Weather, Climate, Arctic Ice And The Franklin Expedition

Guest opinion by Dr. Tim Ball |

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper proudly announced discovery of one of Captain John Franklin’s ships, either the Erebus or Terror. Identification, of which ship will be relatively easy, based on the known dimensions of the vessels (Figure 1).


Figure 1: Erebus and Terror; sketch in the London Illustrated News May 24, 1845

Source: Illustrated London News/Getty Images

The discovery is important, but inevitable, given the known approximate position where they sank. It is surprising both ships were not discovered because they were locked in the ice close to each other. Good condition of the ship is not surprising, although ice damage is evident. Once on the bottom, where the water is constantly very cold, they would not suffer much organic damage. They are also below the depth where surface ice could cause damage, as it did with Jens Munk’s ship sunk in Churchill Harbor on Hudson Bay in 1619-20.

The wreck marks the final focal and ending point of a government funded and bureaucratically organized disastrous expedition. It occurred in conditions they didn’t understand and completely misjudged, mostly because they were blinded by the ambition of one person, John Franklin. Search for the Northwest Passage was, as Pierre Berton defined in the title of his book, like looking for The Arctic Grail. His book covers expeditions from 1818 – 1909, but there were many earlier searches. Elizabeth 1 and her science advisor, Dr. John Dee promoted the most extensive, including attempts to go north of Russia – the Northeast Passage. Dee produced a remarkable map of the entire Arctic Basin looking down on the North Pole (Figure 2).


Figure 2: Arctic map drawn by John Dee for Sir Humphrey Gilbert in 1583.

Source; Historical Atlas of the Arctic, Derek Hayes

Elizabeth’s ambition was to establish posts at the Atlantic and Pacific ends of the Northwest Passage and thus control the north Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Part of that ambition included a secret order to Sir Francis Drake to find the Passage from the Pacific Coast. I contributed a complete climate reconstruction for 1577-80 for Sam Bawlf’s book The Secret Voyage of Sir Francis Drake.

How else am I qualified to talk about the Franklin expedition? It begins with four years flying anti-submarine patrols over the North Atlantic, including Canadian waters right up to Baffin Island. The Soviets were transiting under the ice quite early in the Cold War. I then spent five years flying search and rescue in the Canadian Arctic, right to the North Pole. After returning to university, I used the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives as a source of material for climate reconstruction in my doctoral thesis, Climatic Change in Central Canada: A Preliminary Analysis of Weather Information from Hudson’s Bay Company Forts at York Factory and Churchill Factory, 1714-1850. As a result of ongoing research I was involved in several books about the Arctic and supervised several theses on arctic subjects, including Renee Fossett’s doctoral thesis on the circumpolar history of the Eskimo people (In Canada they are officially called Inuit). Fossett’s thesis became a wonderful book titled, In Order To Live Untroubled: Inuit of the Central Arctic, 1550 to 1940 (University of Manitoba Press). One diagram in the book of interest to climate studies is a map of reconstructed ice conditions in the 18th century (Figure 3).


Figure 3: Approximate winter sea ice front in the 18th century.

The ice conditions provide explanation for the appearance of Eskimos around Scotland in the first half of 18th century. Witness this description in 1700 by Doctor James Wallace of the Orkney Islands.

Be the seas never so boisterous their Boat being made of Fish Skins, are so contrived that can never sink, but is like a Sea Gull swimming on the top of the Water. His shirt he has is so fastened to the Boat, that no Water can come into his Boat could do him damage, except when he pleases to unty it, which he never does but to ease nature, or when he comes ashore.

I also worked with Alan Catchpole and Marcia Faurer on their reconstructions of ice conditions from Hudson Bay Company ships logs crossing the Atlantic and sailing into Hudson Bay. One 1983 publication is Summer sea ice severity in Hudson Strait, 1751 – 1870, in Climatic Change. It is always disappointing that people working on the arctic rarely reference any of these works, or the works of Moira Dunbar and other Canadian arctic ice researchers; the work of Arctic Climatologist Bea Alt; Paleobiologist Sylvia Edlund on Arctic refugia, or the entire work of the Polar Shelf Project.

Other books I was involved with covered several aspects of Arctic history, but all required reconstruction of weather and climate conditions. One was Frozen in Time specifically about the Franklin expedition (Figure 4).


Figure 4: Image shows frozen body of Petty Officer John Torrington.

In my opinion, John Franklin was an example of an English naval officer looking for trips to build a reputation in peacetime, but with more ambition than most. As Pierre Berton wrote in the Arctic Grail,

He was prepared to leave his bride of 17 months, even though he knew she was dying of tuberculosis. It was this reckless ambition, this hunger for fame and promotion that had been Franklins undoing in that first expedition when, with little preparation and no experience he had set off blindly across the Barren Ground of British North America. It would be his undoing again a quarter of a century in the future, when he and 129 men vanished forever into an unexplored corner of the Arctic.

He was incompetent, as most of his actions demonstrated and many died because of his decisions. One person who witnessed his incompetence was George Back, who has a river named after him in northern Canada. Few people know Franklin took two earlier expeditions, in 1818-22 and 1825-27 to the Arctic travelling overland. Back travelled with him on both. The expeditions consisted of going from one Hudson’s Bay Company fort to the next, then crossing the tundra to the Arctic coast. George Back and others had a very low opinion of Franklin.

There is no evidence I am aware of, that the letter from the President of the Royal Society to the Admiralty on November 20, 1817 influenced the Admiralty decision to support Franklin’s expedition. In the letter he wrote:

It will without doubt have come to your Lordship’s knowledge that a considerable change of climate inexplicable at present to us must have taken place in the Circumpolar Regions, by which the severity of the cold that has for centuries past inclosed (sic) the seas in the high northern latitudes in an impenetrable barrier of ice has been during the last two years greatly abated.

Mr. Scoresby, a very intelligent young man who commands a whaling vessel from Whitby observed last year that 2000 square leagues of ice with which the Greenland Seas between the latitudes of 74° and 80°N have been hitherto covered, has in the last two years entirely disappeared.[1]

This change was due to the extreme Meridional flow that developed from the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815. Temperature is the major factor determining the amount and distribution of Arctic ice. The second factor is the wind, which is as true today as it was then. It appears the decision to go was pure politics.

So much of history is people dying because of hair-brained, ill planned, self-serving schemes by incompetent people. All 129 people, including Franklin, died as well as some searching for them. Despite the debacle, the government created an image of Franklin as a great hero. They did the opposite to John Rae, a man who discovered what happened, was a great leader, and contributed much to science and humanity.

What happened to Franklin was well known within years of his disappearance, thanks primarily to the work of Dr. John Rae.[2] An Edinburgh medical graduate at 20, Rae signed on with the Hudson’s Bay Company. His childhood on Orkney and the family role as HBC agents in Stromness made the connection almost inevitable. On arrival in Churchill he immediately established a research routine that included collecting weather data. His records are precise, detailed and very accurate. Here is the entry about his thermometers.

