What happened to Franklin's lost expedition?

Recently the subject of hit TV series The Terror, Franklin's Arctic exploration marked a key moment in British maritime history

30 Sep 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'. 

An iceberg, the HMS Terror and some walrus near the entrance of Hudson Strait :by George Back.jpeg

HMS Terror and HMS Erebus set sail from England in 1845 in an expedition led by Sir John Franklin in search of the elusive Northwest Passage - a sea route between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

The ships were beset by ice in 1846 in what is now Canada's Arctic, and were deserted two years later. Both ships were lost, and all 129 men on board perished. It is the worst disaster in the history of British polar exploration.

What really happened on the expedition has been a mystery. Erebus was discovered in 2014 and Terror in 2016, and a team of archaeologists managed to recover artifacts.



What secrets can conservation reveal about this calamity?

Parks Canada Erebus artifacts.jpg
© Parks Canada

Conservator Flora Davidson led the conservation of the artifacts. When Erebus was discovered, she had been working as an archaeological conservator at Parks Canada for about 10 years, specializing in conservation of objects from marine sites. 

Conservation work can help us develop a better understanding of not only the story of Franklin, but also of the changes in society and the influence technology has on our understanding and perception of events over the course of the last 170 years.   

While working on the project, Flora became more aware of influences that have affected the interpretation of finds over the last 170 years - particularly with regard to the human remains. Re-evaulation of previous artifacts using newer analytical tools also challenged what we believed to be true before.

Flora will discuss these interesting insights in her presentation at the Icon Annual Lecture.

When asked how her perception of the voyages and the story changed over the course of the project, she said:

By working on artifacts, particularly clothing, I've appreciated the abilities of the crew to survive for as long as they did.  While it's certainly true that they weren't adequately prepared for surviving long in extreme Arctic winters, the fact that they did for some time is testament to the men's  resilience and determination.  

The fascinating story inspired TV series and novels that attempted to explore the crew's final moments - most notably, recent hit AMC and BBC TV series The Terror, which amassed a large fanbase.

Did Flora watch The Terror?

Yes! But not all episodes. I'm really waiting, and hoping for The Erebus ship to come out. I guess like me, the writers are waiting to find some more details  regarding the circumstances of the ship first!

Book your ticket for Icon's Annual Lecture to hear Flora discuss what secrets can conservation reveal about this calamity.


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