Beechey Island: Mystery & Historical Monuments in the High Arctic

November 19, 2014 Paul Schuster

  Beechy Island black sand


Beechey Island, a small island rich in polar exploration history, is a favorite landing site for Arctic expedition passengers. Named for famed explorer Sir William Beechey, it's a part of the Canadian Arctic archipelago of Nunavut and is actually a peninsula connected to the larger Devon Island.


Exploring Beechey Island's History

Landing on Beechey Island takes one back hundreds of years, to the explorations of Captain William Edward Parry, the first European visitor in 1819, and of Sir John Franklin and his ill-fated crew in 1845.

In fact, three of Franklin's crew – Petty Officer John Torrington, Royal Marine Private William Braine, and Able Seaman John Hartnell – still lie interred on the island, marked by small gravestones. Their final resting place was discovered in 1851 by British and American search vessel crew, who were on the lookout for any sign of Franklin's Lost Expedition.


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Windswept and barren, Beechey Island is relatively flat and fringed by a narrow beach, but rises to a small hill. Many crews wintered here over the years, thanks to its relatively flat topography and shelter. After Franklin's expedition, the island was used as a base and depot for much of the exploration and mapping that took place as a result of his disappearance. As searchers scoured the high Arctic for Franklin and his crew, many more important discoveries were made, including three Northwest Passages and the mapping of half of the Canadian Arctic.


Things To See At Beechey Island

Beechey Island is a designated National Historic Site of Canada, with five areas of particular importance:

  • The Franklin wintering camp of 1845-46;
  • Northumberland House, built as a supply depot in case the Franklin expedition returned to the island;
  • The Devon Island site at Cape Riley;
  • Two message cairns;
  • And the HMS Breadalbane site, where the British three-masted merchant ship in search of Franklin's expedition was crushed by sea ice and sank.

Northumberland House Attractions

The remains of Northumberland House are a popular attraction on the island. Constructed of material salvaged from the McLellan whaling vessel by the crew of an 1852 expedition, it once contained a dwelling, a store and a smithy. The site also holds the remains of a twelve-ton yacht abandoned several kilometres away by another search vessel.

Northumberland House is also the site of windowed Lady Franklin's monument to Joseph-Rene Bellot, who died nearby in search of Sir Franklin and his crew in 1853.



How to Get to Beechey Island

Beechey Island is a place of pilgrimage for sailors attempting to navigate the Northwest Passage, a distinction it has held since that lost expedition by Franklin and his crew. In the true spirit of expedition travel, we are still guided by weather, sea and ice conditions today.

You might have an opportunity to visit Beechey Island on ship-based Canadian High Arctic expeditions.

Want to learn more about this once in a lifetime chance to stand in the footsteps of famous explorers?


Show Me How to Get to the Northwest Passage!

About the Author

Paul  Schuster

Paul has been helping Quark Expeditions passengers choose the polar expedition to best suit their needs since 2009. An adventure travel expert and avid traveler, he’s visited over 40 countries and explored the Antarctic Peninsula, Canadian High Arctic, Spitsbergen and the North Pole on expedition.

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