Europeans in the Arctic
As early as 1497, explorers dreamed of finding the Northwest
Passage -- a way to sail through the maze of islands and pack ice of the
Canadian Arctic, which would be a shortcut to the riches of the Far East.
Hundreds of voyages would be launched until it became clear no easy passage
existed, in 1859.
1508. Ships commanded by Sebastian
Cabot sail north, in the wake of Cabot's father, lost ten years earlier;
but encountering icebergs in midsummer terrifies the crew, and they turn
1611. After a winter locked
in the ice, Henry Hudson announces his determination to keep exploring.
His crew mutinies and sets the explorer, his son and companions adrift
in a small boat, with a kettle and a musket as provisions. They are never
seen again. Only 8 mutineers survive the voyage back to England.
1616. On his second voyage,
William Baffin again is stopped by ice. He concludes (correctly) that
there is no easy passage, but others demand proof.
1719. Governor James Knight
sets sail with two ships, seeking gold and the Northwest Passage. Inuit
traders see the last man die while digging a grave for his companion,
1820. William Edward Parry
and crew winter in the Arctic -- perhaps the first white men to do so
1832. Thought dead for years,
John Ross, his nephew, John C. Ross, and a nearly intact crew are rescued
by a whaling ship. By being inventive and willing to adopt native ways,
the explorers survived four winters in the Arctic with the loss of only
1845. The definitive expedition
to explore the Canadian Arctic is launched: Sir John Franklin's well-founded
third expedition, with the two ice ships Erebus and Terror and 129 men.
Their supplies include tons of canned food. The ships are lost and none
of the men survive.
1848-1854. Over forty ships,
at a cost of $4 million, are sent to find Franklin and his men; all fail.
Five more ships are lost.
1859. An expedition funded
by Lady Jane Franklin finds the remains of the the Franklin expedition,
scattered in a line marching south. Inside a cairn, a note is found telling
that many had died, the ships were abandoned and that 105 survivors were
heading south. Modern-day analysis of the expedition's remains and artifacts
tell a horrific tale of death due to exposure, scurvy, and cannibalism.
Acute lead poisoning from improperly soldered tins is found in hair and
tissue samples; many speculate that confusion due to lead poisoning may
have ultimately caused the expedition's failure.
1871. A divisive Greenland
expedition ends when its leader, Charles Francis Hall, dies and is buried.
When his frozen body was found again in 1968, it was discovered that he
was deliberately killed with arsenic.
An Access Excellence
Science Mystery sponsored by Genentech, Inc.
Copyright © 1997 Genentech, Inc.; all rights reserved.