Elisha Kent Kane and the search for Sir John Franklin’s lost Arctic expedition
Just last September, a group of Canadian archaeologists claim to have finally discovered one of the two lost ships of the 1845 Arctic expedition led by Sir John Franklin. Did you know L. Tom Perry Special Collections connection to this ill-fated expedition?
In 1845, Sir John Franklin of England led an expedition of 128 men to explore the Arctic and the traverse the last unexplored section of the Northwest Passage. After a few early fatalities, the two ships became icebound in Victoria Strait near King William Island in the Canadian Arctic. The entire expedition complement, including Franklin and 128 men, was lost. Beginning in 1848, several searches were launched to find the lost expedition. In 1850, Elisha Kent Kane, son of Judge John K. Kane and brother to Thomas L. Kane, advocate for the Mormon Church and future American Civil War General, was appointed as senior medical officer for the Grinnell Arctic expedition under the command of Edwin de Haven. While unsuccessful, the expedition did find Franklin’s first winter camp. Kane then led the Second Grinnell expedition in 1853, and while again not able to locate the lost Franklin expedition, he was able to explore further north than anyone had done at that time. In 1856 he published an account of his explorations in a two volume set titled Arctic Explorations. These books became so popular in the late 19th century, they were touted as being the most widely read book in America next to the Bible. It was viewed similar to the man walking on the moon in our day. Elisha Kane was touted as an American legend, but this expedition eventually cost his life in 1857, 12 days short of his 37th birthday. When he died his body was brought from Cuba, where he was attempting to recover, to Philadelphia, being met by a memorial delegation at every train stop, said to be the longest funeral train of the century except only Abraham Lincoln’s.
Come to Special Collections and check out Elisha Kent Kane’s Arctic Explorations (G 665 1853 .K3 1856b) and other books or collections related to this famous expedition. You may also find correspondence and other records related to Elisha Kane in the Kane family papers (Vault MSS 792).