The Erebus and Terror ships from John Franklin’s expedition, in the bay where they spent the winter of 1845-1846, illustration by Le Breton from L’Illustration, Journal Universel, No 529, Volume XXI, April 16, 1853. (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images).

In 1845, Sir John Franklin set out to find the elusive Northwest Passage. What ensued turned out the be the stuff of nightmares. Everyone aboard the British Royal Navy ships HMS Erebus and the HMS Terror perished as they made their way through the Arctic. Read on to find out about the questions that remain around this mysterious expedition.

The ships were made to be ready for anything

Both HMS Erebus and the HMS Terror were designed to withstand the crushing force of the Arctic pack ice. The ships were also equipped with steam-powered engines, screw propellers, and other modifications that cannot be found in other Royal Navy ships. The voyagers were also equipped with the best navigation instruments available at the time and stocked with more than enough provisions to help them survive the long venture.

Elusive causes of death

A forensic examination conducted on the bodies of three crew members of the Franklin Expedition in 1981 ruled out malnutrition, chronic disease, foul play, or accidents as causes of death. Results of autopsies showed that pneumonia was possibly the primary cause of death with tuberculosis as a contributing factor.

Every bone found contained exceptionally high lead content

The forensic team who studied the remains of the crew discovered that every single bone contained a high level of lead. This discovery led the team to theorize that the crew may have perished because of progressive effects of lead poisoning, side-effects of which include loss of cognitive awareness and the inability for organs to function. In other words, it’s a pretty bad way to go.

Evidence suggests that the members of the crew resorted to cannibalism

Inuit people who came in contact with the crew of the Franklin Expedition reported that they were half-mad resorting to cannibalism to satiate their hunger. The forensic team believed it was possible considering that they found striation marks on many bones, which is consistent with the mechanical stripping of the flesh. Rough ride.