“The thermometers were suspended within a couple of inches of each other, under a tunnel like covering of stout canvas, facing north and protected as much as possible from the sun’s rays, at the same time quite detach from any building. Height of thermometers from the ground, four feet six inches”.

He was extremely well liked by everybody, especially the men, who would go anywhere with him. On all his trips, in some of the most inhospitable country and climate in the world, only one person died under his command because of an accident. Their health was maintained by his strict attention to diet including his own cure for scurvy. He was considered the best person on snowshoes, as illustrated by his trip from Red River (Winnipeg) to Sault St. Mary’s, a distance of 1950 km in two months, a remarkable 32.5 km per day.

A measure of the man and his abilities are exemplified by his achievements after being asked by the Company to survey the Arctic. Rae’s knowledge of the Arctic Ocean ice conditions, with wide-open leads, even in winter, caused him to order the first form of inflatable boat produced, Figure 5.


Figure 5: A sales brochure for the Halkett portable, inflatable boat.

Rae’s original boat and personal possessions are on display in the Stromness museum in Orkney.

Rae was only one of many Hudson’s Bay Company people who carried out a multitude of scientific measures and research. The earliest book titled Arctic Zoology was written by Thomas Pennant and published in 1784-85 based almost exclusively on material sent by Company employees. As Judith Beattie wrote in the preface to the book I co-authored with Dr Stuart Houston, world expert on arctic birds and especially Great Snowy Owls, titled, Eighteenth Century Naturalists of Hudson Bay.

“The Hudson Bay Company had a deep interest in the natural history of its territory from its earliest activities in North America”… “The records preserved in the daily journals and ships logs in the Hudson Bay Company archives provide some of the earliest and longest series of data, of particular importance when there is so much concern about climate change and the impact of humans on the environment.”

The archives contain the most complete measure and description of a large portion of the earth’s surface, prior to the arrival of Europeans. They began mapping and recording the moment they landed. It is a chance to measure the impact – a burning question in today’s accusatory world.

Franklin’s second wife commissioned Rae to search for her husband. Lady Franklin was a persuasive woman and had much to do with pushing her husband’s career. She also convinced several countries to participate in the search, including England, France, the US and the Hudson’s Bay Company. In fact, she stayed with the Rae family in Orkney for almost a year waiting for news (Figure 5).


Figure 5: Rae family home in Stromness, Orkney.

Source: The Author

With the help of the Eskimos, Rae learned quite early what happened. Evidence included pieces of the ship along the shoreline and emaciated bodies that all told a grisly tale. But Rae was not to get recognition for his discoveries. In fact, he did not get recognition for any of his work, which included mapping very accurately some 2,255km of the North American Arctic Coast, more than anyone in history. Figure 6 shows the location of the wreck and the location of bodies.


Figure 6

What did Rae do wrong? Why was he effectively written out of history? Two major answers; he told the truth and refused to modify it; he acted in ways appropriate for his situation, but unacceptable to British officialdom. Figure 6 shows Rae’s favorite image, dressed in the native animal skin clothing and boots. This was simply not done as far as English society, especially the British Admiralty, were concerned. However, the biggest error was reporting the evidence of cannibalism. The Admiralty said he accepted what they considered the unreliable word of the Eskimos. Their reports and Rae’s acceptance were re-confirmed in 1992.

Franklin’s supporters made sure Rae was punished. He lost his membership in the Royal Society and the Royal Geographic Society. Worse, instead of being buried with other discoverers in Westminster Abbey, he was buried in a corner of St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall, Orkney (Figure 7).


Figure 6: John Rae’s favorite image in native clothing.

Franklin’s behavior after the loss of his ships is difficult to assess because they were all suffering from lead poisoning. One of the first expeditions to carry food stored in tins, the lead from the soldering infused the food and gradually built up in the consumer’s body. Testing of the frozen bodies, discovered by Owen Beattie, showed poisonously high levels. This would have affected decisions crucial to survival. However, Franklin’s judgments were not good before the expedition.

Before the ships sank he ordered as many goods as possible loaded into two ships boats. Traces were attached and the men (not the officers) dragged them across the snow. He included several silver tea services and other completely unnecessary heavy objects.

Regardless of the year, ice conditions in that part of the world are always harsh. They were especially severe in most years during the Little Ice Age. Franklin’s ships were last seen grappled to an iceberg, a standard procedure in heavy ice conditions at night. In 1848 and 1849 some 50 official search missions went out with no success. But John Rae knew what happened and reported his findings, but nobody was listening, or wanted to listen.

The fiasco was summarized when John Rae wrote his final report to the British Admiralty. He recommended that in future any Admiralty expedition should study the survival techniques of the native people. The Admiralty response said, the Royal Navy would never resort to the subterfuge of going native. No wonder the Erebus and Terror sank, with only one ship being discovered 170 years later, and everybody perishing. Government, using incompetent people to advance political agendas at the expense of ordinary people, many of them with remarkable skills and talents, is nothing new in the Arctic.

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Figure 7. Dr John Rae and his tomb in Kirkwall, Orkney

[1] Royal Society, London, 1817. Minutes of Council, Volume 8. pp.149-153.

[2] A good biography of Rae is Dr John Rae, by R.L. Richards

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Jenn Oates
September 15, 2014 10:04 pm


Reply to  Jenn Oates
September 16, 2014 3:35 am

It is a good story and the narrative of the post is engaging.

Reply to  Jenn Oates
September 16, 2014 6:16 am

much enjoyed the story. thank you Dr Ball.

September 15, 2014 10:06 pm

The Australians tried a similar approach last year. Same level of incompetence, but they were fortunate to have been rescued!

James (Aus.)
Reply to  tomwys
September 16, 2014 12:09 am

“The Australians”?! The leader called Turney (aka Turkey) was an Englishman with a slightly cockney sounding accent. He might have found an enclave of Warmists at the University of NSW, but he represents nothing but a disgrace to the heroic Australian predecessors in the Antarctic. Even loaded the wife and kids aboard for the jaunt. As for the rest of the motley bunch of amateurs there were all-sorts. Onesie wearing and whining BBC videographer, included (and just what happened to the video of the shambles?!).

Schwarze Tulpe
Reply to  James (Aus.)
September 16, 2014 2:32 pm

“(and just what happened to the video of the shambles?!).”
Likely suspended in the aether with issues concerning extensive, laborious, and contentious editing. Should a video documentary ever appear, it in its own right would be very interesting just in the machinations involved to prepare the programme.

September 15, 2014 10:23 pm

No Ordinary Journey.
Great read.
Good call Dr Ball. Same old song and dance the incompetent are made famous for political reasons and the competent are vilified and ignored.
Perhaps cause pollies fear competent persons above all, nothing frightens an empty suit as much as exposure.
And competent persons successfully evade government help.
I thought the oral reports from the Inuit said that one ship sank in deep water, perhaps due to a mishap in native wood salvage, the other drifted further south with the ice .
Unfortunately cannot remember the source.
Ironically this years expedition only searched there, thus finding the wreck because the pack ice blocked access to the planned search area further north.
Even our crusted on CAGW CBC had to concede that small detail.
I see they ignored the opportunity for a headline; Increased Summer Ice Reveals Franklins Ship.

