II. The Franklin Search

By the nineteenth century, it seemed increasingly unlikely that the Northwest Passage — if found — would offer a viable sea route to Asia. Earlier voyages into the Arctic by James Cook and others had all but confirmed that the passage, if it existed, would be far too perilous for commercial ships. Why pursue it? Because explorers now had different motives. In the 1800s, nations understood that the greatest benefits of exploration were symbolic, that they accrued to national reputation rather than commerce or territory, and that however effervescent its objects, expeditions for glory were valuable enough to stake money and lives in their prosecution. The Franklin Expedition represented the culmination of this symbolic effort to discover the Northwest Passage. [2-1] A veteran of three Arctic campaigns, Sir John Franklin was well-suited to the difficult tasks that he knew lay ahead. In 1845 he left Britain with two ships, Erebus and Terror, and 128 men. He would never be heard from again. The party‚Äôs disappearance was a blow to the British Admiralty and its efforts to discover the Northwest Passage. Yet finding Franklin became the new object of Arctic exploration, a project that piqued popular interest in Great Britain and the United States, and launched dozens of rescue expeditions on both sides of the Atlantic. [2-3] [2-2]