Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Ship from the Sir John Franklin's Lost Arctic Expedition found

This could be the biggest archaeological find in decades:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper says one of Canada's greatest mysteries now has been solved, with the discovery of one of the lost ships from Sir John Franklin's doomed Arctic expedition.
"This is a great historic event," Harper said.
"For more than a century this has been a great Canadian story.… It's been the subject of scientists and historians and writers and singers. And so I think we have a really important day in mapping together the history of our country," the prime minister said.

At this point, the searchers aren't sure if they've found HMS Erebus or HMS Terror. But sonar images from the waters of Victoria Strait, just off King William Island, clearly show wreckage of a ship on the ocean floor.
The wreckage was found on Sept. 7 using a remotely operated underwater vehicle recently acquired by Parks Canada. When Harper revealed the team's success at Parks Canada's laboratories in Ottawa Tuesday, the room burst into applause and hollering.
"This is a day of some very good news," Harper told the assembled group of researchers, some of whom had flown all night to be in Ottawa for the announcement.
"It appears to be perfectly preserved," Harper said of the ship, adding that it has "a little bit of damage."

Harper said the "latest, cutting-edge technology" Parks Canada used was integral to finding the ship under layers of growth on the ocean floor. "With older technology, you could have come very close to this and not seen it at all."
Ryan Harris, an underwater archaeologist who was Parks Canada's project lead for this year's search, said the wreck was "indisputably" one of Franklin's two ships.
"It's a very substantial wreck," Harris said, putting to rest earlier fears that Franklin's ships may not be found intact after so many years.

The sonar image shows some of the deck structures survived, Harris explained, pointing out the stubs of the masts which were apparently sheared away by the ice when it sank.  Because the deck is relatively intact, the contents of the ship "should be very, very well-preserved."

The next step for the search team will be to take a look at what's inside.
In a statement, the prime minister said Franklin's expedition laid the foundations of Canada’s Arctic sovereignty.  He called the lost ships Canada's "only undiscovered national historical site."

The prime minister paid tribute to the search teams — a partnership between Parks Canada, the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, the Arctic Research Foundation, the Canadian Coast Guard, the Royal Canadian Navy and the government of Nunavut — whose work since 2008 has paid off.

“This discovery would not have been possible without their tireless efforts over the years, as well as their commitment, dedication and the perseverance of the many partners and explorers involved," Harper said.
Queen Elizabeth sent a message for Canadians to the Governor General on Tuesday following the discovery.
"I was greatly interested to learn of the discovery of one of the long-lost ships of Captain Sir John Franklin. Prince Philip joins me in sending congratulations and good wishes to all those who played a part in this historic achievement," she said in a statement.
Franklin's crew became locked in the ice during a doomed search for the Northwest Passage to the Pacific Ocean in 1845. All 128 crew members eventually died, though there's evidence to suggest some may have survived for several years.
Many searches throughout the 19th century attempted to find the lost ships, but the mystery of what happened to John Franklin and his men has never been solved.
Search parties later recorded Inuit testimony in the late 1840s that claimed one ship sank in deep water west of King William Island, and one ship went perhaps as far south as Queen Maud Gulf or into Wilmot and Crampton Bay. The location of this wreck backs up that testimony.
Sure sounds like they should have listened to the Inuits in the first place. Here is a shot of the side-scan sonar that revealed the presence of the ship:

First, some massive congratulations to everyone involved here. Can you imagine what that must have been like to see this image for the first time and realize you had just solved one of the biggest mysteries in history?

Probable route of Franklin Expedition. (Wikipedia)
On the darker side, can you imagine what it must have been like to be on the crew of the Erebus or the Terror and wake up one morning to see your ship had been trapped in ice and was now unable to move until the ice cleared? They had planned to hole up for the winter and had made contingencies for that, but this struck early, before they were ready and safely in a cove where they could wait until the winter ended. The ice had closed in around them overnight, and gradually began moving and twisting the ships. They had hoped the ice would clear in the summer, but it never did, and with their supplies (which included moldy and rancid food cased in lead-soldered cans by unscrupulous contractor Stephen Goldner) exhausted, they tried a desperate exodus across the ice trying to reach a Hudson Bay Company outpost far to the south. They never made it, and succumbed to illness, lead-poisoning, scurvy, exposure, and sunburn. Australian News has a chilling (no pun intended) image of what it must have looked like.

This has always been a huge deal in Canada and Britain. Until 1999, one of Canada's Northwest Territories was named "The District of Franklin" after Sir John Franklin. And when Harper made his announcement, the room burst into cheers.

I have seen questions -- questions that strike me as borderline offensive -- about the value of this investigation, questions about why should we care, as if history has no value. CBC journalist Peter Mansbridge, who has covered the expedition and even had some involvement in it, explains why:
When Sir John Franklin led his two grand ships of the Royal Navy, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror‎, from England's shores in 1845, thousands lined the shore to wave goodbye.
This was big stuff, the latest and best-equipped expedition to try to discover the Northwest Passage.

If this was successful, it would bring the riches of Asia to Europe far more quickly and less expensively than ever before.

For centuries, the quest had been on. It's why all the great European explorers had first bumped into North America. They weren't looking for a "Canada," they were looking for China.

We were just a stopover on the way, and a cold, icy one to boot. Franklin was going to change all that.

But three years after he and his 128 men left on their voyage, tens of thousands weren't standing on the shore welcoming him back.

Instead, they were attending special services in British churches desperately praying for him to be found.

Franklin was lost, nothing had been heard from him, and in 1848, the searches started.

There would be more than 40 in the decades that followed in the 19th century alone. It was to be the greatest combined search ever.

Parts of the story became clearer — Erebus and Terror had been locked in ice, Franklin had died on board and the ships were abandoned as the men tried to walk their way out.

What followed was a horrible tale of starvation, cannibalism and death. Not a single sailor lived to tell exactly what had happened.

And what was never solved was the mystery of Erebus and Terror — what had happened to the pride of the Royal Navy?

What all those years of searching for the two ships accomplished was the mapping, charting and‎ actual opening up of huge parts of Canada's North and West.

This isn't just a story of looking for old bones and old bits of ship — it's a story about us, about our country, about our history.
Hat tip to you, Oh, Canada! You deserve it.

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