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The Polar Museum: news blog

The Polar Museum: news blog

Welcome to the Scott Polar Research Institute Museum news section.

Museum Speed Dating – Shackleton in the Spotlight

June 18th, 2019

Ernest Shackleton was an eminent polar explorer who voyaged to the Antarctic four times, leading three of his own expeditions. On two of those expeditions he made ‘furthest South’ records on his attempts on the South Pole. He was also responsible for (amongst many other achievements) one heroic open-boat sea crossing to rescue his men from certain death. Shackleton is undoubtedly an iconic figure of the twentieth century, and one that we are proud to represent through our collection of fascinating, poignant and unique objects in the Polar Museum, archives and picture library.

Now we want you to vote for your favourite Shackleton object.

Sir Ernest Shackleton

What does Shackleton have to do with our new hashtag – #MuseumSpeedDating? No, the Polar Museum hasn’t decided to branch out into matchmaking (though I’m sure our penguin could thaw even the iciest of hearts!). Instead, this is a new way to show you some more of our Shackleton collection, and find out what you’d like to see more of too. Using this hashtag, we’ve posted 10 short films across all of our social media channels about some of the amazing objects in our collection.

We’re inviting you to vote for your favourite object by liking or sharing its short film on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. The objects with the most votes will be made into longer, more in-depth films by a professional filmmaker. They’ll help us to draw out not only what’s fascinating about the objects themselves, but what they can tell us about who Shackleton was and how he lived. These longer films will also include material from our archive and picture library which will throw even more light on Shackleton as a man and a leader.

This project all started with a grant we received from the National Lottery Heritage Fund to help us grow, improve and interpret our collection of objects relating to Ernest Shackleton. Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, for which he is perhaps best known, ran from 1914-1917 and having had the centenary of that momentous journey recently, we knew that this would be the perfect time to tell you more about all of Shackleton’s expeditions to that remote continent. We wanted to talk about the feats of scientific knowledge-building, as well as geographical exploration, which he achieved.

Shackleton is a man who lived a full life, typified by his expeditions to the Antarctic, of course, but full of people, relationships, and objects – some of which we’re lucky enough to look after. So we have spent some time researching what we have in our collection, and what they say about the man and the life he led. Uncovering some of the more surreal stories gave us greater insight into Shackleton’s truly pioneering personality and determination: like the plaque for a small boat named the ‘Raymond’ which he might have been planning to drag with him across the entire Antarctic continent before his plans were foiled. Other objects, like the barometer purportedly used to measure the height of the Antarctic volcano Mount Erebus by Sir Tannatt William Edgeworth David on the British Antarctic Expedition 1907-09 (Nimrod), show the gumption, grit and scientific merit of the men he took on his expeditions.

Raymond Plaque. Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge

Barometer.
Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge

There’s the chronometer which helped to navigate the 800 mile open-boat journey Shackleton was forced to make from Elephant Island to South Georgia to rescue his stranded crew. The sledging flag, made by a female family member, and attached to Shackleton’s sledge on his attempts on the South Pole during the British National Antarctic Expedition 1901-04 (Discovery) and British Antarctic Expedition 1907-09 (Nimrod). There’s even an unopened tin of Lipton’s tea which made it all the way to the Antarctic and all the way back to the UK without ever being drunk.

Chronometer.
Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge

Sledging Flag.
Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge

Lipton Tea.
Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge

In fact, all of the objects in our collection have different and exciting stories to tell. So it was not without some heartache that we finally narrowed down our choices to just 10 objects that we thought would represent all the multi-faceted aspects of Shackleton visible in our collections.

We’re really excited to ask you to help us decide which objects to focus on. So why not take our ten objects on a one minute speed date, work out which ones you would like to know better, and let us know – so that we can tell you more about them. Remember, voting for your favourite is as easy as liking or sharing the film!

All I can say is, having got to know all of the objects pretty well over the last few weeks, I don’t envy you having to pick just three!

 

 

The Inukshuk is Back!

May 29th, 2019

Some of you will have noticed the gap between the harpoon and the blubber pot on the grass outside the Institute in recent months. The person-shaped stone cairn, or inukshuk as it is more commonly known in the Arctic, has been in conservation for nearly a year. Now it’s back on display and looking better than ever.

