It’s not often that a modern day explorer regales you with tales of arctic expeditions and shipwreck discoveries, but that’s exactly what took place on the evening of October 11 at Trent University Durham for a room full of students, staff, and community members when retired Canadian Armed Forces officer and renowned explorer Joe Frey recalled his involvement in the expedition that uncovered the HMS Erebus, 168 years after it was lost at sea.
“Had it not been for Franklin losing his life, exploration of the Canadian high Arctic would not have happened,” explained Mr. Frey as he chronicled the timeline of Sir John Franklin’s infamous expedition that was intended to traverse the last bit of the uncharted Northwest Passage. “Sir Franklin’s disappearance triggered several rescue expedition attempts, beginning in March 1848 but the harsh Arctic conditions always hindered the searches.”
Mr. Frey noted that the conclusions that have been drawn from the forensic anthropological research done since the discovery of the ship by the Canada-Parks led mission has been groundbreaking for various research groups including archaeologists, marine biologists and beyond, adding, “We know that the ship went down in 1848 and so marine biologists are now interested in the types of organism growth that has occurred since that time. It’s really important for Arctic marine biology research.”
Amidst slides of maps, photos of the latest expedition technology and satellite images of the northern topography, Mr. Frey stunned his audience with photographs of perfectly preserved corpses of some of the men from the doomed voyage who perished due to scurvy and other complications brought on by malnutrition and lack of safe food storage.
“Having distinguished scholars visiting our campus is important for Trent University Durham to foster a culture of lifelong learning among both our students and faculty, and for the broader public as well,” noted John Wales, a staff member who attended the lecture after his workday had finished. “Opening our doors to community members can help to demystify universities and make this kind of research and information sharing really accessible.”
Though many of the details about the timing and location of the wreck are still top secret, Mr. Frey concluded the lecture by stating that the HMS Erebus is among the most significant shipwrecks in the world and that the discovery of the Erebus was “the largest expedition since 1850” and included the most government agencies, and public and private partnerships ever recorded.