September 15, 2014 10:24 pm

It makes one wonder at the kind of people who seek government office.

Reply to  Richard111
September 15, 2014 11:46 pm

Follow the money brother.

Reply to  Kirk MacPherson
September 16, 2014 1:51 pm

Absolutely! This is precious:

It will without doubt have come to your Lordship’s knowledge that a considerable change of climate inexplicable at present to us must have taken place in the Circumpolar Regions, by which the severity of the cold that has for centuries past inclosed (sic) the seas in the high northern latitudes in an impenetrable barrier of ice has been during the last two years greatly abated.
Mr. Scoresby, a very intelligent young man who commands a whaling vessel from Whitby observed last year that 2000 square leagues of ice with which the Greenland Seas between the latitudes of 74° and 80°N have been hitherto covered, has in the last two years entirely disappeared.[1]

Hmmm. Royal Society… November 20, 1817…. almost 200 years ago, up to their same old tricks…
and, claiming ice disappearing…”the lowest we’ve ever seen”, erm, cough, since we last measured it…oops, we haven’t been measuring it for long, so forget about any trends….
I fear that in the iGeneration (or, I – generation), anything that occurred before the internet will be consigned to the “deservedly forgotten past”, so comparisons (and the avoidance of repeating the past’s mistakes) will be for naught….

James Bull
Reply to  Richard111
September 15, 2014 11:46 pm

I had a friend who used to quote this about politicians, “you can tell when they are lying their lips move”.
As for the bureaucrats who do their bidding……….
James Bull

September 15, 2014 10:33 pm

Unfortunately the last sentence in the article has a proven application to many other subjects than the Arctic. Incompetence and political government are the two words we all live and suffer under.

Mark and two Cats
September 15, 2014 10:51 pm

The ships Erebus and Terror sure got around. Mount Erebus and Mount Terror at the South Pole were named after these ships when Sir James Clark Ross was exploring there.

September 15, 2014 10:51 pm

Fascinating article. Human nature has not changed in the years since 1845.

Reply to  Roland Reagan
September 15, 2014 11:47 pm

There is nothing new under the sun.

September 15, 2014 10:55 pm

Hey tomwys. Yes – shame about that. It would have been interesting to have them stay longer, now that the Australian BOM has readjusted its previous advice and presented the truth. That being that Australia’s base has recorded cooling for more than 30 years. The Ship of Fools could have provided valuably Scientific “Facts” about the cooling of Antarctica instead of bullshit warming nonsense.
Would be fascinating to hear the truth about Antarctica’s cooling as recorded but not disclosed via the ABC or the MSM. Thanks Professor for not being more forthcoming with the facts.

Mark and two Cats
September 15, 2014 11:13 pm

The song Lord Franklin as played by Pentangle.

Reply to  Mark and two Cats
September 16, 2014 4:02 am

Great song, great record!

September 15, 2014 11:18 pm

1845 was the solar minimum between cycles 8-9. maybe if he’d waited 6 years?? fate is greatly determined by timing.

Old woman of the north
September 15, 2014 11:28 pm

I hope there is a resurgence in interest in Dr John Rae. He deserves a very wide audience.
Thanks for your article and I also hope more use is made of both the Hudson Bay Co and the East India Co records. Those, plus the many ships logs that could be studied would provide so much information that is factual and as accurate as possible.
No doubt those with agendas would ‘homogenise’ the data to create a false picture.

September 15, 2014 11:30 pm

“Identification, of which ship will be relatively easy, based on the known dimensions of the vessels (Figure 1).” LOL.
Dr Ball, are you familiar with the idea of perspective? The “little” ship is clearly further away in that sketch. From the shape and number of masts it would appear that the two ships were very similar in design. Maybe even the same.

Reply to  Greg
September 15, 2014 11:54 pm

Hecla-class bomb ship / 3 masts / L,B,D 105′ x 28.5′ x 13.8′ – 32m x 8.7m x 4.2m / 372 tons / Hull: wooden / Complement 67 / Arms: 1 x 13″ mortar, 1 x 10″ mortar, 2 x 6pdr, 8 x 24 pdr / Designed Sir Henry Peake / Built: Pembroke dockyard, Wales 1826.
Vesuvius-class bomb ship / 3 masts / L,B,D 102′ x 27′ x 12.5′ – 31.1m x 8.2m x 3.8m / 325 tons / Hull: wooden / Complement 67 / Arms: 1 x 13″ mortar, 1 x 10″ mortar, 2 x 6pdr, 8 x 24 pdr / Designed Sir Henry Peake / Built: Davy, Topsham, England 1813.
The key words here Greg are “known dimensions”. Not Ooooh look at the pretty picture.

Reply to  Kirk MacPherson
September 16, 2014 12:34 am

Kirk MacPherson
Thankyou for reporting that the Terror was built at Topsham. My maternal grandparents lived there and my office wall is adorned with a picture of the cliff abutting their Topsham back garden.
Topsham was noted for its shipyard and built two of the vessels for defeat of the Spanish Armada. It is a pretty place often by-passed by people heading for Exemouth. It is near a training center for Royal Marine Commandos, and across the river from Starcross which includes the remaining pumping station of Brunel’s ‘atmospheric railway’.

Robert of Ottawa
Reply to  Kirk MacPherson
September 16, 2014 4:29 am

The ship lies in only about 50 foot of water, I believe. Very easy for divers to enter.

Reply to  Kirk MacPherson
September 16, 2014 5:38 pm

I think there was some poetic license taken here. Having spent 8 seasons on the flank of Mt. Erebus, between the dates mentioned as Ross entering and leaving the Ross Sea, He could not have seen the volcano at night!
Other than a few quibbles like that, it is a good yarn.

Mike McMillan
Reply to  Greg
September 16, 2014 12:00 am

Here’s the remarkably detailed sonar image of the ship:
Shouldn’t be too hard to measure.

September 15, 2014 11:52 pm

John Rae:

“The thermometers were suspended within a couple of inches of each other, under a tunnel like covering of stout canvas, facing north and protected as much as possible from the sun’s rays, at the same time quite detach from any building. Height of thermometers from the ground, four feet six inches”.

This is very interesting. There is often the arrogant impression given that anyone living before the beginning of the 20th c. did not know how place or read a thermometer and the readings are obviously in need of substantial “correction” and “bias adjustments”.
The potentially useful long records of the HISTALP group have been contaminated by such thinking and ham-fisted attempts to “homogenise” them into conformity with AGW thinking.

September 16, 2014 12:00 am

The 18th century polar ice pack map is nonsense showing the extent of the polar ice pack as far south as 63N at the Norwegian coast. It is known that the ice pack in historical time has occationally been blown as far south as 70N and visible from mainland Norway (usually the limit is about 74N), and 63N sounds extremely unlikely even for the most unusual weather conditions. Sure, some fjords freeze up regularily, but that’s not the polar ice pack.

