Attachment #1: Key Arctic Explorers

Key Arctic Explorers – the European Quest for a Northwest Passage in the Arctic Ocean 

  • 330-300 B.C.: Arctic waters may have been reached as early as this period by Pytheas of Massalia, a Greek geographer. Writers like Pliny and Strabo write of a “congealed” or “frozen ocean” where the sun was visible 24 hours a day. The name used was Thule; it is thought this might be Iceland or northern Norway 
  • 795 A.D.: the Irish monk Dicuil noted that priests had lived on an island in the north, where during the summer the sun never fully set, and “a day’s sail northward from it they found the frozen sea” 
  • 860 A.D.: the first Europeans known to encounter the Arctic were the Norse, or Vikings, voyaging west and north out of Scandinavia to reach Iceland 
  • 982 A.D.: “Erik the Red” sailed west from Iceland to Greenland. Within a few decades, two Norse colonies with several thousand inhabitants sprang up on the eastern and western shores of Greenland 
  • 1021: the first and only Norse settlement in North America was at L’Anse aux Meadows, at the northern tip of Newfoundland. The site was only inhabited for a few years. It was settled  by the Norse from Greenland, who themselves had only been in Greenland since 982 AD. They were driven by the search for timber, as there are few trees in Greenland and none big enough to make keels for ships or roof beams for houses. (They pulled out as they found nothing as valuable as the walrus ivory they were already hunting at Disco Bay, far up the Greenland coast.)
  • 1267 (and possibly earlier): Norse navigators were venturing up past the Arctic Circle to the shores of Ellesmere Island at 76 degrees north latitude. They even sailed the 320 kilometre distance across Davis Strait to reach Baffin Island 
  • 1250 to about 1850: the Little Ice Age took place; it occurred after the Medieval Warm Period (that lasted from  950 to 1250; temperatures dropped, ice moved farther south and winters became harsher 
  •  by 1450: Viking and Inuit accounts both speak of clashes and bloodshed dooming the western Norse settlements; within decades, the accounts of the Norse in Greenland become silent 
  • 1492: Christopher Columbus’s voyage to the New World sparked a gradual mapping of the great land masses of North America, seeking a passage through it to the riches of Cathay. (The spread of Islam and the Moslem conquest of the Byzantine Empire had closed that route to Christian Europe.) 
  • 1497: the English, spurred on by Columbus, granted John Cabot and his sons a patent to seek out new lands. On this trip he explored the northern tip of Newfoundland and Cape Breton Island. He didn’t find the Northwest Passage but he found lots of fish 
  • 1508-9: Sebastian Cabot (John’s son) likely reached Hudson Strait and the entrance to Hudson Bay 
  • 1513: an important date as it was the first European view of the Pacific – but from land. Vasco Nunez de Balboa hiked across the narrow Isthmus of Panama 
  • 1520: Ferdinand Magellan from Spain sailed around the very tip of South America, at Cape Horn, and was the first European to get to the Pacific by a sea route. Spain controlled that route for many years so if other nations wanted to enjoy a sea route to the riches of the Orient the only direction that remained was north 
  • 1524-25: Giovanni da Verrazzano and Esteban Gomez sailed from Florida to Newfoundland, seeking a waterway to Cathay
  • 1555: the Muscovy Company (also called the Russia Company) incorporated. It was a private company that was given a royal charter for the exclusive right to explore to the north, the northwest and northeast. It had a monopoly on trade between England and Muscovy until 1698 and it survived as a trading company until the Russian Revolution of 1917 
  • 1576-78: Martin Frobisher voyages. This English explorer makes three voyages in search of the Northwest Passage, instead discovering Labrador, Baffin Island, and Frobisher Bay (present-day Iqaluit) 
  • 1576: Frobisher’s first voyage; obtained the backing of the Muscovy Company. With three ships he heads off. One is lost and the other (the Michael), returns to England. Frobisher keeps on in the Gabriel to Frobisher Bay on Baffin Island; he stops and encounters the Baffin Island Inuit. He sends the ship’s small boat off with five men and an Inuit pilot. They never return. Frobisher captures an Inuit and his kayak, along with a heavy black rock and heads back to England. An assayer (incorrectly) determines that the rock is gold ore 
  • 1577: Frobisher sails on his second voyage (funded partly by Queen Elizabeth) to Baffin Island and Frobisher Bay (and Resolution Island). More fighting with the Inuit along with collecting of rock 
  • 1578: Frobisher’s third voyage was a mining venture not a search for the Northwest Passage. They encountered bad weather and lots of ice and fog. They initially entered Hudson Strait then backed off and anchored off Kodlunarn Island at the entrance to Frobisher Bay and began mining. No gold was found in any of the ore they mined, many of the investors were ruined and Frobisher’s reputation was damaged 

1585-87: John Davis voyages. He led expeditions sponsored by a group of merchants who funded voyages in quest of the passage. He was an excellent navigator and invented the backstaff, or Davis quadrant around 1595. It remained the standard instrument for determining latitude until the invention in 1731 of the reflecting quadrant, the precursor to the sextant 

