A partially-exposed human cranium (upper left) and mandible (centre) found in a Franklin expedition grave in Two Grave Bay on King William Island, Nunavut, is shown in a handout photo. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Douglas Stenton-Government of Nunavut)

Canadian researcher pinpoints burial site of officer from Franklin Expedition

The discovery added fresh information to the quest for details on the ill-fated search for the Northwest Passage

An Ontario researcher has used modern technology to clearly identify the final resting place of an officer from the Franklin Expedition, adding fresh information to the ongoing quest for details on the ill-fated search for the Northwest Passage.

Douglas Stenton, a faculty member at the University of Waterloo, also unearthed a collection of artifacts believed to belong to senior members of the expedition’s crew after using a combination of past and present-day maps as well as metal detectors for his work in Nunavut.

His findings build upon and validate the efforts of 19th-century archaeologists who visited the same strip of land on the west coast of King William Island in 1879 and named the area Two Grave Bay after reporting a pair of burial sites there.

Stenton, the former heritage director for the territory of Nunavut, said discrepancies between today’s maps and those produced on that expedition had made it difficult for modern explorers to reproduce those earlier findings.

“I wanted to go and take another look at this location to see if we could locate one or both of these graves,” he said in a telephone interview. “We were successful in doing that.”

The mysteries surrounding Sir John Franklin’s quest for the Northwest Passage have captivated many for decades. Researchers began looking into the circumstances of the doomed mission shortly after it became evident that something went awry.

Franklin left England in 1845 with 129 men aboard two vessels to search for a northern sea route between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. No one returned, and search missions determined that both the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror became ice-bound and were abandoned.

Questions about the fates of both captain and crew prompted various follow-up expeditions bent on discovering what happened, including an 1878 voyage by sledge led by American researcher Frederick Schwatka.

In 1879, Schwatka reported finding the burial sites that gave Two Grave Bay its name. His records detailed skeletal human remains, pieces of navy blue cloth, and buttons presumably belonging to members of Franklin’s crew, Stenton said.

Stenton, who has long been involved in efforts to unearth information about the Franklin expedition, felt Schwatka’s records offered a good starting point for new exploration.

“I looked at the historical map, I looked at the contemporary map, and I thought, ‘well, this is one that we could probably narrow down the general area,’” he said. “Based on that, I made it a search priority.”

In late August, Stenton and two members of the Canadian Coast Guard began combing the area around Two Grave Bay.

They zeroed in on a cluster of rocks that appeared to have been deliberately arranged and used metal detectors to search for the gilt buttons Schwatka documented nearly 140 years ago.

Stenton said they soon found one, which led to other discoveries.

All told, Stenton and his team recovered three metal buckles, 10 gilt buttons and remnants of an 11th made of mother of pearl. Stenton said such accoutrements were likely only worn by officers or senior-ranking members of Franklin’s crew.

Stenton said his team then found human bones some distance away, including an intact skull and jawbone, as well as a partial calf bone.

He said his research partner hopes to conduct DNA tests on those remains. Researchers, he said, have already extracted genetic profiles for 24 of the expedition’s crew members and are actively trying to connect them with present-day descendents to identify specific sets of remains.

READ MORE: Canada sees info ‘gaps’ about dangerous goods moving through North

Stenton’s discovery is the latest in a recent series of significant finds related to the expedition.

In September 2014, Inuit guides helped Parks Canada archeologists find the HMS Erebus in relatively shallow water off the coast of King William Island. The HMS Terror was found two years later about 100 kilometres away, capping off more than a century of efforts to locate the vessels.

Although international law gave ownership of the ships to the United Kingdom, the U.K. agreed more than 20 years ago that Canada would eventually get possession of the vessels if they were ever found. The ownership transfer was completed in April, and Canada jointly holds title to the ships and their remaining contents with the Inuit Heritage Trust.

Stenton said the latest contribution to the Franklin story highlights the need for more archaeological research, saying every new find has potential to help discover exactly what occurred on the expedition.

“In and of themselves, any particular site is not going to change the story or change the narrative,” he said. “But they do fill information gaps for us, and they do provide opportunities for us to … apply new analytical techniques to maybe achieve a better understanding of events and what happened.”

Michelle McQuigge and Liam Casey, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

German-born British Columbian warns against a ‘yes’ vote on proportional representation

Agassiz realtor Freddy Marks says PR in his home country shows party elites can never be voted out

Highest earning staff at Fraser-Cascade School District made public

Also board looks into seat belts on school buses, Marv Cope gets road in his memory

Agassiz teacher’s Amazing Race takes students on Canada-wide adventure

AESS students say they had the experience of a life time

WATCH: Brother of missing Hope woman makes emotional appeal for more media attention

Next search for Shawnee Inyallie Nov. 18 along Highway 1 towards Boston Bar

Gas price drop expected to hit Fraser Valley today

Analyst says to take advantage, warns slight increase may follow

REPLAY: B.C’s best video this week

In case you missed it, here’s a look at the replay-worth highlights from this week across the province

Children between 6 and 9 eligible for $1,200 RESP grant from province

BC Ministry of Education is reminding residents to apply before the deadline

Victoria spent $30,000 to remove John A. Macdonald statue

Contentious decision sparked controversy, apology from mayor

Privacy concerns over credit card use for legal online pot purchases

Worries follow privacy breaches at some Canadian cannabis retailers

Vancouver Police look for man in connection to ‘sexually motivated’ assault

Woman says man followed her into an apartment building

NEB approves operating pressure increase to repaired Enbridge pipeline

The pipeline burst outside of Prince George on Oct. 9, now operating at 85 per cent

B.C. VIEWS: Setting speed limits in a post-fact political environment

Media prefer ‘speed kills’ narrative, even when it fails to appear

Controversy erupts over Japanese flag in B.C. classroom

Online petition demanding removal has collected more than 5,700 signatures

Most Read