Looking down to the “beach” of Beechey Island, the most notable historic site of the Northwest Passage exploration, as it was here that during the 1845-46 winter, Sir John Franklin’s ships HMS Erebus and HMS Terror over-wintered on this inhospitable island
A small island on the southwest corner of Devon Island, Beechey Island is the most notable historic site of the Northwest Passage exploration. Named for Frederick William Beechey of the Royal Navy, it is only an island during high tide; and offers an excellent anchorage. During the 1845-46 winter, Sir John Franklin’s ships HMS Erebus and HMS Terror over-wintered on this inhospitable island. Three of the crew died and are buried on the island. Franklin left a cairn with a prominent mast on the plateau summit. From here the expedition departed for Peel Sound, never to return. In 1903, paying respect to Franklin, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen stopped here at the beginning of his successful Northwest Passage voyage.
Three crew members of the Franklin expedition died in early 1846 — when the expedition’s 129 men and two ships over-wintered here — and are buried on Beechey Island (off the S.W. corner of Devon Island), Nunavut, Canada
“FRANKLIN CAMP: Sir John Franklin of the Royal Navy and his crew of 129 men entered the waters of Lancaster Sound in search of the Northwest Passage in July 1845. Although they were never seen again by Europeans, Franklin’s party was the largest and best equipped sent by the British Admiralty to the Arctic Archipelago in quest of a navigable northern route to the Far East. The Admiralty’s search for the missing expedition began two years later and continued until 1880. The expedition’s progress has been traced from its first over-wintering harbour on Beechey island to Starvation Cove on the mainland where the last survivors perished.
“After exploring Wellington Channel to 77 degrees North Latitude, the crew passed the first winter at this camp. The following summer, Franklin probably sailed along Peel Sound and the strait which now bears his name. His ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, were beset by ice to the north of King William Island in September 1946 and remained until April 1848 when they were abandoned. Franklin died on 11 June 1847. Led by Francis Crozier, Captain of the Terror, the remaining 105 crew members traveled south along King William Island toward the mainland. Many died of starvation on the route. A small band of about thirty men crossed to the mainland and finally perished at Starvation Cove.
“A tent camp, navigational cairns and posts, and the graves of three crew members mark the expedition’s stay on Beechey Island” – signpost at Franklin Camp on Beechey Island
Another photograph of the graves of the three crew members of the Franklin expedition (looking towards the hills) and a fourth grave (on the right) belonging to a searcher from an 1854 search expedition, Beechey Island (off the S.W. corner of Devon Island), Nunavut, Canada
“Beechey Island is best known for containing three graves of Franklin expedition members, which were first discovered in 1850 by searchers for the lost Franklin expedition. The searchers found a large stone cairn, along with the graves of three of Franklin’s crewmen – Petty Officer John Torrington, Royal Marine Private William Braine, and Able Seaman John Hartnell — but no written record nor indication of where Franklin planned to sail the next season.
“In 1852, Commander Edward A. Inglefield arrived at Beechey, along with a physician Dr. Peter Sutherland. John Hartnell’s grave was opened, damaging his coffin, and Hartnell’s memorial plaque on the coffin lid was removed. During a later expedition, a searcher named Thomas Morgan died aboard the vessel North Star on May 22, 1854, and was buried alongside the three original Franklin crew members.
“In the 1980s, during two separate expeditions to Beechey, Canadian forensic anthropologist Dr. Owen Beattie examined the three bodies and found them (externally) remarkably well-preserved. Autopsies determined that lung disease and lead poisoning were among the probable causes of death; the lead appeared to come from the thousands of lead-soldered tins of provisions with which the Franklin expedition had been supplied (although later studies would suggest that the unique water distillation system used by the ships was the major source of lead poisoning). Later research, however, found through hair sample comparisons between the Beechey remains and those of expedition assistant surgeon and naturalist Harry Goodsir (who died on the expedition a year later, and would therefore be expected to have yet further exposure, under the lead poisoning hypothesis) that the lead in the three men’s remains, while indeed present at high levels now recognized as deleterious, was no higher than Goodsir’s, and thus evidently mostly the result of exposure prior to the expedition (due to high everyday lead exposure common in the 19th century), and consequently was unlikely to be solely responsible for their deaths.