Inukshuk unveiled after restoration

The inukshuk has guarded the West entrance to the Institute since the 1970s, when it was lifted into place with a crane and reassembled piece by piece using a grainy black-and-white photo taken in Canada where it was originally purchased. It was moved again to its current position in 2010 and put together in the same way, using lots of cement to fix each of the heavy pieces of pink granite in place. You might see in the before-picture here it had built up a rather unsightly waistband that we had cruelly taken to calling its ‘muffin top’.

Inukshuk at SPRI before damage

Sadly, in 2017 its powerful waistline did little to protect it from the attention of one excited visitor and the inukshuk broke in two! Thankfully nobody was hurt, but the sculpture itself was immediately boarded up to prevent any further damage—the pieces are too heavy to lift by hand. A talented team of conservators was then engaged to take on the job of rebuilding and stabilising it.

Conservators at Patina Art Collection Care worked closely with us to get an impression of the original vision of the Inuit sculptor, Aqjangajuk Shaa. Every effort was made to contact Shaa, but to no avail. Luckily, a thorough search of the archives unearthed more pictures of the inukshuk in its original site at Kinngait (Cape Dorset) in the 1960s, which did give some idea of how it once stood.

Inukshuk in Canada 1960s

We were surprised to learn that its right arm has been upside-down ever since it was first displayed here. It remained upside-down even when it was moved in 2010, and again in 2013 when the arm was damaged and reattached. We took advantage of the new repairs to correct this and also to ever so slightly reposition the legs to give the impression of movement, which was also more apparent in the early pictures.

It was great watching Dee and Ricky from Mtec using their crane to lift it back into place and to see it all come together over several days. The granite pieces were expertly drilled through where it wouldn’t be visible, so that metal dowels could be used to hold the sculpture together and fix it securely to the concrete base. Lyndsey and Andrew from Patina also thought very hard how to place the toes, which were previously swamped in cement. The joins are now altogether cleaner, more fluid and sturdier than they were before, and even the old break from 2013 was retouched so it can hardly be seen.

MTec begin the installation process

Sadly, we recently heard that Aqjangajuk Shaa (1937-2019) died in March this year, just as we were making arrangements for his inukshuk’s return. We hope you’ll agree that the inukshuk in its newly re-invigorated state is a fitting tribute to Shaa’s legacy as a celebrated artist, and will give plenty of joy for generations to come.

The MTec and Patina Art team

Tikiġaq/Point Hope. Building an exhibition.

April 29th, 2019

On Wednesday 1 May a new special exhibition called Tikiġaq / Point Hope: Life on Alaska’s North Slope will open, free, at the Polar Museum. The exhibition has been a long time in the making; but, when a recent acquisition arrived that dramatically altered its direction, we got a valuable reminder about the power of engaging with different communities.

In late 2017 the Polar Museum was approached by somebody with an old leather suitcase full to bursting with intriguing bone, fur, ivory and stone items that, according to their hundred-year-old labels, came from ‘Tigara, Alaska’. Known by many today as Point Hope, the small Alaskan village of Tikiġaq on the Western-most extremity of Alaska’s North Slope has a rich and varied history stretching back over millennia. The items in the suitcase, which represent several periods of Tikiġaq’s past from stone arrowheads to more recent fur items made for sale by the indigenous Iñupiaq, were collected by a missionary called Reginald Hoare who sent them back to his family in Britain. However, the information contained in some of the old labels gave us pause to think especially carefully about how to approach them. Some of the implements in the collection were labelled by Hoare as having been found in graves or ‘among bones’.

An assortment of objects

An assortment of objects unpacked from the suitcase.
(c) Scott Polar Research Institute

The presence of grave goods in museums is highly contentious. Criticisms have been levelled at museums that have continued to acquire or display culturally sensitive materials with seemingly little regard for the wishes of the indigenous people who created them. Yet, the International Council of Museums code of ethics states that when it comes to such items, where possible museums should respect the wishes of originator communities. So, after some research and seeking advice from contacts in Alaska, we reached out to community representatives in Tikiġaq to alert them to the existence of the Hoare collection.

We eventually got a reply from Tikiġaq-born artist Othniel Art Oomittuk Junior who was very keen to hear about our plans for the Alaska exhibition. From this point things moved quickly and we welcomed Art’s kind offer to visit Cambridge and give his perspective on the new collection. Now, it was in the course of these discussions that we got our next big surprise.

