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Northwest Passage : the search for Franklin and the discovery of the passage

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Image of one of the ten coloured views taken during the Arctic expedition of Her Majesty's Ships "Enterprise" and "Investigator" under the command of Captain Sir James C. Ross   Image of the Royal Arctic Theatre playbill
1. Ten coloured views taken during the Arctic expedition of Her Majesty's Ships "Enterprise" and "Investigator" under the command of Captain Sir James C. Ross /W. H. Browne. London: Ackermann, 1850.
BL: 1259.d.11. Copyright © The British Library Board
  2. Royal Arctic Theatre. Ich dien. H.M.S. Assistance [Playbill dated 28 Feb 1851]. Griffith's Island, 1851.
BL: C.58.d.17. Copyright © The British Library Board
     
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An image as part of series of fourteen sketches, made during the voyage up Wellington Channel in search of Sir John Franklin, KCH, and the missing crews of H. M. discovery ships Erebus and Terror   Image of McClintock's ship falling on it's side on a rock
3. A series of fourteen sketches, made during the voyage up Wellington Channel in search of Sir John Franklin, KCH, and the missing crews of H. M. discovery ships Erebus and Terror /Walter W. May. London: Day, 1855.
BL: 1781.a.6. Copyright © The British Library Board
  4. The voyage of the "Fox" in the Arctic Seas: a narrative of the discovery of the fate of Sir John Franklin and his companions / Francis Leopold McClintock ; with a preface by Sir Roderick Murchison. London: John Murray, 1859.
BL: 10460.d.2. Copyright © The British Library Board
     
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Image of Schwatka and his sledge party in extreme weather   Image of Amundsen's route map through the Northwest passage
5. Schwatka's search: sledging in the Arctic in quest of the Franklin records / William H. Gilder. New York: Scribner's, 1881.
BL: 10460.v.2. Copyright © The British Library Board
  6. "The North West Passage": being the record of a voyage of exploration of the ship "Gjöa" 1903-1907 / Roald Amundsen; with a supplement by First Lieutenant Hansen. 2v. London: Archibald Constable, 1908.
BL: 2352.f.4. Copyright © The British Library Board

1. Sailors' dinner at Cape Sebbings

Lieutenant William Browne, who drew the illustrations in this volume, was on the Enterprise on Sir James Clark Ross's voyage of 1848-49 in search of Franklin. Franklin and his men had disappeared from European view in 1845 and Ross's expedition was one of the earliest sent out to look for the missing explorers. Ross followed the route that Franklin had been ordered to take but became beset in the ice at Somerset Island close to the location of the illustration. After the ships were freed, they abandoned the search because Barrow Strait was impassable to the west.

2. Icebound entertainment

To alleviate the boredom of winter months in the Arctic most explorers would devise means to entertain themselves. Among their activities were performances on improvised stages such as that advertised on this playbill printed on chamois leather. The Royal Arctic Theatre was established during the winter months of the 1850-51 Franklin search expedition that was led by Horatio Austin in the Resolute together with three other ships, including Erasmus Ommanney in the Assistance. Ommanney had discovered the first traces of Franklin's expedition at Cape Riley and on Beechey Island in August 1850.

3. Relics of Franklin found by John Rae

John Rae of the Hudson's Bay Company undertook several searches for Franklin while on exploring expeditions for the Company. In 1854 he learnt from the Inuit that in about 1850 a party of white men had been seen north of King William Island walking towards Back River, and that later several corpses had been seen west of that river. The Inuit had taken relics from the corpses, and Rae purchased those in this illustration, among them a silver plate engraved "Sir John Franklin, K. C. H." Rae was the first to send definite news about the fate of the Franklin expedition. This illustration is by Walter May from the copy of his book that he presented to John Barrow, Jr., who in turn presented it to the British Museum Library. In 1852-54 May had accompanied Sir Edward Belcher on his Franklin search expedition.

4. McClintock's ship close to disaster

In 1857-59 McClintock in the Fox went on a search for relics in the area of King William Island that Rae had identified as the scene of the Franklin disaster. He was sponsored by Lady Franklin and by private subscription. During spring sledge expeditions McClintock discovered proof of Franklin's fate and brought home the only written documentation ever found relating to the voyages of the Erebus and Terror. He also located the most feasible Northwest Passage, the one used by Amundsen on his successful navigation 50 years later. The illustration is of McClintock's ship near to wreckage, after having been beset in ice close to Greenland in winter 1857-58 and before entering Lancaster Sound on the journey westward.

5. Schwatka's epic march

In 1878-80, Frederick Schwatka, sponsored by the American Geographical Society, went on an expedition to King William Island in the hope of discovering records and journals of Franklin's expedition that might still be preserved there. After a sledge journey of nearly 3,000 miles accompanied by 12 Inuit, he reached King William Island in June 1879. He discovered some relics, including bones and skeletons, but was told by local Inuit that written records had been destroyed. This illustration is from the account of Schwatka's expedition by his second-in-command.

6. Amundsen's route to the Pacific

Amundsen set out from Christiana (Oslo) in June 1903 in the tiny herring-cutter Gjöa on a private expedition to find the exact location of the magnetic pole, to collect scientific information, and to attempt a Northwest passage. After an historic journey lasting three years with three over-winterings, he and his crew arrived at Nome, Alaska, in August 1906, and became the first men to complete the Northwest passage by sea.

How to order Reproductions

The Northwest passage The Northwest passage
Early approaches Early approaches
Voyages of delusion Voyages of delusion
The Admiralty takes over The Admiralty takes over
The search for Franklin and the discovery of the passage
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The Northwest passage The Northwest passage
Early approaches Early approaches
Voyages of delusion Voyages of delusion
The Admiralty takes over The Admiralty takes over
The search for Franklin and the discovery of the passage
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