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Northwest passage : The search for Franklin and the discovery of the passage, a historical account

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After Franklin's disappearance from view in July 1845 many months passed before any concern was expressed for the safety of him and his crews as he was well provisioned and there was no serious expectation that the cruise could be completed in one season. In 1847 whaler William Penny attempted to make contact with the missing expedition and in the autumn of that year the Navy began to show concern and to make plans for relief expeditions. In the course of a decade almost 40 expeditions were sent out to search for Franklin. Among those who led these expeditions were John Ross, his nephew James Clark Ross, Horatio Austin, Henry Kellett, John Richardson, Edward Inglefield, and Edward Belcher. It was eventually learnt that on the brink of success his ships had been icebound off King William Island. After what must have been a dreadful winter, Franklin had died on 11 June 1847, and his surviving crew perished in a terrible ordeal while attempting to reach the Back River to the south of the icebound ships. The discoverer of Franklin's fate was John Rae (1853-54) who was given a reward of £10,000 despite the opposition of Franklin's widow (and Charles Dickens). The Inuit had supplied information about the lost expedition to Rae and their reports were confirmed by Leopold McClintock (1857-59) who brought back to England the only written documentation relating to Franklin's voyage. The Franklin searches resulted in a great expansion of the knowledge of the Canadian Arctic, including the discovery by Robert McClure in the Investigator (1850-54) of Prince of Wales Strait, a last link in the fabled passage. McClure was also the first to cross from west to east, partly by sledge over sea ice from Banks Island to near Devon Island.

There were also a number of American expeditions that went in search of Franklin: Elisha Kent Kane (1853-55), Charles Francis Hall (1860-62 and 1864-69) and Frederick Schwatka (1878-80). All of these explorers added to knowledge of the Arctic, although Kane's voyage took him closer to the North Pole than the Northwest Passage. Hall found the graves of some of Franklin's men and learnt more about the fate of the missing expedition from the Inuit. Schwatka's overland trek accompanied by twelve Inuit found further clues but no written records. Their sledge journey to King William Island of nearly 3,000 miles in 50 weeks was a remarkable feat of endurance.

By the end of the Franklin search all the Arctic waterways were known, revealing several possible Northwest Passages but no-one had gained the distinction of being the first to navigate from sea to sea.

In 1875 a private British venture by Allen Young in the Pandora set out to reach the magnetic pole by way of Baffin Bay and Lancaster Sound, and then to navigate the Northwest Passage in one season. But like so many before him Young was beset by ice and had to return homeward. The Passage would not be successfully navigated until the twentieth century when, in 1903-06, Roald Amundsen, (who would later beat Scott to the South Pole), made the full transit by sea in the Gjöa. It was left to a Norwegian to accomplish the crossing of the Northwest Passage, but as he himself pointed out, the fact that it was possible had been due to the earlier explorations by British seamen.

The Northwest passage The Northwest passage
Early approaches Early approaches
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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
Links Links
   
 
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