With the release of his book “Finding Franklin: The Untold Story of a 165-Year Search’’ in July, RIC Professor of English Russell Potter continues to document countless searches for the man Potter characterizes as “the most famous lost person in modern history.’’
Sir John Franklin, a British Royal Navy officer and explorer, mysteriously disappeared in 1847 with his 129-man crew during an expedition of the frozen Northwest Passage, a section of the Canadian Arctic.
In a major development, Canadian archeologists announced on Sept. 12 that they had discovered the HMS Terror, one of two ships in Franklin’s expedition, more than 160 years after its disappearance. The HMS Erebus, the other ship in Franklin’s expedition, was found in 2014.
For a Franklin scholar like Potter, the most recent discovery came as a wonderful shock.
“Seeing the image of the HMS Terror – her bowspirit still set and her bell and railings all in pristine order – feels as profound a moment as when a camera first passed over the bow of the “Titantic,’’ Potter said. “We’re witnesses to a discovery, the end result of a century and a half of searches, that will profoundly alter, augment and, doubtless, complicate our understanding of the final fate of the Franklin expedition. As more details come forth, we’ll learn a great deal more. But for now, I find myself thinking back to Franklin’s men, who once more have reached forth from the vast distance of history to surprise, confound and amaze us.’’
Franklin’s remains have yet to be found, but, Potter said, “that’s a mystery for another time.’’ “In the 19th century there were 36 expeditions carried out to find Franklin, 50 or so in the 20th century, and there’s another expedition going on as we speak,’’ he said.
Potter’s 278-page book is designed for readers who are attempting to formulate their own theories about Franklin’s fate. The book also offers the insights of investigators who launched a number of unsuccessful quests to find him.
The Canadian Post lauded Potter’s book as “balanced with both soft counter-narratives and an entertaining dose of the history’s most extreme theories.’’
And Publisher’s Weekly noted, “With ambitious scope and profound depth, Potter deftly demonstrates that truth can indeed be stranger and more fascinating than fiction.’’
Potter’s fascination with Franklin began more than 20 years ago, when he started teaching English at RIC. “My work is based in the Victorian period and people during that time, such as Charles Dickens, who were interested in Franklin,’’ Potter said. “So I was interested in why they were interested.’’
In addition to his new book, Potter has contributed to the Franklin discourse through his work on two Franklin-based documentaries for the PBS “Nova’’ series. His role as an advisor on several Arctic expeditions and publications earned him induction into the Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s College of Fellows in 2015.
Potter is scheduled to read excerpts from “Finding Franklin’’ at an event at the Brown University Bookstore, 244 Thayer Street, Thursday, Sept. 29, at 6 p.m.