The history of exploration is full of stories of remarkable courage, selfless heroism, strange coincidences, and unimaginable tragedy. And perhaps no region of the world has produced as many such stories as the Arctic with its sub-zero temperatures, treacherous, frozen seas, and unrelenting winters. The 19th century saw a flurry of Arctic adventures as Great Britain dispatched expedition after expedition to the northern seas to seek the fabled Northwest Passage to the Pacific. None of these expeditions would inspire the same confidence, national pride, and – ultimately – lasting infamy as the Franklin Expedition.
In 1845 Sir John Franklin sailed from England for the Arctic regions with two ships and 128 men on what was viewed as a mission of certain success. His orders were to find and sail through the Northwest Passage, and to insure his success he was equipped with two of the most technologically-advanced ships ever dispatched to the Arctic – the Terror and the Erebus – and enough supplies to keep him and his men fed and comfortable for at least five years. When the expedition, its ships, and every man on board vanished without a trace, however, the Franklin Expedition turned from a triumphant display of British naval power and ingenuity into one of the greatest and most enduring mysteries in the history of exploration. For the next twenty years England would send out dozens of intrepid men to search for Franklin and his crews – first in the hope of rescue, then simply to solve the puzzle of their fate. Yet to this day only three graves, two cryptic notes, and a scattering of artifacts and human bones have been located to give any indication of what tragedy befell the expedition.
So how is the ill-fated Franklin Expedition connected to the desk in the Oval Office used by U.S. presidents? That is the story that Martin W. Sandler unfolds in his book Resolute: the epic search for the Northwest Passage and John Franklin, and the discovery of the Queen’s ghost ship. It is a fascinating look at the personalities and expeditions – both thrilling and horrifying – that preceded Franklin and ventured into the Arctic wastes after his disappearance.
This and other tales of cold climate adventure and endurance are on display this month at MPL. See how warm January suddenly feels after reading these non-fiction stories of heroism and survival!