Sunday, 12 September 2010

Early news of an exciting possible new discovery of Franklin Expedition remains

A potentially very interesting new piece of evidence has emerged today for those trying to piece together 'the Fate of Franklin' from the Future Capital Partners North West Passage Expedition, led by Bear Grylls. ( This was a voyage by Bear Grylls and six companions through the North West Passage this summer in an open Rigid Inflatable Boat, the "Arctic Wolf". Do read their description of their exciting transit of the North West Passage and the exciting discovery they have made.

On their way south down Peel Inlet and Franklin Strait from Resolute Bay, heading towards King William Island, the team took shelter in the lee of an island 'abutting the Wellington Straight in the uncharted waters off the coast of King William Island'. It is only about 8 meters high and 200 metres across. They named it Jonesy Island after their marine engineer Ben Jones. Ben has discovered evidence that an earlier group of people spend some time, and died, at this desolate spot. The evidence so far described is:
  • Signs of large fires having been lit on the northern side of the island abutting Wellington Straight. Because of the direction of the prevailing winds, they interpret these as beacons lit by men hoping for rescue from the North, rather than for warmth. They make the point that to burn so much wood is characteristic more of desperate westerners rather than Inuit.
  • What appears to be part of a mast blown up on shore. Presumably from a ship's boat rather than the mainmast of a ship, but that will have to wait for clarification.
  • Whale-bone pins. Given that the Franklin Expedition was well equipped with metal needles, which were found in some quantity at their Felix Cape encampment, this is perhaps more suggestive of an Inuit presence.
  • Human remains buried in 'western looking graves'. Associated with these were bones and a small piece of felt or fabric – certainly not indicative of an Inuit burial. How many individuals are represented is not entirely clear – certainly more than four – and Bear Grylls also located a human skull not associated with any grave.
  • What appear to be tent-circles made from stones.
This sounds rather like the 'boat-places' of Erebus Bay associated with the Franklin Expedition. It is a very exciting discovery and no doubt a short professional archaeological survey and perhaps limited excavation will be able to identify and approximately date these unfortunate people. If they were NOT Inuit, then who could they be if not Franklin Expedition members? How many other Kabloona boat crews have been lost in this part of the world? Could they have been a little-known stranded group of whalers? And if the evidence includes both Inuit and Kabloona traits, could it even have been a mixed group?

Now let us shamelessly speculate what this find might mean IF it turns out to be of Franklin Expedition members. It might represent the final resting place of a group of refugees struggling north east back the way they had come, perhaps hoping that their first anchorage at Beechey Island would by then have been discovered.

There is another possibility. In an earlier post I suggested that the conventional interpretation of the Victory Point note may be wrong, and that in the autumn of 1845 the Expedition might instead have secured the ships at Beechey Island and spent the following months until they sailed in 1846 exploring the waterways to the west, south and north to seek out the best passage to follow. I speculated that they first attempted to break through north via Wellington Straight, before doubling back to Peel Inlet via the west of Cornwallis Island. If this did in fact take place, then this site might be where a, or perhaps the, party exploring south met its end. Perhaps it was the loss of this party which tipped the balance in the minds of the Expedition's leaders that they should attempt the northern route rather than the southern?

This is of course completely speculative, but it may be an example of how much more still remains to be found of the Franklin Expedition in the Arctic. It will be fascinating to see what evidence the Future Capital Partners North West Passage Expedition has been able to bring back and what the final interpretation of this exciting discovery will be.


  1. This certainly sounds like a promising discovery! But there aren't really any "uncharted waters" (in the sense that there are no maps of them), though they may perhaps not be accurate navigational charts. And I don't think you can name islands anymore without the agreement of the Nunavut Territorial Government and the Federal Government of Canada!

    Still, this would be consistent with other finds that suggest that one group of Franklin survivors may have headed up along the coast of Peel Inlet, which in fact would have brought them in contact with searchers, had they only been there at the right moment. Perhaps they came too soon, and this camp marks the end of the trail ...

  2. Hi Russell,

    Just a thought, but what 'other finds' are you thinking of?


  3. I was thinking mainly of the Franklin-era whaleboat found by Inuit hunters on the eastern coast of Prince of Wales Island and later visited by Wayne Davidson, a Franklin buff who has worked for many years at the weather station at Resolute Bay. He used to have some photos of it at his website, "Sir John Franklin Was Here!" but visiting there lately I don't seem to see them -- his site is eclectic and a bit disorganized, much as is Wayne himself. At any rate, the boat was in a ruined condition, but the keel-piece resembled in shape that of the Franklin whaleboat found by McClintock. Somewhere in my files I have a xerox of an article about this boat -- I'll see if I can track it down and send it along -- I don't recall any graves being mentioned near that site, though I believe there might have been stones which suggested a tent, though I'm not sure of what kind (European tents were square; round tent-rings suggest a tupik). Did these latter-day explorers take any photos, I wonder?

  4. Th find I'd mentioned was on an expedition lead by Cambridge professor Peter Wadhams; there is a brief account of it in Wadhams, P., and M.P. Casarini. 1994. Signs of life. Geographical Magazine 66 (4): 26-27.

  5. Hi! I'm making a drawing of Bear and the Artic Wolf's journey through the NW Passage. Can you help me with it? I need more info./photos to see to coplete my drawing to make it look the best that I can. Like... what does Jonesy Island look like? What do the french man and dog look like? I hope to give my drawing to the NW Passage team as a gift. I'm just a fan and I appreciate their adventure and how they are helping a charity to give clean water to children, making global warming known, etc.! I've been following their adventure on the FCP NW passage website. I hope you can help. Thank you. You can contact me on facebook at angel etz Thanks! Aloha, angel

  6. William, the Independent has now picked up this story.