From 14 July, the National Maritime Museum (NMM) will host a major exhibition, developed by the Canadian Museum of History (CMH) in partnership with the Museum, exploring the mysterious fate of Sir John Franklin and his crew on their final expedition – a mystery that still remains unsolved today.

Europeans last saw Sir John Franklin and his 128-man crew in Baffin Bay in July 1845, as HMS Erebus and Terror sailed toward the North-West Passage in the midst of the biggest expedition that Britain had ever sent to the Arctic region. It was a moment when Britain’s discovery of the North-West Passage seemed certain. But two years later in 1847, nothing more had been heard from the men and the Admiralty launched the first of a series of expeditions in an attempt to find them. Over the course of the next thirty years, news filtered back to Britain that spoke of what had happened: the deaths of the entire crew through a combination of scurvy and starvation, and speculation of cannibalism and potential madness. Only one piece of paper was found that revealed anything about what happened, and Erebus, Terror, Franklin and most of his crew (three bodies were found buried on Beechey Island) were still nowhere to be found.

That was until 2014, when the wreck of HMS Erebus was discovered by Parks Canada, followed by the discovery of HMS Terror in 2016, marking two of the most important archaeological finds in recent history. As Parks Canada’s Underwater Archaeology Team begin to bring to light the ships and their contents, Death in the Ice will see some of these objects, including personal items, clothing and components of the ship, displayed in Britain for the first time in over 170 years. Finds from Erebus will be on display for the very first time since their recovery. In conjunction with new forensic research, the NMM’s own superlative collections, and those of the Canadian Museum of History, the exhibition promises to advance our understanding of the expedition, to reveal the Victorian fascination with the Arctic, and to begin to answer questions about what exactly happened to those men on their fateful journey to the Arctic all those years ago.

The exhibition will also foreground the significant role of Inuit in learning the fate of the Franklin expedition, including Inuit oral histories relating to the European exploration of the Arctic Archipelago. There are also numerous Inuit artefacts including some incorporating materials of European origin, which were traded from explorers or retrieved from abandoned ships.

Death in the Ice: The Shocking Story of Franklin’s Final Expedition is developed by the Canadian Museum of History, in partnership with Parks Canada and with the National Maritime Museum, and in collaboration with the Government of Nunavut and the Inuit Heritage Trust.

Exhibition information for visitors:

Venue: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

Dates: 14 July 2017–7 January 2017

Opening times: every day, 10.00 – 17.00

Visitor enquiries: 020 8858 4422

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Notes to Editors:

1. The National Maritime Museum holds the world’s largest maritime collection, housed in historic buildings forming part of the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site. The National Maritime Museum is part of Royal Museums Greenwich which also incorporates the Royal Observatory Greenwich, the 17th-century Queen’s House and Cutty Sark. Royal Museums Greenwich works to illustrate for everyone the importance of the sea, ships, time and the stars and their relationship with people. This unique collection of museums and heritage buildings, which form a key part of the Maritime Greenwich UNESCO World Heritage Site, welcomes over two and a half million British and international visitors a year and is also a major centre of education and research.

2. Located on the shores of the Ottawa River in Gatineau, Quebec, the Canadian Museum of History welcomes over 1.2 million visitors each year. The Museum’s principal role is to enhance Canadians’ knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the events, experiences, people and objects that have shaped Canada’s history and identity, as well as to enhance Canadians’ awareness of world history and culture.

3. Parks Canada manages one of the finest and most extensive systems of protected natural and cultural areas in the world including 46 national parks, 4 national marine conservation areas, 171 national historic sites and 1 national urban park. Parks Canada works to ensure that Canada’s historic and natural heritage is presented and protected for the enjoyment, education and appreciation of Canadians and visitors from around the world today and in the future. 

For further information, please contact: Media Relations, Parks Canada Agency

Tel: 855-862-1812 or Email: pc.media@pc.gc.ca

4. Established in 1999 and encompassing nearly two million square kilometres, Nunavut is Canada’s largest territory and the newest member of Canadian confederation. Nunavut (“Our Land”) has a rich and complex human history spanning nearly 5,000 years, and highlighted by the remarkable ability of Inuit and their predecessors to adapt and to thrive in one of the world’s harshest and most challenging environments.

Further information and images

For further information or images, please contact:

Rhianon Davies, Royal Museums Greenwich Press Office

Tel: 020 8312 6545 | 07983 542 841 or Email: rdavies@rmg.co.uk