  • 1585: Davis first voyage: he left on June 7 (in the barks Sunneshine and Mooneshine) but only got to Greenland by mid-July. He went around southern tip of Greenland (Cape Farewell) and landed at Godthab Fjord). Encountered Inuit. Then west to Baffin Island on Aug 6, killed a polar bear and returned to England late August 
  • 1586: Davis second voyage with 4 vessels (the Sunneshine and Mooneshine, plus Mermayde (with a small pinnace, the Northstarre, broken down and stored in its hold). He got to Godthab Fjord again and had argument with the Inuit (he believed them to be witches!) They fought and he took an Inuk captive. He then headed north, ran into pack ice, then west to Baffin Island, then the shores of Labrador. Indians attacked him, a storm hit and he returned to England. He sold his sealskins and made a profit 
  • 1587: Davis third voyage; he heads back to Greenland; more fights with the Inuit. Then to Labrador and rich fishing grounds (one ship) and with the other (the Sunneshine) way up Davis Strait and to Baffin Bay (reaching 72 degrees north, the site of today’s Upernavik). Next he went south into Cumberland Sound, then south again past the entrance to Frobisher Bay (which he named Lumlies Inlet) and then
    finally to entrance to the Hudson Strait. He was nearing the Northwest Passage route but it was the Little Ice Age that still gripped the Arctic and the ice pack blocked him
  • 1591: Davis continues his search (after England defeated the Spanish Armada) by joining a trip to circumnavigate the globe led by Thomas Cavendish. It was a failed venture (they did not enter the Pacific), except that they discovered the Falkland Is
  • 1602: a failed attempt by George Weymouth; he got as far north as the 69th parallel but he turned back due to a mutinous crew 
  • 1606: John Knight, supported by the English East India Company, heads to Labrador but encounters a storm and ice; he beaches his ship and rows off with five crew; only one returns, after being attacked by Indians. The crew repair the ship and return to England. These aborted ventures ended the search for a northward passage

Hudson Bay: was an even greater prize, as it became the centre of a fur-trading empire spanning the continent. English merchants founded the Hudson’s Bay Company, a fur- trading concern that became a commercial empire and played a major role in the exploration, settlement and development of Canada. 

1607-11: the voyages of Henry Hudson. It took him 4 years and 4 attempts to finally enter the strait that bears his name 

  • 1607: Hudson’s first voyage in a small sloop Hopewell. He encountered heavy storms and thick fog and ice off the coast of Spitsbergen (Svalbard). He got to 577 miles shy of the North Pole – a record for “farthest north” that stood for 166 years
  • 1608: Hudson second voyage: he tries going east across the top of Norway and Russia; ice and a mutinous crew stops him 
  • 1609: Hudson third voyage: hired by the Dutch East India Company and sailing under Dutch colours he initially heads east into the White Sea. Turns right around (after encountering heavy storms) and explores the coast between Chesapeake and Penobscot Bays. He did provide the Dutch with a claim to Nieuw Amsterdam (which in time became the City of New York) 
  • 1610-11: Hudson’s fourth and final voyage: he finally got to search for the Northwest Passage. In his bark, the Discovery, he reached Greenland in early June and entered Hudson Strait at the end of the month. He made it through the Strait and into Hudson Bay by early August. He worked his way south, along the eastern edge of the Ungava Peninsula. Finally on Nov 1 he hauled the boat ashore at the end of James Bay. When the ice retreated on June 12, 1611 the ship broke out. But the crew mutinied and cast Hudson adrift with his son and some ailing men. The crew barely made it back to England, saved Hudson’s chart but destroyed his journal 

1612-15: Into Hudson Bay: Hudson’s trip sparked further voyages, backed by London business money 

  • 1612-13: Thomas Button was the first voyage to seek a passage out of Hudson Bay. He scoured 600 miles of the coast between the Churchill and Nelson Rivers but found no exit west from Hudson Bay. He spent the winter there and in the spring headed north to a large sound that seemed to continue north between two bodies of land – the mainland and Southampton Island. He then returned to England 
  • 1614: William Gibbons led an unsuccessful voyage; he got stuck on the coast of Labrador for 5 months – and only just got free to return to England in the fall 
  • 1615: Robert Bylot, with William Baffin as pilot and navigator, headed back to the bay, reconnoitred its northern end, reaching Salisbury Island then headed further north, along the shores of Southampton Island into Foxe Basin 
  • 1616: Bylot and Baffin head off again; they crossed the Atlantic and headed up the Davis Strait, hugging the coast of Greenland. They got as far north as last seen by the Viking mariners 300 years prior (to 77 degrees – the farthest north – that would not be surpassed for another 157 years). They named Baffin Bay and Lancaster Sound (named after Baffin’s patron, Sir James Lancaster). They just passed what was the entrance to the Northwest Passage but didn’t know it. (203 years later William Parry of the Royal Navy would push through Lancaster Sound and enter the great maze of the Canadian Arctic archipelago that held the Northwest Passage.) 
  • 1619-20: the King of Denmark and Norway, Christian IV, after hearing about the English attempts at finding the Northwest Passage commissioned an expedition. He chose Jens Munk to lead it. (Munk had two unsuccessful attempts to find the Northeast Passage in 1609 and 1610). The trip was a disaster. They got hammered with ice and wintered near Churchill. Hypothermia, famine, and scurvy destroyed so many of his men that only two persons besides himself survived. These 3 men of 65 survived and miraculously returned to Denmark 
  • 1631-32: two more ships head out, one supported by London merchants commanded by Luke Foxe, the other supported by Bristol merchants commanded by Thomas James. They both overwinter in Hudson Bay. After these two, no European vessel visited Hudson Bay until 1668 
  • 1668: chartered as the “Company of Adventurers Trading Into Hudson’s Bay”, the 40 ton Nonsuch arrived to establish a fur-trading outpost at the extremity of James Bay. That outpost, Rupert House, was the beginning of one of the greatest commercial enterprises in North America, the fur-trading empire of the Hudson’s Bay Company. The company was not interested in the quest for the Northwest Passage; they were busy with the struggle to establish trade, build forts and outposts and, after 1689, to survive continual battles with the French 
  • 1713: the English lost their outposts on the bay to the French, but regained them with the peace and Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. Thus began again an attempt to find a route out of Hudson Bay, but the following years proved that it was a dead end; the future lay far to the north 
  • 1719: the man the Hudson’s Bay Company sent to re-establish trade, James Knight, was a veteran trader but with a strong desire to find the Northwest Passage. So he persuades the company to grant him two ships. He sets off in June and reaches the western shore of Hudson Bay and establishes a settlement on Marble Island, close to Chesterfield Inlet, which he believes to be the opening of the Passage. Instead, he and his men were trapped by an early winter and thick ice. They were never heard from again. In 1991–92 the wrecks of his ships, the Discovery and Albany, were found by divers at the bottom of Hudson Bay. 
  • 1728: Vitus Bering a Danish cartographer and explorer in Russian service, and an officer in the Russian Navy, discovers the Bering Strait 
  • 1741-42: the British Admiralty (after lobbying by politician Arthur Dobbs) sent two expeditions into Hudson Bay to renew the quest for the Northwest Passage. They reached the bay late in the season. The first ship, was captained by Christopher Middleton, and the second one by William Moor. Middleton decided towinter at the Hudson’s Bay post at the mouth of the Churchill River. Ten of the crew died of scurvy. In July of 1742 the ships headed north, touching at Rankine Inlet; continuing north they passed Cape Hope and entered Repulse Bay. Middleton hightailed it back to England – his men were suffering from scurvy. (He got attacked by Dobbs for not finding the long sought strait.) 
  • 1746-47: responding to an Act passed by Parliament in 1744 promising a 20,000 pound reward to anyone who should sail between “Hudson’s Bay and the western and southern ocean of America” William Moor sailed to the bay and wintered at Fort York. Seven of his men died that winter. In the spring he sailed north and pushed to the end of Wager Bay, but found no exit 
  • 1761-62: the Hudson’s Bay Company pursued the examination of the bay’s coast. They sent William Christopher who searched Chesterfield Inlet, but it was another dead end 

