American adventurer hails Big Franklin Book

Searching for Franklin has just appeared in a new U.S. edition. Here is a review that turned up at 5.0 out of 5 stars The latest and most up-to-date information on the Franklin mysteries. See here: Reviewed in the United States on April 15, 2024 / Verified Purchase

Review by Jay W. Zvolanek

First, a disclaimer: I’ve known and corresponded with Ken McGoogan for over twenty years, and have myself made two trips to the Coppermine River and ten more to Subarctic Canada.

All that said, this book represents his best and latest thoughts on the life of the late Sir John Franklin and two of his three explorations in search of the Northwest Passage; his nearly disastrous overland journey of 1819 to 1822, and his fatal shipborne attempt of 1845 to 1846.

Ken and Louie at their own Boat Place

In actuality, it covers three voyages, for it also covers McGoogan’s own quest for answers of the past twenty-five years along with his friend, the late Louie Kamookak, inarguably the greatest Inuit historian and interpreter of native oral history.

Franklin’s first trip was an adventure in poor and hurried planning (not entirely his fault), cultural prejudice (a Royal Navy officer knows more about everything than any illiterate native) and nineteenth century evangelism (don’t worry, God will see us through). He lost eleven of his twenty members, including at least one to murder, one execution and the others through starvation, exposure or just plain disappearing. The survivors were reduced to living on boiled lichen, scavenged bones and carcasses, possibly cannibalism and as a last resort, eating singed moccasins. This earned Franklin the title of “The Man Who Ate His Boots.”

His final command came about mainly through the campaigning of his wife, the redoubtible Lady Jane Franklin, who was trying to salvage his reputation after a dismal six year stint as governor of Van Diemen’s Land, the penal colony now known as Tasmania. He set sail in search of the Passage in 1845 with two ships and 128 men. They were never heard from again.

So, what happened? Dozens of searches were made, until finally John Rae of the Hudson Bay Company went overland in 1852, and through interviews with local Inuit established that the crew had abandoned their ships in 1847 (Franklin had died on June 11, 1847 according to a note dated 1847 found in a cairn in 1859), wandered up and down the coast and one by one, died. Inuit found evidence, that Rae reported, that some had resorted to cannibalism.

This caused an uproar, because no English officer or seaman would ever be reduced to such depravity. Lady Jane (assisted by none other than Charles Dickens) mounted a lifelong campaign to vindicate and elevate her husband’s name. (Incidentally, John Rae was legendary for his ability to live off the land like a native, and was the only contemporary explorer not to receive a knighthood. Makes you wonder.)

Over the ensuing 165 years there have been hundreds of books, either hero worshipping or vilifying Franklin, or speculating about the disaster, including five by McGoogan. He himself says that over the past twenty years he has found new information that contradicts some of his previous statements.

What he has determined is that once again, cultural prejudice has confused the issue. In 2014 and 2016 the wreckage of both ships, the Erebus and the Terror, were finally located – exactly where the Inuit had been saying all along they were.

As to the fate of the survivors, numerous hypotheses have been put forward, including lead poisoning from canned food, botulism, starvation, exposure and, in one case this writer knows of, something straight out of Ancient Aliens. McGoogan presents a sound argument that they perished from trichinosis after eating poorly prepared polar bear meat.

In closing, this is the most concise telling of the tale to date. And as McGoogan states,it’s still not over. There’s the missing journals (possibly yet to be salvaged from the wrecks) and the location of Franklin’s grave to be discovered. Stay tuned!


  1. Franklin Mohan MD. on April 17, 2024 at 2:06 pm

    A thriller; McGoogan’s argument about trichinosis as the cause of death of Franklin’s crew, is plausible.
    The book brews the suspense one would expect from a Hollywood blockbuster.

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