• Weird History

The British Arctic Expedition That Left Behind Perfectly Preserved Corpses

The Franklin Expedition was a British arctic exploration mission designed to find and map the Northwest Passage along the northern coast of Canada. Sir John Franklin, who headed the expedition, left England with two ships, the Erebus and Terror, on May 19, 1845, and after brief stops off the coast of Scotland and in Greenland, the ships set off into the wilds. His ships were last seen by Europeans in July 1845. 

In 1850, a mission to discover the fate of the Franklin Expedition found the graves of crew members John Torrington, William Braine, and John Hartnell in far northern Canada. In 1984, the bodies were exhumed to determine the cause of death. Because Torrington was the first casualty of the expedition, it was thought that determining his cause of death would give some insight into what happened to the rest of the crew. The preserved bodies of the Franklin Expedition took their secrets with them however.

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  • A 2008 Study Offered New Insight Into The Source Of The Expedition's Poison Problem

    Owen Beattie and his team of scientists concluded the lead poisoning that affected members of the Franklin Expedition was a result of improperly canned food. A study published in 2008 suggests the source was the water system installed in the expedition's ships. Author William Battersby argues the canned food theory is incorrect because the same canning was widely used by the Royal Navy, which didn't suffer similar cases of poisoning.

    As Battersby argues, the Terror and Erebus, Franklin's ships, were outfitted with unique water systems, which make them a far more likely source of poisoning. 

  • Crew Members Resorted To Cannibalism

    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The remains of crew members found in the years since their disappearance show ample evidence of cannibalism.

    According to a piece on Smithsonian.com, this cannibalism took place in stages: it began with carving flesh from corpses for consumption and progressed to cracking open bones to suck out the marrow. The latter is known as end-stage cannibalism. 

  • Members Of The Crew Suffered Horrible Deaths

    Photo: Ernst Keil's successor / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The members of the Franklin Expedition lucky enough to survive until the abandonment of the Terror and Erebus suffered a variety of horrible deaths during a trek of unknown length across the frozen nothingness of the Canadian wilderness.

    They died of hypothermia, scurvy, and starvation, if not sickness induced by lead poisoning. Before dying, they subsisted on the corpses of their fellow crew members.

  • Some Doubted Bodies Were Even Buried In The Graves, But A Stench Led The Way

    Photo: Gordon Leggett / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

    When Owen Beattie went to exhume the corpses of the first three dead members of the Franklin Expedition, many doubted he'd find anything. The rock-hard permafrost made digging a pretty unpleasant task, but eventually, Beattie's crew encountered a unique stench, which gave way to a coffin.

    In the end, they found John Torrington, John Hartnell, and William Braine buried alongside one another.