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The Polar Museum: news blog

Welcome to the Scott Polar Research Institute Museum news section.

British Naval Exploring Expedition (Second Arctic Land Expedition) 1825-27 Blog 3:

February 12th, 2018

Equipped with specially designed boats, well manned and supplied, this second expedition reflected the hard lessons of the First Arctic Land Expedition of 1819-22.  Franklin himself noted:

It was impossible not to be struck with the difference between our present complete state of equipment and that on which we had embarked on our former disastrous voyage. Instead of a frail bark canoe, and a scanty supply of food, we were now about to commence the sea voyage in excellent boats, stored with three months’ provision.

The party wintered at Fort Franklin on Great Bear Lake from September 1825 till June 1826, before descending as far as the mouth of the Mackenzie River on the North American coast where the party split into two on 4 July. Nineteenth century Admiralty charts weren’t just projections and plotted data, they also included detailed coastal views; the quality of which were crucial for future surveyors and navigators. The same well-drawn church spire or rocky peak would be used over and over by different surveyors as a reference point to orient sightings.  For this, but also as part of the Admiralty’s publicity campaign around such voyages, each party had its own artist. Richardson’s group, in the Dolphin and Union, took assistant surveyor Edward Nicholas Kendall to survey the coast between the Mackenzie and Coppermine Rivers; while Franklin, in the Lion and Reliance, attempted to go west from the Mackenzie to Icy Cape with officer-artist George Back.

“Boats in a Swell Amongst Ice” (August 24, 1826) [drawn by George Back]

While the equipment was better, the weather was worse, and the surveying ambitions of the two expeditions became impossible:

The obstinate continuance of fog forms another material difference between this season and the same period of 1821. We were only detained three times in navigating along the coast that year to the east of the Coppermine River; but on this voyage hardly a day passed after our departure form the Mackenzie that the atmosphere was not, at some time, so foggy as to hide every object more distant than four or five miles.

Weather observations were an important component of the expeditions and published alongside the narrative accounts of the officers. In addition to supplies, clothing, boats, and bibles, the expedition had a whole suite of astronomical, magnetic, and meteorological apparatus. To have some idea of how well any instrument was working, every instrument needed to be compared against a designated standard. The twelve thermometers on the expedition give some sense of the sheer amount of scientific apparatus the parties were carrying. Ten ivory-scale thermometers made by James Newman from his London premises at 7 and 8 Lisle Street, which he occupied in the years 1816-25, were regularly compared with one another and then the instrument which gave the readings nearest the mean temperature of the whole set was compared with one of two thermometers made by member of the famous Dollond family of scientific instrument makers and recently elected Royal Society Fellow, George Dollond of St Paul’s Churchyard, London. Trust in the Dollond instrument, based in complex reasons of society, genealogy, and class, was used to calibrate the best of the Newman instruments. One of the Newman thermometers from the expedition is held by the polar museum (Y:54/21/1). A note on the reverse of the ivory scale identifies the Polar Museum’s thermometer as the one used in the Observatory in the two sets of winter observations before being removed on 1 May to register the temperature of the open air.

Ivory Newman thermometer from the British Naval Exploring Expedition (Second Arctic Land Expedition) 1825-27, Polar Museum Y:54/21/1).

Despite the challenging weather, the two parties successfully charted over 1100 miles of ‘undiscovered’ coastline along the Beaufort Sea, now known as the Amundsen Gulf, between July and September 1826. The total number of miles surveyed and mapped was closer to 5,000; but as these were routes had long been traversed by fur traders, Franklin omitted them from his ‘discoveries’. Franklin’s party turned back within only 160 miles of the British Naval Exploring Expedition 1825-28 (HMS Blossom) captained by Sir Frederick Beechey that was advancing eastward from Icy Cape.

Map “Shewing the Discoveries made by British Officers in the Arctic Regions from the year 1818 to 1826,” from John Franklin, Narrative of a Second Expedition to the Shores of the Polar Sea in the years 1825, 1825, and 1827 (1828).





