Frozen In Time – the fate of the Franklin expedition

Reviewed By  Janet Mawdesley       February 12, 2015


Author  Owen Beattie, John Geiger, introduction by Margaret Atwood

ISBN:                 9781771640794
Publisher:         Greystone Books.
Release Date:    

Website:    www, 

In this incredibly gripping tale of discovery, the truth is finally unearthed on the fate of the fatal expedition led Sir John Franklin to the Arctic in 1845-46, in search of the Northwest Passage. All men perished and although several searches endeavoured to find any survivors or some evidence of what happened, very little was ever found.

The graves of three of Franklin’s men were found on Beechey Island, and some evidence of a larger camp site was close by, but other than that it remained largely a mystery, until Owen Beattie lead a scientific expedition of archaeologists from the University of Alberta to Booth Point on the south coast of King William Island to search for human remains.

 They hoped to trace the footprint of Franklin but little, other than a small white object was located, which turned out to be the remains of a human skull. On minute inspection of the area surrounding this find, they eventually came across a selection of smaller bones and bone fragments, a clay pipe stem and a shell button at the centre of what had once been a tent circle.

This then began one of the most intricate, fascinating and emotionally challenging archaeological search and find undertakings in recent times.

Over the next five years three more scientific expeditions lead by Beattie would travel to the Artic, three corpses, those of John Hartnell, William Braine and John Torrington, the first of Franklin’s men to die and perhaps the only ones to be buried in this manner, would be exhumed and encouraged to give up their secrets.

The studies undertaken of these three men finally provided the answers to a question which had remained unanswered for 138 years. What did happen to Sir John Franklin’s expedition?

‘Frozen in Time’ tells a tale of the days when to set out on an expedition to the Artic was favoured by British Admiralty, with many a daring explorer taking on the arid wasteland in the desire to discover a better and quicker route across the ice.

Each of these expeditions suffered debilitation and disease, death and tremendous hardship but it was not until Franklin’s second expedition disappeared and failed to be found, questions were raised as to what happened.

His expedition was exceptionally well equipped with the latest in scientific equipment, a strong and well equipped crew, enough canned soup, meat and vegetables to last at least three years, or used judiciously up to five years. They also had ample supplies of limes and lime juice to ward of the dreaded scurvy. They should never have met the fate they did, so what went wrong!

It also tells a tale of immense courage, some may say foolishness, cannibalism and scientific discovery, which revels truths hidden deep in the permafrost, allowing a glimpse into a world long gone, and of the men who took on the ultimate challenge, perishing in the attempt.

Fascinating, riveting and exceptionally difficult to put down, this is a mystery based in history 138 years old, which took as many years, several expeditions to the Artic by a range of teams, each discovering additional pointers and clues, and the advent of modern science to be able to solve.