Bone Analysis sheds new light on ill-fated arctic expedition

English Heritage 18.03.2011 – Original article here

New isotope analysis and forensic facial reconstruction undertaken by a team led by English Heritage has shed new light on the doomed 1845 British voyage of Arctic exploration led by Sir John Franklin, in which all 129 people on board perished.

Analysis of the only surviving complete skeleton has offered new clues as to why the expedition was lost, a mystery that has sparked debate ever since. Some have suggested that scurvy or tuberculosis may have been causes of debilitation and death on the expedition, but no evidence of these diseases was found on the bones, and DNA tests proved negative for tuberculosis. Work is still ongoing on samples from the remains to analyse for lead to see if lead poisoning from the expedition’s canned food or from their water supply was a factor.

The study has also revealed that the identity of the skeleton is unlikely to be Henry LeVesconte, a Lieutenant aboard one of the ships, a conclusion that has been widely accepted since the skeleton was first examined in 1872 by Thomas Henry Huxley, one of the foremost biologists of the age.

Daguerreotype of Goodsir (left, copyright: National Maritime Museum) and the facial reconstruction

The remains thought to be Le Vesconte’s, and those of one other sailor, were the only ones ever to be returned to Britain. The lieutenant’s bones were buried beneath the Franklin Expedition monument at the old Royal Naval College in Greenwich. Renovations in 2009 of the memorial meant that the remains had to be exhumed and temporarily moved. This gave an opportunity for English Heritage to study the remains and to evaluate the twin questions of the identity of this particular skeleton and the reasons for loss of the expedition.

Henry LeVesconte grew up in Devon. However, analysis of stable isotopes from the teeth of the skeleton shows that it is unlikely that this individual grew up there, but more likely that he spent his childhood in NE England or eastern Scotland.

Moreover, 14 of the 24 officers on the expedition had their portraits taken by the newly devised Daguerreotype photographic process prior to embarkation.  A forensic facial reconstruction was undertaken using the skull of the skeleton, and it seemed to match quite closely the appearance of Harry Goodsir, an assistant surgeon and naturalist on the voyage.

Dr Simon Mays, skeletal biologist at English Heritage, said: ‘ The study of human remains and in turn our understanding of the past has benefited immensely from the advance of science and technology. The disappearance of Franklin’s heroic crew became a cause celebre in Victorian England, and the reasons for its loss continue to be debated. Our study offers some important clues to take the debate further.

‘The identity of the skeleton is difficult to ascertain but the new evidence seems to show that it is unlikely to have been Henry LeVesconte. The facial resemblance to Harry Goodsir is striking, and the isotope evidence is consistent with it being him, but the identification is not 100% certain because some officers on the voyage were not photographed.  However, tissue samples from the remains were retained so attempts at a DNA match with a living direct descendant of Goodsir can be made should anyone come forward.’

In May 1845, an expedition of two ships, commanded by Sir John Franklin and sponsored by the Royal Navy, set out from England to try and discover the Northwest Passage trade route to Asia. The expedition’s disappearance caused a sensation in Britain, prompting huge rescue efforts that helped map much of the vast and remote polar archipelago of the Canadian Arctic.

The study was undertaken at the request of the Greenwich Foundation for the Old Royal Naval College and with the consent of a LeVesconte relative at English Heritage’s laboratories in Portsmouth and at the Universities of Bradford and Surrey between 2009 and 2011. The remains have been reburied under the memorial.

Mystery Arctic box unearthed, may contain Franklin’s log, but more likely Amundsens magnetic observations

Wally Porter (left) shows the cairn where his grandfather buried what may be the logbooks from the ill-fated Franklin expedition to writer Ken McGoogan. Photograph by: Sheena Fraser McGoogan, Postmedia News

Vancouver Sun via Circumpolar Musings:
By Ken McGoogan, Postmedia News September 5, 2010

An old wooden box excavated from beneath an Arctic cairn is being flown unopened Monday to Ottawa from the Nunavut hamlet of Gjoa Haven.

The Nunavut-government launched the excavation after an Inuit family relayed oral history suggesting that the cairn contained records from the ill-fated 1845 expedition led by Sir John Franklin in search of the Northwest Passage.

But Canadian historian Kenn Harper, who has spent months researching the cairn, says the box will prove to contain records left in 1905 by explorer Roald Amundsen during the first-ever navigation of the Passage.

The box, which measures 14.5 x 11 x 6.5 inches, will be opened and its contents preserved at the Canadian Conservation Institute.

Harper, author of the best-selling Inuit biography Give Me My Fathers Body, and also Honorary Danish Consul in Nunavut, says the box contains papers that Amundsen buried after spending almost two years in Gjoa Haven tracking the movements of the North Magnetic Pole.

He began investigating the cairn after learning of the claim by descendants of George Washington Porter II, a Hudson’s Bay Company manager based in that hamlet on King William Island.

Harper says that Eric Mitchell of the HBC, the senior man in the territory, dug up the Amundsen records in 1958, with the help of Porter II. The two men found documents that had first been discovered in 1927 by William Paddy Gibson, an HBC inspector who reburied them.

Gibson wrote in The Beaver magazine of finding the records, which included a signed photograph of Georg V. Neumayer, a German scientist who had sparked Amundsens interest in the North Magnetic Pole.

