Franklin Expedition Note 1847

Note found by Francis Leopold McClintock's Expedition, in a cairn on King William Island in 1859, detailling the fate of Franklin's Lost Expedition, written on a standard Admiralty form:

"WHOEVER finds this paper is requested to forward it to the Secretary of the Admiralty, London, with a note of the time and place at which it was found: or, if more convenient, to deliver it for that purpose to the British Consul at the nearest Port."

[Followed by parallel instructions in French, Spanish, Dutch, Nordic, and German.]

"28 of May 1847: H.M.Ships Erebus and Terror Wintered in the Ice in Lat. 70°5'N Long. 98°.23'W Having wintered in 1846-7 at Beechey Island in Lat 74°43'28"N Long 91°39'15"W After having ascended Wellington Channel to Lat 77° and returned by the West side of Cornwallis Island. Sir John Franklin commanding the Expedition. All well. Party consisting of 2 Officers and 6 Men left the ships on Monday 24th May 1847.—Gm. Gore, Lieut., Chas. F. DesVoeux, Mate"

[Error about the date of wintering at Beechey Island. Note written "in the field", under duress, and from memory.]

"25th April 1848: HMShips Terror and Erebus were deserted on the 22nd April 5 leagues NNW of this having been beset since 12th Sept 1846. The officers and crews consisting of 105 souls under the command of Captain F. R. M. Crozier landed here—in Lat. 69°37'42" Long. 98°41' This paper was found by Lt. Irving under the cairn supposed to have been built by Sir James Ross in 1831—4 miles to the Northward—where it had been deposited by the late Commander Gore in May 1847. Sir James Ross' pillar has not however been found and the paper has been transferred to this position which is that in which Sir J. Ross' pillar was erected—Sir John Franklin died on the 11th of June 1847 and the total loss by deaths in the Expedition has been to this date 9 officers and 15 men.—James Fitzjames Captain HMS Erebus F. R. M. Crozier Captain & Senior Offr And start on tomorrow 26th for Backs Fish River."


By Stan Rogers (1990)

Ah, for just one time
I would take the Northwest Passage
To find the hand of Franklin
Reaching for the Beaufort Sea
Tracing one warm line
Through a land so wide and savage
And make a northwest passage
To the sea

Westward from the Davis Strait
'Tis there 'twas said to lie
The sea route to the Orient
For which so many died
Seeking gold and glory
Leaving weathered, broken bones
And a long-forgotten lonely
Cairn of stones

Ah, for just one time
I would take the Northwest Passage
To find the hand of Franklin
Reaching for the Beaufort Sea
Tracing one warm line
Through a land so wide and savage
And make a northwest passage
To the sea

Three centuries thereafter
I take passage overland
In the footsteps of Brave Kelso
Where his "sea of flowers" began
Watching cities rise before me
Then behind me sink again
This tardiest explorer
Driving hard across the plain

Ah, for just one time
I would take the Northwest Passage
To find the hand of Franklin
Reaching for the Beaufort Sea
Tracing one warm line
Through a land so wide and savage
And make a northwest passage
To the sea

And through the night, behind the wheel
The mileage clicking west
I think upon MacKenzie
David Thompson and the rest
Who cracked the mountain ramparts
And did show a path for me
To race the roaring Fraser
To the sea

Ah, for just one time
I would take the Northwest Passage
To find the hand of Franklin
Reaching for the Beaufort Sea
Tracing one warm line
Through a land so wide and savage
And make a northwest passage
To the sea

How then am I so different
From the first men through this way?
Like them, I left a settled life
I threw it all away
To seek a Northwest Passage
At the call of many men
To find there but the road
Back home again

Ah, for just one time
I would take the Northwest Passage
To find the hand of Franklin
Reaching for the Beaufort Sea
Tracing one warm line
Through a land so wide and savage
And make a northwest passage
To the sea

Northwest Passage Map


Sir John Franklin. Franklin Lost Expedition: a doomed British voyage of Arctic exploration that departed England in 1845.

