Sunday, June 14, 2009

Jens Munk's 1619 Expedition

A translation of Jens Munk's account can be downloaded from Google Books: Danish Arctic Expeditions 1605 to 1620, by C. C. A. Gosch 1897.

I became aware Danish explorer Jens Munk when reading "Dead Silence." The story is amazing. Munk's expedition left Denmark in 1619 with the goal of locating the northwest passage. The expedition sailed into Hudson Bay where their progress was halted by ice. Munk and his men were forced to winter over. It was not long before the expedition experienced a severe outbreak of scurvy. Munk himself became so ill that he wrote a farewell letter (included in the book).

Eventually the ice broke up in the summer of 1620 allowing a very few survivors to sail back to Denmark. Only Munk and two others survived the expedition.

This was almost the first arctic expedition to be completely wiped out. One hundred years later James Knight's expedition would become the first arctic expedition to be lost with all hands. The expedition of Sir John Franklin met a similar end in the 1840s.

Munk's expedition gives some insight into what life might have been like for the very last Franklin survivors. The tale of a handful of scurvy stricken men trying to sail out of danger is similar to some evidence of the Franklin expedition's end.


  1. Hi Chris,

    Many thanks for this -- I hadn't known that Munk's narrative was available from Google Books! His tale is indeed a horrifying one; after he and the few survivors were too weak to bury their dead, they left them in their bunks aboard the ship (a detail also found in Inuit accounts of one of Franklin's ships); it was there, amidst the stench of corpses, that Munk penned his last will and testament.

    Stunningly, on the return on Munk and the two other survivors, the King of Denmark commanded him to prepare another expedition to try again. For some odd reason, volunteers were almost impossible to come by, and the expedition was called off!

  2. Hi Russell, sorry it took me so long to reply.

    I didn't know the King ordered them to undertake another mission upon their return. The comparison between the Munk's men laying dead in the bunks and Franklin's crossed my mind too. The tall man with the big teeth and the "many dead men in bunks."

    Interestingly, a century later James Knight would see the bones of Munk's men. Knight started Prince of Wales Fort which is only a few miles from where Munk wintered. Knight's own expedition became a total disaster and mystery.