn’t return to Britain. It was after three years in 1848 that people started to get concerned about them not returning.
In 1848 another expedition was sent out to make contact with the Franklin expedition but no trace of the Franklin expedition was found and between 1848 to 1854 several more search expeditions were sent out looking for the lost Franklin expedition. By this time Americans got involved in looking for the Franklin expedition.
In 1851 at a place called Beechey Island the Franklin expedition spent its first winter. The graves of three sailors who died that winter were found there however after that discovery the fate of the expedition seemed to vanish. By 1854, not having found anything further of the Franklin expedition, the fate of the crew was declared dead and the search discontinued due to the cost of looking for them.
In 1854 John Rae, who worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company in the north encountered some Inuit who informed him that a number of years before some Europeans were known to have died in a particular location from starvation. Some Inuit had recovered a few items from the expedition, such as a spoon that had a family crest of Franklin. The Inuit indicated the area to Rae who went back to Britain and informed the authorities of the location. The Inuit had also informed Rae that some of the last survivors of the expedition had performed cannibalism before they died. By this time the Navy was done with searching for the Franklin expedition because they had other things to do.
Lady Franklin, Franklin’s wife, purchased a small vessel of her own and got some volunteers, Francis Leopold McClintock and W.R. Hobson to continue the search. In 1859 this privately funded expedition spoke to some Inuit who provided directions to where they knew the Franklin expedition had trekked. McClintock and Hobson travelled to the location indicated and found evidence of the Franklin Expedition in a cairn at Point Victory on the west coast of King William Island. In the cairn they found a letter sealed in a metal cylinder which gave some history of the Franklin expedition from 1847 until the time of the letter being written when all was well. The letter also provided some information about the crews intent to further look for the northwest passage and where they were headed for next. It indicated that they thought they could sail to a certain point and then sail out the following year. According to this account the number of men were reduced indicating that a bunch more men had died in the meantime. The letter made apparent that they thought the remaining crew could make it to a trading post in the north part of Canada.
After 1859 there were still lots of questions about the fate of the Franklin expedition although they knew the Franklin expedition had failed but they didn’t know why this catastrophe happened. In 1869 Charles Francis Hall travelled with the Inuit to find out more about what they knew. One Inuit, Oonalee, drew Hall a map that provided much information to the location of where items of the Franklin expedition had been found. He also indicated where one of the ships had sunk.
Another searcher looking for the fate of the Franklin expedition, Frederick Schwatka, from the United States Army made the last search expedition in 1878. He did an extensive investigation using information obtained from many Inuit who had had actual contact with the members of the Franklin expedition. He learned where the ships had got to after being abandoned by the Franklin crew in Wilmot and Crampton Bay.
One of the first attempts to actually find the ship was done as a Centennial military project in 1967 but they didn’t find it. In 2008 - 2014 Parks Canada started looking for the ships. A Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker was used in the search and from it smaller boats were used. These smaller boats used side-arm sonar which produce a narrow map of strips of the seafloor. While this search was taking place on water, another search was taking place on land. In the on-land search a helicopter was also used. In this search one of the clues they were looking for were stone-circle rings which were rings of heavy stones used to anchor the outside tent flaps to keep them from being blown away by wind. These rings were evidence of places where sailors had camped.
Another piece of evidence being looked for was anything that had a “Broad Arrow” on it. For several centuries items belonging to the king, meaning the royal government, were stamped with a “Broad Arrow” for identification purposes. The search expeditions were looking for anything with this stamp as possible proof of the Franklin expedition. Also being sought was driftwood that might have hand forged nails indicating possible signs of ship wreckage.
On September 1, 2014, one of the helicopter pilots who was filling in time while waiting for the archeology crews to do their search, found an item and alerted the archeologists to what he thought was an item of interest. It turned out to be a hawse cover, which is a plug for a hole in the deck of a ship through which a rope or anchor chain would pass. This item also had hand-forged nails. The helicopter pilot also found an item that looks like an large cast iron tuning fork. On it was number with the “Broad Arrow” on either side of it which was proof that it had belonged to the Royal Navy of the Franklin Expedition. This piece belonged to one of the ship’s davits which is part of a crane that projects over the side of a ship or a hatchway and is used especially for boats, anchors, or cargo. This was a really important discovery and the crew took photographs of their discovery.
Parks Canada now had an indication where to search off this island for the lost ship of the Franklin Expedition. Using side-scan sonar the crew trolled along the edge of O'Reilly Island and on September 9th, 2014, the expedition announced that it had located one of Franklin's two ships. The ship was preserved in good condition and lay in about 12 metres of water at the bottom of the eastern portion of Queen Maud Gulf, west of O'Reilly Island. It turned out that this ship was the Erebus.
Dr. Park went on to explain about all the protocol required with Parks Canada when the ship was found. After almost two years of searching later the other Franklin ship was found. Because of wanting to prevent the looting of the find of the other Franklin expedition ship, the Terror, the details of where it is actually located have been kept secret so as to preserve recovery of the artifacts. This ship is in deeper water and the artifacts are better preserved.
Dr. Park followed his presentation by responding to questions from the membership.
John Sneyd thanked Dr. Park for his presentation and presented him with a token of appreciation from the Club.
Next meeting: Thurs. May 30th. - Dr. Julia Christensen Hughes - "Developing leaders for a sustainable and equitable world"