Friday, May 11, 2018

Northwest Passage

A few days ago, I went over to Gatineau to pay a visit to the Canadian Museum of History (formerly the Museum of Civilization). While one of the temporary exhibit halls was closed as a new exhibit is being installed, another one is presenting the exhibit Death In The Ice, an extensive history of the doomed Franklin Expedition, sent to find the Northwest Passage. Check out the story of the Franklin Expedition at the exhibition link and The Canadian Encyclopedia entry.

Since the expedition led by Sir John Franklin vanished in the 1840s with 129 men, their fate has been a mystery. Expeditions searched for them in the years afterwards. Bodies and other clues were uncovered. The local Inuit, whose oral histories indicated they knew quite well about the ships and the fates of their crews, were largely ignored until more recent searches. Several years ago, the wrecks of the two ships, the H.M.S. Erebus and the H.M.S. Terror, were located in Canadian Arctic waters. The exhibition features artifacts of the ships, plus items common to British navy ships of the era, as well as artifacts of the North and of the search efforts to uncover the fate of the expedition. It is a collaborative exhibition between this museum and Britain's National Maritime Museum.

This is a remnant of the wheel for the Erebus.

Here we have weapons that would have been common in the High Arctic at the time. Franklin and his men ventured into an area that was sparsely populated and unforgiving, and found themselves trapped in the ice. The area where the expedition met its end was referred to as Tununqiq in Inuit, one of the display signs suggesting that translates to the back of beyond, and rarely visited at that time. Those Inuit in the area had oral stories of meeting other Englishmen three hundred years earlier- the expedition under Martin Frobisher.

A long kayak was found here as well, typically used in the straits of the high Arctic, sealskin over a wood frame.

This is an Inuit carving depicting a European ship. Details such as the hat on the sailor suggests it dates to the 1500s -1600s, and it was recovered from an archaeological site on Baffin Island, at a place called Amadjuak Bay.

Two figures in sealskin clothing are a nod to the Inuit peoples the expedition might have encountered while pushing into the high Arctic. 

This case contained dinner service tableware from the Terror, from earlier in its career. The ship had seen service during the War of 1812, and its captain at the time, John Sheridan, had this set commissioned for he and his officers.

Two models of the ships are below. Erebus is the first, while Terror follows.

Replica notes and a message canister are in this display case. Franklin's expedition was equipped with 200 of these metal canisters, meant to seal notes and be tossed overboard "frequently" after the ships passed north of the 65th Latitude. Finders were to forward the canisters to the Admiralty in London. The notes replicated here are the contents of a canister left on King William Island.

Items for navigation, cartography, and other scientific endeavours were on display.

They included a microscope and an item called a dip circle, which responds to changes in the magnetic field and was used to record magnetic observations throughout the voyage. I have more from here tomorrow.


  1. Looks like an interesting exhibit.

  2. I've not heard of this Franklin exploration before but it sounds most interesting. One must give such people credit for bravery, and perhaps less credit for taking off into unknown areas and waters without the ability to be properly prepared for such an adventure.

  3. I recall that Sir John Franklin was a Lincolnshire man - for some reason British men seem to be born to explore, and for that matter so do many British women too, but I add not me.

  4. ...perhaps, with Global Warming, 'Death In The Ice' is a thing of the past.

  5. I especially enjoyed seeing the kayak and the dinnerware. Fascinating photos.
    Have a great day.

  6. I love the idea of commissioned dishes!


  7. when i see other boats like that i wonder how would they work compared to what we have? does a small seat or opening ... does it work better or? so curious. i wonder ... how their tools would work too? wouldn't that be cool if they allowed you to take them out and test them. you know??! way cool. ( :

  8. @Linda: I found it fascinating.

    @Lowell: I wondered if, outside of Canadian and British readers, how many people might know of the Franklin Expedition.

    @Rosemary: lots of Brits explored every corner of the planet.

    @Francisco: thank you!

    @Marianne: it is indeed.

    @Tom: oh, there are still plenty of ways to get yourself killed in the Arctic and Antarctic for that matter.

    @Mildred: thanks!

    @Janis: it seems fitting of navy service.

    @Beth: it's fairly similar to a current kayak, I think.

    @Marie: indeed!

  9. For some reason, although I started following you, I'm not getting a notice of your daily posts. I'll try again, since I don't want to miss anything! :-)

  10. Interesting exhibition again, William, that Franklin Expedition is new for me.

  11. Life in the arctic must be very hard.

  12. What an interesting history! Thanks for sharing.

  13. I would love to see this as I read my first book on Franklin when I was about ten. I've been interested in Franklin's expedition ever since.

  14. Such wonderful history captured in your photos!

    Happy Weekend to you,
    A ShutterBug Explores,
    aka (A Creative Harbor)

  15. This is interesting. Will enjoy looking at all the ships and weapons.

  16. I don't know why, but that pretty dinnerware is a surprise.

  17. An interesting exhibition, William. Fantastic photos!

  18. Interesting exhibition. Love the models of ships!

  19. @DJan: good to see you.

    @Jan: I assumed it would not be well known outside Canada and Britain.

    @RedPat: it is!

    @Marleen: it can be.

    @Sharon: you're welcome.

    @Red: it is a compelling history.

    @Carol: thanks!

    @Nancy: I enjoyed it.

    @Cloudia: I agree.

    @Janey: it was!

    @Bill: thanks!

    @Mari: it was.

  20. Really interesting exhibit! White people could have learned so much if they'd bothered to listen to the native peoples.

  21. It's baffling to me that they took fine china to eat on!

  22. I remember hearing or reading about this long ago. What a fascinating exhibit. Thanks for sharing it.

  23. I thought the tulips were back!

  24. @Tamago: I certainly enjoyed visiting this exhibit.

    @Kay: that's unfortunately true. Only now are we learning to listen.

    @Sandi: yes, it was typical of life at sea on a navy ship of the time for officers to dine in relative comfort.

    @Jeanie: it's an extraordinary story.

    @Norma: they're back now!

  25. Replies
    1. I can see where one might go in that frame of thought.