Harper predicted that the Saturday excavation would turn up an old HBC ammunition box. Andrew Porter, who runs a tourism business in Gjoa Haven, says that just such a box was found three feet beneath the cairn.

Harper says the unopened box contains a metal canister in a bed of tallow. Inside the canister, conservators will find the Amundsen documents in an envelope sewn into an oilskin packet and wrapped in pages from a 1950s Nautical Almanac and an Edmonton newspaper.

Harper, who has lived in the Arctic for over 30 years, doubts that any Franklin documents will be found. He believes that oral history has confused Franklin and Amundsen.

Original article here

Northwest Passage rules slammed by shippers

Since July 1, marine vessels have had to register with the Canadian Coast Guard before, during and after they travel in the Canadian government's designated NORDREG zone. (Transport Canada) Read more:

The world’s largest group of shipping companies has told the Canadian government its new moves to assert control of the Northwest Passage might violate international law.

The Baltic and International Maritime Council, whose members control two-thirds of global shipping tonnage, has objected to rules that force commercial ships to register with the Canadian Coast Guard if they sail into the Passage.

The council says that rule could conflict with the right of innocent passage for shippers.

The council also says Canada’s decision to extend environmental protection to waters 200 kilometres from the coast is “drastic” and not needed.

The U.S. has also expressed reservations about the new rules, which came into effect on July 1.

Few countries agree that the Passage is Canadian.

Original article here

Canada: Environment, sovereignty focus of new Arctic marine rules

By Randy Boswell, Canwest News Service June 22, 2010

Global warming and conflicting claims to the Arctic raise a raft of questions about sovereignty in Canada's North. Photograph by: Ed Struzik, The Journal, Edmonton Journal

The Canadian government has put the world on notice that ships entering the country’s Arctic waters will be subject to new mandatory vessel-tracking rules next week aimed at preventing terrorist activity and pollution while improving search-and-rescue capabilities in the Far North.

But the strict new measures — generally welcomed by opposition parties and specialists in northern geopolitics — have raised some concerns with the U.S. government, it was revealed at a news conference in Ottawa on Tuesday.

Polar experts had pressured the federal government for years to replace Canada’s voluntary NORDREG ship-registration system for northern maritime traffic, widely seen as inadequate in an era when melting ice and rising global interest in Arctic tourism, science and economic development are increasing ship traffic in the region.

The government announced in late February it was doing just that. And at Tuesday’s news conference, Fisheries Minister Gail Shea — whose department oversees Canadian Coast Guard operations — reiterated that the new rules coming into effect on Canada Day aim to both protect the northern environment and assert Canadian sovereignty.

“Our government and Prime Minister Harper have always asserted that a strong and sovereign Canada depended on a healthy, prosperous and secure North,” said Shea.

“The world has their eyes set on the unprecedented economic growth opportunities, in particular in the mining and oil and gas sectors,” she added. “We can all expect this to mean more shipping in the Arctic.”

But a senior Transport Canada official acknowledged that the U.S. — which views the Northwest Passage as an international strait beyond Canada’s exclusive jurisdiction — expressed “mixed” feelings about the new regulations.

“The U.S. has sort of a mixed view of it,” the official stated. “They recognize for the purposes of pollution prevention and safety of navigation, that such measures are a good idea. On the other hand, they do like to maintain the freedom to navigate. They’re keen about that — they have a large navy.”

Canada considers the Northwest Passage part of this country’s “internal waters.” Under a long-standing arrangement that acknowledges Canada and the U.S. “agree to disagree” on the legal status of the Arctic shipping route, U.S vessels voluntarily alert Canada to their planned presence in the passage and Canada agrees not to interfere with their voyages.

The new ship-tracking regime, called the Northern Canada Vessel Traffic Services Zone, will regulate the movement of cargo carriers, cruise ships and other large vessels moving through the Northwest Passage and throughout the waters of the Canadian Arctic archipelago.

The system falls short of a recent Senate committee’s recommendation that all sizes of vessels should be forced to register their northern voyages with the coast guard.

But Shea said the regime taking effect July 1 covers all vessels seen as posing a serious threat of polluting Arctic waters.

The government’s plan requires mandatory registration for ships of 300 tonnes or more, for tugs with a two-ship weight of 500 tonnes or more and for any vessel carrying dangerous goods or potential pollutants.

The new rules, Shea stated, will work to prevent pollution of Arctic waters and also to help the coast guard and other federal agencies respond quickly to oil spills, search-and-rescue requests and other northern emergencies.

In announcing the planned measures in February, the government had pointedly noted that, “the proposed regulations would apply to both Canadian and foreign vessels, and are consistent with international law regarding ice-covered areas.”

But as early as 2008, when Harper first indicated his government’s intention to move toward a mandatory ship-registration system, he acknowledged that the move could rile other nations.

“It’ll be interesting to see,” he said during an August 2008 visit to the Arctic. “I expect that some countries may object.”

But he added: “I think it ultimately is in everybody’s interest to ensure there is some kind of authority in the area, some kind of environmental and commercial authority. . . . We have no particular power play here.”

Last year, the government also introduced stiffer pollution-prevention regulations for Arctic waters, doubling to 370 kilometres the offshore distance over which Canadian rules would apply.

“These measures will send a clear message to the world: Canada takes responsibility for environmental protection and enforcement in our Arctic waters,” Harper said when those measures were introduced.

© Copyright (c) Canwest News Service
Original article here