Reply to  Steinar Midtskogen
September 16, 2014 6:22 am

The Polar Bears in Iceland proxy suggests intermittent expansion of the ice pack very far south.
“In March 2010, the number of documented observations of polar bears in Iceland throughout its history totalled 289.”
“The number of polar bears to arrive over the course of a given year varies greatly, and annual fluctuations are considerable.
Some years, scores of bears have arrived in Iceland: 1274 (22); 1275 (27); 1621 (25); 1745 (39); 1881 (73); 1918 (30). Other years, none.”

Reply to  sunshinehours1
September 16, 2014 6:52 pm

The bears come ashore hungry and raid the stock of the homesteads in the north. They are inevitably shot by angry farmers. I would imagine many such incidents go unreported.

September 16, 2014 12:02 am

“Government, using incompetent people to advance political agendas at the expense of ordinary people”. This reminds me exactly of what is going on with the continuing Global Warming/Climate Change Alarmism. Even after 170 years, things still work the same way.

September 16, 2014 12:25 am

Near the bottom of this article there is a map of North Atlantic sea ice extent in WW2. The name of the ship the actual article is about seems appropriate when talking about the NW Passage
There are more Sea Ice maps for the North Atlantic here

Dr. Paul Mackey
September 16, 2014 12:32 am

Absolutely fascinating. I would like to find out more about Dr. Rae, of whom I have not previously heard.

Reply to  Dr. Paul Mackey
September 16, 2014 7:41 am

No Ordinary Journey, Written by Ian Bunyan,Jenni Calder,Dale Ideiens,Bryce Wilson.
McGill-Queens University Press.
National Museum of Scotland.
ISBN 0-7735-1107-5.
Hope that helps, one hell of a story, makes modern biologists look truly wimpy.

September 16, 2014 12:40 am

“The wreck marks the final focal and ending point of a government funded and bureaucratically organized disastrous expedition. It occurred in conditions they didn’t understand and completely misjudged…”
The names of the ships were appropriate then.
Definition of EREBUS
: a personification of darkness in Greek mythology
: a place of darkness in the underworld on the way to Hades
Thank you for the history, research, and experiences with the Arctic.

September 16, 2014 12:41 am

For further information about the incompetence and politics of those in power at the time of the Franklin expedition, then a read of ‘Barrows Boys’ by Fergus Fleming is a must.
On page 372 we can read “The crews…..were hand picked……by whom and for what is hard to tell.”
Only two officers had even seen Arctic service!

September 16, 2014 12:55 am

A few factual errors here:
The map of ice conditions is correct for the area around Iceland but not further East. Even during the Little Ice Age sea-ice never reached the coast of Norway. During the very bad ice-years in the 1860’s it extended to within a couple of hundred kilometers of North Cape and almost reached Murmansk, but no further. For the ice to reach Central Norway as in the map would require an almost complete cessation of the Gulf Stream.
“Franklin’s behavior after the loss of his ships is difficult to assess because they were all suffering from lead poisoning. One of the first expeditions to carry food stored in tins, the lead from the soldering infused the food and gradually built up in the consumer’s body.”
Actually this is irrelevant since the only written note found from the expedition shows that Franklin was already dead by then. And there is evidence that the lead actually came from the unique (lead-piped) water distillation system installed in Erebus and Terror before the expedition. Lead-soldered tins had actually been used by the Royal Navy for about 20 years before the Franklin Expedition, apparently without any major problems.
As for ice conditions it would seem that the Franklin expedition was actually quite lucky the first two years. In 1845 they circumnavigated Cornwallis Island and reached 77 degrees north and in 1846 the sailed down Peel Sound all the way to King William Island before getting stuck. Neither would have been possible this year for example.
But then they got stuck for several (3?, 5?) years in the waters north-west of King William Island, which is one of the worst places for ice in the whole NW passage. Ironically, according to inuit testimony one of the ships eventually melted free and drifted south to finally sink south-west of King William Island, though by then all or almost all aboard had left the ship or were dead.
Ironically if they had sailed east of King William Island, as Amundsen did 60 years later they very probably would have completed the NW passage, perhaps even in 1846. Modern ice data suggests that if the Peel Sound is passable, then the straits east and south of King William Island are probably ice-free. Unfortunately the maps at that time showed the waters east of King William Island as a closed bay (“Poctes Bay”), and Franklin probably didn’t bother to check.
However this does not invalidate the fact that british polar expeditions were bureaucratic, badly conceived, badly equipped and singularly unwilling to learn anything from “the natives” (or from anyone else for that matter). The contrast is particularly striking in comparison to the Scandinavian expeditions that came to dominate polar research after c. 1870 (Nordenskiöld, Nansen, Sverdrup, Amundsen, Rasmussen) which explored vast areas of the Arctic with practically no casualties. Amundsen even stayed an extra year in Gjöa Haven, in the very area where the last Franklin survivors perished, in order to learn from the Netsilingmiut. The contrast between the Amundsen and Scott south pole expeditions shows that this “not invented here syndrome” was still very much alive right up to WW I

Reply to  tty
September 16, 2014 2:51 am

This may interest you, what it says about sea ice extent I wouldn’t like to guess.
The arrival of an Inuit in Aberdeen harbour in 1728 would have been quite remarkable. The same story was being told about 1782.nineteenth century catalogue of the university records, the kayak is still in Aberdeen Museum: ‘Esquimaux Canoe, in which a native of that country was driven ashore near Belhelvie [to the north of Aberdeen] about the beginning of the eighteenth century and died soon after landing.’

michael hart
Reply to  tty
September 16, 2014 4:57 am

“Franklin’s behavior after the loss of his ships is difficult to assess because they were all suffering from lead poisoning…. ”
Yes, I read the same thing somewhere about the water supply system.
Having said that, Franklin’s behavior before the loss of his ships hardly set a good example… 🙂

Reply to  tty
September 16, 2014 6:24 am

the contrast between amundsen and scott is shown in the results. the problem in reaching the pole and returning was the energy budget. very much like the moon missions.
amundsen used dogs, which ultimately provided the food source along the way. the food carried itself. similar the the moon missions, parts of the transport were sacrificed along the way to complete the mission.
scott used ponies, which required sleds to drag the hay to feed the ponies. the weight of the low energy hay exhausted the energy of the men and ponies. they had insufficient energy to make the trip and all perished.

Reply to  ferdberple
September 19, 2014 11:33 am

One of the major problems was also related to the use of containers, in this case soldered cans to store their oil. On the return leg whenever they reached their caches they found that oil was missing and this got progressively worse as they proceeded. This was because of the transition of tin to the non-metallic form at low temperature and consequent leakage of the oil, thus no heating no cooking and no melt water to drink. Welded jerrycans are used for that purpose these days.

Reply to  tty
September 19, 2014 11:51 am

Amundsen even stayed an extra year in Gjöa Haven, in the very area where the last Franklin survivors perished, in order to learn from the Netsilingmiut.
It’s not like he had much choice in the matter though.

