The Northwest Passage

21 Jun

When, in 1845, Sir John Franklin (KCH FRGS RN), attempted to navigate and chart the Northwest Passage, all of the crew of 24 officers and 105 men died. Their poignant memorial is in Waterloo Place, London, outside the Athenaeun Club. All the men who died are listed on the memorial. Franklin’s ships were ‘Erebus’ and “Terror”, names now permanently remembered, following Sir James Clark Ross’ decision to call the two volcanoes on Ross Island, (one active), by these names. These volcanoes were a powerful backdrop to the British expeditions of the early 1900s.
Franklin’s men died of starvation, hypothermia, tuberculosis and scurvy. Franklin himself died in June 1847; some two years after the expedition had left England. The men must have suffered terribly as they attempted to return to civilisation. In their desperation they are said to have, reasonably, resorted to cannibalism –this report by the Scottish explorer Dr John Rae, enraged Franklin’s widow and Victorian society and condemned Dr Rae to ignominy. Many ships were involved in a search for the lost men. Eventually more ships and men were lost looking for Franklin, than on the expedition itself.
Now cruise ships are to sail along the Northwest Passage as the Arctic summer sea ice diminishes. Polar Bears are losing ground. Ice volume decreased by 3% per year between 1979 to 2014. But those who see the melting ice sheets press the need for a Climate Change Accord, emphasising again, that those human activities that contribute to climate change must be modified.

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