When searchers from Captain William Penny’s ships stumbled across the Franklin Expedition’s Winter Quarters on Beechey Island on 27th August 1850, their first priority was to find official papers that would tell them where to look next.
They did not find any.
But they did find more than a dozen handwritten and printed fragments of paper in and among the remnants of the camp’s structures.
At the time, the searchers may have viewed these scraps of paper as worthless detritus. After all, this expedition was in the Arctic looking for living men.
They were searching for lost friends and colleagues. One man – Robert Anstruther Goodsir – was looking for a missing brother. Another, James Reid Junior, was searching for his missing father – the Ice Master of HMS Erebus.
And yet the searchers carefully gathered each scrap of paper, and brought them back to Britain the following year.
The Lords of the Admiralty examined them. John Barrow Junior took custody of the papers in due course, and he dutifully pasted each one into a record book.
These were early days in the search for the Franklin Expedition. None of the searchers had any idea that another eight years would pass before the only substantive piece of written evidence – the Victory Point Record – would be found on King William Island.
Scraps and clues
These Beechey Papers were just scraps. But sometimes even a scrap can contain clues to guide a theory of what it was – and how it got there.