Reply to  tty
September 20, 2014 9:47 pm

I think the British beuracratic default is “not invented here”!

September 16, 2014 1:01 am

Bloody riveting stuff.Thank you.
Got an urge to find out more now.

ivor ward
September 16, 2014 1:11 am

“Franklin’s supporters made sure Rae was punished. He lost his membership in the Royal Society and the Royal Geographic Society. Worse, instead of being buried with other discoverers in Westminster Abbey, he was buried in a corner of St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall, Orkney (Figure 7).”
I would be honoured to be buried at St Magnus in Kirkwall

James (Aus.)
Reply to  ivor ward
September 19, 2014 3:37 am

Ivor, I’m too late returning to this, and it’s trivial, but during Sir John Eliot Gardner’s mammoth tour for the complete recordings of all JS Bach’s cantatas, in many and various cathedrals and churches in Europe and NA, he mentioned St Magnus’ in Kirkwall “had the most authentic atmosphere” of any cathedral he and his Monteverdi Choir visited. I can’t remember the Cantata number recorded within. Not such a bad place to be buried, indeed.
And while trivia is on, a g-g-grandfather of mine, a sea-captain, records in his journal a pleasant meeting with Sir John F. and his wife in Hobart in the 1840’s. No assessment of Arctic competency, though!

Kelvin Vaughan
September 16, 2014 1:21 am

I was shocked there for a minute I thought the Sun had gone out as the link is completely black. I clicked on the link and was relieved to see it hadn’t.

September 16, 2014 1:25 am

There is often the arrogant impression given that anyone living before the beginning of the 20th c. did not know how place or read a thermometer and the readings are obviously in need of substantial “correction” and “bias adjustments”.
When Nordenskiöld wintered in Chukotka 1878/79 during the first voyage through the Northeast passage they built a metorological observatory one mile away from the ship. No UHI for those guys!
And on p. 192 of Nansen’s “Med Fram over Polarhavet” (1893-96) there is photograph of their thermometer. Guess what: it’s inside a Stevenson screen!

September 16, 2014 1:25 am

That was an excellent essay by Dr Ball.
I will be in Starcross this afternoon and often visit Topsham. William Scoresby is buried in nearby Torquay. Below me is a house that was owned by one of the people who died on the Titanic. The nearby port of Teignmouth is where Our Admiral Pellew lived, who destroyed the white slave traders In Algiers who snatched a million people from Europe, including some from the town itself. Teignmouth is the last place in England to be invaded by the French. Many whalers here went to the Arctic and our fishermen spent six months on the Grand Banks fishing for cod which were salted in kilns not 500 yards from me.
So in parts of the West country as you know there are very close links to History. On nearby Dartmoor there remain to this day evidence of warmer times during the Bronze age and MWP.
These all tend to get dismissed as ‘historical anecdotes’ which is a shame as so much of history tells us about the changing climate but we ignore them in favour of models.
I was interested in Dr Balls comment about an expedition to find the North East passage led by local man Sir Francis Drake. In the course of my research into historic climate I visited the Scott Polar institute at Cambridge.
I was intrigued to find circumstantial evidence that the North East passage was open for around 50 years or so in the first or middle part of the 16th century. Sir Francis Drake would have been reacting to these stories and may have arrived too late to explore it as it seems it closed up again in the last half of the 16th century.
Dr Ball said;
‘I contributed a complete climate reconstruction for 1577-80 for Sam Bawlf’s book The Secret Voyage of Sir Francis Drake.’
I would be most interested to read this.

richard verney
Reply to  tonyb
September 16, 2014 2:02 am

Historical record and archaelogical evidence are proxies, and like all proxies they are uncertain and carry large error bands, but in my opinion they are amongst the best proxy evidence available and, as you rightly observe, very much under appreciated.
Your reconstruction based upon past history is an invaluable source giving an impressive insight into past climate, and I have little doubt that it more accurately portrays past climate than does a reconstruction based upon some tree rings, shells or sediment.
The disadvantage is that it is very local/regional, but then again, climate is a regional phenomena not a global one (save other than being in a glacial or inter-glacial epoch).
Keep up the good work.

September 16, 2014 1:28 am

Rae may have been buried in St Magnus Kirkyard as shown, but as I remember, he has a stunning memorial in the Cathedral itself – sculpted as if he had fallen asleep on an expedition, wrapped in fur, with a rifle nearby and a book held loosely in one hand.

September 16, 2014 1:38 am

Sorry, it’s years since I was in Orkney and I’ve misremembered a bit, so the book is at his side and the website I’ve checked says he’s covered by a blanket. But it’s still worth googling (or going to see whenever you’re in those parts).

Paul Nottingham
Reply to  Questing Vole
September 16, 2014 1:59 am
richard verney
September 16, 2014 1:50 am

I found the article very fascinating, and it demonstates a very different mindset in different eras. The approach of the HBC is to be applauded. It does sound as if Rae is underappreciated, no doubt because, as suggested, he ruffled feathers.
Whether all the critisms of Franklin are equally well founded, I am not in a position to judge, and it is always dangerous to be too ready to judge the actions of others when the full facts and circumstances are not fully known, or placed in the correct context.

Paul Nottingham
September 16, 2014 1:53 am

This is a great article, so interesting that it made me visit the Stromness Museum’s web site. I found there that the John Rae gathering is due to be held in a few days time, I should think that many of us would like to be there.
I’m fortunate enough to live in England so I’e chosen where I would like to go on holiday next year. I wonder if anyone can guess where it is. Clue, it’s not Blackpool.

Reply to  Paul Nottingham
September 16, 2014 2:10 am

Ah, so you may be off to what could be foreign climes by then? Hope you have your passport up to date.

Reply to  Paul Nottingham
September 16, 2014 2:40 am

Whether or not Scotland is independent by next year, Orkney is a fantastic place to visit, Ring of Brodgar, Stenness Standing Stones, Maes Howe, Skara Brae, Scapa Flow, Yesnaby Cliffs, Dwarfie Stane , Scotland’s most northerly whisky distillery and, but by no means last The World’s Shortest Scheduled Airline Flight.
You’ll need more than a week!