The far north. The 162-year exploration of Hudson Bay in search of a Northwest Passage consistently proved to be a dead end. The future lay in the far north.

  • 1771: Samuel Hearne, a Hudson’s Bay Company fur trader and British, was the first European to reach the North American shores of the Arctic Ocean. He had followed the Coppermine River north to its mouth, on foot and by boat with a Chippewa Indian guide, Matonabbee. He was looking at the patches of water that was a stretch of the Northwest Passage 
  • 1778: James Cook (on his third and final voyage) pushed north, along the Pacific coast arriving at the Bering Strait and entered the western end of the Northwest Passage. He reached 70 degrees, on the edge of the Chukchi Sea. He was stopped by a solid barrier of ice; he named the nearest landfall Icy Cape. (He then sailed on to his death in the Hawaiian Islands.) 
  • 1789: Alexander Mackenzie travelled by birchbark canoe from Fort Chipewyan, at the junction of the Peace and Slave Rivers, thinking he was on a route to the Pacific, but realized after he arrived at a huge delta, that he had reached the Arctic Ocean. He returned south on what he is said to have called the River of Disappointment, which is now called the Mackenzie River. This was an important discovery that opened the region to future fur traders and explorers. (He was working for the North West Company, the chief rival of the Hudson’s Bay Company.) On his 103-day trip, he covered 3,000 miles 
  • 1793: Mackenzie successfully reached the Pacific; his route used the Peace River, a land stretch and finally the Bella Cool River to the Pacific coast. He narrowly missed the arrival of George Vancouver who was charting the coast. Vancouver’s voyages conclusively proved that there was no entrance to the Northwest Passage along the Pacific coast south of the Bering Strait. (He was, by the way, the first European to traverse the North American continent north of Mexico.) 
  • 1818: a four ship British naval expedition set out to explore the Arctic. It was triggered by three things; first, evidence was being gathered indicating that there were currents running out of Davis Strait, Hudson Strait and along the coast of Spitzbergen that the water coming out originated from the Bering Strait – implying a flow through passage existed; secondly, there was fear in Britain that a foreign power might “discover” the passage; thirdly, it was becoming apparent that the ice from the Little Ice Age that commenced a few centuries before, was receding 
  • The results of the expedition were limited: two of the ships who were directed to go up the east coast of Greenland, commanded by David Buchan and John Franklin, were stopped by ice off the coast of Spitsbergen. The ship commanded by John Ross, the Isabella, and the one commanded by Edward Perry, the Alexander, explored the west coast. This led to one of the worst mistakes in exploration history: Ross headed up Lancaster Sound, but turned back as he claims he saw a chain of mountains which he felt inhibited passage. (It was likely that he had mapped a mirage, a common problem in the Arctic, where airborne ice crystals, too tiny to see without a microscope, mingle with layers of cold, dense air at the surface to bend light and sound waves.) The shaded line he drew in his charts haunted him to the end of his life! Parry, by-the- way was absolved, as there were indications that he (and the other officers) felt that this route must be the Northwest Passage (which it was) 
  • 1819-20: Edward Parry commanded the Hecla (along with Matthew Liddon, who commanded a small brig – the Griper); both were on orders to proceed to Lancaster Sound and push farther west. They did and passed the imaginary line of Ross’ “mountains”. They entered Barrow Strait, naming the opening Croker Inlet.. On September 4 they passed 110 degrees west. As Parliament had promised a 5,000 pound reward to the first ship to reach that position, they named the nearest promontory Cape Bounty. They were now halfway through the Northwest Passage, and nearly out of the Arctic archipelago. They got stopped by ice at 112 degrees west and anchored at Melville Island in a cove Parry named Winter Harbour. Their year- long sojourn was the first winter spent on the Arctic Ocean by British ships. (A position British ships would not again reach until HMS Resolute and Intrepid of Edward Belcher’s expedition in 1852.) They broke out of the ice on August 1 and sailed home to a heroes welcome. No lives were lost and they opened the first leg of the passage and pushed 600 miles west 
  • 1819-22: John Franklin was sent by the Admiralty to retrace Hearne’s footsteps and follow the Coppermine River to its mouth plus chart the coast of the Arctic Ocean. He was joined by officers John Richardson (a surgeon), George Black and Robert Hood, and seaman, John Hepburn. They sailed to York Factory, the Hudson’s Bay Company post in Hudson Bay. Leaving September 9, they worked their way west to Cumberland House, a HBC post 690 miles away. On January 18, 1820 they continued on by descending the Yellowknife River out of Great Slave Lake. They stopped late August to build a winter camp, but are short of food. In June, 1821 they head down the Coppermine River, reaching the mouth of the river on the Arctic Ocean on July 17, 1821. He maps 550 miles of coast, then begins his return journey, ascending another river he called the Hood. The rest of the return journey has been the subject of books as it was sheer desperation and a human ordeal. It was likely that the voyageur Michel Terohaute shot and killed Hood; he in turn was killed by Richardson. They now believe Terohaute killed three missing voyageurs, and was disappearing from camp to feed on their corpses. (Franklin’s subsequent book presented “a new Arctic: starvation, murder, and cannibalism, the extremities of human suffering.”)  Franklin did make it back to York Factory on July 14, 1822. He became known as the “man who ate his boots” to survive 
