Sir John Franklin and Francis Crozier were among the most renowned polar explorers of the 19th century, and their disappearance triggered a decades-long series of rescue missions. In 1845 the duo led two ships on an expedition to discover the elusive Northwest Passage—the sea route linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. But after passing Baffin Island that July, the expedition vanished without a trace.
It was two years before a search party arrived from England, and only then did some of the terrifying details of the explorers’ fate finally come to light. The investigations revealed that Franklin and Crozier’s vessels had become trapped in pack ice during the winter of 1846-1847. While the expedition had three years’ worth of supplies, all the provisions had been sealed with lead, which almost certainly contaminated the sailors’ food. The crew soon became weakened and delirious from lead poisoning, and at least 20 men—including Franklin—perished by mid-1848. Natives who came in contact with the expedition later claimed that Crozier tried to lead the survivors south in search of help. Most if not all of the men are believed to have died during the journey, and recent evidence shows some even resorted to cannibalism. Spurred on by Franklin’s widow, as many as 50 ships would later travel to Canada in an attempt to locate the lost expedition, but the bodies of Franklin and Crozier—along with the wrecks of their two ships—have never been recovered.