A Royal Navy officer, Franklin had served on three previous Arctic expeditions, the latter two as commanding officer. His fourth and last, undertaken when he was 59, was meant to traverse the last unnavigated section of the Northwest Passage. After a few early fatalities the two ships became icebound in Victoria Strait near King William Island in the Canadian Arctic. The entire expedition complement, including Franklin and 128 men, was lost. Pressed by Franklin's wife and others, the Admiralty launched a search for the missing expedition in 1848. Prompted in part by Franklin's fame and the Admiralty's offer of a finder's reward, many subsequent expeditions joined the hunt, which at one point in 1850 involved eleven British and two American ships. Several of these ships converged off the east coast of Beechey Island, where the first relics of the expedition were found, including the graves of three crewmen.

In 1854, explorer John Rae, while surveying near the Canadian Arctic coast southeast of King William Island, acquired relics of and stories about the Franklin party from the Inuit. A search led by Francis Leopold McClintock in 1859 discovered a note left on King William Island with details about the expedition's fate. Scientific studies of the graves, bodies, and other physical evidence left by Franklin crew members on Beechey Island and King William Island, concluded that the crew members whose graves had been found on Beechey Island most likely died of pneumonia and perhaps tuberculosis. Combined evidence of all studies suggested that hypothermia, starvation, lead poisoning and disease including scurvy, along with general exposure to a hostile environment whilst lacking adequate clothing and nutrition, killed everyone on the expedition.

BEAUFORT SEA: An arm of the Arctic Ocean. The sea, Beaufort Island, and Beaufort Inlet are named after the Royal Navy hydrographer, Rear-Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort (1774-1857), of Navan in County Meath.

DAVIS STRAIT: The Davis Strait (Détroit de Davis) is a northern arm of the Labrador Sea, between Greenland and Baffin Island (perhaps the Helluland of the Icelandic sagas). John Davis/Davys (1550–1605) explored the area while seeking a Northwest Passage. The strait is famous for its fierce tides that can range from 9 to 18 metres, which discouraged many earlier explorers.

John Davis/Davys was one of the chief English navigators and explorers under Elizabeth I, especially in the Arctic and Far East. He discovered the Falkland Islands in 1592. Davis' childhood neighbors were Adrien and Humphrey Gilbert (a pioneer of English colonization in North America and the Plantations of Ireland) and their half-brother Walter Raleigh. He became a friend of Queen Elizabeth's witch, Sir John Dee.

Davis began pitching his idea of a voyage in search of the Northwest Passage to Sir Francis Walsingham (the queen's secretary and spymaster) in 1583. In 1585, Walsingham funded the expedition, which traced Frobisher's route to Greenland's east coast, around Cape Farewell, and west towards Baffin Island. In 1586, he returned with four ships, two of which were sent to Greenland's iceberg-calving eastern shore; the other two penetrated the strait which became known for him as far as 67°N before being blocked by the Arctic ice cap. The Sunshine attempted in vain to circumnavigate the island from the east. Davis' initially amiable approach to the Inuit – bringing musicians and having the crew dance and play with them – changed after they stole one of his anchors. His ships were also attacked by Inuit in Hamilton Inlet. A third expedition in 1587 reached 72°12'N and Disko Island before being repulsed by unfavorable winds. On his return, he charted the Davis Inlet on the Labrador coast. The log of this trip remained a textbook model for later captains for centuries.

In 1588, he seems to have commanded the Black Dog against the Spanish Armada. In 1589, he joined the Earl of Cumberland off the Azores. In 1591 he accompanied Thomas Cavendish on the man's last voyage, which sought to discover the Northwest Passage "upon the back parts of America" (i.e., from the west). After the rest of Cavendish's expedition returned unsuccessful, Davis continued to attempt on his own account the passage of the Strait of Magellan; though defeated by foul weather, he discovered the Falkland Islands in 1592 aboard the Desire. His crew was forced to kill hundreds of penguins for food on the islands, but the stored meat spoiled in the tropics and only fourteen of his 76 men made it home alive. From 1596 to 1597, Davis seems to have sailed with Raleigh as master of Sir Walter's own ship to Cádiz and the Azores

