By Russell A. Potter
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Additional resources for Finding Franklin: The Untold Story of a 165-Year Search
While all around him his starving comrades chatter on, unaware (as was Richardson in Franklin’s own account of their privations) of the “sepulchral” tone of their own voices: Lieutenant Crayford. You are the only cheerful man of the ship’s company. Look here. Are these bones pounded small enough? John Want (Taking the pestle and mortar). You’ll excuse me, sir, but how very hollow your voice sounds this morning. Lieutenant Crayford. Keep your remarks about my voice to yourself, and answer my question about the bones.
Just two examples will suffice. First, as William Battersby has noted, the note is entirely in the handwriting of James Fitzjames; this is unusual, since Franklin would ordinarily have written – or at least signed – such notes himself; a note tossed overboard earlier in the expedition was signed by him. We may infer from this that, for some reason, Franklin must have been unable to sign the note himself; that he died only a few weeks later suggests that illness may have been the cause. Second, the years of the expedition’s wintering at Beechey Island are given as 1846–47, which is certainly in error; from the headboards of the graves at Beechey we know it was the winter of 1845– 46.
And what, then, does the finding of Franklin’s ship, hms Erebus, mean? What if we find the Terror as well? And what if, against all odds, someone were to locate Franklin’s tomb, or unearth a hitherto-unknown cache of records documenting what happened after the ships were left behind? Even then, there would doubtless be plenty of unanswered questions, but that’s not the real reason we would still care. No, nor just the strange, vaguely guilty knowledge that these men, for whom so many searched for so long, in the end died desperately, unaware of the effort expended to reach and relieve them.