A Critical Assessment of the Oral Condition of the Crew of the Franklin Expedition + Supplementary Appendix 1 (See Article Tools)





Arctic, Northwest Passage, Sir John Franklin, oral, dental, scurvy, lead poisoning, tuberculosis, Addison’s disease


Little is known about the fate of the crew of the Franklin expedition after they sailed from England in 1845. Scant physical evidence and limited Inuit testimony have fueled speculation that the crew had scurvy, had been poisoned by lead, or had botulism or tuberculosis. The Schwatka expedition (1878 – 80) documented that several Inuit families had observed sailors of the Franklin expedition dragging ship’s boats in Washington Bay on the southwest coast of King William Island, Nunavut, Canada. The Inuit reported that the men appeared thin and the mouths of some of them were hard, dry, and black. Many Franklin scholars believe from this description that the surviving crews were suffering from scurvy and possibly lead poisoning. Using a systematic review of the medical literature to assess the Inuit testimony, we reviewed 1718 citations. With this approach, we identified a new and plausible explanation for the wasting and oral conditions ascribed to some of the survivors. We believe that miliary tuberculosis resulting in adrenal insufficiency (or Addison’s disease) may have resulted in the oral and physical symptoms witnessed by the Inuit. Scurvy and lead exposure may have contributed to the pathogenesis of Addison’s disease, but the hypothesis is not wholly dependent on these conditions. The tuberculosis-Addison’s hypothesis results in a deeper understanding of one of the greatest mysteries of Arctic exploration.