Discovery of lost sunk ship set to unravel the ‘greatest Canadian mystery’

In 1845, the British set off an expedition to explore the Arctic. It was led by Captain Sir John Franklin, an experienced adventurer and officer of the Royal Navy. He had led three expeditions before this, all in the same region. The last one was to the Northwest Passage, where the expedition was lost. 128 men went missing on this ill-fated voyage, and neither ships nor crew were found. The first clues to this mystery were found in 1850 in the form of some relics and the graves of a few members of the crew. Four years later, the explorer John Rae uncovered some telescopes, spoons, forks, guns, compasses and other articles belonging to the lost crew. He also interviewed some Inuit’s, people of a tribe native to the area, who said they had seen the crew when they passed by. Their testimony led him to the final resting place of the explorers where it was determined from the mutilated corpses and the remnants in the kettles that the party had resorted to cannibalism. Rae’s report was not well received in England, and led to him being shunned by society.

Franklin's lost ship

What’s new?

After 169 years, Canadian authorities have reported that they have found one of these lost ships. Using side-scan sonar, the Victoria Strait Expedition announced that it had found one of the two lost ships on the 7th of September 2014. These ships have not been seen for over a century. The discovery is huge as this lost expedition has been called Canada’s “biggest mystery” by the Canadian Prime Minister. The find will certainly answer many questions that have remained unanswered for many years, like how ships that had survived the Arctic before suddenly crashed in there. The ships were reinforced and steam-powered, and thus not easily stopped. The ice-locked Canadian waterway, however, seemed to have been a match for their helms, though this is only a conjecture.

Franklin Lost Ship 2

Are they in bad condition?

The images released by the team indicated that the ship has been preserved well. The scans picked up deck planking, so there has been a minimum amount of erosion that took place. The wreckage is currently on the bottom of the ocean, in the eastern portion of Queen Maud Gulf, which is west of O’Reilly Island. The ship has not yet been identified, though further examinations have not taken place yet. A team will possibly visit the scene to look for further evidence as soon as the logistics have been sorted out. The pictures show the ship settled right beside a crack on the seabed, a miraculous coincidence as it narrowly missed being completely lost to humanity by just a few feet. The ship is settled in an upright position, which raises its own questions.

What happened to the crew?

The first remains of the crew were found on the east coast of Beechey Island. Some articles belonging to the expedition were found, along with the graves of a few crewmen. In 1854 John Rae recovered the skeletons of the remaining crew and other articles that were on the original expedition. Studies of this over the years have revealed what lead to the deaths of these people. Examinations of the Beechey Island remains point to pneumonia and tuberculosis, suggested by the discovery of evidence of Pott’s disease. Researchers ran toxicology scans that reported the presence of high levels of lead. This led to conclusion of lead poisoning, the source of which is unclear. Originally, the source was thought to be hundreds of food tins lined with lead foil, lead-wicked candles and pewter tableware. Later, the water system that might have leached led might have been a factor as well, though pneumonia was the final cause.


The crew that traversed the Arctic carried too many unnecessary items that bogged them down, and did not adapt Inuit survival techniques, which led to their downfall.

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