On 19 May, 1845, the Royal Navy officer and arctic explorer Sir John Franklin set sail from Greenhithe in Kent in search of the Northwest Passage, a sea route connecting the northern Atlantic and Pacific Oceans through the Arctic Ocean.
His two ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, were equipped with some of the most advanced inventions of the time, notably steam engines giving a top speed of four knots and a steam-based heating and distillation system that served the dual purpose of keeping the ship warm and providing fresh water for the engine’s boilers.
Thanks to Rae’s grisly observation that “From the mutilated state of many of the corpses...
it is evident that our wretched countrymen had been driven to the last resource – cannibalism” – Rae was shunned by the British establishment and never received the credit he was due during his lifetime.
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