From 1598 to 1600, he accompanied a Dutch expedition to the East Indies as pilot, sailing from Flushing and returning to Middleburg, while carefully charting and recording geographical details. He narrowly escaped destruction from treachery at Achin on Sumatra. From 1601 to 1603, he accompanied Sir James Lancaster as chief pilot on the first voyage of the British East India Company. In December 1604, he sailed again for the same destination as pilot to Sir Edward Michelborne or Michelbourn. On this journey, he was killed off Bintan Island near Singapore by one of his captive "Japanese" pirates whose vessel he had just seized

In the centuries after his death, Dutch whalers named Greenland's western coast Straat Davis", while "Greenland" was used to refer to the eastern shore. Davis's explorations in the Arctic were published by Richard Hakluyt and appeared on his world map. Davis published a valuable treatise on practical navigation called The Seaman's Secrets in 1594 and a more theoretical work called The World's Hydrographical Description in 1595. The account of Davis's last voyage was written by Michelborne on his return to England in 1606. Davis' invention of the backstaff and double quadrant (called the Davis Quadrant after him) remained popular among English seamen until long after Hadley's reflecting quadrant had been introduced.

BRAVE KELSO: Henry Kelsey (1667-1724). "The Boy Kelsey". An Englishman. The first recorded European to have seen Saskatchewan and Alberta, and the first to have explored the Great Plains from the north. Began working with the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) at age 20. 1690-1691: Travelled with the Cree, and explored what is now northern Manitoba from Hudson Bay to the Saskatchewan River. Returned to England at age 55 and died two years.

"SEA OF FLOWERS": A reference to sections of The Prairies. The Prairies form a triangular area from Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba down through the Great Plains to Mexico, and approximately 1,600 kms from western Indiana to the Rocky Mountains. They cover about 3,600,000 million square kms (an area larger than The British Isles, Portugal, Spain, France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, The Czech Republic, Italy, The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Poland, Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, Iceland .. and Andorra ... combined). The Prairies contains a variety of landscapes, but much of what was formerly short grassland with spring flowers is now farmland.

MACKENZIE: Alexander MacKenzie, fur trader and explorer, from the Outer Hebridies.

On behalf of the North West Company, MacKenzie travelled to Lake Athabasca where, in 1788, he was one of the founders of Fort Chipewyan. From there he set out by canoe on July 10, 1789, in the hope of finding the Northwest Passage to the Pacific Ocean. As he ended up reaching the Arctic Ocean instead, he named the river "Disappointment River". The river was later renamed The Mackenzie River in his honor. After a trip to Britain, in 1793 MacKenzie set out from England, crossed the Rockies, and descended to the Pacific -- the first person north of Mexico to reach the Pacific overland -- 10 years before Lewis and Clarke. He left this record:

DAVID THOMPSON: Welsh explorer and cartographer. Over his career he mapped over 3.9 million square kilometers of North Americaone (1/5th of the continent), and for this has been described as the greatest land geographer who ever lived.

In 1784, at the age of 14, Thompson entered a seven-year apprenticeship with the Hudson's Bay Company. He set sail on May 28 of that year, and left Britain forever. He arrived in Churchill (now in Manitoba) and was put to work as a clerk. The next year he was transferred to nearby York Factory, and over the next few years spent time as a clerk at Cumberland House and South Branch House before arriving at Manchester House in 1787. On December 23, 1788, Thompson seriously fractured his leg, forcing him to spend the next two winters at Cumberland House convalescing. It was during this time he greatly refined and expanded his mathematical, astronomical and surveying skills under the tutelage of Hudson's Bay Company surveyor Philip Turnor. He also lost sight in his right eye.

