Sunday, August 26, 2012

Beechey Island - Franklin's Last Known Landing

I was up early this day, to find the ship already at anchor in the bay at Beechey Island.

View Arctic Cruise 2012 in a larger map

In keeping with the island's sad history, the sky was dark with low cloud, the fog rolled in and out, and a light rain added to the tragic aura of the place. It was windy, just a few degrees above freezing, and downright miserable at times. Some photos taken in the half-light give you an idea of the seemingly barren landscape, the isolation of the place.

The Remains of Northumberland House can be seen at the Foot of the Cliff

And yet, we were not alone. Beyond the point near which Northumberland House is located, another ship disappeared and reappeared between fog banks ... and a sailing sloop (?) showed up, too! Ashore were three tents where some scientists were spending the short summer months studying ... something.

As always, the Clipper Adventurer's intrepid gun bearers are the first to land. They go ashore to check that the areas that we soft tourists will visit are safe - ie: clear of polar bears! It has happened in the past that visitors have simply not been able to go ashore due to the presence of one of these unpredictable apex predators! {Many of the Clipper's team perform multiple duties - zodiac driver, gunbearer, life-jacket/safety police (you'd be surprised how many passengers were careless about this aspect of the operation), zodiac hands, etc - as well as educators and entertainers!}

One of our Gunbearers on the Ridge

Matthew James, Dave and Tom Agree - "It" is Somewhere Over There!

First, we visited the four grave sites - the known last resting places of three men of Franklin's never-again-seen expedition, and one of a sailor who crossed over during one of the Franklin rescue missions.

Two of Franklin's Men lie to the Right, One of the Rescue Team's Crewmen Rests to the Left

It was in the mid-1800's that Franklin set out in the Erebus and the Terror, to find a shorter route to the Orient. For two years, their ships were ice-bound and unmoving, and eventually abandoned as the remaining men set off dragging smaller boats, in an attempt at self-rescue - or at least to find help. No-one knows where Franklin and his men, or the Erebus and the Terror, ended up - no other sign has ever been found of the men, either.

The vastness of the land- and seascape in this part of the world is breathtaking. From the ship, trying to gauge the distance between the grave sites and the position of Northumberland House, which was set up at a later date as an emergency shelter and supply cache, didn't look to be more than 500m of smooth walking, but turned out to be between 1.5 and 2km apart!

The artifacts, which are protected now, that we saw strewn about the site were a stark reminder of the challenges that the first European explorers encountered - not least of which were their first attempts at canning food, inadvertently poisoning themselves with lead! Many of these cans can still be seen, along with the hoops and staves of barrels, a broken mast, and the remains of what appears to be a ship's decking.

As empty as this island seems, there's definitely life around (besides the ever-present threat of wandering polar bears!) - tiny plants that even in this climate can find the energy to provide some colour, even a flower or two - and smaller mammals, like Arctic fox. There was word that a walrus had hauled out nearby, but few people got to see it.

It is fascinating to watch more of the Franklin tale unraveling on CBC as a Canadian expedition tries to locate the remains of the Erebus and the Terror unfolds as I write this. For more information on the original expedition, the rescue missions, and numerous previous efforts to determine what happened to the Franklin expedition, follow along on CBC's website.

Heading To Shore

Dave Checks Out a Mineral Flow Passing in the Current

Animated banner ad


  1. I thank you for such a superb record of the trip my wife and I took.

  2. You're most welcome, Neil & Julie! I hope you enjoyed the previous articles, too, and will enjoy my scribblings and photos still to come!