Monday, November 27, 2017

Death in the Ice at the NMM

Death in the Ice is an exhibition currently on at the National Maritime Museum (NMM) about Franklin's lost expedition to find the North-West Passage.

The expedition set sail in 1845 with two ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror and 129 men: all were lost.

At first they just vanished, last seen by some whalers sailing west, and then nothing was heard for years and years. Expeditions were sent to rescue them, then when hope was lost, to discover the truth about their fate. In the last few years the ships themselves have been found, sunk in icy waters.

This brilliant exhibition considers this tragedy from many angles. It starts with a description of the land and its people, the Inuit. It is remarkable how much of the story of the Franklin expedition was recorded in their oral history, and shaming how little it was believed by Victorian Britain.

One artifact on display was this Inuit model of a European ship, the wood it was made from no doubt drifted from outside those treeless wastes:

Note this photo, like all images on this post, comes from the NMM web site as it was one of those "no photography allowed" exhibitions.

There was also a copy of the wood map of the coastline around Tasiilaq, as posted previously. This one had a copy of the copy which you could feel.

After the scene has been set there is a description of the British view, from Frankenstein to the art work showing explorer's ships battling mountains of ice:

There was amazing video that showed the various expeditions and how they gradually revealed what has been called the Arctic Labyrinth:

There was then a description of life on-board the boats, with lots of artefacts, the rescue missions and Franklin's wife Jane's exertions to find them.

Alas what they discovered was too much for Victorian Britain, and the tales of cannibalism considered so horrible that none other than Charles Dickens slandered the explorer who repeated what the Inuit had told him.

Finally there was the discovery of the wrecks by the Canadians and some videos of dives plus the bell from the Erebus.

It was very moving to think of the possessions of the men, such as the shoe in the photo at the top, found in the wreck, kept unchanged by the icy waters.

Also, amazingly, many of the officers had had their photographs taken which were on display, so there was the feeling that they were not just names but real people.

It must have been a terrible end, stuck in the ice, tragically close to the break-though and achieving their goal of discovering the North-West passage.

Definitely worth a visit: on in Greenwich until 7th January 2018.

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