  • 1821-23: Edward Parry makes a second voyage in the Fury (along with George Lyon in the Hecla). He was instructed to take a more southerly approach so he sailed into Hudson Strait, and boldly sailed past Baffin Island into “Frozen Strait”, what Middleton had felt was a dead end. When the fog lifted they found they passed through the strait and were in Repulse Bay. They wintered at Winter Island. They encountered a number of Inuit and developed a close relationship. One female Inuit drew a map that indicated “one wide-extended sea” above the isthmus they were on, separating Hudson Bay from the Arctic Ocean. This was confirmed when Parry continued north to the tip of the Melville Peninsula where he reached a new body of water that he named Fury and Hecla Strait. The Royal Navy had its first confirmation, over-ruling condescension and prejudice, of the veracity of Inuit information. The strait was impassable due to ice so Parry returned to winter quarters. They purchased dogsleds and clothing from the Inuit – a first in the annals of Arctic exploration of “going native” 
  • 1824-27: John Franklin heads off again. He goes via New York (where he learns of the death of his wife, Eleanor). This time he heads down the Mackenzie River after travelling to Fort Chipewyan. He reaches the Arctic Ocean and then winters in Fort Franklin. In the summer of 1826 the expedition split into two parties. One under surgeon John Richardson, would push east to the mouth of the Coppermine River. The other, led by Franklin, pushed west and followed the coast to hook up with an expedition led by Frederick Beechey (who had sailed to the Pacific and came through the Bering Strait). Franklin turned back because of ice at Return Reef (only 160 mikes from Point Barrow, where Beechey was waiting). Beechey pushed past Cook’s Icy Cape, before reaching the northern point they named for Sr. John Barrow. In all, the two expeditions mapped some 1,500 miles of coastline. They wintered at the end of 1826 and returned home in 1827
  • 1824: There were two other expeditions at that time mounted by the Admiralty that didn’t fare so well. George Lyon was ordered to winter on the coast of Melville Peninsula. One of his ships, the Griper, was too small and low in the water. Later it got pushed onto a beach and they abandoned it – the first ship lost in these explorations. They returned to England in the fall of 1824
  • 1824-25: Edward Parry was to try again. He was to push up Davis Strait, enter Lancaster Sound, the Barrow’s Strait; at the top of Baffin Island, they were to turn southwest, enter Prince Regent Inlet and continue on until they linked up with Lyon, Franklin or Beechey – a great idea. But they faced heavy ice and gales. They wintered at Port Bowen but the ice wouldn’t release them in the spring. They lost one of their ships (the Fury at Fury Beach on Somerset Island). They headed back to England 
  • 1829-33: the return of John Ross; he got Felix Booth, owner of Booth’s Gin, to fund an expedition. Ross bought a small, 85-ton paddlewheel steamer named Victory. Along with him was his nephew James Clark Ross. He headed past where Parry lost the Fury and into open water of the Gulf of Boothia. He spent the winter at Boothia Felix, 150 miles farther south than Parry. They eventually got rid of the useless steam engine. James Ross, via sledge, traversed the Boothia Peninsula and got to King William Island. The high point of the expedition was when they discover and fix the British flag on the North Magnetic Pole (70 degrees north latitude, 96 degrees west longitude). They were forced to abandon their ship on May 1832. They worked their way back to Fury Beach, and spent a fourth winter, using the Fury’s stores left by Parry in 1824. They were found by a ship that Ross had once commanded! 
  • 1833-35: George Back was selected to try and find Ross, by land. He wintered at Great Slave Lake and in the spring heard that Ross had been found. So he was asked to do some further mapping. He followed the Back River north in 1834 to the Arctic Ocean. His charts proved to be vague 
  • 1836-37: George Back made one more trip in the Terror; he headed through Frozen Strait, and got frozen in; his ship when freed in July 1837, barely made it back to Ireland, where he ran it aground on a sandy beach
  • 1837: Peter Dease and Thomas Simpson, two Hudson‘s Bay Company traders, journeyed in Franklin’s steps down the Mackenzie River and then west to Point Barrow, closing the gap left when Franklin and Beechey had been unable to meet 
  • 1838-39: Dease and Simpson mapped much of the Arctic coast from the Coppermine River toward the Back River (Great Fish River). They crossed Coronation Gulf and reached the shores of Victoria Island. They traced its shoreline to the west as far as Cambridge Bay (and landmark Mount Pelly)

The result of all of the above two decade period indicated that a Northwest Passage through the ice-filled maze of the Arctic archipelago was possible. It gave the Admiralty a more or less charted Arctic coast at the top of the continent and a number of possible entrances to a passage to the west of the Melville and Boothia Peninsulas. The gauntlet had been thrown down.

