Rare Book Monthly

Articles - October - 2014 Issue

170-Year-Old Mystery Solved as Franklin Arctic Expedition Ship Found

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Underwater wreckage of Franklin's ship (from Parks Canada).

There are few subjects of greater popularity among book collectors than travel and exploration. Perhaps the dawning of the Age of Discovery being contemporary with the invention of the printing press explains this connection. They fed on each other – each new discovery giving rise to more books, and the books increasing our curiosity for more discovery.

 

Early voyages occasionally were just to quench a thirst for knowledge, but generally they had a specific purpose. One such purpose, which drove generations of mariners to the extreme climates of the far north, was to find the illusive Northwest Passage. Prior to the Panama Canal, the only routes from Europe to Asia were below the southern tip of South America through the treacherous Strait of Magellan, or the even longer route around the African continent. The journeys were long, dangerous, and costly. Thousands of miles could be saved if only a route north of the North American continent could be found. Interestingly, there never appeared to be all that much doubt such a route existed, even though it would be far north and take ships through year-around ice floes. It always seemed to be just a matter of finding it. So, for centuries, expeditions were sent to the find the Passage, the one element all having in common being the failure to achieve that goal.

 

While searches for the Northwest Passage went on for centuries, the most intense period of exploration in the Arctic waters north of Canada took place in the middle of the 19th century. There was a reason. It had to do with unraveling the mystery of a lost expedition. While a general answer was finally discovered, much remains a mystery. The ships were never found. Never found, that is, until a few days ago. This is the next chapter in a story that fills most Arctic travel and exploration shelves. It is not the final chapter, but perhaps the beginning of the end.

 

This tale began in 1845 when Sir John Franklin was placed in charge of yet another expedition to find the Northwest Passage. He was given two ships well fitted for ice – the Erebus and the Terror. Both had made polar voyages before. Franklin had an experienced crew, and provisions for several years of survival in a land where food would be scarce. No one thought this mission would be a picnic, but no one thought the ships and men would never be heard from again either. After many years, a few bodies and artifacts would be discovered, though not Franklin himself, and not either of his two ships, until, as we said, now, almost 170 years later.

 

Three years after Franklin left, the folks back home began to grow uneasy. He was not expected home so soon, but even in far off places, explorers usually found someone to relay an occasional message. The silence was a major concern. So began one of the greatest manhunts ever. The Admiralty sent many missions that found nothing. Finally, in 1854, John Rae met some native Inuit who recalled seeing a group of around 40 white men heading south, saying their ships had been crushed by ice. The following spring, they found corpses instead, with signs of cannibalism. The basic story, and its terrible conclusion, was now becoming known, though the details remained clouded.

 

Still, not all believed the tale. Lady Franklin, in particular, clung to hope. She paid for several more expeditions, and convinced the Americans to send a few as well. In all, it is believed about 32 missions were sent to find Franklin in what is considered the primary search period – 1848-1859. By the end of this time, discoveries of artifacts and a few bodies left little doubt of their ultimate fate. Despite this basic outline, most of the men were never found, nor were their ships. Exactly where and why the ships became bogged down, or the exact routes taken by the men, have never been known. Now, maybe, a few more answers will be found.

 

At long last, on September 9, 2014, word came from the Prime Minister of Canada that the latest Franklin search expedition had found one of the ships. It is not known whether it is the Erebus or the Terror, but it is quite clearly one of the ships. Sonar images displayed it well. It is reported that while the ship, naturally enough, shows some damage, it has been preserved very well by the cold waters. Though sheared off, the main mast is visible. It is believed that any contents still in the ship will also be well preserved.

 

The ship was found off the coast of King William Island. This is a large island toward the southern end of the archipelago north of the mainland border of Canada. It is believed the expedition became trapped in the ice there, and despite attempts to find rescue on foot, Franklin's men were unable to reach help in time. In 1906, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen and a crew of just six also spent two years along King William Island, in a cove, but eventually freed themselves and went on to finally discover a Northwest Passage. Unlike Franklin, they were prepared for survival off the sea and land. More importantly, they had the good sense to develop relationships with local Inuit and learned more about Arctic survival from them. Franklin's men evidently did not seek to learn from those who lived in this harsh world.

 

While Amundsen was able to complete his journey west, finding a passage, it is too narrow, and frozen too much of the time, to be of much practical use. However, rising temperatures have rekindled the dream of finding a usable Northwest Passage. Renewed hopes of locating such a route led Canadian authorities to a new interest in discovering whatever happened to John Franklin, his men, and the Erebus and the Terror.

