Ice Blink: The Tragic Fate of Sir John Franklin's Lost Polar Expeditionby Scott Cookman
"Absorbing artfully narrat[es] a possible course of events in the expedition’s demise, based on the one official note and bits of debris (including evidence of cannibalism) found by searchers sent to look for Franklin in the 1850s. Adventure readers will flock to this fine regaling of the enduring mystery surrounding the best-known disaster in Arctic… See more details below
"Absorbing artfully narrat[es] a possible course of events in the expedition’s demise, based on the one official note and bits of debris (including evidence of cannibalism) found by searchers sent to look for Franklin in the 1850s. Adventure readers will flock to this fine regaling of the enduring mystery surrounding the best-known disaster in Arctic exploration."--Booklist
"A great Victorian adventure story rediscovered and re-presented for a more enquiring time."--The Scotsman
"A vivid, sometimes harrowing chronicle of miscalculation and overweening Victorian pride in untried technology a work of great compassion."--The Australian
It has been called the greatest disaster in the history of polar exploration. Led by Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin, two state-of-the-art ships and 128 hand-picked menthe best and the brightest of the British empiresailed from Greenland on July 12, 1845 in search of the elusive Northwest Passage. Fourteen days later, they were spotted for the last time by two whalers in Baffin Bay. What happened to these shipsand to the 129 men on boardhas remained one of the most enduring mysteries in the annals of exploration. Drawing upon original research, Scott Cookman provides an unforgettable account of the ill-fated Franklin expedition, vividly reconstructing the lives of those touched by the voyage and its disaster. But, more importantly, he suggests a human culprit and presents a terrifying new explanation for what triggered the deaths of Franklin and all 128 of his men. This is a remarkable and shocking historical account of true-life suspense and intrigue.
Although author Scott Cookman cannot rely on firsthand accounts, because few notes from the expedition were recovered, he follows a paper trail leading to "smoking guns." Using background documents and written accounts of parallel Arctic expeditions, Cookman pieces together a compelling account of what might lie behind this disaster: overconfidence, penny-pinching, a series of poor decisions and unforeseeable blunders, fraud, botulism, and, finally, the cannibalism of despair.
I recommend this book highly for students of history, science, and public health seeking to learn about what can go wrong on a supposedly well-planned mission of any kind. The volume is well written, although it occasionally gets bogged down in excessive detail. Yet, its clinical description of the preparation of what probably was poisoned food and the subsequent impact of that food on the crew is worth the nightmares the book may generate! Ice Blink is highly instructive as regards the pitfalls that inevitably come to plague the "best laid plans of mice and men." Highly Recommended, Grades 7-College, Teaching Professional, General Audience. REVIEWER: Warren Fish (Paul Revere Middle School)
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Read an Excerpt
By Admiralty Order, 18 January 1854: It is directed that if they are not heard of previous to 31 March 1854, the Officers & Ships companies are to be removed from the Navy List & are to be considered as having died in the service. Wages are to be paid to their Relatives to that date; as of 1 April 1854, all books and papers are to be dispensed with.
Admiralty Order No. 263
The only thing Sir John Franklin left behind were two faded ship's muster books. He sent them back from Greenland on July 12, 1845, just before his entire expeditionthe largest, best-equipped England had ever sent in search of the Northwest Passagedisappeared in the Arctic.
By Admiralty regulation, the muster listed "the Names of all Persons forming the complement of the ships, with particulars." By twist of fate, this accounting proved the epitaph of Franklin and every man aboard.
William Orren's was typical. The paymaster simply listed him AB, or able-bodied seaman, aboard Franklin's flagship HMS Erebus. He was thirty-four that summer. He gave his birthplace as Chatham, Kent, near the mouth of the River Thames. He signed on with the expedition and appeared for duty the same dayMarch 19, 1845exactly two months before it sailed.
Orren was either eager to get back to sea or, more likely, to collect the higher pay the Royal Navy offered for "Discovery Service." His previous posting had been the Woolwich dockyards, whereskeleton crews manned a mothball fleet of ships laid up "in ordinary," or out of service. He'd been in the navy for fifteen years. His "first entry" was recorded at age nineteen, when he signed aboard the HMS Swan. He must've been a rather dull-witted fellow or happy being a simple jack tar, because in all those years he never advanced a grade in rank.
The muster book shows 16 shillings (worth about U.S. $55 in 1998 values) deducted from his pay for tobacco, slop (heavy) clothing, and a horsehair mattress. This wasn't much; an experienced sailor, his seabag must have been ready. Offsetting the deductions was two months' advance payl0 pounds and 4 shillings (about U.S. $688 today). At a time when a common laborer made 18 pounds a year ($1,210 U.S.), this was quite a windfall.
The paymaster counted the coins out to him at pay paradeten gold sovereigns and four silver shillingsand by tradition placed them on top of his outstretched cap. Knowing he was bound for three years in the Arctic, with no ports of call or chance to spend it, the money was probably gone before he wasmost of it gone on gambling, rounds of gin (a penny a glass), and prostitutes (sixpence for a "knee trembler" in an alley) before sailing.
Nothing more was ever heard of Able-Bodied Seaman Orren, or of Sir Franklin himself for that matter. Their namesand 127 otherswere checked off in the muster books in 1854. On each page, an Admiralty clerk repeatedly made the same notation: "See Memo in Red Ink on Muster Table." There the clerk inked a single sentence:
"Officers & Ships Co. are to be considered as having died in the service and their Wages are to be paid to their Relatives to 31 March 1854."
Thus the Admiralty closed the book on the Franklin Expeditionthe greatest disaster in the history of polar exploration and one that rocked Victorian England to its core. Franklin and the rest129 hand-picked officers and menwere written off with no more explanation. Indeed the Royal Navy, stunned by the dimensions of the catastrophe, had no explanation to offer. Its most advanced, expensive, and sophisticated technology had inexplicably failed; its finest, most qualified personnel had inexplicably failed. It was as if Apollo 11, confidently embarked for mankind's first lunar landing, had disappeared on the dark side of the moon.
The shock was devastating, the failure to find a reason for it humiliating. The navy simply closed ranks and officially, bureaucratically, put an end to the whole affair.
For the families of the men who perished, the "Wages to be paid to their Relatives" were little comfort. The men had been missing for nine years before the Admiralty reckoned them dead, during which their loved ones had been living on nothing but hope. As the clerk forcefully underlined, they would be compensated no longer.
The cause of the disaster was never determined.
The Franklin Expedition remains one of the most enduring mysteries in the annals of exploration. Somethingor someoneturned the greatest Arctic expedition of its time into the greatest Arctic tragedy of the age.
What, or more intriguingly, who was responsible will always be open to debate. But an answer to the expedition's fate lies, riddlelike, in its story.
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