Braine was a Royal Marine and part of an expedition now termed as "Franklin's Lost Expedition", a voyage to explore the last uncharted area of the Northwest Passage. It was led by Rear-Admiral Sir John Franklin. The expedition began in May 1845 and a note written by Captain James Fitzjames showed that out of desperation the ships were abandoned near King William Island in 1848. The remaining crew members attempted to walk across approximately 100 miles of ice until they could get to safety but none survived. About 5 years after the expedition’s start, a search party discovered a small graveyard on Beechey Island were John Torrington, John Hartnell, and William Braine had been buried. A fourth man, Thomas Morgan, was later buried alongside William Braine. Morgan belonged to a party sent in search of Franklin and he seemingly died of scurvy. His body was not exhumed.
In 1984, the body of John Torrington was exhumed and attracted worldwide attention. Hartnell and Braine’s bodies were later exhumed on a PBS Nova Documentary titled ‘Buried in Ice.’
The bodies of the three men were in fine condition; each of them had toenails and eyebrows intact. They were found under 6 feet of frozen permafrost. Out of the three men found, Braine's condition was the worst. The researchers believed that Braine's body was left on board HMS Erebus for quite a while before it was buried. It appeared to have been gnawed by rats. One of his arms seemed to be missing but was later found positioned underneath his corpse.
The bodies of the men were studied extensively and it was revealed that all three showed high levels of lead in their system. At first it was believed that the lead came from the tin cans of food but scientists now believe that the lead came from the water filtration system on the ship. This has not being proven yet as the ships have yet to intensely studied after the rediscovery of The HMS Erebus in 2014, where Braine was stationed but this is the most likely theory.
Studies have shown that these three men were actually the lucky ones, postmortem investigations showed that they died from tuberculosis which is much better than dying of lead poisoning like many other crew members did.