The First Franklin Overland Expedition

In 1819, Royal Navy veteran John Franklin journeyed across the Atlantic and Canada to the shores of the polar sea for the first of his two overland expeditions. Along the way, his party encountered hardship, tragedy, calamity, misfortune, and even incidents worthy of a gothic horror. Only half of the men who traveled with Franklin along the Arctic Coast survived the return journey, perhaps a chilling harbinger of his infamous voyage twenty five years later. However, with the help of his surviving colleagues, the scientific observations of his surgeon-naturalist John Richardson, and the sketches of his two lieutenants, George Back and Robert Hood, he was able to salvage a remarkably detailed record of geographic and scientific exploration.

The voyage as memorialized by Player’s in their 1910 Polar Exploration Series.

The Commemorative Project

Given the significance of the 200th anniversary of the expedition, this web exhibit will host, aggregate, and discuss all related projects and topics, including several original efforts from my side.

To keep things manageable, this exhibit will studiously avoid the preponderance of Franklin materials that cover Franklin’s final fateful voyage in 1845. That tragic tale has been a siren song for too many would be explorers, and is given ample coverage elsewhere.

For the people of the North, the impact of the expedition continues to be felt. Akaitcho, the Yellowknife saviour of Franklin’s party, became one of the most important personages in the history of the Northwest Territories. Meanwhile, his encounter with Franklin presaged even more profound changes to the demography and way of life of the Indigenous people of the Northwest Territories.

And for good or ill, Franklin’s place names along the Yellowknife and Coppermine rivers to the Arctic Coast endure. While some innocuously echo local appellations in English, others stubbornly cling to large landmasses and features as a stark reminder of the colonial past.

This commemorative project will attempt to bring all these facets to light.