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Cool down in Greenwich

July 30, 2017
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What happened to the Franklin expedition and the search for the North West passage in 1845?  Death in the Ice – a new exhibition at the National Maritime Museum is history in the making, as discoveries are still being made.  The two ships which sailed from Britain with some 130 men under the command of Sir John Franklin were well equipped for a two year journey.  The wrecks have only recently been discovered, so new information and exhibits have been added to the previous collection and a fascinating, if gruesome, story is emerging.  This is not an exhibition for all the family!

Who were the Inuit?

The story starts with an introduction to the Inuit and their way of life in northern Canada, augmented with their recorded voices. It explains how all those years ago the Inuit were mere spectators to the tragedy, unable to do anything to change the fate of the men as they abandoned the frozen ships and made their way across the arctic landscape.

A well organised expedition

In a large space about the size of the lower deck of one of the ships the story about the expedition, the ships and the men unfolds. Some 70 men would have slept, ate and worked in this area and you get a good idea of how claustrophobic it must have been, particularly when it was too cold to venture out.  All the evidence is here to show that discipline was good, the men had many tasks to perform during those winter months, logs were kept and there was enough food.  When the second spring came and the ships were still trapped in the ice, it’s not clear exactly what happened but food must have been running out.  Some men died there and others set off across the ice to save themselves.

The ships in the ice and death…..

Inuit do not have a written language but hand down their history through story-telling. The sightings of these unkempt, starving men have been told and retold through generations.  The Inuit could not help them, as they had hardly enough food for themselves.  The final section describes how the officers and men suffered and died.  There is even evidence of some cannibalism, probably of already dead men.  Most died of starvation, diseases such as TB and the cold.

Seven expeditions to save the captain and the two crews were initiated in the following years by John Franklin’s wife, Jane Franklin. And objects, even bodies, were discovered, but it is only in the last two years that the ships have been found by the agency Park Canada and the search is continuing.


On a more cheerful note…..

Don’t miss the wonderful Canaletto exhibition at the Queens Gallery, see May blog. And for a good laugh, and some thoughtful insights, explore Grayson Perry’s “most popular art exhibition ever” at the Serpentine Gallery.

More from me at my website to ylvafrench.co.uk