Friday, 4 September 2009

Was this the trap which caught the Franklin Expedition?

In an earlier post I made the suggestion, which I have not seen proposed elsewhere, that the conventional interpretation of the Victory Point note may be wrong. I pointed to the ambiguities in its wording. The conventional interpretation is that in it Fitzjames says that the Franklin Expedition made their voyage NORTH from Beechey Island to 77 degrees north in the summer of 1845. They then wintered at Beechey Island before making a second attempt on the North West Passage to the SOUTH down Peel Strait before becoming beset to the north of King William Island in 1846. I suggested that an equally plausible interpretation of the Victory Point note would be that their voyage in 1845 was only as far as Beechey Island and that their two attempts through the Passage, first NORTH and then SOUTH, both took place in 1846.

Unfortunately the Victory Point note really is ambiguous on this and until new evidence emerges there really is no way to be sure one way or another. The more I think about it, the more my personal suspicion is that the conventional interpretation is wrong and that both voyages DID take place in the summer of 1846.

Take a look at this image (

It is a NASA image created by Jesse Allen, using data provided courtesy of the MODIS Rapid Response team. It shows an ice pattern EXACTLY as you would expect if the alternative interpretation is correct. You can see that from Beechey Island the channels north either side of Cornwallis Island are open and would just about permit the ships to sail as far as 77 degrees north and then return by the west side of Cornwallis Island. Just as described in the Victory Point note. From that position there it would have been comparatively easy for the Franklin Expedition to have found the open entrance to Peel Straight. Notice also that the ice there becomes heavy north of King William Island, more or less where the Expedition DID become beset.

This image was taken on 27 August, 2009. Was this exactly how the ice looked in August 1846?