  • 1845-48: Sir John Franklin (he was knighted in 1829) was selected by the British Admiralty to command another expedition. (He actually persuades the Royal Navy command to let him lead another expedition to rebound from a humiliating recall from Tasmania where he was governor.) This period was the ascendance of the British Empire. There was great talk and expectations; it was assumed Franklin would succeed. The Royal Navy gave him 134 officers and men (6 were returned as “unfit”) and two excellent ships – the HMS Terror commanded by Francis Crozier and the HMS Erebus, commanded by James Fitzjames. The ships were outfitted with steam engines and propellers, and provisioned with supplies for a three- year voyage. (Some accounts say five years!) As the two ships were about to enter Lancaster Sound on July 28, 1845 they met two whaling boats, one of them the whaling barque Enterprise under Robert Martin. Already, Sir John’s overland expeditions had helped show the way out of the Northwest Passage, by following a fairly easy route along the North American mainland. That leg of the passage was mapped more thoroughly by Peter Dease and Thomas Simpson. Parry had charted the way in, along the 74th parallel to Melville Island, for which he collected Parliament’s 5,000 pound prize (half a million dollars today). All that remained for Franklin and his men to do was to close the gap between the two routes, a distance roughly 300 miles. After the whalers left Franklin set a course due west through Lancaster Sound and into Barrow Strait. Then the Arctic closed around them, and they vanished
  • 1845-46: recreating what happened to Franklin we have the following: when Franklin headed west he must have seen open water to the north, because he headed north into Wellington Channel, following the east coast of Cornwallis Island, getting to 77 degrees north. Then he turned back along the west coast of Cornwallis to complete a circumnavigation of the island. As winter was setting in he chose Beechey Island, as he knew about it from his friend Parry who was there in 1819. Then three of his men died: leading stoker John Torrington on January 1, 1846, able seaman John Hartnell three days later, and on April 3, Royal Marine William Braine. He takes off again and apparently headed south through Peel Sound. Sea ice, driven by the High Arctic’s turn from summer to winter, trapped Erebus and Terror on September 12, 1846. Pack ice closed around the ships at the northern end of Victoria Strait, some twelve miles off the northern shore of King William Island
  • 1847: Franklin and his men try to stay warm and dry in the damp, cramped confines of their two ships. On May 28 2 officers and 6 men leave ships. On June 11, 1847  Franklin dies – but cause and whereabouts of his body remain unknown. The weather in the High Arctic that summer and fall of 1847 was foul – heavy winds and thicker ice 
  • 1848: in a cairn at Victory Point at the north end of King William a report was placed by Lieutenant Graham Gore, with notes in the margins by Captains Crozier and Fitzjames that told of a year of hardship and imminent disaster. It read “April 25, 1848. H.M. Ships Terror and Erebus were deserted on 22nd April…having been beset since 12th Sept 1846. The officers and crew consisting of 105 souls under the command of Captain Crozier landed here…Sir John Franklin died on the 11th June, 1847 and the total loss by deaths in the expedition has been to this date 9 officers & 15 men”. Squeezed into the upper right corner of the document, the terse conclusion said: “And start on tomorrow 26th for Back’s Fish River”. This is the first written evidence in the mystery; it was found by Irish explorer Leopold McClintock in 1859. The two ships were emptied of supplies and equipment which were put into 30 foot whaleboats and dragged across some 25 miles of sea ice to shore then cached. Thus the dwindling survivors set out on their final journey. In the first leg, they hauled boats, at least one a 28 foot lifeboat lashed to a heavy sledge across the ice-covered Victoria Strait. They left it near the site of their first landfall, on King William Island. When it was discovered more than a decade later, two partial skeletons lay inside the boat. There are oral accounts of some of the now remaining 105 men halfway down King William Island (at present day Washington Bay) meeting some Inuit hunters who described them as desperate for food. They would have just kept slipping and sliding on ice and hard snow in thin-soled leather seaboots, carrying, along with provisions, a strange poignant array of items – Bibles, hymnbooks, pocket watches, a clothes brush, engraved silverware, a clay pipe – as they one by one died. Some made it to the mainland. The most stubborn sailors may have decided they’d had enough and returned to the Erebus, that by then could have been drifting free. It is an ironic contemplation that had the crews only remained with their ships for another few months, one of them at least was actually to escape undamaged to those same ice-free coastal waters for which Franklin was striving three years previously
  • 1848-49: James Clark Ross was put in command of the rescue mission to the eastern Arctic. Others were sent to the western Arctic. Neither found anything. Ross returns to England in 1849. Dr. John Rae, a Hudson’s Bay Company surgeon was called upon to help; in doing so he filled in some more uncharted territory. He then searched the Arctic coast to the Coppermine River through 1848. The first trace of Franklin came in July 1849 when one of the daily copper cylinders they tossed overboard was found on the west coast of Greenland, but it was from an earlier portion of their trip 
  • 1850-51: more Franklin search, private. Three private expeditions left within months of each other. The first organized by Lady Jane Franklin (his second wife) was on the brigs Lady Franklin (commanded by William Penny) and Sophia (led by Alexander Stewart). Lady Franklin also provided her own money for another expedition commanded by Charles Forsyth on the brig Prince Albert.  A third private search party was funded by public subscribers, with the Hudson’s Bay Company making the largest contribution. The aged Sir John Ross, then 72, headed off in the schooner Felix. He and Penny wintered at Assistance Harbour. He eventually left his yacht Mary on the shores of Beechey, in the hopes it would aid Franklin, or others. He arrived back in Britain in 1851
