How To Use This Site

This website is an archive of documents and explanatory texts to help you to access, interpret, and draw connections between the documents. Some of the documents were created at the time of the events they record, and others were prepared by historical actors after the fact. Other texts, such as journal and newspapers accounts were prepared in the historic period of the mystery, and still others were published long afterwards. Whether published at the time or long after the events in question, these accounts often tried to interpret historical evidence to get to the bottom of what really happened. That will be your job too.

A range of documents have been assembled so that you will encounter these documents in much the same way as would any historian who goes into the archives. These are the real documents. They have been typed, and sometimes edited for length, but we have attempted to make the information as close as possible to that which you might discover in the archives. Even the typographical errors and spelling mistakes have been kept as they appear in the original documents.

Where necessary we have added comments in [square brackets]. Where we could not read a word we indicated this by [illegible] and where we have guessed at a word we have added [?] after it. If we have excerpted a section from a larger document the gaps are indicated by [...].

You may ask why we are creating a website like this, when so much has been written on the last missing expedition of Sir John Franklin. One of the reasons is that few people interested in the Franklin Expedition have had the opportunity to encounter directly the documents that historians, have used to reconstruct the events of that tragic expedition. This web site will give you a first-hand experience of the raw materials that historians use to try to piece together historic events and understand them. With this web site, you will be able to do that as well by piecing together a story of what happened, why it happened, what the likely outcomes were, and whether or why these events were important. Like any researcher, you may find the documents reproduced here might contain clues, contradictions and even some misinformation.

The site is organized into thematic sections. Within each section the documents are organized by document type and also by date. Every historical document needs to be critically evaluated in order to establish its possible value as a historical source. You are encouraged to ask the questions: Is this a credible account? Is it factually accurate? Is the writer a fair or balanced observer? What factors might have influenced the authors to write to say what they are reported to have said? How does this observer's evidence compare to the evidence of other observers? If these accounts do not agree, why would you favour one version over another?


The Franklin mystery website is split into eight main sections. The titles of each section are found on the horizontal bar situated beneath the site's title. The sections are as follows: Home, Contexts, Franklin's Last Voyage, Searching and Researching, Ripples and Ice Jams, Interpretations, Archives, and News. Each of these titles is a clickable button and in selecting one or another of these buttons, you can navigate freely from one section of the website to another. The button indicating the section you are presently in will be in italics.

Three things will happen when you click on one of the headings at the top — the top bar will change to reflect the new section, the menu on the left-hand side of the page will change, and the content in the centre of the page will change as well. The left menu will now have a button labeled "Introduction" highlighted, as well as the other selections available in the section of the site. Clicking on one of the subheadings in the left menu will change the content in the center of your screen, and will present you with a list of sources to view. These sources will be listed according to the type of source. Once you click on the title for one of the text sources listed, the archive page for that source will be displayed. For images, if you click on the "Full Record" link, the archive page will be displayed. For a large version of the imageIf, click on the image. To get back to the list of sources, click on your browser's "Back" button.

Every document will have a link to "About This Source". This will tell you why the source was created, how to understand what it means and how to find out more about it. It may also help you determine how much credibility to give to the information in the source.


This site gives you access to a wide range of primary sources, mainly from published accounts by explorers, manuscript letters, government documents including Admiralty memoranda, and newspaper reports. The web site also offers an array of visual documents, including maps – both Inuit and Western – period wood engravings, paintings, and sketches made both in the historical era, and subsequently. To make your task easier, we have undertaken some research for you, the results of which appear in the essays that provide background in the various sections.

The information in the essays should be useful but you should devote most of your efforts to studying the original documents. You can access them in two ways. First, the sections Contexts, Franklin's Last Voyage, Searching and Researching, and Ripples and Ice Jams are arranged chronologically so that the associated documents relate to the different periods of the Franklin Mystery. Second, you can access the complete range of sources chosen for this site via the Archives section, which is organized according to the types of documents present. These include original letters between the protagonists, quoted testimony by Inuit witnesses encountering Franklin's party or evidence of its presence, internal Admiralty memoranda giving clues as to the players' motivations and objectives for the expedition, images of Franklin and members of his party, images of Netsilingmiut witnesses (Inuit of the east Central Arctic region), Inuit and Western maps showing sites of Franklin evidence and the routes of search parties, and many other types of sources.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the Franklin Mystery is that it remains a compelling mystery to this day, more than 160 years after the expedition's disappearance. A goal of this site is to encourage you not only to try to solve the Franklin Mystery, but also to ponder why it remains an enduring mystery. The section Ripples and Ice Jams has been included to help you draw out possible reasons for its enduring fascination and status as a significant event in Canadian history.

Finally, at the end of your journey you will have the opportunity to listen to taped interviews in the Interpretations section that were specially prepared for this project by six specialists on the Franklin Mystery and its historical significance. We invite you to compare your interpretation of the mystery with the conclusions reached by the specialists.

Get Sleuthing!

By now, you should have a sense of how to use and navigate this website. All that remains is for you to find clues about Franklin and his missing party, and the Inuit whose homeland the expedition was passing through, by reading the primary documents, as would a professional historian. There is no "correct' way to begin your journey. What you choose to read and the order you follow is up to you. In other words, decide for yourself what path you will follow to solve the mysteries surrounding the fateful last expedition of Sir John Franklin.


At the bottom of each document, you will find its bibliographical references, such as the name of the author(s) and publication, date, and the archive where the original is kept.

Sunken ship