When the Franklin ships mysteriously disappeared in the 1840s, it left the world haunted. Initially, this manifested itself in urgent search crews dispatched by Sir John Franklin’s wife Jane. Later, it inspired artists of all sorts, from all over the world. Here are a few of the various art creations that were originated with the Franklin mystery.
1. The Frozen Deep, play
Occasionally misattributed to Charles Dickens, this piece of theatre was actually written by Wilkie Collins (though Dickens, who was Collins’ friend, did help revise the play and also played the lead.) Born largely out of the public conflict as to whether or not Franklin’s men succumbed to cannibalism, the play told of a love triangle between Clara, Frank and Richard. The latter depart on two different ships with the same mission; Clara bids them each adieu assuming (mistakenly) that they will never meet.
2. Northwest Passage, song
Sometimes referred to as Canada’s unofficial anthem, Stan Rogers’ a cappella folk song recalls a history of early explorers trying to find their way through Canada’s northern seas. Franklin in particular is featured in the chorus: “Ah, for just one time/ I would take the Northwest Passage/ To find the hand of Franklin/ Reaching for the Beaufort Sea/ Tracing one warm line/ Through a land so wild and savage/ And make a Northwest Passage to the sea.”
3. Lady Franklin's Lament, song
This folk ballad originated in the 1850s but has been recorded by dozens of artists. The lyrics are written from the perspective of a sailor dreaming about the lost Franklin crew, and imagining the cruel hardships they may have experienced. It is occasionally known as Lord Franklin’s Lament or The Sailor’s Dream.
4. Man Proposes, God Disposes, painting
Sir Edwin Landseer created this painting in 1864. The title speaks to the idea that humans can make whatever plans they want but the final outcome rests with God. The image graphically illustrates this idea by showing two polar bears chewing on a tattered ship's ensign and a human ribcage. It was received not entirely favourably in England, where the painting was seen in bad taste.
5. Terror and Erebus, poem
This radio drama by Canadian poet Gwendolyn MacEwen was broadcast on Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) radio in the 1960s. It is based on Knud Rasmussen’s search for the Franklin Expedition. The story features a fictional conversation between the two, despite the decades that separate them.