On 19th May 1845 two ships sailed out into the beyond in search of the north-west passage. This previously undiscovered passage would make travel between Europe and Asia much easier and would greatly improve trading due to the improved trade route.

The ships were ‘Erebus’ and ‘Terror’ and were captained by Sir John Franklin and James Ross. Neither ship returned and all signs of the vessels and all 129 men simply vanished.

Later explorations found several logbooks and stashes of food left behind by the crews. It was discovered that many crewmembers had caught scurvy (this was fairly normal in those days due to lack of nutritional food in the many months or years at sea) and had died. Lead poisoning was also suspected as the tinned food was made in a hurry and not properly sealed. The food which had not gone rotten was infused with lead which had leaked from the tins. Lead poisoning may have been a key factor in the deaths of the crew, alongside scurvy and starvation.

Several mummies were found of crew members (as above), but more shockingly, bones were found all piled up and they had knife saw marks on them – sure signs of cannibalism.

Had John Franklin ever reached the Northwest Passage and had the remaining few crew members resorted to cannibalism? Until the ships are found, we may never know.

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