Franklin: Tragic Hero of Polar Navigation

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Open Preview See a Problem? Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. Preview — Franklin by Andrew D. Tragic Hero of Polar Navigation 3. In Franklin led a large, well equipped expedition to complete the conquest of the Canadian Arctic, to find the North West Passage connecting the North Atlantic to the North Pacific.

Yet Franklin, his ships and men were fated never to return. This book re-examines the life and fate of Franklin and his expedition. Hardcover , pages. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about Franklin , please sign up. Lists with This Book. This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Dec 25, Liam Guilar rated it it was ok Shelves: Stylistically the writing is not good. He's very fond of adjectives. Adjectives make judgments but hide the grounds of the judgment.

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The book feels scattered and lacks a focus because Franklin is absent from most of It. The dig at Huntford on page is unfortunate, not only because Huntford writes careful but readable history, but because it invites comparison between this book and Huntford's Shackleton, and the comparison is not flattering to Lambert. His first fifty years are skimmed in fifty eight pages.

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His first command, which made him famous and which is crucial to any understanding of him as Leader gets two, his first marriage gets a paragraph and he disappears on page The treatment of Franklin's first independent command, his journey down the Coppermine, sums up the problems I have with this book. Rather than discuss details, or weigh evidence, Lambert blurs both in a brief summary and then states: He Inspired them to cross rivers and carry on when common sense told them to lie down and die quietly.

He defeated the fatal drift of hypothermia providing a sensation starved world with a stunning example of human fortitude. There is no evidence of inspiring leadership.

Franklin: Tragic Hero of Polar Navigation by Andrew Lambert

The return journey was a nightmare and the expedition fell apart. Half his Voyageurs died, and who eat what or who is still an interesting question. His role in the crucial river crossing is negligible and he survived only through a chain of improbable co-incidences. He didn't defeat the fatal drift of anything, he was saved by others when he was no longer able to save himself. Now, it is possible that the standard version, which I've known for over thirty years, is wrong, or the evidence has been been misread. That's what revisionist history is about. Challenging the accepted versions.

Truth be told, while all of these things had some significant practical value, if their practical value alone had been the only argument, the mission to the Moon would never have been undertaken. Just so, while from a scientific view the "Passage" as such was a nil value, whereas magnetic data obtained near the Pole was worth its weight in scientific gold, such marvelous observations would not have been possible without the public's passion for a national achievement, even and especially one of so little immediate use that only the greatest nations dared undertake it.

So let us simply say that, while that the urge to obtain newly accurate magnetic observations near the North Magnetic Pole was indeed a vital impetus for Franklin's mission, that mission would have never have received Government backing had it not "piggybacked" upon the public's passion for the elusive laurels of the Passage.

We need not lessen one achievement by disparaging the allotment of the other. Indeed, Roald Amundsen, who eventually achieved this long-sought goal, was only able to justify his undertaking by making similar protestations that magnetic observations were his chief object.

Let us look kindly upon such claims, accepting the boon to science while permitting some degree of adulation for the accomplishment of a useless, yet widely lauded goal.


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But back to Lambert's study. He skims over Franklin's earlier expeditions, allotting only a few pages apiece to his voyage under Buchan to Spitsbergen, and his first and second land expeditions. Franklin's time in Tasmania receives more substantial coverage, and rightly so, as it was there, on the colonial frontier, that Franklin was able to take up the mantle of the prime intellectual magnate. Through his, and through Jane's, public foundations, journals, and societies, they laid the foundation of an enlightened country far before -- as it turned out -- the country was ready for them.

Lambert passes quickly over the dress balls with their famous mirrors, and gives us in their place a contrasting portrait of a Franklin, more Benjamin than John in his inclinations, supporting and encouraging vital magnetic and geological observations.


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The buildup to the great undertaking is aptly handled by Lambert, who gives a vivid account of the machinations by which Franklin won the command, as the great gears and cogs of science rotated their contributions into place. As he notes pointedly, on 12 July , as the last parcels of mail headed south, the inner thoughts of Franklin, along with all of his men, passed forever out of direct knowledge, and all the rest is speculation. And yet, in its place, the drama of the search for Franklin soon engaged more men, more resources, and more ships than anything conceived of in Franklin's original orders.

Lambert proves a capable chronicler of the Franklin search, and while he does not add a great deal of new insight to our understanding of it, he keeps the drama vividly alive, and sprinkles the salt of lesser-known facts which keep the matter savory. When it comes, though, to the "last resource" and other events which depend on a complex, ambiguous, and permanently incomplete assortment of Inuit testimony, archaeological finds, and grand conjectures, Lambert remains -- resolutely though frustratingly -- aloof.

I'm relieved that, unlike Beardsley, he accepts it as established that cannibalism occurred among some groups of survivors; the preponderance of the forensic and historical evidence leaves no room for comfort here.

Arctic Book Review: Franklin: Tragic Hero of Polar Navigation

Nevertheless, he follows Beardsley in setting aside any detailed analysis of this same evidence, leaving his readers with a similar sense that, if they wish to know more, they will have to turn to Woodman, Loomis, Eber, and others. While I respect Lambert's sense of integrity in drawing his limits, I still regret that his study declines to offer what I'm sure would have been his sensible overview of what, by patient inquiry, has at least so far been learned. The remainder of Lambert's study is largely memorial, in the sense that it traces the evolution of Franklin's reputation in the world he had long since left.

His section "Brazen lies" offers an observant and detailed account of Lady Franklin's attempts to secure her husband's posthumous reputation. And yes how does that brass lie? The line from Richardson is one of contention: It is strange indeed that Lambert, and -- more notably in the press -- Inuit politician Tagak Curley -- have taken to calling this line a lie.

It seems as though Lambert wants it both ways; he desires to free Franklin of falsely-flaunted explorer's laurels while re-crowning him with Science -- and yet at the same time loudly proclaims that the statue on Waterloo Place has feet of clay. Yet the end, I must say, I remain an admirer of this well-written, challenging, and thoughtful book.