Lost Franklin Expedition Ship Found by Canadian Scientists

John Franklin Expedition, 1845

In 1845, Sir John Franklin, a British naval officer and renowned Arctic explorer, set sail from England, leading an expedition of two ships and 128 men into the dangerous ice-filled waters of the Canadian Arctic. The expedition sought to navigate the Northwest Passage—a North American sea route connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans—and to advance mapping efforts within the distant polar region. They never returned.

Numerous reconnaissance missions were attempted, but none succeeded in finding the ships. Over the years, a variety of hypotheses regarding their disappearance have been put forth and tested, including suggestions that lead poisoning may have been involved, but none could be confirmed.

Then, on Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014, the Canadian government made a surprising announcement: a search team, headed up by an underwater archaeologist, and employing advanced sonar technology—as well as a remote-controlled underwater vehicle—had located one of the ships in the territory of Nunavut.

You might say it marks a poignant, yet fitting, end to the mystery: the discovery of Franklin’s shipwreck has resulted from the same adventurous, scientific spirit that he and his men had embodied when they set out.

JSTOR Citations

Exploration at the edge: Reassessing the fate of Sir John Franklin’s last Arctic expedition

By: Michael Durey

The Great Circle, Vol. 30, No. 2 (2008), pp. 3-40

Australian Association for Maritime History

The Type and Number of Expeditions in the Franklin Search 1847-1859

By: W. Gillies Ross

Arctic, Vol. 55, No. 1 (Mar., 2002), pp. 57-69

Arctic Institute of North America

The Final Days of the Franklin Expedition: New Skeletal Evidence

By: Anne Keenleyside, Margaret Bertulli and Henry C. Fricke

Arctic, Vol. 50, No. 1, 50 Years of Northern Science (Mar., 1997), pp. 36-46

Arctic Institute of North America

Margaret Smith

Margaret Smith is a science librarian based in New York City. She holds an MA in Evolutionary Biology from Rice University and an MS in Library & Information Science from Syracuse University. Her work has appeared in publications ranging from PLOS ONE to the Snakeskin Poetry Webzine. She also served on the team that wrote and edited the Pacific Islands regional contribution to the 2014 National Climate Assessment and was the science coordinator for The Where, the Why, and the How: 75 Artists Illustrate Wondrous Mysteries of Science (Chronicle Books, 2012).

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