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article imageDiscovery of shipwreck in Canadian Arctic solves 169 year mystery

By Karen Graham     Sep 10, 2014 in Science
One of Canada's most enduring mysteries may have been solved with the discovery of a near intact shipwreck near Nunavut's King William Island. The wreck is believed to be one of the two Franklin Expedition ships lost in 1846 after being stuck in the ice.
Since 2008, Parks Canada has mounted six major searches in the Canadian Arctic, looking for any remains of the ill-fated Franklin Expedition. After almost 170 years, Parks Canada announced on September 7, that with the help of a remotely-operated underwater vehicle, one of the two ships lost in 1846 had possibly been found.
On Tuesday, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper proudly made the announcement from Park Canada's laboratory in Ottawa. “I am delighted to announce that this year’s Victoria Strait Expedition has solved one of Canada’s greatest mysteries, with the discovery of one of the two ships belonging to the Franklin Expedition lost in 1846," he said, adding that This was a "truly historic moment" for Canada.
 Erebus  and the  Terror  in New Zealand  August  1841. Oil on Canvas painted by John Wilson Carmich...
'Erebus' and the 'Terror' in New Zealand, August, 1841. Oil on Canvas painted by John Wilson Carmichael
John Wilson Carmichael
The site of the shipwreck, near Nunavut's King William Island, in the Victoria Strait, is close to where Inuits questioned about the expedition in 1852 say the ships were last seen. The site marks the final resting place for the third and final 1845 Franklin Expedition to find a Northwest Passage connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
Indisputably one of two of the Franklin ships
Ryan Harris, an underwater archaeologist and leader of this latest search for the lost expedition says the find is "indisputably" one of the two Franklin ships, either the HMS Erebus or the HMS Terror. Also in the news is the finding of artifacts on an island in Nunavut. According to the CBC, the government of Nunavut announced on Monday that archaeologists had found an iron fitting from a Royal Navy ship, "identified as part of a boat-launching davit, and bearing two broad arrows," on an island near the Queen Maud Gulf in the southern search area.
The wreck of one of the ships of Franklin s lost expedition was discovered just west of O Reilly Isl...
The wreck of one of the ships of Franklin's lost expedition was discovered just west of O'Reilly Island in September 2014. A star marks the location of the island.
Steven Chase (9 September 2014).
Also found was a wooden object "possibly a plug for a deck hawse, the iron pipe through which the ship’s chain cable would descend into the chain locker below. The iron fitting was lying on the shore, adjacent to a rock, a large rock, and the wooden artifact was a bit farther away, a bit farther from the shoreline," archaeologist Doug Stenton told CBC News.
Peter Mansbridge is Chief Correspondent for CBC News, and has been following the the search for the Franklin Expedition for a number of years. He commended the accuracy of Inuit reports, saying, "The Inuit have said for generations that one of their hunters saw a ship in that part of the passage, abandoned and ended up wrecking…. It's exactly where this guy said it was."
The Fate of the Last Franklin Expedition
The 1845 Arctic expedition was led by Sir John Franklin, an experienced explorer in his own right. The ill-fated 1845 expedition was his fourth attempt at finding a Northwest Passage for England, having served on three previous expeditions. This final trip would be to navigate the last unexplored section of the Northwest Passage.
After encountering a few difficulties and losing several members of his crew, the two ships became icebound in the Victoria Strait near King William Island. Franklin and his remaining 128 crew members were lost. Prompted by Franklin's wife, the Admiralty launched several expeditions to find Franklin's ships. In 1850, several ships converged on the east coast of Beechey Island, and a few relics of the expedition were found, including the graves of three crewmen.
Satellite image showing Northwest Passage.
Satellite image showing Northwest Passage.
NASA Images
Canada's claim of sovereignty to Northwest Passage
Since 2008, the Canadian government has been committed to finding the remains of the Franklin Expedition. The search was not only to find a historically significant part of Canada's and the world's maritime past, but to reaffirm Canada's claim of sovereignty to the commercially valuable Northwest Passage. Since climate change has melted the Arctic ice, the resulting open waters have cleared the way for a shipping lane, covering over 900 miles, from Greenland to the Bering Sea. Canada is so confident of their claim, the government renamed it the "Canadian Northwest Passage."
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