“In the 1990s, due to the deteriorating condition of the Beechey grave markers, all markers were replaced with bronze memorials. — Wikipedia
The Franklin Camp memorial, containing several plaques, Beechey Island (off the S.W. corner of Devon Island), Nunavut, Canada
A close up of the Franklin Camp memorial, Beechey Island (off the S.W. corner of Devon Island), Nunavut, Canada
The large horizontal marble memorial is in memory of Sir John Franklin. The dark metal marker shaped like a hat or bell has the following inscription: “In the memory of Lieut. Bellot of the French Navy, who lost his lfe whilst nobly aiding in the search for Sir John Franklin, in the Wellington Channel, where he was drowned on the 18th August 1853. This tablet to record the sad event was erected by his friend John Barrow, A.D. 1864. Reproduction 1977”
The detritus on Beechey Island, surrounding the Northumberland House (see below), contains the remains of tin cans (food) and barrel staves (food and supplies) from 1854, Beechey Island, Nunavut, Canada
The weather-worn remains of the 1854 Northumberland House built by the crew of one of the search ships, optimistically stocked in case any of the lost men from the Franklin Expedition of 1845 found their way back, as well as to help supply other search ships; Beechey Island, Nunavut, Canada
“Northumberland House was built in 1854 by the crew of one of the search ships. With no trees available, they salvaged wood from a wrecked whaling vessel. It had been seven years since the last sighting of Franklin’s crew by the whaling ships back in Baffin Bay, but the building was optimistically stocked in case any of the lost men found their way back, as well as to help supply other search ships. But 165 winters have taken their toll. The roof has long since disintegrated and the remaining upright walls cling to various states of decay. The coal barrels and cans of food with which it was once stocked are now rusted and scattered across the beach, and a number of monuments to Franklin and other explorers have been erected beside the depot’s remains.” — Sarah Hewitt for BBC Travel, “The island of lost explorers”, http://www.bbc.com/travel/story/20170223-the-island-of-lost-explorers
A view of the Northumberland House set against the high cliff behind the beach, Beechey Island, Nunavut, Canada
An excellent, illustrated, brief account of the Franklin expedition and the graves of the four men buried on Beechey Island by Sarah Hewitt for BBC Travel, “The island of lost explorers” can be found at: http://www.bbc.com/travel/story/20170223-the-island-of-lost-explorers
The most moving of all the memorials at Franklin Camp for us — a memorial plaque placed by His Royal Highness, Prince of Wales, KG, GCB, April 1975, commemorating all the valiant explorers who searched gallantly for the Northwest Passages, Beechey Island, Nunavut, Canada
The most moving of all the memorial plaques at Franklin Camp on Beechey Island was the one above. It reads: “’IN THOSE NORTHWEST VOYAGES WHERE NAVIGATION MUST BE EXECUTED IN MOST EXQUISITE SORT’ – John Davis 1594, ‘The Seaman’s Secrets’.
“COMMEMORATING THE HEROIC ACHIEVEMENTS OF THE MANY GALLANT MEN WHOSE VOYAGES OF DISCOVERY IN THE HIGH ARCTIC, TO FIND THE NORTHWEST PASSAGES, CONTRIBUTED SO MUCH TO THE KNOWLEDGE OF AND CHARTING OF THE UNKNOWN PARTS OF NORTH AMERICA. This scroll is deposited here by His Royal Highness, Prince of Wales, KG, GCB, April 1975”
Rusted barrel staves outside of the Northumberland House, our sad last reminder of the heroics, daring, determination and sacrifices of the many hundreds of explorers who, over five centuries, braved the Arctic summers and winters to find the route that we are following in their footsteps on our passage across northern Canada from Greenland to Nome, Alaska, Beechey Island, Nunavut, Canada
Historical note: 290 recorded complete transits of the Northwest Passage have been made by 222 different surface vessels as of the end of 2018. “[In] 2012 [a] Bahamian-flagged private residential vessel… completed an unsupported [i.e., no icebreaker assistance] eastbound transit from Seward to New York, becoming the largest vessel to transit the whole passage at this time.” – The Northwest Passage: Atlantic to Pacific: A guide to the seaway by Tony Soper, 2019
Our ship, having completed the aforementioned 2012 eastbound transit, will become the first passenger ship to complete the Northwest Passage in both directions, as this westbound transit takes us from Greenland to Nome, Alaska (later this month). Along the way it has been extremely educational to learn from our expedition team’s lectures and on-site explanations of the history of the sites visited about the history of so many of the many explorers and expeditions that sought the Northwest Passage.
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