Equipped with specially designed boats, well manned and supplied, this second expedition reflected the hard lessons of the First Arctic Land Expedition of 1819-22. Franklin himself noted:
It was impossible not to be struck with the difference between our present complete state of equipment and that on which we had embarked on our former disastrous voyage. Instead of a frail bark canoe, and a scanty supply of food, we were now about to commence the sea voyage in excellent boats, stored with three months’ provision.
The party wintered at Fort Franklin on Great Bear Lake from September 1825 till June 1826, before descending as far as the mouth of the Mackenzie River on the North American coast where the party split into two on 4 July. Nineteenth century Admiralty charts weren’t just projections and plotted data, they also included detailed coastal views; the quality of which were crucial for future surveyors and navigators. The same well-drawn church spire or rocky peak would be used over and over by different surveyors as a reference point to orient sightings. For this, but also as part of the Admiralty’s publicity campaign around such voyages, each party had its own artist. Richardson’s group, in the Dolphin and Union, took assistant surveyor Edward Nicholas Kendall to survey the coast between the Mackenzie and Coppermine Rivers; while Franklin, in the Lion and Reliance, attempted to go west from the Mackenzie to Icy Cape with officer-artist George Back.While the equipment was better, the weather was worse, and the surveying ambitions of the two expeditions became impossible:
The obstinate continuance of fog forms another material difference between this season and the same period of 1821. We were only detained three times in navigating along the coast that year to the east of the Coppermine River; but on this voyage hardly a day passed after our departure form the Mackenzie that the atmosphere was not, at some time, so foggy as to hide every object more distant than four or five miles.
Weather observations were an important component of the expeditions and published alongside the narrative accounts of the officers. In addition to supplies, clothing, boats, and bibles, the expedition had a whole suite of astronomical, magnetic, and meteorological apparatus. To have some idea of how well any instrument was working, every instrument needed to be compared against a designated standard. The twelve thermometers on the expedition give some sense of the sheer amount of scientific apparatus the parties were carrying. Ten ivory-scale thermometers made by James Newman from his London premises at 7 and 8 Lisle Street, which he occupied in the years 1816-25, were regularly compared with one another and then the instrument which gave the readings nearest the mean temperature of the whole set was compared with one of two thermometers made by member of the famous Dollond family of scientific instrument makers and recently elected Royal Society Fellow, George Dollond of St Paul’s Churchyard, London. Trust in the Dollond instrument, based in complex reasons of society, genealogy, and class, was used to calibrate the best of the Newman instruments. One of the Newman thermometers from the expedition is held by the polar museum (Y:54/21/1). A note on the reverse of the ivory scale identifies the Polar Museum’s thermometer as the one used in the Observatory in the two sets of winter observations before being removed on 1 May to register the temperature of the open air.
Despite the challenging weather, the two parties successfully charted over 1100 miles of ‘undiscovered’ coastline along the Beaufort Sea, now known as the Amundsen Gulf, between July and September 1826. The total number of miles surveyed and mapped was closer to 5,000; but as these were routes had long been traversed by fur traders, Franklin omitted them from his ‘discoveries’. Franklin’s party turned back within only 160 miles of the British Naval Exploring Expedition 1825-28 (HMS Blossom) captained by Sir Frederick Beechey that was advancing eastward from Icy Cape.