top of page

March Talk

The Brokenhurst and District Probus welcomed Brian Margetson who spoke on the search for the northwest passage.

The Silk Road was a network of overland trade routes, connecting China and the Far East with the Middle East and Europe. It remained in use until 1453 when the Ottoman Empire boycotted trade with China and closed them. By 1488, explorers had successfully reached Asia by sailing around the Cape of Good Hope but the journey was long and arduous. A succession of explorers, from Martin Frobisher in 1576 to William Parry in 1824,  attempted to discover a shorter sea route around the top of North America but the final link, the northwest passage, remained elusive. 

In 1804 the Admiralty tasked the Royal Navy to find the passage and funded several expeditions. By 1845 it still had not been found but a great deal of knowledge had been assimilated. The Admiralty mounted another expedition and assigned two ships, the Terror and Erebus, under the command of Captain Sir John Franklin.

The expedition set sail from Kent on 19 May 1845, with a crew of 24 officers and 110 men. In late July local whalers encountered Terror and Erebus in Baffin Bay after which they were never seen again. In 1847 the Admiralty offered a reward of £20,000, and mounted two expeditions by sea and one overland, but no trace was found. In 1850 the remnants of a winter camp, and several graves, were found on the east coast of Beechey Island.

In 1854, John Rae of the Hudson Bay Company was surveying the Boothia Peninsula when he discovered further evidence of the expedition's fate. A local Inuk told of a party of 40 white men who had died of starvation near the mouth of the Back River. Other Inuit confirmed this story, including reports of cannibalism among the dying sailors and showed silver forks and spoons that were identified as having belonged to Franklin and his men. Rae detailed this in his report for the Admiralty who, disappointingly released it to the public. Its shocking content meant that John Rae did not receive the reward due to him.

If you are retired and would like to attend any of the talks or social events organised by the Club please contact the Secretary on 01590 622501 or visit the website at

bottom of page