  • 1850-51: more Franklin search, the United States. Henry Grinnell, a New York shipping merchant, bought two small brigs, Advance (captained by Edwin DeHaven) and Rescue (captained by Samuel Griffin). Congress appropriated funds to outfit them, and the US Navy provided the officers and crew. This made the search for Franklin a more international effort. What came to be known as the “First Grinnell Expedition” was the first official US expedition into the Arctic, inaugurating a series of later expeditions that culminated in Robert Peary’s push for the North Pole. The Americans spent several harrowing months drifting east in the icepack, finally being released in June 1851 off Greenland. They tried again to reach Lancaster Sound, and finally returned home
  • 1850-51: more Franklin search, the British Admiralty. As well as the above, the Admiralty sent two substantial expeditions, searching both east and west. The first on the HMS Resolute, commanded by Horatio Austin who was to enter the Arctic from the east. He was joined by the HMS Assistance, commanded by Erasmus Ommaney
  • 1850: first traces of the lost expedition were found at Cape Riley on Devon Island, where Austin and Ommaney’s expedition discovered a temporary camp. Then on Beechey Island they found where they had wintered on their first year; the three grave sites were discovered with wooden headboards itemized their names. Three accounted for, but where are the rest? As they searched, ironically more newly discovered terrain was mapped 
  • 1850-55: The other British expedition was to the western Arctic, led by Captain Richard Collinson, in Enterprise, and Robert McClure, in Investigator were ordered to search for Franklin and finish charting the Arctic coast, approaching from the west. Both went all the way around through the Straits of Magellan, but got separated on the journey. McClure headed through Bering Strait, past the Mackenzie River and then landed on the southern tip of Banks Island. He continued up Prince of Wales Strait, between Banks and Victoria Islands and came near Barrow Strait!  But the ice was advancing; he chose to stay frozen in with the ice pack and drift. It pushed him back down Prince of Wales Strait. When the ice released him in August 1851 McClure decided to go around the west side of Banks Island. He regretted the decision as the ice never retreated and he got trapped for two years on the north shore of Banks Island, in Mercy Bay. He finally, after abandoning his ship in June 1853, getting rescued by the H.M.S Resolute (which was later lost to the ice) and getting back to England, was credited with the discovery of “a Northwest Passage” (being the first to transit it; McClure and his crew were thus the first to circumnavigate the Americas) 
  • 1851-52: Collinson, arrived after McClure entered the Arctic in 1851 and headed up Prince of Wales Strait. Like McClure, he realized that a passage existed. In the summer of 1852 he went in the opposite direction, and headed east into Coronation Gulf and Dease Strait on the south of Victoria Island, and then Cambridge Bay. He got to within 40 miles from the last position of Franklin’s frozen ships (he was also tracing most of Rae’s footsteps). His voyage showed that a large ship could sail into the Arctic, from west to east, by following the coast, but his achievement was marred by his failure to push a little more. Nevertheless McClure and Collinson had succeeded in closing the remaining gap to finally prove the existence of two separate Northwest Passages
  • 1851-53: another expedition of Lady Franklin’s heads out in 1851 under William Kennedy in the Prince Albert, with Joseph Bellot as his second-in-command. Sledge parties journeyed down Somerset Island to discover that it actually WAS an island (and what the Rosses missed on their desperate race for life in 1833) – and that a narrow strait separates Somerset Island from the Boothia Peninsula. (The strait now bears Bellot’s name, conferred after he drowned carrying dispatches.)
  • 1852-54: Edward Inglefield would undertake three voyage in search of Franklin in the years 1852, 1853 and 1854. In so doing he charted previously unexplored areas along the northern Canadian coastline, including Baffin Bay, Smith Sound and Lancaster Sound. (He was also the inventor of the marine hydraulic steering gear and the anchor design that bears his name.) In 1852 he penetrated Smith Sound further than any known records; Jones Sound was also searched, and a landing was made at Beechey Island in Lancaster Sound. No sign, however, of Franklin’s expedition was found. Finally, before the onset of winter forced Inglefield to turn homewards, the expedition searched and charted much of Baffin Island’s eastern coast. He made two further voyages to the Arctic in HMS Phoenix (that was fitted with a steam engine driving a screw propeller) to supply the search for the Franklin expedition overseen by Edward Belcher. He returned in 1853, bringing with him the first officer to have traversed the Northwest Passage, Samuel Gurney Cresswell of HMS Investigator. Inglefield carried the news of the discovery of the Northwest Passage by Robert McClure back to England in October 1853. In 1854, Inglefield found Belcher’s ships abandoned, save one to which the crews had retreated. Most of these men returned with Inglefield to Britain
  • 1853-54: the Americans returned to the Arctic. Elisha Kent Kane from Philadelphia (probably one ofthe most literate of the northern explorers, as well as an excellent artist)in command of Advance headed up the Greenland coast (he had been on a 1850 search for Franklin that reached Beechey Island) but he got frozen into a winter harbour that proved to be a trap. By the summer of 1954 the brig was still “immovably frozen in, with nine feet of solid ice under her bows.” Three men had died, so Kane marched south barely reaching safety in the Danish community of Upernavik
  • 1852-54: the “Arctic Squadron”. The last Arctic disastercame with the Admiralty’s final Franklin search expedition. In 1852 a substantial force of 222 men in 5 ships under the command of Sir Edward Belcher headed out. They completed a good deal of mapping. The expedition’s attempt to leave the Arctic in 1853 were prevented by the ice. In the spring of 1854 Belcher decided to abandon his ships. The crews trekked to Beechey Island. A substantial wooden store depot was built & named Northumberland House 
  • 1851-54: Dr. John Rae, Scottish fur trader and explorer, was detached from the Hudson Bay Company a second time to search for Franklin, as well as to chart more coast. He descended the Coppermine River and crossed the Coronation Gulf to “Wollaston Land”, which he found to be part of Victoria Island. He followed the island’s west coast to Prince Albert Sound, then turned around and retraced Dease and Simpson’s old route along the southern shore. Passing Cambridge Bay, he headed east, then north up the eastern shore of the island. He found a piece of a flagstaff that probably came from the Erebus 
