It was standing room only in the upstairs function room of the Stromness Hotel on Friday 5th May for the first in a series of free events as part of the John Rae Society Festival. Over 100 people were crowded into the room to hear a talk from Dr Russell A. Potter author of ‘Finding Franklin”.
Dr John Rae came to the attention of Victorian society when he found possessions from the ill fated expedition of Lord Franklin. HMS Erebus and HMS Terror failed to return from a voyage in 1845 in search of a North West Passage that would shorten the sailing time for vessels wishing to cross from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. One of the most expensive and extensive searches took place hunting for any news of Lord Franklin and the two crews amounting to 134 men.
Dr Potter’s fascinating illustrated talk told of the artefacts found by John Rae as he encountered the native people of the region. These included:
- a wooden fragment around which was wound a small piece of red string used by the Royal Navy
- a strip of golden cloth worn across the chest of one of the Inuit men
- a compass
- silver cutlery with initials and crests carved into them
John Rae made detailed drawings of all that he found and in time many of the utensils were returned to the families of the ill fated crew.
In 1992, explained Dr Potter, archaeologists found over 3oo human bones on King William Island. From cuts on the bones it looked as if Rae’s suggestion of cannibalism amongst survivors was correct. The contents of kettles also backed up this claim with human bones which showed signs of ‘pot polish’.
Future work was done on computer reconstruction of a skull and tentative links were made to a photograph taken of one of the men. Many of the sailors were photographed before they departed on the voyage.
Teeth are now also being analysed from the remains of skulls found. Using isotope analysis the place where individuals grew up can be very accurately identified. Links can also be made to find any surviving family members.
Dr Potter is an engaging relaxed speaker who does not fail to fascinate his audience with his extensive knowledge of the Franklin Expedition.
All the events are free so if you get the chance try and make it along to one of them. you won’t be disappointed.
Reporter: Fiona Grahame
Related story: Dr John Rae Arctic Explorer