 

Among the classic and highly collectible works resulting from the search for Franklin are John Ross' early, unsuccessful search, John Richardson's unsuccessful follow-up, Elisha Kent's Kane's accounts of the two Grinnell expeditions and Isaac Hayes account of the second, Francis McClintock's jouney on behalf of Lady Franklin that found conclusive evidence of the mission's unhappy fate, Robert McClure's first completed northwest passage (though partly by land) while searching (plus naturalist Alexander Armstrong's account), the rare account of the Ingelfield search, the even rarer account of William Kennedy's search on behalf of Lady Franklin, the journals of Erebus Captain Fitzjames, and Charles Francis Hall's 1860 search. There are many more. Those interested in collecting this event will tremendously enjoy Canadian bookseller Patrick McGahern's catalogue of the Bertram Plimer Franklin Search Collection. While most searches had limited if any success in finding the whereabouts of Franklin, these journeys added enormously to our knowledge of the Arctic and far north, as well as finding the elusive Northwest Passage. These books constitute the foundation of an Arctic library.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Leland Little: Important Fall Auction. September 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Published Half Plate Ambrotype of a North Carolina Confederate Officer. $2,000 to $4,000
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Two 19th Century Books Pertaining to Canada's Red River Settlement. $400 to $800
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Two Books With Fore-Edge Paintings of British Architectual Landmarks. $400 to $600
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    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987), "Torte a la Dobosch" from <i>Wild Raspberries</i>. $1,000 to $3,000
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Keith Haring (American, 1958-1990), <i>Pop Shop II,</i> One Plate screenprint in colors, on wove paper, 1998. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Thomas Rowlandson (British, 1756-1827), Twenty-Two Prints from the <i>Tours of Dr. Syntax</i>. $500 to $1,000
  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>Aurora Australis.</i> Printed at the sign of 'The Penguins'; East Antarctica, 1908. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>South Polar Times.</i> 1st edition, limited issue. from the library of Michael Barne. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> General Washington's <i>Proceedings of a General Court Martial... of Major General Lee.</i> Philiadelphia, 1778. 100 copies printed for Congress. BOUND WITH: ...Court Martial... of St Clair and ...Schuyler. $25,000 to $35,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>The Voice of the People.</i> Boston, 1754. Rare pamphlet on the Excise Tax. Nathaniel Sparhawk's copy. $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Autograph Letter Signed ("S.L. Clemens"), offering extensive hard-earned advice on writing, 5 pp, 1881. $30,000 to $50,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> After Fra Egnazio Danti. <i>L'Ultime Parti not:e nel Indie Occid:ntli" [The last known parts of the Western Indies].</i> Painted Map of California, Western Mexico, and Japan. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Ptolemaeus, Claudius. <i>Geographie opus nouissima...</i> 1513. The most important edition of Ptolemy, containing the Admiral's Map. $250,000 to $350,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> De Arellano, Don Alonso. Manuscript, his <i>"Relación mui singular y circunstanciada... Capitán del Patax San Lucas,"</i> manuscript copy from the Sir Thomas Phillips collection. $50,000 to $80,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Purchas, Samuel. <i>Purchas his Pilgrimes.</i> First edition. With John Simth's engraved map of Virginia. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Lewis, Meriwether. Contemporary manuscript true copy of his final power of attorney, 1809. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>A New Method of Macarony Making, as Practiced at Boston in North America.</i> Mezzotint. London, 1774. $5,000 to $7,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>Scientific Base Ball Pitching: A Treatise on the Pitcher, Pitching, Origin and Philosophy of the Curve.</i> Chicago, 1897. $2,000 to $3,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Franklin H. Brown, <i>State Sovereignty, National Union,</i> Chicago, 1860. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Thomas Paine, <i>The American Crisis,</i> Fishkill, NY, December 1776. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b><br>The Aitken Bible, Philadelphia, 1781. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francisco Loubayssin de Lamarca, probable first edition of the first novel set in the Spanish New World, Paris, 1617. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Juan de la Anunciación, <i>Sermonario en lengua mexicana,</i> first edition, first book of sermons in Nahuatl, Mexico, 1577. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Maturino Gilberti, <i>Thesoro spiritual en lengua de Mechuacá,</i> first edition, Mexico, 1558. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Commission of William O. Stoddard as secretary to the president, signed by Lincoln, Washington, 1861. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> <i>Clay and Frelinghuysen,</i> flag banner, circa 1844. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Daguerreotype of a man believed to be Frederick Granger Williams Smith, son of Joseph Smith, circa late 1850s. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> John C. Wolfe, <i>Portrait of Abraham Lincoln,</i> oil on board in period wooden frame, circa 1860s. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francis W. Winton, manuscript on pow-wows with indigenous Canadians, 1881. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Family letters from two young daguerreotype artists, 1826-79. $10,000 to $15,000.

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