MDMD: ghost twins: Franklin, Kennedy

The Northwest Passage

19th-century attempts at the passage

The end of the Napoleonic Wars had left the British navy relatively
unemployed, and the British government, spurred by the enthusiasm of Sir
John Barrow, second secretary to the admiralty, was persuaded to equip a
whole series of large naval expeditions for the discovery of the Northwest
Passage. The first of them, under Captain John Ross in 1818, retraced
almost exactly Baffin's journey of two centuries earlier and repeated his
error of mistaking the sounds for bays. Second in command to Ross was
Lieutenant W.E. (later Sir William Edward) Parry. He was not convinced that
no sound existed, and in 1819-20, in HMS Hecla and Griper, he made a voyage
through Lancaster Sound to Melville Island, where he wintered. Blocked by
ice in M'Clure Strait, he next (1821-23) tried the route through Foxe
Channel, spending two winters in Foxe Basin. Again he was stopped by ice in
the narrow Fury and Hecla Strait (named after the two ships he used on this
expedition). A number of rather unsuccessful ventures followed. Parry on a
third voyage (1824-25) explored Prince Regent Inlet; Captain George Francis
Lyon and Captain George Back made unsuccessful attempts to reach Repulse
Bay; and Captain John Ross, on a privately financed venture in 1829-33,
sailed down Prince Regent Inlet into the Gulf of Boothia, passing by one of
the keys to the Northwest Passage, the narrow Bellot Strait, which washes
the northernmost tip of the North American continent. The latter expedition
added greatly to the extent of mapped territory, mostly through the work of
Ross's nephew, James Clark Ross, who established the position of the North
Magnetic Pole in southwest Boothia Peninsula. After three winters trapped
in the ice, Ross had to abandon his ship, the Victory, and retreat by
sledge and boat, spending a fourth winter on the way before being picked up
by a whaler in Lancaster Sound.

In the meantime, the British were also attacking the problem from the west
by both sea and land. In 1819-22 and 1825-27 two expeditions under Captain
John Franklin, working overland and by boat from wintering bases in the
Mackenzie Basin, surveyed the coastline from Turnagain Point, about 200
miles east of the Coppermine River, to Cape Beechey, Alaska. There Franklin
almost made contact with the survey of Lieutenant Frederick William
Beechey, who in 1825-26 reached Point Barrow from the west. In 1833-35
Captain George Back discovered the Back River and mapped it to its mouth in
Chantrey Inlet, and in 1837-39 Peter Warren Dease and Thomas Simpson,
Hudson's Bay Company employees, made three coastal journeys by boat,
filling in the gap in the Alaska coastline left by Franklin and joining
Franklin's survey to Back's at Chantrey Inlet. In 1847 another Hudson's Bay
Company employee, John Rae, joined Parry's Fury and Hecla Strait survey to
Ross's survey in the Gulf of Boothia. Rae was a most remarkable traveler,
far ahead of his time in adopting Eskimo methods and living off the land.

Most of the continental coastline and a considerable amount of the Canadian
Arctic Archipelago had now been charted, and still the Northwest Passage
remained elusive. The British government sent out one last expedition. This
was the famous and tragic last voyage of Sir John Franklin, who sailed into
Lancaster Sound in 1845 in HMS Erebus and Terror and was never seen again.
The loss of this expedition produced a reaction of profound shock and
resulted in a 12-year search that contributed tremendously to geographic
knowledge. At its peak in 1850, as many as 14 ships were in the area at the
same time, and a further expedition was at work from the mainland. The
story eventually pieced together was that Franklin had wintered at Beechey
Island at the west end of Lancaster Sound, after sailing up Wellington
Channel to 77° N, and in the spring of 1846 turned south down Peel Sound,
hitherto unnavigated, to Victoria Strait, off the north tip of King William
Island in 1859, where his ships eventually had to be abandoned. There were
no survivors.

The first to become anxious was Sir John Richardson, who in 1847-49
conducted a search along the northwest mainland coast, accompanied by Rae.
The first official search parties were sent out in 1848; Sir James C. Ross,
with the Enterprise and Investigator, was to enter from the east, and
Captain Henry Kellett, with the Herald and Plover, had orders to stand by
in Bering Strait to meet Franklin on his way out. Ross wintered on Somerset
Island and traced most of its coastline before returning in 1849 without
news. In 1850-51 Captain Horatio Austin wintered with four ships off the
south coast of Cornwallis Island, from which base extensive sledge trips
traced many miles of coastline. Two more ships, under Captain William
Penny, a whaler, were in the same area, as was also Sir John Ross, then 73
but still active. The first U.S. expedition to the Arctic, financed by
Henry Grinnell and led by Lieutenant Edwin J. de Haven, sailed in two ships
to Wellington Channel. Franklin's winter quarters at Beechey Island were
found by Austin's and Penny's expeditions, but no record had been left to
point the way from there.

At the same time, in 1850, Captain Richard Collinson was to enter from the
west and meet Austin in a pincer movement. His two ships became separated
in the Pacific, however, and operated independently. Commander Robert
McClure in the Investigator discovered Prince of Wales Strait, rounded
Banks Island by the west, and entered Mercy Bay on the north coast, where
the ship remained frozen in for two years and was finally abandoned.
McClure and his men were rescued by another expedition and returned home in
1854 by the eastern route. Thus, he was the first to make the Northwest
Passage, though in more than one ship and partly on foot. Collinson in the
Enterprise spent three years in Victoria Island, reaching Victoria Strait.
There he was within a short distance of the place where Franklin's ships
had been abandoned, as was also Rae, traveling by boat two years earlier.
Neither found any clues. In 1852 a private expedition financed by Lady
Franklin and led by a whaling captain, William Kennedy, discovered Bellot
Strait, named after a French volunteer in the search.

After this the search moved north, which was generally thought to be the
most likely direction; in 1852 Captain Edward Inglefield in the Isabel
sailed north up Smith Sound to 78°35¢ N, and another large expedition,
under Sir Edward Belcher and Henry Kellett, sailed into Lancaster Sound
with Austin's four ships plus a supply vessel, the North Star. Splitting
into an eastern and a western party and spending two winters in the Arctic,
this expedition mapped many miles of new coastline north of Lancaster
Sound, rescued the survivors of McClure's expedition, and then without
apparent justification abandoned all four ships in the ice and sailed home
in the North Star. One ship, the Resolute, was found drifting in good
condition in Davis Strait in September 1855 by an American whaler, who
brought the vessel south to New England. The U.S. government purchased the
ship, refitted it, and presented it to the British government.

In 1853 an American, Elisha Kane, sailed in the Advance to Kane Basin,
wintering twice and searching northward to Kennedy Channel. In the same
year Rae was sent by the Hudson's Bay Company to complete the charting of
the mainland coast between Chantrey Inlet and Boothia. It was this
expedition that brought back the first real news, obtained by Rae from
Eskimo in Pelly Bay and backed by identifiable relics. The British
government considered the search closed, but Lady Franklin was not
satisfied; she financed a final expedition in the Fox under Captain Francis
Leopold McClintock. He traveled around the coasts of King William Island in
1859, finding many bodies and relics of the expedition and also the only
record left by it, at Victory Point.

To cite this page:
"Arctic" Encyclopædia Britannica
[Accessed June 12, 2002].

...the whaling reference makes a nice Moby Dick reverberation; ditto for
those tragic lost expeditions and Gordon Pym, although I'm sure it's too
much of a stretch to find an echo in there of Dixon's Hollow Earth
adventures.....Pynchon does send us off on fun voyages of discovery,
doesn't he...