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The frozen bodies of sailors who died after getting stuck in Arctic ice 170 years ago

The Doomed Franklin Expedition

A great piece of historical fiction based on the Franklin Expedition. First in a novel and later in TV series.

Thousands of miles from civilization, on the frozen Canadian arctic island of Beechley, lies a tiny European graveyard: The last remains of Sir John Franklin’s failed expedition of the arctic. Three of Franklin’s sailors—John Torrington, John Hartnell, and William Braine—were early casualties in a sad opera of starvation and death. They were buried by their comrades in 1846, all of whom would eventually succumb to the very same elements in a death walk of cannibalism and madness.

Scientists have taken the DNA from the skeletal remains of several sailors who died after getting stuck in Arctic ice on a doomed 1845 expedition. This image shows the mummified remains of one of the expedition’s doomed crew members

138 years later, anthropologist Owen Beattie led an expedition to exhume these bodies to ascertain the true cause of the expedition’s failure. Upon opening the graves, the scientists were simply baffled by what they found: three perfectly preserved bodies who stared back at time, literally.

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If it weren’t for the fact that his body was preserved by freezing temperatures, John Torrington would have simply disappeared to history. He was merely a stoker aboard the HMS Terror, one of Sir John Franklin’s two ill-fated ships.

Like Rosalita Lombardo, John Torrington became famous in death rather than in life. In fact, virtually nothing is known about John as a man: Who he was, where he lived, or how he ended up on the Franklin Expedition. Any records of him disappeared in the Canadian Arctic when the voyage failed.

The face of John Torrington after 130 years frozen in the permafrost of Canada.

His official autopsy reports him to have been clean-shaven and with a mane of long brown hair which had since separated from his scalp. No signs of trauma, wounds or scars appeared on his body, and a marked autolysis of the brain suggested that his body was kept warm immediately after death, likely by the men who would outlive him just long enough to ensure a proper burial.

 

John Hartnell 1820-1846

William Braine (ca. 1813-1846)

Rumors that the crew resorted to cannibalism have swirled around the doomed expedition since the 19th century. A note left in a canister on King William Island in the central Canadian Arctic indicates that their ships got stranded in ice. Now, new evidence suggests that Franklin’s crew not only consumed the flesh of deceased compatriots, they also cracked bones to eat the marrow inside, Tia Ghose reports for Live Science.

These are the utensils used for cannibalism. These are all Items recovered during first return expedition (search to find live or dead bodies of the men). They were actually first found by inuits and given to the would-be rescue party.

Cut marks on bone (from removing fleshy parts)

The graves on Beechley Island of William Braine, John Hartnell and John Torrington.

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