NOT HERE: THE WHITE NORTH HAS THY BONES; AND THOU, HEROIC SAILOR-SOUL, ART PASSING ON THINE HAPPIER VOYAGE NOW TOWARD NO EARTHLY POLE… Tennyson


He was the sixth choice of the Second Secretary of the Admiralty who was on the brink of retirement after forty-one years on the job. He was given a naval crew for what was an exploration expedition. Although his ships were admirably fitted out for their intended service the stores were another matter entirely coming from cut-rate ship chandler who was awarded the contract only seven weeks before sailing and who worked so hurriedly on the order of 8,000 tins of food that they were later found to have lead soldering that was “thick and sloppily done, and dripped like melted candle wax down the inside surface“. The wonder is not that he got stuck in pack ice seventy miles south of his goal and perished with his crew but rather that they got as far as they did. Lambert’s is an excellent telling of the tale that can be appreciated by both the mariner and the historian.

The gates of hell : Sir John Franklin’s tragic quest for the North West Passage  Andrew Lambert  New Haven : Yale University Press, 2009  Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. xii, 428 p., [8] p. of plates : ill., maps ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 395-405) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG 

Andrew Lambert, a leading authority on naval history, re-examines the life of Sir John Franklin and his final, doomed Arctic voyage. Franklin was a man of his time, fascinated, even obsessed with, the need to explore the world; he had already mapped nearly two-thirds of the northern coastline of North America when he undertook his third Arctic voyage in 1845, at the age of fifty-nine.

His two ships were fitted with the latest equipment; steam engines enabled them to navigate the pack ice, and he and his crew had a three-year supply of preserved and tinned food and more than one thousand books. Despite these preparations, the voyage ended in catastrophe: the ships became imprisoned in the ice, and the men were wracked by disease and ultimately wiped out by hypothermia, scurvy, and cannibalism.

Franklin’s mission was to find the elusive North West Passage, a viable sea route between Europe and Asia reputed to lie north of the American continent. Lambert shows for the first time that there were other scientific goals for the voyage and that the disaster can only be understood by reconsidering the original objectives of the mission. Franklin, commonly dismissed as a bumbling fool, emerges as a more important and impressive figure, in fact, a hero of navigational science.

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