September 16, 2014 2:04 am

Another excellent article by Dr. Tim Ball – thank you Tim. It is good to see greater recognition of Dr. John Rae.
In 2001 Ken McGoogan wrote a well-researched book about Dr. John Rae entitled “Fatal Passage – The Untold Story of John Rae, the Arctic Adventurer Who Discovered the Fate of Franklin”. The Clan MacRae Society of Canada sponsored Ken McGoogan to give a talk in Calgary in 2013, which was fascinating and very well-received. McGoogan states that Rae, among his other accomplishments, was the true discoverer of the NorthWest Passage. Rae Strait bears his name.
Also in 2013, a statue of Dr. John Rae was unveiled on the Stromness harbour front in Orkney , on the 200th Anniversary of his birth. Rae’s memorial lies in Orkney’s St Magnus Cathedral.
I suggest it is time to erect a statue to Dr. John Rae in Canada – he was probably our most dauntless and accomplished explorer, has long been forgotten, and deserves better.
In May 2015, we gather in Ottawa to celebrate the unveiling of another statue – to Dr. John McCrae, author of the Great War poem “In Flanders Fields”. The poem is a rondeau, an elegant French poetic format of the 15th and 16th centuries. McCrae reportedly dashed it off in a few minutes after the funeral of a friend and then tossed it out, but it was retrieved by a colleague and published in Punch magazine.
The Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery will be unveiling a statue in Ottawa on the 100th anniversary of the writing of “In Flanders Fields”. Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, artillery officer, physician and poet, wrote In Flanders Fields at the height of Second Ypres, one of the most bitter battles of World War I. The centenary of that poem falls at the beginning of May 2015.
Regards to all, Allan

Paul Nottingham
Reply to  Allan MacRae
September 16, 2014 2:11 am

Is there any relationship between yourself and Dr John McCrae?

Reply to  Paul Nottingham
September 16, 2014 9:20 am

Paul, I have no close blood relationship with Dr. John McCrae.
However, all MacRae’s of whatever variant of our name) are related, because about 90% of our adult men were killed at the Battle of Sheriffmuir in 1715. The battle was a draw between the Jacobites and the English, but it was a devastating loss for the Clan MacRae. Since then, we have been trying to get a better grip on our Highland tempers, and to exercise a bit more moderation in our actions. 🙂
We will commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Sheriffmuir at the battlefield in 2015.
Best, Allan

Reply to  Allan MacRae
September 17, 2014 5:18 am

Allan – Don’t you mean the 300th anniversary?

Reply to  Paul Nottingham
September 17, 2014 9:32 am

Yes – 300th Anniversary – seems like just yesterday…

Reply to  Paul Nottingham
September 17, 2014 11:47 pm

How could I forget?
200 years ago we were with the Stormont and Glengarry Militia at the Battle of Crysler’s Farm, in the War of 1812-14.
Historical Notes:
The USA is by far the best neighbour Canada could ever ask for. Canada is now the largest foreign supplier of oil to the USA. We are still, I think, the largest bilateral trading partners in the world.
We have managed to get along and prosper together for two hundred years since our last unpleasantries during the War of 1812-14, when our side burned the White House and the Yanks burned Toronto.
Confidentially, people from all over Canada agree that Toronto ought to be burned from time to time, so we still think we got the better of that deal. 🙂

Reply to  Allan MacRae
September 18, 2014 9:25 am

People all over the US think you should burn DC periodically as well. Now is not a bad time. 😉

Reply to  Paul Nottingham
September 19, 2014 6:53 am

I see the Scots have voted to stay part of Great Britain. We have not commented on this issue until now, so as to not unduly influence the vote. 🙂
However, I suggest that the Scots have made a sensible decision – how very Scottish of them.
I mean, why separate from Britain when you can run the place, and the rest of the world along with it. For compelling evidence, please read:
“How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe’s Poorest Nation Created Our World & Everything in It”
(or The Scottish Enlightenment: The Scots invention of the Modern World), a non-fiction book written by American historian Arthur Herman.
Regards to all,
Allan MacRae of the Clan MacRae

Reply to  Allan MacRae
September 19, 2014 11:02 am

Just a Rae here (on my father’s side). 😉

Reply to  Paul Nottingham
September 19, 2014 7:59 pm
Surnames (spelling was never one of our strong points)
Cra, Crae, Cray, Cre, Crea, Creay, Cree, Grath, Macara, Macarra, MacCra, MacCrach, MacCrae, MacCraith, MacCraw, MacCray, MacCrea, MacCreath, MacCree, MacCrie, MacCrow, MacCroy, MacGrath, MacGraw, Machrae, Machray, Machrie, Mackray, Mackre, Mackreath, Mackree, Macra, Macrach, MacRae, Macraith, Macrath, Macraw, MacRay, Macreath, Macree, Macrie, Magraith, Magrath, Makre, McCra, McCrae, McCraw, McCray, McCrea, McCreath, McCree, Mcgrath, McGraw, McRa, McRae, Mcraith, Mcrath, Mcreath, McRee, Mcrie, Ra, Rae, Raith, Rath, Raw, Ray, Rea, Reath, Wray, Wreath
Back on topic: CO2 lags temperature at ALL measured time scales….

September 16, 2014 2:14 am

I always wondered if the vikings did not follow the border of the ice pack to discover Iceland and Greenland. It’s much safer than open sea and in Spring they have 24/7 daylight.

Reply to  Robertvd
September 16, 2014 3:56 am

Probably not. Icelandic sources describe the “old” and the “new” sailing routes to Greenland. They were well south of the border of the pack, and the “new route” was shifted south as the ice expanded at the end of the MWP. You must remember that in the Denmark Strait area the sea-ice is mixed with glacier ice. Growlers are difficult to discern whern mixed with sea-ice and are extremely dangerous.

Reply to  Robertvd
September 16, 2014 4:08 am

I said ‘ to discover ‘. Once they discovered Iceland of course they looked for a faster route.

Reply to  Robertvd
September 16, 2014 10:40 am

It is even less likely to be used from Norway to Iceland
1. The ice edge never even comes near Norway, hard to start along something that isn’t around.
2. In summertime (=sailing season) it is usually well north of Iceland, so it doesn’t lead there either.
3. Sailing directions and navigational techniques are described in icelandic sources. The icepack is only mentioned as something to stay away from.

September 16, 2014 3:48 am

His wife could not have been that sick, she financed, and went on, an expedition from UK to find her husband. She returned to the UK without finding any positive information.
It is thought that the combined crew split so the fittest pulled a boat over the ice for help and the sickest remained to die eventually. The rescue crew resorted to canibalism as food soon ran out and no help was found.
Spilsby, Lincolnshire, Franklin’s home town, has a statue in its main square. It is a few miles from my home.

Reply to  johnmarshall
September 16, 2014 5:19 am

It seems that there were two wives involved – the activities you describe pertain to the second wife.

September 16, 2014 3:49 am

Great post, thanks. It is clear Arctic ice is much more dynamic than the current climate obsessed are willing to admit. And the lesson that nature is dangerous, relentless and over powering is lost on far too many in our modern urbanized age.

September 16, 2014 3:51 am

Thank you, that was fascinating. An insight into events I confess I hadn’t heard of before.

September 16, 2014 4:19 am

Rae did not receive the recognition he deserved while living, but through objective analysis of people like Dr. Ball, he is getting it now.
Thank you for a very good history lesson.

September 16, 2014 4:24 am

This begs a question: We believe that people crossed from Asia to North America over a land bridge at the Bering Straight. The Inuit’s mobility suggests no bridge was needed, hence migration need not be tied to an ice age.

Reply to  Gamecock
September 16, 2014 6:15 am

there is evidence of humans in the americas as much as 60 thousand years ago. however, this contradicts current theories and native land claims, and as such no one will approve funding for any research below the 20 thousand year old soil level.
thus, the claim that humans came to the americas at the end of the last ice age is largely self-perpetuating, because no one is trying to determine if the reports of earlier humans are true or not.

