Map of the probable routes taken by HMS Erebus and HMS Terror during Franklin’s lost expedition. Legend Disko Bay (5) to Beechey Island (just off the southwest corner of Devon Island, to the east of 1), in 1845. Around Cornwallis Island (1), in 1845. Beechey Island down Peel Sound between Prince of Wales Island (2), to the west, and Somerset Island (3) and the Boothia Peninsula (4) to the east, to an unknown point off the northwest corner of King William Island, in 1846. Disko Bay (5) is about 3,200 kilometres (2,000 mi) from the mouth of the Mackenzie River (6). Map by.
From 14 July, the National Maritime Museum (NMM) will host a major exhibition, developed by the Canadian Museum of History (CMH) in partnership with the NMM and Parks Canada, and in collaboration with the Government of Nunavut and the Inuit Heritage Trust, exploring the mysterious fate of Sir John Franklin and his crew on their final expedition – a mystery that still remains unsolved today.
After 165 years under icy seas, the lost secrets of Sir John Franklins doomed British Arctic expedition in search of the North-West Passage are to form the centrepiece of a major London exhibition, Death in the Ice. But who really owns these salvaged artefacts?
This weekend it has emerged that the historic items painstakingly retrieved from the wreck of HMS Erebus, one of Franklins two lost expeditionary vessels, were taken without permission from waters now owned by the Inuit people in Canada.
In 2014 the sunken wreck of the Erebus was found lying in a part of the Arctic Ocean that belongs to Canadas vast northernmost territory, Nunavut. A document made public in Canada in the past fortnight reveals that the premier of Nunavut has since protested directly to Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, about the actions of scientists working with the curators of the exhibition, which opens at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, south London, on 14 July.
In his formal letter of complaint, released at the request of a Canadian journalist, the premier, Peter Taptuna, argues that the contents of the Erebus are rightfully owned by his region and by the Inuit Heritage Trust. The letter alleges that Parks Canada, a government agency, ignored the fact the ship was submerged in Nunavuts internal waters when it removed the artefacts. This was unfortunate and inconsistent with past practice, it adds.
‘Erebus’ and the ‘Terror’ in New Zealand, August 1841, by John Wilson Carmichael.
The ships were last seen entering Baffin Bay in August 1845. The disappearance of the Franklin
expedition set off a massive search effort in the Arctic. The broad circumstances of the expedition’s
fate were first revealed when Hudson’s Bay Company doctor John Rae collected artifacts and testimony from local Inuit in 1853. Later expeditions up to 1866 confirmed these reports.
Both ships had become icebound and had been abandoned by their crews, totaling about 130 men,
all of whom died from a variety of causes, including hypothermia, scurvy, and starvation while
trying to trek overland to the south. Subsequent expeditions until the late 1980s, including
autopsies of crew members, also revealed that their shoddily canned rations may have been
tainted by both lead and botulism. Oral reports by local Inuit that some of the crew members
resorted to cannibalism were at least somewhat supported by forensic evidence of cut marks
on the skeletal remains of crew members found on King William Island during the late 20th century.