Jessica Pink joins us to talk about our top seven doomed expeditions, in which we find out why you shouldn’t name your ship “Terror,” how not to treat helpful aborigines, how many captains it takes to spoil the expedition, how many pounds of rock samples are worth the lives of five scientists, how to make a polar tuxedo, and whether or not you should test your balloon steering system before you leave for the arctic. All this and pop culture too. Part 1 of 2.
Music: “Operation: Get the Hell Out of Here” by The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets


Franklin Expedition:
Toren: 10
Kevin: 10
Joe: 10
Jess: 9

Burke & Wills Australian Expedition
Toren: 7.5
Kevin: 6
Joe: 7
Jess: 7

Polaris Expedition
Toren: 4
Kevin: 3.5
Joe: 4
Jess: 7

Arctic Balloon Expedition
Toren: 8
Kevin: 6
Joe: 6
Jess: 8

Robert Falcon Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition
Toren: 6
Kevin: 9.5
Joe: 6
Jess: 9

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Showing 24 comments
  • Chew

    Ye scurvy dogs,

    the acidic nature of lemon juice was thought to be the cure for scurvy, and to save weight the British Navy told their lemon juice providers to boil and concentrate the lemon juice, which of course, destroys the Vitamin C. At around the same time navigational and sailing technologies were improving and mariners were taking advantage of the charted ocean currents so sea voyages became shorter and shorter in duration. No one caught scurvy of these shorter voyages so the lack of preventative benefit of the boiled lemon juice was not noticed. It was only on the longer voyages of exploration that the explorers came down with scurvy.

  • Derek

    Awesome episode, guys! I kept thinking of things to add the whole way through, but of course can’t remember them all now.

    I think with the Burke & Wills expedition, they still thought there was a massive inland sea in the middle of Australia and were kind of expecting to come across it on their journey, which might have explained (at least a little) of how poorly kitted out they were. Anyway, there’s Lake Eyre (pron. ‘air’) but that’s only occasionally full of water and certainly not a sea.

    Also, the 30lbs of rocks that Scott and his buddy carried with them in Antarctica are, in fact, remarkably valuable – they’re definite proof of the tropical history of Antarctica, tens or hundreds of millions of years ago. I heard an interview on the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Commission) Science Show podcast about it.

  • Chew

    After reading about the Swedish Arctic Balloon Expedition I’d have to give it a rating of 10 on the Doomometer.

    This quote from the Wikipedia article cinched the 9 for me. Ekholm was the engineer who measured the amount of hydrogen leakage in the balloon and calculated the balloon would only last 17 days instead of Andrée’s claim of 30 days.

    “On the boat back from Svalbard, Ekholm learned from the chief engineer of the hydrogen plant the explanation of some anomalies he had noticed in his measurements: Andrée had from time to time secretly ordered extra topping-up of the hydrogen in the balloon.”

    So Andrée knew the balloon was leaking even faster than Ekholm calculated but he launched the expedition anyway!

  • Chew

    Oops. Should say 10 both times.

  • Chew

    P.S. Fantastic episode. I had to stop and rewind a dozen or so times because I was laughing too hard to listen.

  • X

    The Franklin expedition is thought to have broken into a few different groups only one of which resorted to cannibalism.

  • curtis

    great episode. If you haven’t selected music for episode two and are having trouble finding a doomed expedition song i suggest ‘Another New World’ by Josh Ritter about a fictional doomed expedition through the Artic on the Anna Belle Lee… I’m gonna say the phrase doomed expedition one more time.

    While listening to this podcast, every time I heard these explorers making some boneheaded decision about ignoring good advice or help from locals I kept hearing the Aristocrat from Picnicface’s tv show. “Pch-ch-choo-choo-choo!”

  • Daneel

    Loved it! The Scot expedition was not as bad as you make it sound, though. He was in it for the science and they were collecting specimens, rocks and stuff all the way though. Amundsen’s trip was another story. He wanted to go there just to beat Scot. He was extremely experienced and brought more than enough food for the ride. In fact I’ve heard that he actually GAIN weight during his expedition.

  • Chew

    PBS’ NOVA did a show about an exhumation of the three dead sailors on Beechey Island called Buried in Ice. The show discussed the history of the expedition. When the expedition decided to abandon their ice-bound ships and strike south for warmer climes they packed a bunch of stuff into some lifeboats and the sailors dragged them like sleds. One of the things they brought along was… a piano.

  • jens persson

    Don’t miss the “The Flight of the Eagle” about Andrée’s ballon expedition: quite a good movie

  • John Peacock

    Lovin’ part 1, especially the muppet intro (my ringtone) and the musical interlude. What is with the crazy expedition gear?

  • Chew

    How the Antarctic explorers caught penguins: A Different Kind of Dinner Bell in the Antarctic | Food & Think

  • Chew
  • SapphireHarp

    This was an awesome episode guys. I enjoyed it a lot.

    I’m also left wondering… did you guys examine the 15th-17th century explorations of the new world when considering this? Or African expeditions? I don’t know much about them, but it seems like there must have been some doomed explorations there.

    Perhaps you could have counted Roanoke, despite being a colonization expedition.

  • Anthony

    I don’t understand how Bourke & Wills took two months to travel what is basically a two hour walk!

    I’ve been to Princes Park and I’ve been to Essendon, it ain’t that far!

  • Reegs

    I was expecting to hear the very interesting story of the doomed expedition led by Percy Fawcett into the Amazon in 1925. The Indiana Jones charactor was based off of him. Very interesting story. He would be a great topic for an entire show. Back in the day Explorers were the heros of time. Not sports stars, movie stars, comic hero’s or even war hero’s. I think they did the best job they could for the technology at that time. They didn’t have GPS….

    • Toren

      I researched Fawcett but didn’t include him because the story is basically “guy goes into jungle and disappears.” Lots of speculation but not enough gory details for me!

  • Emily

    Would have been awesome if you guys had snuck in a little snippet from “The Doom Song” a la Invader Zim. That is all

  • BJ
  • Jay_One

    Followup for the Franklin Expedition:

    “No-one knows why in 1845 Sir John Franklin led an expedition of 128 men to the Arctic to discover the Northwest Passage, carrying a sled-load of button polish, handkerchiefs, curtain rods and a writing desk. We do know that 35 rescue parties over several decades were sent out to discover what had happened. Eventually, in the 1980s they discovered that they were eating canned food, but the cans used lead-solder. They thus suffered from mass delusions caused by lead poisoning. We do not know why they did it, but we know they did, and no-one from the expedition came back alive.”

    This is a summary of a question discussed on the British TV show ‘QI’. I’m a lazy person and can’t be bothered to do my own research or check references, but the QI-elves are supposed to do a good job. The best I’ve got is this website:

    They list references at the end which I haven’t checked out.

    • Jay_One

      If only I had an edit button. The relevant part of the website I posted is the last paragraph of the ‘The search is on’ section.

  • Chew
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