Published November 22, 2022
10 min read
Along with much of the American and British public in the mid-19th century, Charles Francis Hall was riveted by accounts of Sir John Franklin’s tragic 1845 expedition in search of the Northwest Passage, the fabled Arctic sea route between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The scale of the loss—two vessels and 129 men—and the mystery surrounding the fates of Franklin and his crew, prompted many expeditions that set out to discover the outcome of their story.
“Hall was a deeply eccentric man, perhaps the unlikeliest fellow to ever become an Arctic explorer,” said Russell A. Potter, a professor at Rhode Island College. Hall had no more than a few years of education and lived a quiet life as a family man and modestly successful engraver and publisher in Cincinnati, Ohio. But his interest in Franklin’s doomed quest turned into an obsession with the Arctic and a personal mission to find survivors.
By the late 1850s various expeditions had found bodies and relics from the Franklin crew, dimming hopes of finding anyone alive. Still, in 1860, the 39-year-old Hall left Ohio for the Arctic to see if there were any lives left to save.