Scientific Observation

While this web exhibit has focused the bulk of its attention on the narrative of Franklin’s journey and its geographic discoveries, the expedition’s ethnographic and scientific observations were just as spectacular if not more so than the mapping of the coast line.

Franklin and Back’s (during his search for supplies at Fort Chipewyan in the Winter of 1820-21) ethnographic observations are scattered throughout the narrative, and are particularly detailed during the long sojourns at Cumberland House in the Winter of 1819-1820 and Fort Enterprise during the Winter of 1820-21. Their overviews of the various tribes of the North are further complemented by details provided by Wenzel and other North West Company traders.

The expedition’s scientific discoveries are largely aggregated in the narrative’s extensive appendices. These include:

  1. Geognostical Observations
    (Richardson, pp. 497-538)
  2. Aurora Borealis at Cumberland House
    (Richardson, Hood, pp. 539-548)
  3. Observations on the Aurora at Fort Enterprise
    (Franklin, Hood, Richardson, pp. 549-630)
  4. Remarks on Table VII – Distances, Latitudes, Longitudes, Temperatures
    (Franklin, Back, Hood, pp. 631-646)
  5. Zoological Appendix
    (Sabine from Richardson’s notes and specimens, pp. 647-704)
  6. Notices of the Fishes
    (Richardson, pp. 705-728)
  7. Botanical Appendix
    (Richardson, pp. 729-777)

Each of these appendices stand as remarkable achievements reflecting an incredible eye for detail, especially as they were conducted under conditions of enormous privation. This fact, as well as the misrepresentation and mythology woven around Franklin’s final voyage, led Andrew Lambert, a Professor of Naval History at King’s College, London, to attempt to rescue Franklin’s scientific acumen and accomplishments from the dustbin of history. In his 2009 tome, Franklin: Tragic Hero of Polar Expedition, Lambert took on both the Northwest Passage hagiography and the later revisionist historians, both of whom had ignored that actual fundamentally scientific mission of Franklin’s expeditions.

In forthcoming blog posts, this web exhibit will follow suit.