Art examining a pipe

Othniel Art Oomittuk Junior examining a pipe
(c) Scott Polar Research Institute. Picture credit: Charlotte Connelly

Art put us in touch with London-based historian Tom Lowenstein, who has written extensively about Point Hope. Tom described how, whilst visiting a friend some years ago, he was introduced to someone who had made a curious find in their attic. By an amazing coincidence this attic happened to be in the house that once belonged to a relative of our Tikiġaq missionary, Hoare. To his astonishment, Tom was shown a wooden chest containing more items of ivory and fur labelled in the same hand as those in the suitcase and also accompanied with a huge box of letters from Alaska!

Ivory needle case

Ivory needle case
(c) Scott Polar Research Institute

With Tom’s help, we were able to reunite these various dispersed parts of the Hoare collection at the Polar Museum in time for Art’s visit. Art expressed his happiness that the items had found a good home, even saying that the grave goods had an important story that should be told through the display. In turn, we learned so much more from Art about the items and life in Tikiġaq than we ever would have had we not reached out first.

The Mother of the Sea Creatures

March 28th, 2019

In the collection of Inuit art at The Polar Museum, amongst the delicate miniature carvings of polar bears and the beautiful representations of birds and walruses, there are a few pieces of art which look a little different. These sculptures all show the same woman, with the upper body of a human and the tail of a fish. In one she also has the beak of a bird; in another she rests her chin in her hands, gazing up at some invisible figure in front of her; in a third her back arches and her hair streams out behind her as if she is diving. Her mermaid-like shape seems familiar, and yet she holds powers that a mermaid could only dream of. These are sculptures of Sedna, the Mother of the Sea Creatures. Let me introduce her to you…

Soapstone carving

Soapstone carving. Sedna, ‘Taleelayuk’ the sea goddess by Manasie Akpaliapik, 1992.

Sedna (who might also be called Nuliajuk or Taleelayuk to give her just a few of her many names) is an important cultural figure for Inuit across the Arctic and she has an impressive origin story to match. Sedna’s story varies slightly from place to place and region to region, but one version of the legend starts with Sedna as a human woman who has refused all her would-be suitors. Eventually, she falls for a man who beguiles her with his voice and goes to live with him on an island. When they reach the island, the man she has married transforms and Sedna realises that he isn’t really a human man at all – he’s a seabird. Sedna is not happy living on the island with the seabird. Her father comes to visit her and while he is there she persuades him to help her escape. But the seabird, realising that Sedna is trying to leave the island, calls up a storm which rocks her father’s boat so much that he and Sedna think they will be killed. Sedna’s father, wanting to save himself, decides that the only way to stop the storm is to throw her overboard. Sedna manages to cling to the side of the boat by her fingers but her father chops them off so that she can’t hold on and she sinks to the bottom of the sea. She grows a tail like a fish and her fingers which have been cut off become the first sea mammals: the seals, walruses and whales of the Arctic.

Sedna now lives at the bottom of the sea and controls all of the sea mammals, which are the traditional food source of the Inuit. It is important that she is not upset or offended by human actions because she has the power to take all the sea mammals away, keeping them at the bottom of the sea with her and away from Inuit hunters. In the past, when Inuit were entirely dependent on ‘country food’ – or food harvested from the land – a lack of sea mammals would have resulted in starvation.

Serpentine carving

Green serpentine carving of Sedna, ‘Taleelayuk’ the sea goddess by Kaka Ashoona, 1961.

Shamans were traditionally the link between Sedna and the Inuit (before the loss of the shamanic tradition as a result of contact with Christian missionaries to the Arctic). If there were no sea creatures to be found, the shaman would visit Sedna underneath the sea to find out what was wrong. The shaman would then have to negotiate with Sedna so that she would allow the animals to be available for the Inuit again (sometimes these negotiations took the form of the shaman brushing her hair because, not having her fingers, Sedna is unable to do it herself). By having this total control over the principal sources of food, (as well as the clothing and fuel which were also produced from sea mammals) Sedna held the line between human life and death in her hands.

Carving of Taleelayuk the sea goddess

Black soapstone carving of Sedna, ‘Taleelayuk’ the sea goddess by Tarulagak. Before 1966.

Although the details of Sedna and her powers vary across the Arctic, the ideas of human to animal transformations (and vice versa), and the image of a female controlling force over the sea mammals are important concepts which can be found across many Arctic cultural groups. Visual art is often theorised as helping artists to represent and understand the world around them, and communicate this knowledge to the audience of people who see their works. It is unsurprising then that Sedna, who is such an important traditional cultural figure, is depicted so regularly in Inuit art. We are very fortunate to have such beautiful representations of her in our collection.

