Ice Ghosts: The Epic Hunt for the Lost Franklin Expedition by Paul Watson
by A Latter-day Bluestocking
Paul Watson has given us a page turner of a tale!
Ice Ghosts: The Epic Hunt for the Lost Franklin Expedition begins with the preparations and 1845 departure of the Franklin Expedition to the Arctic in its quest to find the Northern Passage. The author paints a vivid portrait of the type of men who embarked upon a journey of daring and discovery hoping to return to a triumphant hero’s welcome. The expedition had the blessing of the Queen and was enthusiastically followed by the British public but by 1848 it was clear that HMS Erebus and HMS Terror had run into trouble as they had disappeared without a trace. 129 men perished in one of the greatest naval mysteries of all time.
For more than 160 years, numerous missions were sent to find evidence of survivors or ascertain what had happened to the two ships and the men aboard. Lady Franklin, Sir John Franklin’s widow, skirted around madness and nearly bankrupted herself in her single-minded crusade to find out what happened to her husband. It was nearly a decade before she even acknowledged he was dead. And for over a century it continued to be an obsession to find the two wrecks.
The story is frustrating not in its telling but because of the arrogance and overconfidence of the white men. The poor response by the Admiralty, the condescending and stubborn refusal to acknowledge the expertise of the Inuit who had been surviving in those unforgiving conditions for centuries, and the conceit and sole reliance on modern technology of 20th century explorers.
And then the story becomes even more interesting. Soon after the disappearance of the expedition the Inuit began telling stories of mysterious ships that would appear on the horizon, contact with men crossing the ice with makeshift sleds, of groups of men (and a dog) living on a ship, and burial sites. It is a fact, that the Inuit have known of the fate of the doomed Franklin Expedition for over a century. And yet no explorer took any of the stories, so important to the oral tradition of the indigenous peoples living above the Arctic Circle, seriously; they were dismissed as the superstitious yarns of a primitive race. The real hero of this story, in my opinion, is Louie Kamookak, the man who connected the Inuit oral history to the known facts of the Franklin expedition. Check out his website https://www.louiekamookak.com/. He tenaciously continues to document the oral histories and Inuit place names so they will not be lost! (Follow his blog and social media; he’s amazing!)
It wasn’t until the 21st century that explorers, scientists, marine archaeologists, and Inuit historians, and others began to combine their efforts leading to the eventual discovery of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror.
Watson gives vivid descriptions of the extreme cold, hostile, and isolated environment of the far north with its unceasing whiteness and where the atmosphere can play tricks on a person’s senses. He depicts the lure of overcoming odds and the testing of endurance that mankind has sought in this unforgiving environment. This is a story that weaves all the nuances of past and present together and brings closer the divide between disparate groups of people to tell a heroic tale of sacrifice, boldness, and persistence.