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Beechey Island: Dying in a Desolated Land

The Northwest Passage Day 8

“If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water. Its substances reaches everywhere. It touches the past and prepares the future.” Loren Eisley

Today was another very windy day. We sailed past Prince Leopold Island, a migratory bird sanctuary whose vertical cliffs are ideal for nesting. After slowing to view the birds from the top deck, we moved on to Beechey Island. We landed there by Zodiac.

The harbor of Beechey Island is where Sir John Franklin stayed during the first winter of his expedition with the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. The ships would have been beset by ice and the crew would have to endure darkness and bitter cold. Three of Franklin’s men are buried on the island—John Torrington, William Braine, and John Hartnell.  A fourth body, that of Thomas Morgan, is also buried on Beechey. In 1854, he was on a vessel that was searching for Franklin.

In the 1980’s the bodies were autopsied to find the probable cause of death—lung disease and lead poisoning. The lead could have come from the solder used in the cans of provisions, but there is also a theory that the water distiller was leeching lead.

After Franklin’s expedition went missing. the people searching for Franklin built and supplied a house just in case the expedition were alive. The remains of Northumberland house are still on the island. Unfortunately, Franklin never found it.

When I walked around the island, it was difficult to imagine spending a winter here. The place consists of tiny pebbles. Although the sea is rich with life, nothing much grows on the land. What does grow is  very tiny.

Today, Derek was one of our polar bear monitors. The monitors ensure that we can walk around without running into a bear. They scout each landing spot before we arrive and then mainatin a perimeter within which we can walk.

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