Monday, April 13, 2015

Letter L : The Choose Your Poison #AtoZChallenge

Relics found from the Franklin Expedition. Illustrated London News 1854
      In 1845 Captain John Franklin set out from England with two ships, the HMS Terror and the HMS Erebus, and 128 men in search of the last leg of the famed Northwest Passage.  The ships became icebound in Victoria Strait and the crew perished. Various search and rescue missions set out from England in search of the missing expedition. In 1850 several British and American ships converged off the east coast of Beechey Island, and the first relics from the lost expedition were recovered, as well as the graves of some crewmen.  Eight years later doctor and explorer John Rae, who was in the region on a different mission, spoke with Inuit who told stories about a group of shipwrecked white men who starved to death; there were also tales of cannibalism.
     Searches continued and over the decades various clues turned up including notes left in a cairn on 11 June 1847 saying that Erebus and Terror had been trapped in pack ice for over a year; the men finally abandoned the ships on 22 April 1847. Twenty-four officers and crew had died by this time, including Captain Franklin.
     In 1981 an examination of crew remains from Beechey Island revealed that they probably died of pneumonia and/or tuberculosis. Other bodies found on King William Island showed cut marks on bones consistent with cannibalism. The entire expedition probably perished as a combined result of exposure, starvation, and disease. But poisoning may have hastened their deaths.
     The poison?  Lead from the tins of food with which the ships had been provisioned. High levels of lead were also found when analyzing the bodies. This theory is bolstered by a recent analysis of a soup can left by a rescue crew in 1854. The lead levels in the can were "off the charts". (Discover Magazine quoting The Times Colonist).
     Lead poisoning can cause cramps, joint pain, severe anemia, mental confusion, memory loss, kidney dysfunction, and death. If the lost crew were subsisting primarily on their tinned provisions, and if most or all of the cans had the same extremely high levels of lead found in the analyzed can (which is highly likely), then it's entirely possible that lead poisoning alone may have doomed a portion of the crew.

*The well-preserved wreck of HMS Erebus was finally found in 2014, in about 40 feet of water near King William Island, about 1,200 miles  northwest of Toronto.
    

15 comments:

  1. Many were doomed to die no matter what then.

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    1. One way or another, yes. The only possibility of rescue would have been the Inuit, but they traveled with just enough supplies to survive themselves.

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  2. Nice way to present that info, the L word came as a total surprise. So your theme is poison, what fun! Visiting back from A to Z, glad to have found you! - Jeri (storytellingmatters)

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    1. Nice to meet you! Thank you. Trying to mix things up between fiction, history, and info articles.

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  3. Glad you visited me so I stumbled on you--what an interesting theme. And I somehow had missed that they found the Erebus last year. I've long been fascinated by all those early explorers.

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    1. I get a lot of info from magazine subscriptions - Smithsonian, Discover, and Popular Science are my favorites.

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  4. You've got an interesting theme going on here, and I like the stories to go with them. Great!

    My latest blogging A to Z challenge post.

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  5. Lead is a sneaky poison. You wouldn't normally think of it. Or think its deadly.

    -Chrys Fey
    Tremp’s Troops - A to Z Co-co-host
    Write with Fey

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    1. It's still a big problem in US cities. A lot of the housing stock is old. Lead in paint was only banned in the late 70s, and so a lot of houses and apartment buildings still have old, peeling and chipped paint with lead in it. When you breathe the dust, or kids get it on their hands and stick them in their mouths, you can end up with high levels of lead in the blood and not know it. That can lead to stunted growth, learning problems, and neurological/nerve problems.

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  6. Wow! that was such a fantastic story. It was horrible, but so vivid!

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