On 9 December 2015 the RSS Glasgow local group hosted their Christmas scientific meeting ‘The fate of the Franklin expedition – statistical insights’. Following the annual general meeting of the RSS Glasgow local group, Prof Keith Millar (Honorary Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Health & Wellbeing, University of Glasgow), Prof Adrian Bowman (School of Mathematics & Statistics, University of Glasgow) & Mr William Battersby (archaeologist and author) presented this fascinating story and their illuminating insights, research and analysis. The three speakers provided a seamless and impressive blend of medical, statistical, historical and archaeological expertise on the following events.
In 1845, with Queen Victoria on the throne and the British Empire in full flight, Sir John Franklin led an expedition to find a 'North-West Passage' from the Atlantic to the Pacific through the Arctic seas off northern Canada. All communication with the expedition was lost and one of the largest ever search-and-rescue operations was launched. This spanned a period of 11 years, after which it became clear that all 129 crew of the Franklin expedition had lost their lives in the grimmest of circumstances. This is a story which has captured the imaginations of subsequent generations, with interest recently heightened through the discovery of the remains of one of the ships, the HMS Erebus, in shallow waters near King William Island.
The seminar examined data from the sick lists of the ships which went in search of the Franklin expedition to provide an intriguing insight into life aboard a Victorian vessel. This was then followed by discussion of the statistical analysis of recent data from the crew's remains to examine the popular theory that lead poisoning played a significant role in the failure of the expedition.
Further reading: articles about the mystery surrounding the fate of the Franklin Expedition disaster can be found at the following links in: Significance magazine, the University of Glasgow website and the Guardian.
Tweets and pictures from the event are available at: #RSSGlaFranklin, https://twitter.com/hashtag/RSSGlaFranklin.