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A SHIPWRECK MOTIVATES SUCCESS
In 1845 Royal Navy Rear Admiral Sir John Franklin and 138 specially chosen officers and men left England to find the Northwest Passage. They sailed in two three-masted ships with the daunting names the Erebus (the dark place, according to Greek mythology, through which souls pass on their way to Hades) and the Terror. Each ship was equipped with an auxiliary steam engine and a twelve-day supply of coal, should steam power be needed sometime during the anticipated two- to three-year voyage. But instead of loading additional coal, each ship made room for a 1,200-volume library, an organ, and full, elegant place settings for all--china, cut-glass goblets, and sterling flatware. The officers' sterling was of especially grand Victorian design, with the individual officers' family crests and initials engraved on the heavy handles. "The technology of the Franklin expedition," says Annie Dillard, "... was adapted only to the conditions in the Royal Navy officers' clubs in England. The Franklin expedition stood on its dignity."
(Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk, Chapter 1, “An Expedition to the Pole” (New York: Harper & Row, 1988), p. 24).
The only clothing which these proud Englishmen took on the expedition were the uniforms and greatcoats of Her Majesty’s Navy. The ships sailed off amidst imperial pomp and glory. Two months later a British whaler met the two ships in the Lancaster Sound, and reports were carried back to England of the expedition’s high spirits. He was the last European to see them alive.
Search parties funded by Lady Jane Franklin began to piece together a tragic history from information gathered from Inuit. Some had seen men pushing a wooden boat across the ice. Others had found a boat, perhaps the same boat, and the remains of thirty-five men at a place now named Starvation Cove. Another thirty bodies were found in a tent at Terror Bay. Simpson Strait had yielded an eerie sight--three wooden masts of a ship protruding through the ice.
For the next twenty years, search parties recovered skeletons from the frozen waste. Twelve years later, it was learned that Admiral Franklin had died aboard ship. The remaining officers and crew had decided to walk for help. Accompanying one clump of bodies were place settings of sterling silver flatware bearing the officers’ initials and family crests. The officers’ remains were still dressed in their fine, buttoned blue uniforms, some with silk scarves in place.
The Franklin Expedition was a monumental failure by all estimations. It was foolishly conceived, planned, equipped, and carried out. The expedition itself accomplished absolutely nothing. Yet it is universally agreed that it was the turning point in Arctic exploration.
The mystery of the expedition’s disappearance and its fate attracted so much attention in Europe and the United States that no less than thirty ships made extended journeys in search of the answer. In doing so, they mapped the Arctic for the first time, discovered the Northwest Passage, and developed a technology suitable to Arctic rigor. It was upon the shipwreck of Rear Admiral Franklin’s “wisdom” that Amundsen would one day stand victorious at the South Pole and Perry and Henson at the North. Similarly, the shipwreck of worldly wisdom ought to motivate us to seek wisdom from above, so we can wisely navigate through life.
[Day Otis Kellogg, ed., The Encyclopedia Britannica, Volume 9, Ninth Edition (New York: The Werner Company, 1898), pp. 719–722. From a sermon by Matthew Kratz, Earthly Wisdom vs. Godly Wisdom, 7/10/2010]
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