Henrietta

A new acquisition at The Polar Museum: Charles Royds’ telescope

November 29th, 2018

It’s been a bumper season for new acquisitions at The Polar Museum! As well as wrestling with the all-important ethical and legal complexities of bringing artefacts collected in the distant past into the safe care of an accredited public institution like SPRI, we have also had some relatively ‘easy wins’ this autumn. Without a doubt, the gift of Charles Royds’ telescope has been the highlight of these.

(c) Scott Polar Research Institute

As some of you longer-time readers may be aware, back in 2015 the Scott Polar Research Institute was awarded £500,000 through the Heritage Lottery Fund programme, Collecting Cultures, to enhance our understanding of, and public engagement with, the Shackleton story. One of the recent focuses of this effort has been a new display in our soon-to-be-refurbished Friends Room in the Library (open to the public!) that centres on the story of Shackleton and the people he worked with. This left us casting around for interesting objects we could use that weren’t already on display in the permanent gallery.

Then, in October, our Director Professor Julian Dowdeswell received a very timely letter from a descendant of the Godson of Charles Royds kindly offering us his telescope. The letter was passed on to me to process the acquisition; but, being more of an Arctic person, I found myself learning a lot more about the explorers who visited the opposite end of the planet…

Royds, Officer of Watch

Lieutenant Royds standing on the bridge of the ship beside the compass. (c) Scott Polar Research Institute.

Sir Charles William Rawson Royds was already a distinguished and well-travelled officer in the Royal Navy before he was picked in 1901 along with Robert Falcon Scott to serve as First Lieutenant aboard the Discovery. During his three years aboard Discovery the towering Royds served alongside the ship’s then little-known Third Lieutenant, Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton, who in addition to overseeing the Antarctic expedition’s supplies was also in charge of maintaining morale. Royds meanwhile acted as the expedition meteorologist and oversaw the daily smooth sailing of the ship under Captain Scott’s direction—as the person with overall charge of the ship the naval convention was that Scott be called Captain, though his actual rank in the Royal Navy at the time was Commander.

Cape Royds on Ross Island in Antarctica was eventually discovered and named for Royds by the crew of Discovery during the expedition. After this episode, Royds returned to his regular naval duties serving in British waters, the Mediterranean and farther afield before finally retiring with the rank of Rear Admiral. His trusty spyglass, however, continued to bear the signs of adaptation for polar use.

The most immediately striking feature of the telescope is its covering of green woollen blanket cloth, which has been rather crudely stitched on with cotton thread, I like to imagine, by Royds’ own numb, chilly hands one cold day in Antarctica. My assumption here is that the blanket would have provided extra protection to the instrument during arduous sledging journeys and would also prevent a wayward bare hand from inadvertently freezing to the metal casing in the sub-zero temperatures.

(c) Scott Polar Research Institute

 

The then owner of the telescope had already sent some excellent images and provenance information with their initial letter to Professor Dowdeswell detailing how their ancestor, Lieutenant Commander Vivian Edward Marshall May, acquired the telescope early in his career. Marshall May, himself a Royal Navy officer, received the telescope, along with a sextant and sword, on his passing out of the Royal Navy College at Dartmouth from his presumably very proud Godfather, Rear-Admiral Royds. Where the sword and sextant are today remains a mystery for the time-being.

After I showed the telescope and explained its provenance to my colleagues at SPRI it was unanimously decided that we should accept the gift for the new display. All that remained was for me to arrange for the formal handover, which always involves some paperwork, and to accession the telescope into the permanent Museum collection. I’m pleased to say that this is now done and the catalogue record can be seen online, here: https://www.spri.cam.ac.uk/museum/catalogue/article/y2018.13/

As I said, a nice ‘easy win’! But, the work isn’t done. Just because something is formally added to the museum register doesn’t mean it will be frozen in time (no pun intended) with the story never to change. I would still like to know where the sword and sextant ended up, whether the cover on the telescope really is a specific polar adaptation and where else it has been. It isn’t even clear what make or model it is. There are no visible markings and I’m no telescope specialist… Even the easy ones raise more questions than they answer.

Art UK Sculpture Project

October 29th, 2018

It started with a pretty innocent question at the top of an email in March, just one month after I started my job at the Museum: ‘are there sculptures at the Scott Polar Research Institute?’

Yes.

I knew that much. It was plain to me and anyone else who had visited the Museum at SPRI that we have sculpture in the collection. In fact, SPRI has in its care one of the largest collections of Inuit sculpture in Great Britain. But, what I didn’t know was just what other sorts of sculpture we have at SPRI, and how many sculptures are there in total.

