An expedition filled with mystery, danger and intrigue set off from Sunderland in 1962

Captain Cundy, left, with Captain Gordon Dean who were both set for the expedition
Captain Cundy, left, with Captain Gordon Dean who were both set for the expedition
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Sunderland looked set to play its part in a piece of history in 1962.

That’s when a ship which was built in the city - The Warkworth - was set to make her maiden voyage.

Captain Norman Thompson just before he boarded his new command, The Warkworth

Captain Norman Thompson just before he boarded his new command, The Warkworth

Her aim was to help an expeditionary crew to visit Eskimo communities which had not been seen by outsiders for more than 100 years.

When they got there, the crew hoped to find out more about another expedition which had disappeared mysteriously more than 100 years earlier.

And to make it more of a Wearside affair, Captain Norman Thompson of Viewforth Drive in Sunderland was the man in command of the 14,300 ton ship.

The Warkworth had been built by Bartram and Sons of Sunderland for R.S.Dalgleish of Newcastle.

On board the ship on her maiden voyage were two Royal Marine Volunteer Reserve officers - two of the four-man expedition.

They sailed on The Warkworth from the Wear on a voyage destined for St Lawrence in Canada.

The two officers were due to be part of a four man team whose mission was to search an area more than 400 miles north of the Hudson Bay. They were planning to do it by canoe.

The other two members of the crew were arriving separately on another ship.

When they linked up, they were going to the roof of Canada to look for relics of Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated expedition of 1845.

Our Echo story of 1962 told how the Franklin expedition ran into trouble near King William Island on the Canadian Arctic coast.

The 105-strong party decided in 1845 to abandon their boats and travel down the Chantrey Inlet and up the Back River to a trading post which was several hundred miles inland.

Some evidence suggested the party pushed at least 100 miles down the inlet.

But Eskimo legends suggested others got further. What really happened to them?

The crew which set off in the 1962 expedition were hoping to solve many of the questions left by their counterparts 117 years earlier.

Captain Robert W.F. Cundy, a 31-year-old London journalist, was to lead the expedition.

Setting off from Sunderland, he told the Echo in 1962: “There are a great many mysteries to be solved.”

While there, The Warkworth was to play its own part by loading grain.

In the meantime, Captain Cundy and his men would be examining the cairns near Cape Britannia as well as hopefully communicating with Eskimos.

Their hope was that information about the 1845 expedition which was unknown to the historians might have been handed down between generations of locals for 100 years. They would find it out by speaking to the Eskimos, after spending years learning their language.

The men planned to get to their destination by canoeing for 250 miles. The daunting task, they hoped, would be made easier because the river would be flowing so fast, they could do it in two weeks.

The downside, though, was they would have to carry the canoe for long periods while they avoided 50-foot rapids.

Captain Cundy added at the time: “Many private people have helped us in the financing the expedition and the Canadian government is taking a great interest in the search.

“Very little is know about this part of the Arctic Circle and while we are there we shall be undertaking a number of tests relating to snow depths, as well as gathering information about the habits of Eskimos on behalf of the Canadian Government.”

The weather would vary from blazing sunshine to mist and temperatures well below freezing. The crew would camp in bivouacs and live on dehydrated food supplied free by British manufacturers.

But how did their mission fare? Did they succeed in their task and did they shed light on what happened to Sir John Franklin and his men.

If you can help with more information, contact Chris Cordner by emailing