Franklin and the British Naval Exploring Expedition 1819-22 (First Arctic Land Expedition) Blog 2:

January 29th, 2018

Franklin was born in 1786, son of a Lincolnshire textiles merchant. He joined the Royal Navy in 1800 and accompanied Matthew Flinders on his circumnavigation of Australia in 1802-1803; before serving as a midshipman on the ‘Bellerophon’ at Trafalgar. Still just a junior officer at the end of the war, he became involved in Arctic exploration as commander of the British Naval North Polar Expedition 1818 (HMS Trent and HMS Dorothea), in an attempt to find a route to the North Pole through the pack ice north of Spitsbergen. It was on board HMS Trent in 1818 before the expedition’s departure that Franklin met his future first wife, romantic poet Eleanor Porden. The encounter was the inspiration for her verse ‘The Arctic Expeditions’ which would launch a network of polar exploration romance writing. The following year he led an overland expedition to the Arctic coast – the British Naval Exploring Expedition 1819-22 (First Arctic Land Expedition) – with the goal of exploring the northern coast of Canada via the Coppermine River. For the expedition Franklin and his men were equipped with clothing and moccasins made by Inuit women, stitched together with the caribou sinew these women had prepared as thread. Sewing was crucial to survival in the Arctic and once you start looking you can see sinew thread stitching and binding everywhere on gallery – from boots and jackets to sledges and knives. The Polar Museum even has skeins of whale and caribou sinew thread collected on the British Naval Northwest Passage Expedition 1821-23 (HMS Fury and HMS Hecla) led by William Edward Parry and contemporary with Franklin.

Whale sinew made into thread collected Polar Museum, N: 811. For further information see Parry blog 4.

Despite being well-equipped in clothing, the Coppermine River expedition was poorly provisioned and, with their two canoes badly damaged, Franklin and his nineteen men abandoned the expedition and turned inland. Then the hunting parties began to fail. Before long they were eating ‘[their] old shoes and a few scraps of leather’. When they ran out of boots they starved on a weak, bitter broth of boiled lichen called ‘tripe-de-roche’ which had formerly seasoned the game provided by the once successful hunts.


Tripe-de-roche, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh,

The expedition split into three parties. One, led by Franklin headed for Fort Enterprise in the hope of finding supplies there; another, led by George Back went in search of a group of Indians who had previously supplied the party with food; the third group was made up of surveyor Robert Hood, who was too weak to go on, seaman John Hepburn and Scottish naturalist Dr John Richardson, Franklin’s closest associate on the expedition, who agreed to stay behind with Hood. Franklin’s party soon split again with three French-Canadian voyageurs, Teroahauté, Belanger, and Perrault, exhausted and starving, opting instead to return and join Richardson and the others. Only one, Michel Teroahauté, made it to rejoin Richardson.


Following his reunion with Richardson’s small group, Teroahauté went hunting and returned with fresh wolf meat for the party. However, after eating the meat, the others became increasingly convinced that the voyageur was lying and that the meat was in fact, in Richardson’s words, ‘a portion of the body of Belanger or Perrault’. A few days later Richardson and Hepburn returned to the camp after a foraging expedition to find Hood dead with a bullet hole in his forehead and Teroahauté claiming it was suicide. Richardson shot Teroahauté to prevent, as he believed, the voyageur murdering them and eating their bodies. Richardson and Hepburn then sought out the Franklin party, reaching Fort Enterprise in late October to find Franklin and three other members of the expedition, all those of the Franklin party still living, themselves near death. George Back accompanied by the Indians he had set out to find eventually rescued the Fort Enterprise party. Of the twenty men who formed the original Coppermine expedition, eleven had died. Despite the disastrous losses Franklin became a British hero and Richardson was never tried for the murder of Teroahauté.

