May 19, 1845
The doomed Franklin Expedition begins its journey
The expedition was intended to find the Northwest Passage, a sea route connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans through the Arctic north of Canada. The map Sir John Franklin possessed was severely inaccurate and he believed the journey would take 3 years. With this misinformation, he prepared supplies to last the 3 years, including food in tin cans soldered with lead. By late July, the crew was never seen again.
The two ships taken, the HMS Erebus (named after the Greek primordial deity and personification of darkness) and the HMS Terror, were named a little too well for the voyage. From the evidence left, including the graves of 3 crewmen with extremely well-preserved mummies, the fate of the crew has been determined after over a century after their deaths.
The mummies found showed the crew members were extremely malnourished, displayed signs of tuberculosis and pneumonia, and had suffered from lead poisoning. From evidence gathered, it appears as though the crew began to exhibit symptoms of lead poisoning, which can lead to mental distress and madness. The crew buried 3 of their dead and continued until their ships became stuck in ice. A note sent to the British Navy indicated 24 of the crew had already died and the remainder abandoned their ships, still stocked with food, and began a 1,000 mile hike to the nearest trading post. With little food, they resorted to cannibalism, cracking bones open to extract the nutrient-rich marrow. The crew slowly starved or froze to death in the tundra, making it no more than 200 miles from the abandoned ships.
An artist depiction of how the men looked the year of their deaths. Credit: Kristina Gehrmann.
The note left aboard one of the abandoned ships, detailing the troubles the crew endured.