Thursday 15 September 2016

My paper concerning the lead in the Franklin expedition remains.

I'm pleased to announce that my 'Franklin lead' paper has now gone live on the Hakluyt
Society website:

It can be argued that last week's triumphant discovery of the wreck of HMS Terror can be linked to the lead in the bones recovered from King William Island in the 1980's. Had Owen Beattie not detected high levels of lead in those remains then the Beechey Island excavations wouldn't have happened and the worldwide publicity arising from the bestseller Frozen in Time would not have raised public and private support for the ultimately successful search for the ships.

The story of lead and the Franklin expedition has had so many twists and turns that it is reminiscient of the search for the lost expedition itself. I'm sure that the story still has some distance to run and hope that my paper is received as a useful contribution.


  1. Good, interesting paper , touching on various possible sources.

    A later episode of lead poisoning occurred aboard the USS JEANNETTE, ca 1879-1880 while that ship was near Siberia. The culprit was the lead soldering on the cans of tomatoes, which were served daily. What struck me was the frequency of serving the tomatoes which made the lead poisoning occur within a year or two.

    With the Franklin expedition, it may well have been the same...depending on how often Goldner's deadly cans were served and how soon into the voyage they were served. On Beechey Island, 700 empty food cans were left behind, filled with pebbles and made into a cairn. And that was just a year or two into the expedition.

  2. Thanks for your comments Solomon.

    It is a valid suggestion that the relative frequency of the serving of canned provisions on the Jeannette vs the Franklin expedition may be relevant but it would seem more significant that lead is known to be dissolved by mild acids such as tomato juice but is essentially untouched in the neutral environment of canned meat.

    All of the historical cases of lead poisoning from canned provisions that I know about resulted from tomatoes, other fruit, or vegetables deliberately packed in an acidic solution.

    If the victualling manifests are in error and canned tomatoes, or similar, were actually taken on the Franklin expedition it would also require that the normal practice of rationing was abandoned so that some would get six times more lead in their bones than their shipmates and that they washed their hair in the juice to get levels of lead in their hair many times greater than victims of malicious poisoning.

    A simpler explanation would be that the lead was in the water and Goldner is innocent.




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