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Franklin search: Relatives hope for answers in Arctic mystery

CBC NewsEye on the Arctic

“There’s no harm in looking back in history,” said Paddy McClintock, whose great great uncle Sir Leopold McClintock led the 1850s mission that found the most significant document discovered from the lost Franklin expedition: a sheet of paper that confirmed the ships had been abandoned and Franklin was dead.

“If you look at what’s happening in the world today….we’re just shrugging off history,” McClintock said in an interview from his home in southern England.

“I almost think of history as unfashionable. Maybe it should be made fashionable so we can learn from it because God knows we should be learning from history.”

McClintock sees the opportunity to discover more about the Franklin expedition as a chance to learn lessons around everything from the importance of strong leadership to the significance of dedicating one’s life to service, something he says his great great uncle did with considerable devotion as he led the mission commissioned by Franklin’s widow, Lady Jane Franklin.

“Service is a worthy thing. It should be translated into a modern context.”

Sir Leopold McClintock Leopold McClintock, the sailor who led the mission that discovered the most significant Franklin document ever recovered, was a young Irish boy of 11 or so when he went off to join the British Navy.

“When he joined his ship, he was weighed against the ship’s dog and the ship’s dog was heavier than he was,” his great-grandaughter Sylvia McClintock says.

McClintock, who went on to a storied naval career, was the “type of man who inspiried tremendous loyalty in his sailors,” she says.

McClintock is well known for his adoption of sledging in Arctic missions.

“Until then, the British Navy have been very prissy about the Inuit and saying, Oh … they don`t know anything.’ And McClintock was saying, ‘Actually, they survived here for thousands of years. They must know something. They must be doing something that we’re not doing.’”

Sylvia McClintock, a great grandchild of Leopold McClintock, also sees modern lessons in the story of the Franklin expedition and the subsequent searchs.

It is, she suggests, important now to have an awareness or understanding of what happened on those missions “to highlight just how incredibly brave, possibly stupid, these men were.”

“They knew what the risks were and then prepared to do it,” she said in an interview from her home west of London.

She looks at the way the sailors would have had to get on with one another as the expedition dragged on, and sees a modern-day lesson in the need to always have a “a spirit of compromise.”

Now, she says, the Franklin expedition story matters “because it’s a tale of terrible tragedy and also because they managed to survive for so long.

“They probably managed to survive probably three or four years, which is amazing when you think about it.”

This story is posted on Alaska Dispatch as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations.