A landscape of Arctic exploration

Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated 1845 naval expedition in search of the elusive Northwest Passage.

The expedition disappeared, but five years after its departure the graves of three of the crew were discovered on Beechey Island. The main photograph shows the graves (the fourth is from a later expedition), on a raised beach, the only place to dig in this landscape of permanently frozen ground. The graves were excavated in the 1980s, and the bodies were found to be perfectly preserved. Lead poisoning was thought to be one of the contributory factors in their death, and the second photograph shows one of the many tin cans found on the island; the lead used to seal the seam is clearly visible. More recent studies, however, have questioned the lead-poisoining interpretation.

The remains of the expedition’s two ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, were not discovered until 2014 and 2016 respectively.

Further information

Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History (contains copies of original documents relating to the expedition)