Reply to  ferdberple
September 16, 2014 1:47 pm

A large share of bones are found at construction sites, where depth of digging doesn’t depend on funding. The fact is most finds are at the surface, from humans to dinosaurs. –AGF

Gary Pearse
Reply to  Gamecock
September 16, 2014 10:22 am

The sea was down ~120m and the average depth of water in Bering Strait is 30 -50m. Yeah, there was a land bridge for sure. No question people walked across.

Reply to  Gamecock
September 16, 2014 9:46 pm

The Innuit were latecomers to our continent. The Bering land bridge made the earlier migrations possible.

Keith Sketchley
Reply to  Gamecock
September 19, 2014 12:57 pm

Two leads:
– Inuit were capable of moving along the edge of the sea, living off of it, that is the environment of many today. One theory is that they spread fairly quickly from Siberia to Greenland circa 1000 AD by that method. They had both kyak-like boats and somewhat larger blunter ones (made of whale bones for ribs and animal skins for covering, I forget what for sealing, akin to tribal people to the south using tree boughs, animal skins, and gummy sap from trees).
– The book Across Atlantic Ice puts forth a credible theory that people came from the central Atlantic coast of Europe around 20,000 years ago (between current France and Spain) and spread west across the current USA. They think that the land bridge and corridor south were not available until much later. And it is suggested that people from Asia might have moved along the edge of ice and down the coast of current B.C., living off of the land and sea. The authors do a great job of explaining the severe limitations of archaeology, including in this context that the ice-edge journeys in this context would have been along land that was submerged as sea level rose thus is not easily examined for artifacts. They do a good job of justifying their theory but caution that it is a theory.

Keith Sketchley
Reply to  Keith Sketchley
September 20, 2014 12:14 pm

Well, the term “kyak” probably came from the Arctic, the cargo boat was Umiak: REF.
Sometimes driftwood was used by Inuit, apparently sealing was with seal oil.
It’s a logical method of construction, local materials available for repair. Probably used outside of the Arctic – perhaps by the Ainu who lived in present SE Russia and Japan and travelled along that coastal area, likely adopting it from people further north.

September 16, 2014 4:29 am

Figure 3 is interesting, never seen a map with sea ice so far south as that before. I had post on similar topic a few weeks back where I touch on the Eskimos, but also one of my favourite (cherry picked) articles by Bond et al 2001 on the N Atlantic drift ice index. If the map is accurate, there must be Norwegian records to support it. Jean Grove also compiled a lot of sea ice data from around Iceland – I had to give her book back to the library.
The Arctic Sea Ice Canary Refuses to Die
And totally off topic, Scotland votes on membership of the UK in a couple of days. The precedent may have much wider implications than many currently understand.
For A Few Trillion Barrels More

Reply to  Euan Mearns
September 16, 2014 5:12 am

There is a large database of Norwegian-compiled ice charts from 1550 to 2002 here:
And, no, sea ice has never ever reached the Norwegian coast in historical times. In very cold winters the fiords in the south-east around Oslo will freeze, but never the west coast that is washed by the Gulf Stream.

Reply to  tty
September 16, 2014 1:35 pm

Thanks for the link. I can’t see anything there to support the map in Figure 3.

Reply to  Euan Mearns
September 16, 2014 6:31 am

those of us living in “the colonies” wish our ancestors every good fortune in gaining their independence.

September 16, 2014 6:31 am

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”,
“”He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

September 16, 2014 6:34 am

it is interesting to see all the promises being offered to scotland to keep them in the UK. if promises were horses …

September 16, 2014 6:46 am

Excellent article, but unfortunately, it won’t be read by the same people who comment, in every article I’ve read in the Gruniad, BBC, Toronto Star, etc., that the ship was found because of global warming…

September 16, 2014 6:54 am

I nominate “bureaucratically organized” as the oxymoron of the day.

September 16, 2014 7:10 am

Testing of the frozen bodies, discovered by Owen Beattie, showed poisonously high levels. This would have affected decisions crucial to survival.

Like dragging a piano across the ice, after the wrecks.

Reply to  Jeff Alberts
September 18, 2014 10:28 am

Dinner piano, for cannibals:
“all that meat & no potatoes”-Fats Waller
“Rump Steak Serenade”-Fats Waller
“memphis soul stew”-King Curtis
“Struttin’ with some barbeque”-Louis Armstrong
“Barbequed Ribs”-The 3 Riffs
“Neck Bones & Hot Sauce”- L. Anderson & The Tarnadoes
“Chittlin’ ball”-King Porter
Apologies – bad taste!

September 16, 2014 7:17 am

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said “There is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action.”
He also said “We do not have to visit a madhouse to find disordered minds; our planet is the mental institution of the universe.”

September 16, 2014 7:32 am

Belated recognition. 11th June 2014
A MEMORIAL to honour Scots Arctic explorer John Rae – who condemned himself to obscurity for revealing a previous British expedition had resorted to cannabalism – is to be unveiled in Westminster Abbey.

Reply to  Perry
September 16, 2014 9:35 am

Thank you Perry – this was news to me… and good news.
See also
Best, Allan

September 16, 2014 7:47 am

“Unravelling the Franklin Mystery – Inuit Testimony” by David Woodman is an excellent read for anyone seriously interested. Where exactly was the wreck found? I’d bet on near Kirkwall Island or an adjacent islet.

Reply to  Lyle
September 16, 2014 10:56 am

The site is officially secret, but the wreck was found quite quickly after artefacts from it were found on Hat Island. These included a rather heavy iron piece that had apparently been cached by an inuit but never retrieved. Presumably the wreck is somewhere close to the island. This means that this must be the ship that was not destroyed by ice, but finally drifted free and was found by the inuits well south of the area where the expedition originally got stuck in the ice. This is also supported by the fact that the hull seems remarkably intact.
According to the inuits they found a single dead man aboard the ship, but there were traces that suggested that others had left the ship fairly recently. The ship was later accidentally sunk by an inuit who inadvertently hacked through the hull while the ship was being plundered. In a way this was fortunate for otherwise the inuits would probably ultimately have removed most of the wreck since both iron and wood were scarce and valuable resources, There are other wreck sites that were visited by inuits for several generations.

September 16, 2014 8:31 am

Nice to see the scientific and cartographic talents of John Dee being highlighted here. He is all too often only known for his weird metaphysical interests and exploits.
Because of the latter interests, John Dee was lucky not to have suffered the same fate as Giordano Bruno, who was burned at the stake by the Catholic Church in 1600. Lords of the realm, please note.

Mike H
September 16, 2014 9:13 am

Funny how the Hudson’s Bay Co., a company seeking economic outcomes, i.e. profits, searched for the truth where as politicians, seeking political outcomes, supported fantasies and operated based on “accepted” standards. Rarely do desired economic and political outcomes agree.

