Sir John Franklin was a famous British explorer who journeyed to the Arctic in search of the North-West Passage, dying on his last attempt in 1847.

Sir John Franklin (1786–1847) was an officer in the Royal Navy and an Arctic explorer. He was born in Spilsby, Lincolnshire, and joined the navy at the age of 15. Although he took part in the Battle of Trafalgar, in 1805, he is best remembered for his surveys of the Arctic. He made maps of over 3000 miles of the coastline of north Canada. He died in 1847, on his last Arctic expedition to find the North-West Passage, the sea route linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Harrowing expedition experiences

Altogether, Franklin made four journeys in total to the Arctic, three of them in search of the North-West Passage. On his second journey (1819–22) the party ran out of food and had a harrowing experience of survival. When Franklin returned to England, the public were thrilled by the stories of the terrible journey and he became a national hero. His next expedition was a great success. He not only mapped 1200 miles of coastline, but also collected information on geology and weather, as well as making notes on 663 plants.

What happened on Franklin's last fateful expedition?

In 1845, when he was 59 years old, Sir John Franklin offered to lead a final expedition to the Arctic to search for the North-West Passage. He had been retired from Arctic exploration for 20 years. HMS Erebus and HMS Terror set sail from Greenhithe in Kent on 19 May 1845. On 26 July, the captain of a whaling ship saw them off the coast of Baffin Island. This is the last time the men were ever seen again... alive.

Later search parties discovered that during the winter of 1846–47, Erebus and Terror had become trapped in thick ice and even when summer came they were unable to escape. In June 1847, Franklin died.

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Death in the ice - Franklin exhibition opens 14 July 2017

Franklin death in the ice season promo imaage

Discover the shocking story of Franklin’s final expedition at the National Maritime Museum’s major new exhibition exploring this unsolved mystery.

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Read more about the Death in the ice exhibition