Frozen voices from the past: Captain Horatio Austin’s Log of the HMS Resolute and the first traces of the lost Arctic expedition of Sir John Franklin
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Monstrous icebergs, eerily tolling ships’ bells, fogs so dense that sky and sea solidify into a single ghostly whiteness, and uninhabited boats snap-frozen in time. Such are the haunting images described in accounts of the early exploration expeditions in the Arctic.
Imagine three Icebergs, as big as St Pauls tilting at each other, and we in our poor vessels!’ wrote ship’s master George McDougall in October 1850.[i]
One of these stories – that of the lost 1845 expedition of Sir John Franklin to find the elusive Northwest Passage – has persisted in the public imagination for almost 170 years, casting its icy spectre over many books, poetry, songs, documentaries and feature films. Infused with heightened elements – vast frigid oceans, a devoted wife who would not give up the search for her husband, and a solitary and remote landscape – the mystery gripped a Victorian reading public who avidly awaited newspaper articles and naval reports on the fate of the voyage. The alien world of the Arctic provided a vivid background for successive instalments of the story, and depictions of the unfamiliar environment were brought to life using the new technologies of moving panoramas and magic lantern shows: Continue reading “Frozen voices from the past: Captain Horatio Austin’s Log of the HMS Resolute and the first traces of the lost Arctic expedition of Sir John Franklin”