I didn't listen to the radio news on the way back from work on Tuesday; I suppose I was wondering if there would be not just a piece on the product announcements from Apple that day but a piece filtered in a light I might overreact to the point of thinking "shaped around a pre-formed negative conclusion." That meant I might have missed a different piece of news announced that day until I saw it in my RSS reader program, but in seeing it I could recognise it as not just of "national" but of "international" interest. Every summer for the past few years, so it's seemed, an expedition has been sent into the Canadian Arctic to seek the sunken wreckage of the two ships of Sir John Franklin's last expedition; after years of inconclusive human-interest stories, and a day after the scene-setting news of yet more bits of wreckage spotted on a shore, one of those ships has been found.
The history of the Northwest Passage might have been almost "inherited" by Canada, but it's something I began picking up in bits and pieces at an early age. As it came together, the central tragedy of a major expedition sent in among the Arctic islands in the middle of the 19th century only to vanish and the drawn-out search that looked at last in the only place left to find only two terse notes on one surviving form, voiceless remains, and Inuit testimony
, pretty much stood out. It does, of course, mark a shining example of that now-popular idea of the British polar explorers being incompetent "amateurs" unwilling to learn from the people who were actually surviving year-round there, even if the search filled in the southern blanks on the map.
Having heard recent speculation in this year's articles on the search that drifting ice would have smashed the sunken ships to fragments long ago, I was surprised by how defined the sonar image looked. (However, I did notice a suggestion the other ship of the expedition, said in the testimony to have sunken further north, might well have been crushed.) The false colours
used in it gave an impression of the ship being down in the "stygian depths," like a ship sunken on the search (that people survived from to say just where it was) I'd seen pictures of a rigid diving-suit descent to years ago, but it turned out the ship was in water shallow enough for some diving-camera pictures to be well-lit. Whether the speculation
that some records might even have been sealed up or preserved by the cold water is "exceedingly hopeful" is something we don't know yet, but that (along with whether this ship is Terror
may have to wait for the next short Arctic summer. I do know this search could be contemplated as having been financed so that the chance of success would result in a surge of patriotic feeling of the current officially correct type, but more than that it's proving something said a long time ago true, just as the expedition was meant to travel through places just a few people lived in more than a century and a half back.