  • 1853-54: John Rae continues his search. Following his old track along the southern shore of the Gulf of Boothia to the southern end of the Boothia Peninsula. (He now definitely showed that Boothia was a peninsula.) Trekking further west, Rae followed the eastern shore of present day Ross and Rae Straits to join his discoveries with those of Simpson and Dease at Cape Britannia. This proved that King William Land was an island (not a peninsula). With the gap filled between Franklin’s Point Turnagain and Parry’s sighting of Fury and Hecla Strait terra incognita, the last pieces of the puzzle had been put in place – thanks to the men of the Hudson’s Bay Company, primarily Rae 
  • From some Inuit in the winter of 1850, Rae learned that they had seen about 40 men travelling southward dragging a boat and sledges on the western shore of King William Island. Later that same season, a group of Inuit had found the corpses of some 30 men, as well as graves “about a long day’s journey to the north-west of the mouth of…the Great Fish River”. Rae purchased a number of relics that the Inuit collected from the bodies. Rae went on to report the likelihood of cannibalism. Lady Franklin was not pleased. One of the reactions to this when the news broke was from Charles Dickens. He not only condemned the cannibalism claims as an affront to his countrymen’s honour and high Christian morals but also dismissed Inuit testimony as “the wild tales of a herd of savages.”
    • 1853: the transport ship Breadalbane was crushed and sank off Beechey Island (while looking for Franklin). The wreck was discovered by physician and diver Dr. Joe MacInnis in 1980 after a three year search, working aboard the Canadian icebreaker John A. Macdonald. It’s in 100 metres of water and in perfect condition 
  • 1857-59: the Victory Point letter, written in 1848, found. Lady Franklin digs into her estate one more time and dispatched the yacht Fox (which was a screw yacht with a massive iron propeller that proved the expedition’s salvation several times) under the command ofIrish explorer Francis Leopold McClintock. He also has dogs and a skilled interpreter. He gets to Beechey Island (builds a cairn there), turns south and follows Franklin’s trail. On reaching the southern shore of King William Island in early 1859 he speaks to two Inuit (through the interpreter he brought along) who had actually been at the place where the wrecked Erebus and Terror were. He finds a skeleton and scattered relics and remains. McLintock’s officer Irishman George Hobson found two cairns. In one of them, at Victory Point at the north end of King William was the report by Lieutenant Graham Gore, with notes in the margins by Captains Crozier and Fitzjames mentioned earlier (in 1848 note).As said this is the first written evidence in the mystery. Ironically it seems possible that Franklin’s men closed the gap from where Simpson and Dease ended their expedition, and within sight of lands traversed by Ross – and did find a Northwest Passage
  • 1859: Northwest passage charted; the real search was over. It was deemed impassable and no longer of interest. The Admiralty had lost five ships – Intrepid, Assistance, Pioneer, Investigator and Breadalbane – in the search for Franklin. The American lost the brig Advance
  • The search for Franklin was the greatest push into the Arctic ever mounted, involving dozens of ships and thousands of men. Between 1847 and 1859, 36 separate expeditions both by land and by sea, searched the Arctic. The search for Franklin and clues to his fate resulted in the charting of the Northwest Passage by 1859 (but it wasn’t until the 1903-06 voyage of Roald Amundsen that the passage was conquered by ship) 
  • In total 129 men and two ships were lost; it was the greatest disaster in the annals of Arctic exploration. Work has taken place autopsying the bodies looking for evidence of cause of death (lead poisoning from their cans of food or ship water pipes; disease, etc.) In just six years the cost of searching for Sir John was estimated to be 760,000 pounds ($70 million today) and most of that was public money 
  • Franklin ships were finally found: using a mix of past clues, contemporary research, and Inuit oral history, Parks Canada found Franklin’s ship, HMS Erebus, on September 2, 2014. Incredibly, two years later, on September 3, 2016, its sister ship, HMS Terror, turned up in serendipitously named Terror Bay, on the south coast of King William Island
  • 1869: American explorer Charles Francis Hall believed that some of Franklin’s men might still be alive and living with Inuit. He travelled the region in the 1960s with two Inuit companions, Taqulittuq and Ipiivik, carefully documenting Inuit knowledge. These accounts proved valuable in the eventual discovery of Erebus. Hall’s expedition to King William Island inn 1869 includes the discovery of skeletal remains of Franklin Expedition members
  • 1875-76: the British Arctic Expedition (Nares Expedition). Sir George Strong Nares became the first explorer to take his ships all the way north through the channel between Greenland and Ellesmere Island (now named Nares Strait in his honour) to the Lincoln Sea. Up to this time it has been the theory that this route would lead to the supposed Open Polar Sea
  • 1893-96: Nansen’s Fram expedition was an attempt by the Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen to reach the geographical North Pole by harnessing the natural east–west current of the Arctic Ocean. Nansen took his ship Fram to the New Siberian Islands in the eastern Arctic Ocean, froze her into the pack ice, and waited for the drift to carry her towards the pole. Impatient with the slow speed and erratic character of the drift, after 18 months Nansen and a companion left the ship with a team of dogs and sledges and made for the pole. They did not reach it, but they achieved a record Farthest North latitude of 86°13.6′N before a long retreat over ice and water to reach safety in Franz Josef Land. Meanwhile, Fram continued to drift westward, finally emerging in the North Atlantic Ocean
  • 1898-1902: Otto Sverdrup, a Norwegian explorer, headed north with the Fram again, up the west coast of Greenland and over to the Canadian Arctic. He achieved the first exploration and mapping of the south and west coasts of Ellesmere Island, and the discovery and naming of Axel Heiberg Island, the Ringnes Islands, the Sverdrup Islands and many other locations. A total of 260,000 square kilometres was charted – more than any other polar exploration