(© SPRI) An older SPRI image of a walrus carved from soapstone and walrus ivory by artist Joe Emiqutailaq, Belcher Islands, Nunavut, c. 1970.

The original question came from Art UK, a national arts charity with a global reach and an ambitious mission ‘to open up art in public collections for enjoyment, learning and research.’ SPRI worked with Art UK in 2016 to showcase some of the paintings in our art collection alongside those from more than 3000 other collections across the UK: https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/search/collections:scott-polar-research-institute-university-of-cambridge/page/3

However, this time round Art UK is interested in getting some of our more three-dimensional artworks out there. This new project is part of a wider, three-year national effort to digitise 170,000 sculptures of all types from public collections around the country.

The first task, then, was for me to put together a working list of all the items in our care that Art UK regard as sculpture. The only major caveats for this were that 1) the items had to have been made in the last 1000 years, and 2) nothing made of ivory, bone, jade or wax was to be included. The first condition wasn’t going to be much of a problem for us—aside from a few small archaeological pieces and geological specimens, the collections at SPRI don’t go back more than a few centuries. But, avoiding ivory and bone was going to be difficult: indigenous carvers and artists from across the Arctic have long used the bones and ivory from the tusks and teeth of marine mammals traditionally hunted as part of their subsistence diet for raw materials. Understandably, Art UK are concerned to avoid showing-off materials coming from contentious sources, such as ivory from protected species like the endangered African elephant, but the marine ivory at SPRI is from permitted indigenous sources and so is less problematic.

Once the Museum Curator and I explained our case, Art UK were happy to make an exception for us. Now we were going to be able to showcase the best examples from the full range of sculptural items at SPRI. All I had to do was search exhaustively through our digital database, find everything that matched the Art UK definition of a sculpture—avoiding things that look too at home on nanna’s mantelpiece—and highlight the items that would benefit from new photography. Easy!

(© SPRI) Another older SPRI image of a plaster-cast bust of a Greenland Inuit woman in by Eigil Knuth, originally made in 1937.

Well, not quite. As well as all the obvious things like the plaster busts of an Inuit woman and child made by Danish artist Eigil Knuth in 1937, I also had to consider whether the bronze bust by Kathleen Scott of her late husband that you can see above the front door of the building should be included. Does it count more as an architectural detail (not allowed) or a standalone artwork in its own right (definitely allowed). Tricky stuff, but you’ll have to wait and see what the final decision was on that one…

Once we had our final total of 145 items we were able to send the list and arrange the photoshoot with Art UK. Happily our own Josh Murfitt from the Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology was the one who answered the call, being contracted out by the charity to come for two days to help us capture all the details of the fabulous sculpture in our care.


(Image © SPRI) Josh photographs a carved Arctic crane bird, usually seen on display in our permanent gallery.

We had great fun trying to figure out which was the back and which was the front of some of the more abstract pieces, and we even made a few discoveries about some of them along the way. One carving inscribed on both sides with Inuktitut syllabic script—the symbols used to represent the syllables in the Inuit language—had no known artist or date. In the process of turning it round to check it for inscriptions, we saw the syllabic signature of the artist, Tumasi Kala, on the base. Other items were so large and bulky we needed a trolley to move them the few metres from our store to the temporary photo studio space that Josh had set up. It was backbreaking work, but I can’t wait to see the final results. Watch this space!


(Image © SPRI) The base of a sculpture signed by the previously unknown artist in Inuktitut syllabic lettering.

Ship-shape again! The fully conserved silver Terra Nova model revealed at last

October 24th, 2018

This extraordinary solid silver model of Captain Scott’s Terra Nova was generously donated to the museum in 2010 by Scott’s descendants.  At that point it looked as if it had weathered a few storms:

the Terra Nova model after a few storms

The masts were bent and a lot of the rigging was broken or missing sections.  There was also a very distracting yellow coating over the metal which made it look almost more like a brass model than a silver one.

On closer inspection there were lots of old repairs to the model, either with solder, or with new wire rigging which didn’t match the old, or with original rigging wire repositioned or used to tie loose bits on.  Even the bowsprit was held on with a blob of Blu-tak inside the hull.  All in all it would be a daunting task to try and restore some of its original beauty.  And why did it look so battered in the first place?

