Recently I´ve found a reference about what could have been the last message sent by one of the last survivors of the Franklin expedition. A message which crossed the North Atlantic ocean in a month. The message only said the following:
"Erebus, 112 W, Long, 71 deg. N. Lat. September, 3, 1851. Blocked in"
Apparently these are exciting news, though the lenght of the message might been considered absurdily short. But, take it easy, before celebrating it, we should check some points:
- Could anyone actually still be alive on board of the HMS Erebus ship in the year 1851?
The expedition would have lasted six years, John Ross wasn´t in the Arctic so many time on his expedition of 1829 so there wasn´t any previous similar experience of this kind. The ships were abandoned in the spring of 1848 and the note found together with the balloon is from september of 1851, more than three years after the abandoning. Too much time!.
But...it could be, they had enough food for three years (or four or five depending some sources) and some Inuit testimonies and other evidences like the boat found with two skeletons pointing to the northwest are telling us that perhaps some men remanned the ships.
- Was the Franklin expedition armed with these kind of balloons?
It seems that they weren´t equipped with them, but at that time, in 1850, the rescue expedition commanded by Horatio Austin was in the area releasing ballons like this, so some of the last survivors could have taken one of this balloons and having put his own message in a desperate attempt to be rescued.
- Could have been correct the position of the ship?
This is in my opinión the most strange thing. By that time the position of the ships hadn´t been deduced. McClinctock get the Victory point note in the year 1859. Eight years after of the appearance of the note of the balloon. Some time before, in 1854 John Rae had been exploring the area of the Boothia Penninsula where he heared stories about the Franklin men walking and dying in KWI. Three years after the finding of the balloon note.
The Horatio Austin expedition had orders of searching Franklin through the Wellington Channel and the región near Cape Walker, that means, in an área completely wrong. Then, the note of the balloon was giving the most accurate position of the ships till the moment, and that signal was arriving within a period where it would be still likely to find at least some of those poor men alive.
It is true that the exact position given by the note place us over a point on the Victoria Island but, again a mistery, the note seems to be written by a non seaman, as it is well explained here in the book "Farmer Buckley's Exploding Trousers: And other odd events on the way to scientific discovery ", the author could have perfectly been wrong on the determination of the longitude, which, as far as I know , it is pretty hard to determine.
It was "The Times" which was the first on giving this news, likely in the date 11th of october of 1851, followed by the New York Times a week after, you can see the description of the moment when the note was found and the subsequent investigation driven by the Admiralty here.
The Captains Beechey and Penny were the men in charge of determining the autenthicity of the balloon. The result of their interviews was that in fact that ballon belonged to the Admiralty and that it likely was sent by some man of the Franklin expedition.
Then, as a sort of conclusión:
Could Mrs Russell, the woman who said that 5th of october of 1851 -"Run out" - "There is a balloon in the garden!" and the same who was quietly preparing a meeting for her friend that morning in Wotton, Gloucester, be the receptor of the last desperate message of SOS sent by one of the last men standing of the Franklin expedition? Or was all this facts a mere farce constructed by some unescrupulous man or woman. And if it was the case... with what objective?
To make the things even more difficult to understand, the Museum of Kensington count on its exposition with a balloon which was allegedly designed for rescuing the lost explorers. In my opinion, because the apparent size of this object and because the description done in the article of the New York TImes of the balloon, I think that perhaps this could be a section of the original communication ballon found that quiet evening of october in Wotton, Gloucester: