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Finding the dead: bodies, bones and burials from the 1845 Franklin northwest passage Expedition

  • Douglas R. Stenton (a1)
Abstract

On 22 April 1848, after three years in the Arctic, and 19 months spent ice-bound in northern Victoria Strait, the 105 surviving officers and crew of the Franklin Northwest Passage expedition deserted HMS Erebus and HMS Terror as the first step of their escape plan. They assembled at a camp south of Victory Point on the northwest coast of King William Island and made the final preparations for the next step, a 400 km trek along the frozen seashores of King William Island and Adelaide Peninsula to the Back River. All of the men died before reaching their destination, and their remains have been found at 35 locations along the route of the retreat. These discoveries have played a central role in reenactments of events thought to have occurred during the failed attempt to reach the Back River and to the disastrous outcome of the expedition. This paper presents a summary of these findings and examines the criteria used to attribute them to the Franklin expedition. It is suggested that approximately one-third of the identifications have been based on information that is inadequate to confidently assign the human remains as those of Franklin expedition personnel.

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