The health of nine Royal Naval Arctic crews, 1848 to 1854: implications for the lost Franklin Expedition

Millar, K., Bowman, A. W. , Battersby, W. and Welbury, R. R. (2016) The health of nine Royal Naval Arctic crews, 1848 to 1854: implications for the lost Franklin Expedition. Polar Record, 52(4), pp. 423-441. (doi: 10.1017/S0032247416000176)

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Abstract

Medical factors including tuberculosis, scurvy, lead poisoning and botulism have been proposed to explain the high death rate prior to desertion of the ships on Sir John Franklin's expedition of 1845–1848 but their role remains unclear because the surgeons’ Sick books which recorded illness on board have eluded discovery. In their absence, this study examines the Sick books of Royal Naval search squadrons sent in search of Franklin, and which encountered similar conditions to his ships, to consider whether their morbidity and mortality might reflect that of the missing expedition. The Sick books of HMS Assistance, Enterprise, Intrepid, Investigator, Pioneer and Resolute yielded 1,480 cases that were coded for statistical analysis. On the basis of the squadrons’ patterns of illness it was concluded that Franklin's crews would have suffered common respiratory and gastro-intestinal disorders, injuries and exposure and that deaths might have occurred from respiratory, cardiovascular and tubercular conditions. Scurvy occurred commonly and it was shown that the method of preparing ‘antiscorbutic’ lemon juice for the search squadrons and Franklin's ships would have reduced its capacity to prevent the disease but there were no grounds to conclude that scurvy was significant at the time of deserting the ships. There was no clear evidence of lead poisoning despite the relatively high level of lead exposure that was inevitable on ships at that time. There was no significant difference between the deaths of non-officer ranks on Franklin's ships and several of the search ships. The greater number of deaths of Franklin's officers was proposed to be more probably a result of non-medical factors such as accidents and injuries sustained while hunting and during exploration.

Item Type:Articles
Status:Published
Refereed:Yes
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Welbury, Professor Richard and Millar, Professor Keith and Bowman, Prof Adrian
Authors: Millar, K., Bowman, A. W., Battersby, W., and Welbury, R. R.
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > Institute of Health and Wellbeing > Mental Health and Wellbeing
College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > School of Medicine, Dentistry & Nursing > Dental School
College of Science and Engineering > School of Mathematics and Statistics > Statistics
Journal Name:Polar Record
Publisher:Cambridge University Press
ISSN:0032-2474
ISSN (Online):1475-3057
Published Online:06 April 2016
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2016 Cambridge University Press
First Published:First published in Polar Record 52(4):423-441
Publisher Policy:Reproduced in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher

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