Book recovered from Franklin ship could show whether other written items are salvageable: historian
A leather-bound folio found in one of Capt. John Franklin's doomed ships might just show how recoverable other documents might be in future searches, according to Canadian historian Ken McGoogan.
The folio — a book or diary of sorts — is among the total of 275 artifacts recovered last year from HMS Erebus, one of two ships that went missing in the 1800s in the Arctic. The other items include things such as a feather quill pen, stoneware plates, platters and serving dishes. The wreck lies 11 metres below the surface of the Northwest Passage. Even deeper is the other ship, HMS Terror.
Erebus and Terror set out from England in 1845. Commander Sir John Franklin and his 129 men never returned.
Since 2014, when Erebus was finally found (and Terror, two years later) with a combination of Inuit oral history and systematic, high-tech surveys, Parks Canada has been working to understand what is down there and what light it could shed on a story that has become part of Canadian lore.
McGoogan thinks the information gleaned from the folio, which was found in Erebus' pantry during a diving expedition by Parks Canada archaeologists this past year, might be limited, but still valuable.
"It might just be, you know, 'last week we ate 14 cans of beef,' for example," he said.
For McGoogan, one the first questions is whether contemporary conservationists can decipher what's in the book after all that time it sat in the ocean.
Ryan Harris, who was part of the 2022 field season on the wreck of HMS Erebus, said the book, which he thinks is one of the top finds, is currently at a lab being analyzed.
McGoogan said no matter what's written in the book, if researchers can decipher it, that would be win on its own.
"That's interesting in itself, because if they can, it bodes very well for any future discoveries," McGoogan said.
What would be very exciting to find in future searches, he said, would be "some kind of a logbook that might track what happened on the expedition through time," he said. McGoogan thinks that sort of thing would likely be in the officers' cabin.
"People have never yet got to the root cause of why this expedition ended in catastrophe."
And he said this major question will likely remain.
McGoogan recently penned a new book, Searching for Franklin: The Royal Navy Man who Couldn't Listen, that points the finger at Franklin himself, as a man who couldn't listen to Northerners.
This First Person article is written by Tait Gamble, who lives near Williams Lake, B.C. For more information about First Person stories, see the FAQ.
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