Phlox Hoodi, named by Richardson after the deceased Hood, see the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh blog

A group of concerned and well-wishing ladies had provided the expedition with a small collection of religious books before it left London. Throughout these ordeals Richardson’s party kept hold of the most portable, reading portions to one another as they lay in bed, in addition to the morning and evening services. For Richardson the affect was such that ‘[h]ad my poor friend [Mr Hood]   been spared to revisit his native land, I should look back to this period with unalloyed delight’. When he was reunited with Franklin at Fort Enterprise he introduced the practice so that Franklin would later recall, despite being half dead from exhaustion,  ‘the performance of these duties always afforded us the greatest consolation, serving to reanimate our hope in the mercy of the Omnipotent, who alone could save and deliver us.’ The Polar Museum has two such ‘portable’ religious works owned by Franklin, a book of sacred poetry (N:820) and The Christian Pattern (N:987), this latter apparently purchased before Franklin and Richardson returned to the Arctic again in 1825 on the British Naval Exploring Expedition (Second Arctic Land Expedition) 1825-27.


A copy of The Christian Pattern, or a treatise on the imitation of Christ by Thomas Kempis (1824) owned by John Franklin. Polar Museum N.987

Why Franklin? Blog 1:

January 15th, 2018



We don’t know when it started, or who took the decision, but some time in May 1848 British sailors from HMS Erebus and HMS Terror began butchering and eating their comrades…

Andrew Lambert, 2009.


At the Polar Museum we’re lucky enough to have a diverse collection of material associated with one of the most iconic, and controversial, figures in the history of polar exploration, Captain of the ill-fated British Naval Northwest Passage Expedition 1845-48 (HMS Erebus and HMS Terror), Sir John Franklin. Most of the time I work for Greenwich National Maritime Museum, researching an early nineteenth century campaign to survey the earth’s magnetism dubbed ‘The Magnetic Crusade’. Historians have looked to the ‘powerful sickening fascination of the Crusade’s magnetic data’ to explain Franklin’s obsession with polar exploration that led to this last, fateful voyage. Since February, I’ve been doing some work for the Polar Museum to enhance the available information on their Arctic collections, with a particular interest in nineteenth century expeditions or anything related to magnetism. I hope these posts will be teasers for some of the amazing objects on show and in storage there. As with many of the Polar Museum’s collections, much of the material related to Franklin was donated by family and the descendants of Franklin and of fellow officers; so it ranges from the domestic and personal, through expedition equipment and relics of the expedition’s tragic end, to commemorative items. This is what makes the collection so exciting and diverse but also particularly important for thinking about the life of one of the most infamous heroic failures in the history of polar exploration. It’s a story that begins, and ends, with cannibalism.

A Viennese Whirl: The Madness of Conferences

January 11th, 2018

Hello again, dear readers, for another blog post; this time about that great totem of academia: the conference. The last week of April saw several of my compatriots and I jet off to Vienna, there to attend the 2017 EGU General Assembly (EGU for short). EGU is the European Geoscience Union; the umbrella body that covers all Earth-Science-type researchers on the continent. The General Assembly draws 14,000-odd scientists to Vienna every year for a week in April, ranging from atmospheric physicists to volcanologists. The conference is huge, with a kaleidoscope of subjects and sessions covered – obviously, we were mainly going to attend the cryosphere strand (i.e. the bit that covers snow and ice) – but, if you have other research interests, there’ll be a session for them too.

The EGU logo.

The EGU logo.

The conference lasts from Monday to Friday, with a few pre-conference events on the preceding Sunday. Each day, each research area will have several sessions of oral presentations on specific areas within that strand, starting at 08:30 and carrying on until 17:00.So, for the cryosphere, a session might be on the behaviour of glaciers in a particular geographical area, or on a particular method for investigating ice, or it might be deliberately broad, to ensure that cross-cutting research doesn’t get left out. At the end of each day, between 17:30 and 19:00, there are poster sessions related to each of the oral sessions. These are for work that isn’t sufficiently-finished for an oral presentation, or that is perhaps lower impact, or if you don’t want the formality of an actual talk. Essentially, poster sessions consist of a big hall filled with posters, with the researcher responsible standing in front of their poster. Any conference attendee can wander round, read the posters and talk to the researchers about their work on the poster. It’s a useful way of presenting and getting feedback on your work in an informal setting. And of networking, which is in many ways equally valuable – at a big conference like EGU, most of the big names in the field will be in attendance, so it’s a great way of meeting them, which could turn out to be very useful in organising collaborations or getting a job.