Dear Dr. Rae:
You have been gone from us since July 22, 1893 – precisely one hundred and twenty-nine years. I write from the future to mark the day of your passing. What to report from 2022? Six years ago, I relayed the news that searchers have found the two long-lost ships of Sir John Franklin, Erebus and Terror. Underwater archaeologists from Parks Canada retrieved numerous relics from both ships, but then faced a two-year delay thanks to a global pandemic known as COVID-19.
This year, they are renewing their investigations. Hopes are high that they will retrieve written documents, most likely from the well-preserved cabin of Captain Frances Crozier on the Terror (papers possibly sealed into waterproof canisters). Such a discovery might well resolve the mystery of what went wrong. Why did so many men abandon the two ships in such apparent panic? For starters.
Scientists have demolished the earliest prevailing theory, that lead poisoning made them do it. Several writers have put forward other options, and I am just finishing a book – my sixth about Arctic exploration – which advances an original and, I believe, most convincing explanation.
Meanwhile, my book Fatal Passage, which tells the story of your extraordinary life and times, has now sold more than 60,000 copies, mostly in Canada, the U.K., and Australia, though also in the U.S. Here in Canada, at the Fergus Scottish Festival in mid-August, I will devote one of four half-hour-long talks to that book.
Finally, great news out of Orkney, where the John Rae Society is making fantastic progress in restoring your home, the Hall of Clestrain. The Society will raise funds with an auction and lottery draw on September 30th, and I recently sent them signed copies of Fatal Passage and Lady Franklin’s Revenge, along with gorgeous cards by Sheena Fraser McGoogan. In short, we keep our shoulders to the wheel. John Rae lives!