In the spring of 1845, Sir John Franklin set out to explore the 300-year-old mystery of the Northwest Passage, a possible sea route through the Arctic Ocean connecting the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean above Canada.
After Franklin’s death in 1847, second-in-command Captain Francis Crozier took over the expedition.
The Banbridge, County Down-born hero, his two ships and entire crew vanished in the frozen wasteland of the Arctic without a trace, and the mysterious disappearance has remained a puzzle for nearly two centuries.
At the time, a massive search operation was conducted but the two ships, the HMS Erebus and the HMS Terror, were never found.
In September of 2014, all that changed. An expedition by the Canadian government located the wreckage of the ill-fated ships and the HMS Erebus or HMS Terror was been sighted.
Associated Press reported that over 30 years of searching culminated with the sonar detection by a Canadian government team of either the Erebus, a 375-tonne wooden vessel, or the other ship on the mission, HMS Terror.
According to Crozier biographer Michael Smith “Crozier's personal tragedy was an unhappy love affair with Franklin's niece which drove him back to the ice one last time as second-in-command on Franklin's North West Passage expedition in 1845.
All 129 men vanished on the ice. Crozier took command when the ships were crushed and the expedition was on the brink of disaster. For several years Crozier led a courageous battle trying to lead his men to safety. According to legend, Crozier was the last to die - the last man standing. But Crozier never received recognition for his great feats and became another of exploration's Irish unsung heroes.”
The circumstances surrounding the fated 1845 expedition were not revealed until 1859 when a message was discovered from Crozier and James Fitzjames, captain of the Erebus, in a cairn on Victory Point, King Williams Island during an expedition led by Captain F. L. McClintock.
The message, dated April 25, 1848, revealed that the two ships had become trapped in ice in late 1846 and remained trapped for nearly one-and-a-half years. The message indicated that Franklin had died on June 11, 1847,and that 23 crew members had also died, and that the remaining survivors were deserting the ships. It is believed the hostile environment led to their death.
For updates on the quest for the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, visit www.canadiangeographic.ca/franklin-expedition.
* Originally published September 2014.