The model was actually a present to Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s son Peter, given to him in honour of his father’s gallantry in 1913, soon after the news of Scott’s death was announced in Britain.  The subscribers of “John Bull Magazine” had a whip-round and commissioned the model for Peter, whom they called “John Bull’s boy”.  Peter was 4 at the time.

To a modern eye it seems extraordinary enough to make a ship model out of sterling silver, although in fact this was in vogue in the 1910’s and this one was made by the famous London silversmiths, Mappin and Webb.  It seems even more unusual to give such a thing as a present to a 4 year-old boy.  But the damage to the rigging, masts and bowsprit, not to mention the amateur repairs, all show that Peter must have played with the ship (and possibly dropped it), and that it was part of his life.  Peter’s family remember the ship being in their childhood home, and from there it was very kindly given to the museum.

When conserving the model we wanted to repair much of the damage without losing all traces of this history, which is what makes the ship unique.  The first stage was to remove the old yellow coating.  This was originally applied to stop the ship from tarnishing, but had become disfiguring in its own right.  Removing it was enormously time-consuming, and was done with the help of ultra-violet light, as described in an earlier blog post.

Once the coating was gone and the silver gently polished, repairs to the masts and rigging could start.  We had a choice to take the model to a specialist conservation silversmith, who could deconstruct the rigging and completely restore it.  But this would erase all the quirks introduced by Peter Scott over the years and lose an important part of the ship’s story.  So instead the repairs were done by me, as the in-house conservator at the museum, using less interventive techniques.

As a non-rigging expert, understanding the rig and repairing it was an intimidating prospect, so I enlisted help from Janet West, Emeritus Associate at the Scott Polar Research Institute and a renowned expert on scrimshaw.  Understanding ship rigging is bread and butter to her and we spent invaluable hours looking at the model and comparing it to photos of the Terra Nova in Antarctica.  It turned out that, although the hull was a perfect replica of the ship (according to the original plans) the rigging was very approximate and could not have worked in real life.  To be fair to the model maker, it would be almost impossible to rig the model realistically because the number of criss-crossing wires would become overwhelming.

Talking with Janet gave me confidence to start repairing the rigging.  I began with the footropes which hold the sails furled and then entered a hugely enjoyable flow state repairing everything else.  I used very fine nylon thread, archival tissue and adhesive to tie and reconnect the fine wires together.  I repositioned some original wire that had been wound round things to get it out of the way and by the end found that there was actually much less missing rigging than I first thought.  This is the finished article:

the newly conserved model

The result now strikes a balance – the ship still shows evidence of its past but has regained some of its “wow factor” too.

Sophie Rowe

The provenance of the collection Blog 8

April 23rd, 2018

 

Three sisters known as The Misses Lefroy’ donated the majority of the Franklin relics held by the Polar Museum. How the Misses Lefroy came to have so many Franklin relics is itself a tragic story; a polar love triangle caught up in the drama and devastating loss of the last Franklin voyage. The three Lefroy sisters, Jessie, from Winchester and Louie and M. Isabel (Mary-Isabella), who lived together in Bentworth, Hants, were the daughters of George Benjamin Austen Lefroy, a grand nephew of Jane Austen, and the great nieces of Franklin through their mother Emma Cracroft. Franklin had a direct heir in Eleanor Isabella Franklin, the daughter from his first marriage to Eleanor Porden. However, when Lady Jane Franklin launched her quest to search for the lost expedition, Eleanor Isabella’s rights to inherit were waived to fund her stepmother’s campaign to mobilise public feeling and Admiralty support. Central to Jane’s campaign was the transformation of detritus from the Franklin expedition recovered by the search parties into hallowed relics through engravings and great public exhibitions.  Eleanor Isabella would have nothing to do with it.

 

 

In fact the Franklin relics passed to the Misses Lefroy from their maiden aunt, Sophia (Sophy) Cracroft, from whom they inherited. Sophy Cracroft was Franklin’s eldest niece, Jane Franklin’s companion from her marriage to the polar explorer in 1836, and aide-de-cape from the launch of Lady Jane’s campaign until her death in 1875. This blog post is concerned with the polar love triangle in the grand tragedy of the Franklin expedition because of its direct significance for Sophy’s spinsterhood, and so the inheritance of the Misses Lefroy.

