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Table of Contents

The Epitaphs. Messages from the Dead. The Enigma: Sir John. The Passage. Two Ships. Specters. Ships' Commanders. Ships' Companies. Outward Bound. Beechey Island. The Last Summer. Beset. Imprisoned. The Curse. The Culprit. Houndsditch. Schedules. The Dying Time. Killer at Large. The Death March. Cannibalism. The Culprit's Footprints. The Empty Prize. Afterword: Anatomy of a Disaster. Appendices. Bibliography. Index.

About the Author

SCOTT COOKMAN is a nonfiction writer whose articles have appeared in such magazines as Field & Stream, Army, and America's Civil War. His "Man and Mission" videos, chronicling America's Mercury 7 astronauts, are the main attraction at the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame at Cape Canaveral.


In 1845, Captain Sir John Franklin sailed into Arctic waters, the latest of many navigators to seek a "Northwest Passage" from the Atlantic to the Pacific. With him were 128 stalwarts of the Royal Navy; up-to-date maps and sophisticated tools; three years' worth of ample provisions; and two advanced ships, iron-clad, steam-heated and steam-powered. The ships were never seen again. In 1859, Lieutenant William Hobson, sunburnt and frostbitten, trekked across remote King William Island and found the last remains of the expedition: two notes attached to a cairn, a small, stranded boat and human bones, some showing evidence of cannibalism. Freelance writer Cookman's ably researched, sometimes eloquent account follows the doomed voyage, then proposes to solve the enduring mystery. Stuck in the ice, the men of the H.M.S. Terror and Erebus lasted months with barely a look outdoors; when cooking fuel ran short, something sickened the men. Cookman identifies the culprit as botulism, conveyed by the canned goods furnished by contractor Stephan Goldner. "Pinching pennies and cutting corners," Goldner defrauded the Navy by giving Franklin's men canned meats and vegetables "shoddily made and improperly sealed." Cookman drapes his central story with short accounts of the people involved, including Captain Franklin ("plodding, sober," and "fame-hungry" but steadfast) and Goldner, whose record of defaults and frauds (delivering ruptured cans, missing deadlines, packaging bones as meat) led the Navy to cease doing business with him in 1852. Hard-bitten readers who last year clamored over Shackleton's adventures will take to this grimmer tale of unscrupulous contractors, diligent historians and brave British explorers who never made it. (Mar.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

The two ships of the Franklin expedition set out from Greenland on July 12, 1845, to find the Northwest Passage. Two weeks later, they passed through Baffin Bay and were never seen again. "It was as if Apollo 11...had disappeared on the dark side of the moon," writes Cookman (whose "Man & Mission" videos about the Mercury 7 astronauts are a main attraction at the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame at Cape Canaveral). Here he examines the mystery of "the largest and best-equipped" expedition ever mounted, "the greatest Arctic tragedy of the age." Although he notes that what triggered the disaster may always be open to debate, his painstaking search through British Admiralty records reveals a possible cause: botulism, the deadly toxin resulting from improperly canned food, which he blames on the Admiralty's canned food contractor--"a scam artist" who "stalled, obfuscated, lied outright--and got away with it." Recommended for larger public libraries and academic libraries.--Robert C. Jones, Central Missouri State Univ., Warrensburg Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

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