Book Review: Frozen in Time: The Fate of the Franklin Expedition

Audiobook Narration by Liam Gerrard

The truth about what happened to the lost Franklin Expedition was a mystery for more than a century. Frozen in Time tells the story of the Expedition and the search missions sent out to determine what had happened to the crew. The Toronto Globe & Mail hailed it as a "Canadian classic" when first published in 1987. The book went on to become an international bestseller. One of the authors, Owen Beattie, is a Canadian anthropologist. The other, John Geiger, is an editor, author and the current CEO of The Royal Canadian Geographical Society.

On May 19,1845 two ships, the HMS Erebus and the HMS Terror, set sail from England. Led by Captain Sir John Franklin, the ships and their crew set out to discover the last unnavigated sections of the Northwest Passage. In July of that year the whalers spotted the ships in Baffin Bay between Greenland and Canada. After that last sighting, the expedition and its crew of 129 men was never heard from again.

The audiobook lays out the known events of the Expedition. It also covers the early searches sent out from England after the ships did not return, and the more recent anthropologic efforts. Those early searches found evidence for cannibalism among the starving, stranded crew. The 1980s exhumation of frozen bodies and their amazing state of preservation are discussed in some detail. It’s quite the chilling tale and one I found hard to pull myself away from.

In the early 1980s, Beattie led anthropology teams on trips to what was then part of the Northwest Territories of Canada. They examined sites that earlier searches had identified with crew members of the lost Expedition. In 1984 they returned with forensic evidence from the exhumed and autopsied bodies of three Franklin Expedition crew members. The bodies had been buried on Beechey Island in the frozen North of the  Canadian Arctic Archipelago .

What Beattie and his teams discovered when they analyzed that evidence led them to a new and surprising conclusion. They found that lead poisoning played a significant role in the deterioration of the health and ultimate death of the crew members. High concentrations of lead in the men’s bodies was traced back to lead used as solder in the cans of supplies brought aboard the ships. Chemical analysis confirmed the solder as the source.

The audiobook is a “revised” edition (corresponding to the 2017 paperback revised edition). Despite the fact that later teams reached different conclusions about the cause of death than Beattie's team had, his conclusions remain in this edition. This may make the book somewhat dated, but it didn’t matter to me as the new theories only change a small part of what the book covers.

The Expedition’s ships have also been discovered since Beattie and his team did their work. The wreck of the HMS Erebus was discovered in 2014, and the HMS Terror in 2016.

For a book about polar exploration and the hardships and loss of early explorers it’s hard to beat the story in this book. I give Frozen in Time Four Stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐.

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Title: Frozen in Time: The Fate of the Franklin Expedition
Author: Owen Beattie & John Geiger. Audiobook Narration by Liam Gerrard
Publisher: Tantor Media
Publish Date: December 24, 2019
ISBN-13: 9781494537821
Publisher’s List Price: $19.99 (Downloadable from as of 02/2022)