 

Sophy Cracroft was born in 1816, the eldest daughter of Isabella Franklin and Thomas Cracroft and niece of the Arctic explorer, John Franklin. In 1836, she accompanied Franklin, his second wife, Jane, and his daughter from his first marriage, Eleanor, to Van Diemen’s Land [Tasmania] after Franklin had accepted the post of lieutenant governor. It was four years later, while in Tasmania that Sophy, (age 24), and Eleanor (age 16) would meet the romantic interests that would dominate their future lives. Around the time of his 24th birthday, in March 1840, John Philip Gell came to stay with the Franklins. He was an Anglican clergyman from Derbyshire, recently graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge; and came to Van Diemen’s Land with the strongest recommendation from educator and historian Thomas Arnold to be head of the first institution of higher education under Franklin’s governance. He became an immediate friend of the family, and nine years on, following his return to England, Gell joined the family proper as Eleanor’s husband. In August 1840, just a few months on from Gell’s arrival at the Franklins, there was a more dramatic disruption to Van Diemen’s Land society life, in the arrival of two ships, the “Erebus” and the “Terror”, with naval officers Francis Rawdon Moira Crozier as Captain of the latter and James Clark Ross in overall command.

 

‘Erebus’ and the ‘Terror’ in New Zealand, August 1841, by John Wilson Carmichael

 

In 1839 the British government, under pressure from the Royal Society and the British Academy, had decided to send an expedition to the Antarctic for Scientific and Geographical research. The two ships, Erebus and Terror, left Moorgate Road on the 30 September 1839 and sailed south, landing at Hobart Town, in the summer of 1840 where they were hospitably received by Sir John Franklin, Lt. Governor of Tasmania, prompting a whirlwind of balls and celebrations. On their return from Antarctica in 1841 the fancy dress ball held aboard the ships to thank the Franklins was the event of the year for Hobart Town. To host the 350 guests, the Erebus and Terror were lashed together draped in red baize and dripping with chandeliers and flowers. More than 250 mirrors were arranged on the sides of the vessels to reflect the flickering candlelight; as the dazzled visitors approached the floating ballroom, the 51st Regiment of the Hobart Town Quadrille Band charmed them along a gangway made from a line of boats decked with flags and the floral emblem of the isle. The biggest naval ball in Tasmanian colonial history, the whole event is still remembered as ‘the Glorious first of June’. With Sir John Franklin presiding in full dress uniform, Lady Jane and Sophia Cracroft by his side, the “Two Captains” were the object of every woman’s dance card.  When, just days later, Erebus and Terror departed, Crozier was deeply in love with Sophia, and she with his gallant commander James Clark Ross well known as ‘the handsomest man in the Navy’.

 

Left: copy of daguerreotype portrait taken of Francis Crozier shortly before the Franklin expedition departed in 1845. Right: Oil on canvas of James Clark Ross, made in 1834 by John Robert Wildman. The highly romanticised portrayal marks Ross’s return from his 1829-33 Arctic expedition. Over his shoulder is draped a bear skin while the Pole Star shines in the top right of the image.

 

Three years on, the Franklins and Sophia left Van Diemen’s Land, reaching Britain in June 1844, to find Crozier still love-struck and Ross a newly married man. When the Admiralty approved plans for an Arctic expedition in early 1845, it was said that it was Ross’s promise to his bride, Anne née Coulman, which prevented him from taking command. This at least was the public story, however the Erebus and Terror had undergone further transformations since they were decked out in drapes and mirrors; the vessels were now fitted with steam engines taken from London and Greenwich railway locomotives, and privately Ross’s dislike of steam navigation played a significant role. Though Crozier and Ross shared the title of two of the most experienced polar explorer of the day, a powerful lobby manoeuvred for Franklin and secured him command of the expedition with Crozier as his second, Captain of the Terror. Further, in an unusual move thought by some to have been motivated by prejudice against Crozier for being too poor, too Presbyterian and too Irish to be a proper gentleman, the selection of officers was given to his junior, James Fitzjames. In the final days before the expedition departed Crozier received a further blow that left him in a depressed state marked by Franklin and all his fellow officers – his latest rejection by Sophy, the last proposal he would make.