In 1790, with his apprenticeship nearing its end, Thompson made the unusual request of a set of surveying tools, in place of the typical parting gift of fine clothes offered by the company to those completing their indenture. He received both. He then entered the employ of the Hudson's Bay Company as a fur trader, and in 1792 completed his first significant survey, mapping a route to Lake Athabasca. The company promoted him to surveyor in 1794. Thompson continued working for the Hudson's Bay Company until May 23, 1797 when, frustrated with HBC policies, he left without giving the standard one year notice, and walked 80 miles in the snow to enter the employ of The North West Company, where he continued to work as a fur trader and surveyor.

In 1797, Thompson was sent south to survey part of Canada-U.S. boundary along the water routes from Lake Superior to Lake of the Woods to satisfy unresolved questions of territory arising from the Jay Treaty between Great Britain and the United States. By 1798 Thompson had completed a survey of 6,750 km from Grand Portage, through Lake Winnipeg (larger than Wales, btw), to the headwaters of the Assiniboine and Mississippi Rivers, as well as two sides of Lake Superior. In 1798, the company sent him to Red Deer Lake to establish a trading post. Thompson spent the next few seasons trading from Fort George and leadinng several expeditions into the Rocky Mountains.

In 1804, Thompson was made a full partner of the NWC and spent the next few seasons based there managing the fur trading operations but still finding time to expand his surveys of the waterways around Lake Superior.

Concern over the American-backed expedition of Lewis and Clark prompted the North West Company to charge Thompson in 1806 with the task of finding a route to the Pacific. Thompson travelled to Rocky Mountain House and prepared for an expedition to follow the Columbia River to the Pacific.

In 1807 he crossed the Rocky Mountains and spent the summer surveying the Columbia basin and continuing to survey the area over the next few seasons. Thompson mapped and established trading posts in Northwestern Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Western Canada; including Kootenae House and Saleesh House; the first trading post west of the Rockies in Montana extending North West Company fur-trading territories. The maps he made of the Columbia River basin east of the Cascade Mountains were of such high quality and detail that they continued to be regarded as authoritative well into the mid-20th century. Thompson’s drawings of the upper portion of the Missouri River were incorporated into a map for the Lewis and Clark expedition that followed seven years later.

In early 1810, while en route to Montreal, Thompson received orders at Rainy Lake to return to the Rocky Mountains and establish a route to the mouth of the Columbia. This was a response by the North West Company to the plans of John Jacob Astor to send a ship around the Americas to establish a fur trading post. Thompson was delayed by an angry group of Peigan natives. This forced him to seek a new route across the Rocky Mountains through the Athabasca Pass.

David Thompson was the first European to navigate the full length of the Columbia River. During Thompson's 1811 voyage down the Columbia River he camped at the junction with the Snake River on July 9, 1811, and erected a pole and a notice claiming the country for Great Britain and stating the intention of the North West Company to build a trading post at the site. This notice was found later that year by Astorians looking to establish an inland fur post, contributing to their selection of a more northerly site at Fort Okanogan. The North West Company's Fort Nez Percés was established near the Snake River junction several years later. Continuing down the Columbia, Thompson passed the barrier of The Dalles with much less difficulty than experienced by Lewis and Clark, as high water obscured Celilo Falls and many of the rapids. On July 14, 1811, Thompson reached the partially constructed Fort Astoria at the mouth of the Columbia, arriving two months after the Pacific Fur Company's ship, the Tonquin. Before returning upriver and across the mountains, Thompson hired Naukane, a Native Hawaiian laborer brought to Fort Astoria by the Pacific Fur Company's ship Tonquin. Naukane, known as Coxe to Thompson, accompanied Thompson across the continent to Lake Superior before journeying on to England. Thompson wintered at Saleesh House before beginning his final journey back to Montreal in 1812.

He settled in Terrebonne, and worked on completing his great map, a summary of his lifetime of exploring and surveying the interior of North America. The map covered the area stretching from Lake Superior to the Pacific, and was given by Thompson to the North West Company.

By 1831 he was so deeply in debt he was forced to take up a position as a surveyor for the British American Land Company to provide for his family. Thompson was married for 58 years and had 13 children. In 1843 Thompson completed his atlas of the region from Hudson Bay to the Pacific Ocean. His luck continued to worsen and he was forced to move in with his daughter and son-in-law in 1845. He began work on a manuscript chronicling his life exploring the continent, but this project was left unfinished when his sight failed him completely in 1851.

Thompson died in Montreal in 1857, in near obscurity, leaving 77 field notebooks on the fur trade in North America. His body was interred in Montreal's Mount Royal Cemetery in an unmarked grave. Thompson Falls, Montana and British Columbia's Thompson River are named after him.

THE ROARING FRASER: Simon Fraser (1776-1862) was a fur trader and an explorer who charted much of what is now the British Columbia.

Fraser was employed by the Montreal-based North West Company. By 1805, he had been put in charge of all the company's operations west of the Rocky Mountains. He was responsible for building that area's first trading posts, and, in 1808, he explored what is now known as the Fraser River, which bears his name.

Simon Fraser's exploratory efforts were partly responsible for Canada's boundary later being established at the 49th parallel (after the War of 1812), since he, as a British subject ,was the first European to establish permanent settlements in the area.

Fraser was determined to descend and map what is now the Fraser River, even though the local inhabitants warned him that the river was nearly impassable. A party of twenty-three left Fort George in four canoes on May 28, 1808. They passed the West Road River where Alexander Mackenzie had turned west, and on the 1st of June ran the rapids of the Cottonwood Canyon, where a canoe became stranded and had to be pulled out of the canyon with a rope. They procured horses from the Indians to help with the portages, but the carrying-places were scarcely safer than the rapids. They passed the mouth of the Chilcotin River on the 5th and entered a rapide couvert where the river was completely enclosed by cliffs. The next day the river was found to be completely impassable. The canoes and superfluous goods were cached and on the 11th the party set out on foot, each man carrying about 80 pounds. On the 14th they reached a large village, possibly near Lillooet where they were able to trade for two canoes. On the 19th they reached a village at the mouth of the Thompson River, where they obtained canoes for the rest of the party. After more rapids and portages, and losing one canoe but no men, they reached North Bend, British Columbia where they again had to abandon their canoes. In places they used an Indian path made by poles set on the side of the gorge (probably somewhere near Hells Gate, British Columbia). On the 28th they left the Fraser Canyon near Yale, British Columbia where the river becomes navigable. Escorted by Indians and well-fed on salmon, they reached the sea on the second of July. Fraser took the latitude as 49°. Since he knew that the mouth of the Columbia was at 46° it was clear that the river he was following was not the Columbia. Fraser proved adept at establishing friendly relations with the tribes he met, being careful to have them send word to tribes downstream of his impending arrival and good intentions. However, Fraser encountered a hostile reception by the Musqueam people as he approached the lower reaches of the river at present day Vancouver. Their hostile pursuit of Fraser and his men meant that Fraser was not able to get more than a glimpse of the Strait of Georgia on July 2, 1808. A dispute with the neighbouring Kwantlen people led to a pursuit of Fraser and his men that was only broken off near present day Hope. Ongoing hostility and threats to the lives of the Europeans resulted in a near mutiny by Fraser's crew, who wanted to escape overland. Quelling the revolt, Fraser and his men continued north upstream from present-day Yale, arriving in Fort George on August 6, 1808. The journey upstream took thirty-seven days. In total it took Fraser and his crew two-and-a-half months to travel from Fort George to Musqueam and back. Fraser then completed the establishment of a permanent European settlement in New Caledonia (British Columbia).

He would go on to spend another eleven years actively engaged in the North West Company's fur trade, and was reassigned to the Athabasca Department, where he remained until 1814. For much of this time, he was in charge of the Mackenzie River District. After this, he was assigned to the Red River Valley area, where he was caught up in the conflict between the North West Company and Thomas Douglas, Lord Selkirk, a controlling shareholder of the Hudson's Bay Company who had established the Red River Colony. The conflict culminated in the Battle of Seven Oaks in June 1816, resulting in the death of the colony's governor, Robert Semple, and nineteen others. Though not involved in the attack, Fraser was one of the partners arrested by Lord Selkirk at Fort William. He was taken in September to Montreal where he was promptly released on bail. Fraser was back at Fort William in 1817 when the North West Company regained possession of the post. In 1818, Fraser and five other partners were acquitted of all charges related to the incident in the dead colony.

Fraser retired from the fur trade, settled on land near present day Cornwall, Ontario, and married Catherine McDonnell in 1820. He served as captain of the 1st Regiment of the Stormont Militia during the Rebellions of 1837. He was offered a knighthood but declined the title. He died in poverty, and his wife died the next day; and they were buried in a single grave in the Roman Catholic cemetery at St. Andrew's West.



Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake, larger than Ireland, Taiwan and Denmark put together. The SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank in November 1975, engulfed by 11 metre high waves and battered by hurricane-force winds, in Canadian waters. The U.S. Navy dived the wreck using its unmanned submersible, CURV-III, and found the Fitzgerald lying in two large pieces at a depth of 160 metres. The bow section stood upright in the mud, some 52 m from the stern section, that lay face down at a 50-degree angle from the bow. The ship's midsection had been reduced to heaps of metal and taconite. None of the men survived, and their bodies were never found.


By Gordon Lightfoot (1976)

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they called "Gitche Gumee."
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
When the skies of November turn gloomy.
With a load of iron ore twenty-six thousand tons more
Than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty,
That big ship and true was a bone to be chewed
when "The Gales of November" came early.

The ship was the pride of the American side,
Coming back from some mill in Wisconsin.
As the big freighters go, it was bigger than most,
With a crew and good captain well seasoned,
Concluding some terms with a couple of steel firms
When they left fully loaded for Cleveland.
And later that night when the ship's bell rang,
Could it be the north wind they'd been feelin'?

The wind in the wires made a tattle-tale sound
And a wave broke over the railing.
And ev'ry man knew, as the captain did too
'Twas The Witch of November come stealin'.
The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait
When The Gales of November came slashin'.
When afternoon came, it was freezin' rain
In the face of a hurricane west-wind.

When suppertime came, the old cook came on deck sayin'.
"Fellas, it's too rough t'feed ya."
At seven p.m. a main hatchway caved in; he said,
[2010 lyric change: At seven p.m., it grew dark, it was then he said,]
"Fellas, it's bin good t'know ya!"
The captain wired in he had water comin' in
And the good ship and crew was in peril.
And later that night when 'is lights went outta sight
Came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Does any one know where the love of God goes
When the waves turn the minutes to hours?
The searchers all say they'd have made Whitefish Bay
if they'd put fifteen more miles behind 'er.
They might have split up or they might have capsized;
They may have broke deep and took water.
And all that remains is the faces and the names
Of the wives and the sons and the daughters.

Lake Huron rolls, Superior sings
In the rooms of her ice-water mansion.
Old Michigan steams like a young man's dreams;
The islands and bays are for sportsmen.
And farther below Lake Ontario
Takes in what Lake Erie can send her,
And the iron boats go as the mariners all know
With the Gales of November remembered.

In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed,
In the "Maritime Sailors' Cathedral."
The church bell chimed 'til it rang twenty-nine times
For each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald.
The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they call "Gitche Gumee."
"Superior," they said, "never gives up her dead
When The gales of November come early!"

  • Michael Armagost
  • Frederick Beetcher
  • Thomas Bentsen
  • Edward Bindon
  • Thomas Borgeson
  • Oliver Champeau
  • Nolan Church
  • Ransom Cundy
  • Thomas Edwards
  • Russell Haskell
  • George Holl
  • Bruce Hudson
  • Allen Kalmon
  • Gordon MacLellan
  • Joseph Mazes
  • John McCarthy
  • Ernest McSorley
  • Eugene O'Brien
  • Karl Peckol
  • John Poviach
  • James Pratt
  • Robert Rafferty
  • Paul Riippa
  • John Simmons
  • William Spengler
  • Mark Thomas
  • Ralph Walton
  • David Weiss
  • Blaine Wilhelm








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