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 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.
The Expedition Was Doomed From The Start
In 1984, Owen Beattie, an anthropologist at the University of Alberta, led an expedition to exhume the bodies of three dead members of Franklin's crew to determine their cause of the death. The members in question were John Torrington (pictured above), John Hartnell, and Marine William Braine, and they were the first three people in the expedition to die.
Torrington's corpse, which was fantastically well preserved, was emaciated, and it showed signs of Torrington having been ill for some time before his death. Tests conducted by Beattie's team concluded Torrington died of lead poisoning, which was the result of the expedition's food being canned improperly in England. Regardless of the crew getting stranded on ice, they likely all would have suffered serious illness, and, eventually, death, from lead poisoning.
The Bodies Were Creepily Well-Preserved By Permafrost
The eerily well-preserved bodies of Franklin Expedition members owe their preservation to the frigid weather of northern Canada. The area in which they were buried is rife with permafrost, earth so cold it's frozen solid for at least two years straight. The corpses of John Torrington, John Hartnell, and Marine William Braine were essentially buried in a freezer, which kept them fresh for about 140 years.
A Note Found In 1859 Provided Details On The Expedition's Fate
In 1859, Francis Leopold McClintock was sent to determine the fate of the Franklin Expedition. A member of his crew found a note, pictured above, on King William Island in Canada, left by a member of Franklin's crew.
According to the note, the xpedition had trouble with ice as early as winter 1846. On April 22, 1847, the crew abandoned the Terror and Erebus, having been stuck on ice since the previous September. At the time of abandoning the ship, 105 men survived, and 24 had perished.