The great Noel Coward wrote a famous song called “Mad Dogs and Englishmen”. In some ways, it celebrated his fellow countrymen who took on seemingly impossible challenges, ‘because they were there’.
I believe Coward was writing about tropical parts of the British Empire, but he could just as easily have been thinking about men like Robert Falcon Scott, and Sir John Franklin who both perished in the frozen wilderness of the world’s polar icecaps.
Almost 160 years after he left his native England for the last time in search of the Northwest Passage, Franklin is in the headlines once again. After years of work, with millions in financial support from Canadian taxpayers thanks to a history buff named Stephen Harper, the wreckage of one of Franklin’s two ships has been found on the floor of the Arctic Ocean near King William Island.
The frigid water has preserved the ship in what appears to be remarkable condition. The unravelling of this great maritime mystery will be fascinating to watch as it continues. Queen Elizabeth has sent her personal congratulations to those involved.
I learned about Franklin earlier than most. My first school in Winnipeg was Sir John Franklin Elementary. They tore it down more than 20 years ago. How I wish I had managed to swipe the portrait of Sir John that hung on the wall just outside the principal’s office.
In the picture, he appeared to be well fed and dressed in lots of fancy lace. As an Arctic explorer, I wondered why he wasn’t wearing a parka, or least ear muffs. “What a crazy Englishman” I thought as a 7-year-old kid.
Actually life in the frozen north in the 1840’s might not have been quite as bad as we imagine. Franklin’s two ships, the Erebus and the Terror were partially powered by steam engines. Each had a library with more than a thousand books, and they carried three years worth of canned food.
When will we get to see the movie I wonder ?
I’m Roger Currie