Success: passage finally made

  • 1903-06: Roald Amundsen from Norway achieved the first ship passage through (on the small sloop Gjoa which had sails plus a 13 HP diesel engine) in his first attempt. He had 20 dogs, determined not to depend on man-hauled sledges, and a six man crew. He took Franklin’s route, along Melville Strait to Beechey Island, then south to Peel Strait. When in Franklin Strait, the proximity to the north magnetic pole meant he couldn’t use a compass, only the stars. Then to De la Roquette Islands. He ran aground in Sir James Ross Strait and again off Matty Island. Through Rae Strait and groups of small islands, between the mainland and King William Island and stopped at the southern end which they named Gjoahavn. He then could see Simpson Strait, but stayed to do scientific research in 1904 and 1905, measuring magnetism. He left carefully as it was shallow. He entered Victoria Strait and sailed into Cambridge Bay and stopped at King Point on the Yukon coast, and spent a third winter. He took a dogsled 500 miles to Eagle City, Alaska to announce his feat! 

Asserting Canadian sovereignty

The influx of gold seekers in the Yukon plus the major American whaling outpost on Herschel Island, 90 miles past the US-Canadian border, began to be seen as a threat to Canadian claims of sovereignty in the Arctic.

  • 1904: the Canadian Polar Expedition and its vessel, Arctic, was placed under the command of the Mounted Police. In a series of three voyages, from 1906-1911, the “eastern Arctic Patrol” left a series of plaques and cairns proclaiming Canada’s ownership. In 1927 the RCMP finally decided to build their own Arctic vessel, the St. Roch
  • 1940-42: the RCMP schooner St. Roch, captained by Henry Larsen, became the second vessel to conquer the Northwest Passage. It went from west to east via a southerly route, following much of Amundsen’s route. They spent the first winter at Walker Bay, on the Western shores of Victoria Island – Melville Sound and Prince of Wales Strait. It got diverted in the summer of 1941 to Tuktoyaktuk to help ferry supplies to the communities of Coppermine and Cambridge Bay (it was war time). They headed out again rounding the southern end of King William Island and reached Gjoa Haven. Pushing north, they over-wintered in Pasley Bay on the Boothia Peninsula. It was good that the ship had a motor, as it had to blast its way through sections. Up the Boothia Peninsula to Bellot Strait; after some bad ice they reached the Hudson’s Bay trading post of Fort Ross, at the eastern end of Bellot Strait. From there to leave the Arctic Ocean, they headed up Prince Regent to Barrow Strait and the settlement of Pond Inlet Inlet. Then all the way around to Halifax
  • 1944: the St. Roch made a return trip (July 26-September 27 – an amazing 86 days). Taking the more northerly route (the first to navigate this route) through Lancaster Sound and west to Melville Island and then across McClure Strait to Prince of Wales Strait. Larsen felt that this was the “real Northwest Passage…and it had never before been navigated”. Only Sir Edward Parry had come close, in 1819. Larsen was the first man to traverse the Northwest Passage in both directions
  • 1954: the first naval ship to navigate the passage sailed through – the HMCS Labrador, captained by O.C.S.Robertson
  • 1955: construction of a series of radar stations – the Distant Early Warning system, or the DEW line, began
  • 1958: the USS Nautilus, the first nuclear submarine, reached 90 degrees north
  • 1960: the first submerged transit of the Northwest Passage by the USS Seadragon; it also went to the North Pole
  • 1969: the SS Manhattan, a 155,000-ton tanker, refitted as an icebreaker, escorted by the Canadian icebreaker John A. Macdonald, made it to Melville Island
  • 1986: Jeff MacInnis (son of Dr Joe MacInnis) sailed through the  Northwest Passage on a 100-day 4,000 kilometres expedition – the first polar passage in a catamaran (a Hobie 18)
  • 2008: the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper announces a renewed search for the wrecks of Erebus and Terror, committing to a three year search
  • 2010: a team of Parks Canada underwater archaeologists discovers the wreck of HMS Investigator in Mercy Bay
  • 2010: Norwegian explorer Boerge Ouslandwhen led a crew in a small trimaran sailboat, a Corsair 31 with a draught of only 40 cm, on a circumnavigation of the Arctic Ocean through both the Northeast and Northwest passages, the first crew to do so in a single summer season
  • 2014: the Nunavik became the first cargo ship (fortified against ice) to traverse the passage unescorted when it delivered nickel mined in Deception Bay, Nunavik to China
  • 2014; 2016: Franklin ships found: using a mix of past clues, contemporary research, and Inuit oral history, Parks Canada found Franklin’s ship, HMS Erebus in eastern Queen Maude Gulf, on September 2, 2014. Incredibly, two years later, on September 3, 2016, its sister ship and almost perfectly preserved wreck, HMS Terror, turned up in serendipitously named Terror Bay, on the south coast of King William Island 
  • 2019: Norwegian Børge Ouslandi and South African Mike Horn took 87 days and skied across the top of the world – across the Arctic Ocean (1,000 miles across the entirety of the ice cap). In the East Siberian Sea, they sailed to 85 degrees and 34 minutes north, the farthest north a non-icebreaking vessel had ever reached. Then they skied for 36 days over the top through to the North Pole and then on to where a boat met them north of the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard

For a link to my photographs of the journey, go to:

1 thought on “Attachment #1: Key Arctic Explorers”

  1. Ken,

    Although I travel to different communities in Nunavut several times each year, I have found it difficult to put into words how this vast barren land with its’ harsh climate mesmerizes me – you have done this after only one trip!

    Factual & interesting with professional quality photographs. You should be hired as one of the on-board professionals as you would be able to deliver daily talks to match those of the learned faculty.

    As you have given me permission, I am sending the blog to the Chief Judge of Nunavut with the suggestion that your presentation be provided to any newcomers to the Justice system in Nunavut.

    At the end of each court circuit, I recite the words of Robert Service in The Spell of the Yukon in expressing my feelings of Nunavut:

    There’s a land where the mountains are nameless,
    And the rivers all run God knows where;
    There are lives that are erring and aimless,
    And deaths that just hang by a hair;
    There are hardships that nobody reckons;
    There are valleys uncoupled and still;
    There’s a land – oh, it beckons and beckons,
    And I want to back – and I will .

    Hopefully you too will want to go back and provide us with Chapter 2.

    Great Job

    Alan Ingram

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