Friday 24 August 2012

One Ocean Expeditions - Northwest Passage - Victory Point

Ship: M/V Akademik Ioffe
Operator: One Ocean Expeditions
Itinerary: Northwest Passage 12-26 August 2012

Date: Tues 23 August 2012. Temp: 3°C
Location: Victory Point, Nunavut, Canada.
70deg 10.1'N, 097deg 52.0'W
Distance travelled: 1843NM

There's nothing victorious about Victory Point. Named, not after some long-forgotten triumph, but after the ship commanded by Capt. John Ross during his 1830 voyage.

We landed at about 1000hrs on the most desolate and rocky shoreline in our well-rehearsed procedure where shotgun-toting scouts disembark ahead of the main group to set up a polar bear perimeter. After the abundance of polar bears sighted the previous day at Coningham Bay, there's plenty of reason to
be cautious.

Dotted along the ridge above the high water mark are several stone cairns erected to attest the arrival and departure of various vessels and their shore parties. None, however, are likely to be the original cairn built to mark the initial progress and later demise of Franklin's last surviving men who suffered, as John Rae wrote in 1853, "a fate as terrible as the imagination can conceive."

None of the existing stone monuments contain any clues to their origin. Some weathered mahogany once fastened with modern stainless screws and some soggy, illegible scraps of parchment are all that remain of previous visits. But it was here that the famous official Admiralty document was found in 1859 bearing definitive news of the fate of Franklin.

The document's first entry was on 24 May 1847 signifying 'all well', but further messages scribbled in the margins told a much gloomier tale, including the death of Franklin himself just two weeks later.

It read in part:

April 25th, 1848. Ships Erebus and Terror abandoned ... Total loss by death to date, 9 officers and 15 men ... Start tomorrow for Back's Fish River.

Despite a forensic examination of the puzzling remains by the search party, the mystery of the Franklin Expedition's demise remains unsolved. But as far as the Admiralty was concerned, the expedition was lost and 'case closed'.

Image: Expedition staff from Ioffe examine one of the mystery cairns erected at Victory Point.

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