Franklin entered the navy at the age of fourteen and was present at the battle of Trafalgar (1805). In various expeditions in the 1820s he explored the Canadian arctic coast. Franklin set out in 1845 for the Northwest Passage with two ships, the Erebus and the Terror. In 1846, however, the ships became icebound in Victoria Strait. Franklin died the next year; the ship's survivors tried to reach civilization on foot, but all 105 died of starvation and scurvy.
Over forty expeditions set out in search of the lost sailors; one in 1857 finally discovered the ship's log, which contained proof that Franklin had in fact discovered the Northwest Passage.