In 1845 H.M.S. Erebus and Terror sailed from England under the command of Sir John Franklin in quest of the fabled Northwest Passage and never returned. For more than ten years British and American vessels combed the frozen seas in search of the missing ships without success.
In 1859 Sir Leopold McClintock discovered that the expedition came to grief in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, and that the crews abandoned their ships and died as they walked along the desolate shores of King William Island. According to Inuit testimony gathered in 1864-69 by American explorer Charles F. Hall, Captain Crozier, whom the Eskimos called Aglooka, escaped south with Captain Fitzjames and some others to Back's Fish River. What happened to them is one of the cruxes of the Franklin problem and the main feature of this book.