Tuesday, September 9, 2014

New Franklin find

The news is all over this morning of the two new Franklin expedition finds made on Hat Island by a GN-directed team of archaeologists: a davit (pictured at left) and a "wooden object, possibly a plug for a deck hawse." The davit is of special interest as it's marked, twice with the broad arrow and also with the number 12. It's been hailed as the first find of Franklin artifacts "in modern times," a claim which is only accurate if you add "from the ships." Nearly all of what has been recovered, either in the original Franklin search era or since, has been from material found on land, and associated with the crews, rather than actual parts of either expedition vessel.

Indeed, as William Battersby points out aptly in his blog post, this would seem to mark only the fourth find ever of any part of the ships, the others being 1) A part of a flag staff and oak stanchion found on Victoria Island in 1851 by Dr. John Rae; 2) Two pieces of the frame of a ship's hatchway, found by a party dispatched from HMS Enterprise in 1853; and 3) A piece of pine, possibly deck planking, recovered from King William Island in 1954 by Paul Cooper. Battersby has proposed a sort of triangle, its points defined by these finds, within which he suggests that one of the vessels might be found.

I'm not quite so sanguine, though I remain hopeful. It might be observed that all of the items from the ships so far recovered over more than a century come either from the deck area or above, and show no signs of having been re-purposed by Inuit, or in any way deliberately removed. This suggests strongly to me that they are the result of a ship having been crushed in the ice, and that the items may well have drifted a considerable distance in the pack from where this event originally occurred. That some made it so far as the eastern coast of Victoria Island suggests the violence and utter decimation of the ship, with bits and pieces carried in various directions as the pack broke up in the vicinity of Queen Maud Gulf. They may, indeed, more probably be from the first ship to founder, rather than the second vessel which according to Inuit testimony seems to have been piloted further south, and sunk in shallow water near an island.

But it's also possible that the island in that case was Hat Island. To account for that possibility, the search should be intensified in the area around it; I hope that ice conditions and other circumstances will permit some assets to be deployed there before the window has closed on this year's search.

p.s. -- if you've come to this posting via an outside link, don't miss this update.

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