Reply to  Mike H
September 16, 2014 2:11 pm


Keith Sketchley
Reply to  Mike H
September 20, 2014 11:50 am

Businesses that prosper in the long term seek facts.
Granted, HBC were often stultified and had a monopoly, but still had to figure out where to go to best do business.
Many heads of HBC posts, which John Rae was at times, kept good weather records – one Tim Ball analyzed them decades later. IIRC a key reason the HBC kept those records was to see if they could predict fluctuation in fur harvest quantity.
Not to overlook the Northwest Company, another fur trading operation that lived closer to the locals and mingled with them more.

Keith Sketchley
Reply to  Keith Sketchley
September 20, 2014 11:59 am

That all said, John Rae was an exceptional individual, smart, inquisitive, and tough.
(From Wikipedia, with [my additions] “He went south to Fort Chipewyan [in the northeast corner of Alberta], waited for a hard freeze, and walked on snowshoes to Fort Garry [near Winnipeg] (17 November–10 January), took the Crow Wing Trail to St Paul….”
Wow! Fort Chip to Winnipeg is a long ways on foot, 830 statute miles by airplane!, from there to St. Paul is another 400. He may have travelled even further in the High Arctic.
(St. Paul was a gateway to the Mississipi river thus easier travel onward. While he was with HBC, rivals used the route from Fort Garry to market furs outside of the HBC monopoly. (The NWC probably marketed more through Montreal, its base. Its people had to travel to beyond HBC monopoly territory, to NW SK/NE AB and beyond where waters drain into the Arctic Ocean not Hudson’s Bay. They used canoes extensively.)

Tim Ball
September 16, 2014 9:24 am

I ran a conference in Stromness Orkney on the connections between their islands, the HBC and Canada. Canadians were surprised to find the connection was only a brief period for the people of Orkney in the post glacial history of the region. Many interesting events occurred at the conference. For example, we showed the documentary of two aboriginal fiddlers from James Bay playing music transferred over and continued, but that had disappeared in Orkney. At the final dinner we had a fiddler play Rae’s violin.
There was very strong support for the recognition of John Rae and his exploits. The sarcophagus in the cathedral is part of that and shows Rae sleeping on a granite surface, that he did for most of his overland voyages, wrapped in his ever present buffalo robe. They were trying to raise money to restore the family home called “The Hall of Clestrain” on Orkney. When I saw it the local farmer was storing hay.
A major effort to recognize Rae was produced by The National Museum of Scotland culminating in a display and publication (1993) titled, “No Ordinary Journey”. The title is a play on Rae’s comment, “We of the Hudson’s Bay Company thought very little of our Arctic work. For my own part at least I thought no more of it than any ordinary journey.” I worked with Dale Idiens to try and get the exhibition displayed at various centres across Canada but could get no support or sponsors. Maybe it is time to try again.
The diagram of the ice front in the 18th century raises some important questions. I prefer to identify three types of ice conditions; a) land ice, including continental and alpine glaciers and ice fields, b) ice shelves formed when land ice moves out onto the oceans and are generally 200m thick, and c) seasonal sea ice. Technically, all the Arctic ice is sea ice and subject to seasonal variation. Most sea ice forms, as does ice in a lake, from the shore outward. Arctic ice expansion in winter occurs as the ice builds out from the land, but also from the semi-permanent pack ice effectively acting as a shore.
I am not sure the distinction made about ice in Norway is, in this sense, valid. Consider the following quote from the 1817 Royal Society letter to the Admiralty that I didn’t include.
“This, with information of a similar nature derived from other sources; the unusual abundance of ice islands that have during the last two summers been brought by currents from Davies Streights (sic)into the Atlantic. The ice which has this year surrounded the northern coast of Ireland in unusual quantity and remained there unthawed till the middle of August, with the floods which have during the whole summer inundated all those parts of Germany where rivers have their sources and snowy mountains, afford ample proof that new sources of warmth have been opened and give us leave to hope that the Arctic seas may at this time be more accessible than they have been for centuries past, and that discoveries may now be made in them not only interesting to the advancement of science but also to the future intercourse of mankind and the commerce of distant nations.”
The reference to ice around the northern coast of Ireland is extremely interesting.

Reply to  Tim Ball
September 16, 2014 11:04 am

“The reference to ice around the northern coast of Ireland is extremely interesting.”
It is an obvious misprint for Iceland.

September 16, 2014 9:45 am

A beautifully researched, and well-written, piece. An interesting side story concerning one of the ships sent to rescue, or locate, Franklin is here.

Tom Anderson
September 16, 2014 1:08 pm

Wonderful account! I recall seeing a TV documentary on the subject years ago. I think the term is “hare-brained,” but that’s irrelevant in the surge of the narrative.

September 16, 2014 1:08 pm

A good blog on Arctic Exploration is VISIONS OF THE NORTH.
It has stories on Franklin ships with links to other sites, and how the Inuit were involved

September 16, 2014 2:00 pm

Dr. Ball, what is the thickest sea ice you have seen? –AGF

September 16, 2014 3:26 pm

Thanks, Dr. Ball. A most interesting article, well illustrated.

September 16, 2014 4:22 pm

Very interesting article that would deserve even wider audience, especially on the CBC where the propaganda runs deep…

September 16, 2014 5:12 pm

While the reference to ice off the northern coast of Ireland is most likely to have been off the northern coast of Iceland it is interesting to note that Capt. James Ross of both Arctic and Antarctic expeditions recorded ice off the Faroe Islands in January 1836. In July 1902 lobster fishermen off Mull in Western Scotland noted a 40 foot long piece of pack ice, and that’s not far from Ireland.

September 16, 2014 6:54 pm

I heard a reference to Hat Island but then I read of the island where the recent artifacts were found being of a low profile. Hat Island has a fairly high hill on it and is the site of one of the North Warning Systems remotely operated radar stations. The truth will out in due course. If the Parks Canada divers are pushed off the site by returning winter it would make sense to set up a dive station in the spring (June up there).
September 17, 2014 12:53 am

Thanks Dr Ball, interesting reading.

September 17, 2014 6:46 am

Further to my Sept 16 comment. The article I read was by Paul Watson in the Toronto Star Sept 09 and tells how helicopter pilot Stirling found the “boat davit” on a SMALL FLAT ISLAND. The sonar search near that find found the sunken ship. Several previous searches have been made on and around O’Reilly Island over many years but there are many small islands north of O’Reilly as far as Kirkwall Island that are probable candidates . Hat Island is several miles west and doesn’t fit Watson’s descrition.

September 17, 2014 8:29 am

Dr. Ball: The reason I ask is Capt. Cook reported pack ice “10 or 12 feet high” north of the Bering Strait in August of 1778. Has anything like that been found in recent years? –AGF

September 18, 2014 12:05 pm

Jennylinde is the eye site between Cambridge and what we called sheppard a bay in 1955/1960 on the DEW line at that time. 10 to 12 foot sea ice was not uncommon.

Reply to  Ed Bray
September 22, 2014 7:28 am

Are you referring to total thickness or height above the water? Cook’s ice would have been close to a hundred feet thick.

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