Franklin's lost expedition: What secrets can conservation reveal about this calamity?

Conservation can help us develop a better understanding of the story of the expedition

11 Oct 2021


The Icon Annual Lecture takes place on 27 October. This year, we will delve into the famed and mysterious wreckages of Captain Sir John Franklin's 1845 'lost expedition'. 

Shipwrecks are often likened to time capsules. This is the expectation, or perhaps hope, with the discovery of the wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, which were lost for almost 170 years and found in 2014 and 2016. (read about what happened to Franklin's lost expedition here)

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© Parks Canada

When the shipwrecks were finally found, it was presumed that the close examination of the recovered objects would provide further insight as to the events that lead the crew and ships to their ultimate demise.

Conservator Flora Davidson, who at the time of the first discovery had been working at Parks Canada as an archaeological conservator specializing in conservation of objects from marine sites, led the conservation of the artifacts. 

Conservation can help us understand what happened to the objects, which in turn might illuminate what happened with the ships and the crew. Flora explains that conservators strive to preserve artifacts as they present with all marks of time, wear and perhaps re-use:

The original form and condition is important, but that isn't what we're trying to bring the object back to necessarily. In fact, some times it absolutely isn't. What is important is what has happened to the object. This will help piece together the story for the archaeologists and researchers aiming to reconstruct the events. 

There have been several artifacts retrieved to date that have given us details of what it was like onboard the ships. Flora observed repurposed objects and new technologies which were developed in Europe, but were untested in the extreme climates of the Arctic. We can therefore get an insight into how the crewmen adapted to the circumstances, by closely looking at how the artifacts from the ships had been used and repurposed. 

Despite the huge amount of written material on the Franklin expedition, there is no way of knowing this without looking at the wrecks and the objects.

Book your ticket for Icon's Annual Lecture to hear Flora discuss these fascinating insights.



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