The Franklin discovery is not about what, but where


You’ve got to love the above headline, which introduced Our Hero’s think-piece in today’s Globe and Mail. You can read the whole by clicking here. Probably you will want to do that after sampling this excerpt? First, a bit of extra background. 1. In 1854, the Inuit who spoke to John Rae testified to seeing about 40 white men, 65 fewer than originally left the ships. 2. In Unravelling the Franklin Mystery, author David Woodman developed a complex chronology, based on Inuit testimony, according to which some men reoccupied one of the ships and lived on for at least another year. Voila . . . .

What’s most exciting about this discovery, however, is the where of it.

ship has been found not in the primary search area, but off a small
island to the southwest of King William Island. It appears to be Hat
Island, one of the Royal Geographical Society Islands.

discovery at this location vindicates Inuit testimony. Not only that: In
conjunction with that testimony, it suggests an explanation for a major
anomaly, one that has troubled historians for more than century, in the
so-called “standard version” of what happened to the Franklin

That anomaly is the north-facing lifeboat, with two
bodies in it, that Leopold McClintock discovered in 1859 on the west
coast of King William Island. According to the one-page record he found
farther north, near Victory Point, Franklin’s men had abandoned their
ship to travel south seeking help. Why, then, was the lifeboat facing

The location of this latest discovery suggests a
possibility that has merely been floated in the past. Franklin’s two
ships may have gotten separated. And some men may have been aboard this
newly discovered vessel as it travelled south, or reboarded after it had done so, carried probably by the
ice. Further research should reveal whether the lifeboat comes from the ship discovered here.

In her 2008 book Encounters on the Passage: Inuit Meet the Explorers,
Dorothy Eber writes of interviewing contemporary Inuit who relayed
traditional stories of a ship that sank off Hat Island. As a child, her
book tells us, Mabel Angulalik “heard that her own relatives had come
upon what they thought were pieces of a ship’s wreckage buried in sand …
to the east of Hat Island.” She believes that Inuit shamans might have
sunk the ship.

Whatever forces sank the ship, the discovery at
this location, taken together with the north-facing lifeboat, suggests
that some men from this ship set out to return to the other one – the
ship at the so-called “point of abandonment” to the north. This would
also explain why only several dozen men were seen trekking south by Inuit. At least some of the others would have been on this ship.

finding also offers further irrefutable proof, if any were needed, that
Franklin discovered a navigable Northwest Passage as far south as King
William Island. Recently, several historians have argued that because a
stretch of coastline remained unmapped into the 1850s, that section had
yet to be discovered. Clearly, Franklin sailed right along that unmapped
coast, and left evidence that he had done so. The argument is specious.

. . . As a symbol of
Canada’s supremacy in the Northwest Passage, the finding is invaluable.
It shows that we have have sufficient control over these waters that we
can uncover the Arctic’s greatest secrets. Oh – and that we can
revolutionize exploration history while we are at it. . . .

Still with me? Then you might be interested in checking out what I wrote for Canada’s History magazine. Again, you can find the whole piece by clicking here. But first a snippet to whet your appetite . . .

The discovery prompted international headlines and has sent many
experts reeling.

There are three main reasons why the news has had such a big impact.
First, this discovery vindicates Inuit oral history. Second, it advances
Canada’s claim, challenged by many countries, including the United
States, to control of the Northwest Passage. Third, and most
surprisingly, it suggests an amendment to, if not a whole new
interpretation of, the fate of the Franklin expedition. . . .

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