 

Just sixteen months later, on 12 September 1846, the Erebus and Terror became trapped in ice. The same two ships which five years before had formed a floating ballroom for young lovers became a prison for a slow death. When Sir John Franklin died on June 11, 1847, two years after the expedition’s departure, Crozier assumed leadership of the beleaguered mission, and when in April the following year the ships were abandoned, nine officers and fifteen men already dead, 105 souls set out under Crozier’s command for Back River (formerly Great Fish River). They marched south and then east, searching for food in a single group pulling several boat/sledges. The majority of the men died within two hundred miles of the original landing, dropping as they marched. Inuit witnesses reported a large camp at Terror Bay, with tents, graves, cannibalised bodies and a pile of skulls. Later, hauntingly, the Inuit encountered a small party in Washington Bay, headed east. The Inuit described seeing a white shape moving in the distance which at first they though was a bear but which proved to be a party of around forty white men (kabloona) dragging a boat on which a sail had been set. All the men were suffering from an advanced state of scurvy and the Inuit were convinced of signs of cannibalism.  The Inuit testimony, vilified and denounced for generations, has subsequently been confirmed by the overwhelming physical evidence not least from the skeletal remains of the men found scattered along the coast or mainland.  Though the evidence indicates all 129 were dead by the winter of 1848, American search expeditions of the 1850 and 60s caused a stir in Britain with ‘hobgoblin tales’ of a survivor, a great officer and excellent hunter so skilled that he shared food with the Inuit, thought to be Crozier.

 

 

Jane and Sophia first heard the rumours in October 1865. Since 1860 the two women had travelled all over the world, visiting Alaska, the United States, Hawaii, Canada, South America, China, Japan, India and Europe; with a royal welcome in America and the Canadas, In 1869 they returned to the United States to investigate the rumours and inspect the most recently recovered relics. It was only after these interviews that Jane and Sophia finally accepted the evidence of cannibalism. Sophia Cracroft never married, her journals, correspondence and papers are held by the Scott Polar Research Institute Archives, located just above the Polar Museum. Through her role as daughter to the childless Jane, Cracroft became heir to a polar reliquary, much of which passed to the Polar Museum through her nieces, the Misses Lefroy.

 

 

Search parties, the badge and the Fox Blog 7:

April 9th, 2018

 

The Arctic Expedition at Whale Fish Island, near Disko, 8 July 1845. Pencil sketch by Captain James Fitzjames, showing HMS Erebus and HMS Terror at anchor. Note, on scrap of paper: ‘This sketch, by Captain James Fitzjames, HMS Erebus, was sent home from Greenland, with his last letters, to Lady Franklin’. Polar Museum N: 1995

Newly fitted with screw propellers powered by steam engines taken from railway locomotives, Erebus and Terror made good time across the Atlantic, sighting Greenland on 25 June, crossing the Arctic Circle on the 30th and reaching the Whale Fish Islands on 4 July.  Eight days later, on 12 July 1845, Franklin sent a final report to the Admiralty together with a sixteen pages for Jane; a cumulative letter he had started the day after the expedition crossed the Arctic Circle. This was the last communication Jane and the Admiralty ever received from Franklin.  He died one year eleven months later, on 11 June 1847.

 

Between 1847 and 1859 some thirty expeditions were sent to discover the fate of Franklin. Most were sponsored by the Admiralty but some by Lady Franklin herself, (see Y:2011/49/1 and Y:2011/49/2) or by the wealthy American merchant Henry Grinnell (see Y:57/1), after Lady Franklin appealed to the president of the United States. Over the twelve years of hunting, with terrible costs in human life, as well as ships and investment, the search parties would recover only discarded fragments of the Franklin expedition. This personal detritus, gathered, bought, and bartered by the search parties, was publicly displayed in government and military exhibitions and widely reproduced in the periodicals, newspapers and catalogues of the day. These fragments, known as the Franklin relics, became the stuff of national worship. For generations then and since the stories of the Franklin expedition – heroism and horror – have been pieced together through these relics.

 

The Polar Museum’s collection spans the full twelve years of searches, with a substantial number associated with the British Franklin search expedition 1857-59 (Fox), commanded by Francis Leopold McClintock. Even part of the search expedition itself remains in the collection, a piece of the screw turnail from the outer sheathing of the ‘Fox’, McClintock’s search ship, taken from the remains of the hulk at Godhaven, Disco Island, West Greenland on July 7th, 1931, by the donor. The Fox was a screw, 3-masted schooner-yacht with one funnel, 177 tons gross. She was originally built for Sir Richard Sutton, at a cost of about £5000, the ship’s hull diagonally planked with Scotch larch on the inside and East India teak on the outside, and the two-cylinder auxiliary steam engine of 16 n.h.p. gave a speed of about seven knots. After Sutton’s death, in 1855, the Fox was sold to Lady Franklin in a partly dismantled state for £2000.

 

In 1857 the ‘Fox’ was strengthened to resist polar ice largely at the expense of Lady Franklin, before setting out on the privately funded expedition in search of Lady Franklin’s husband Sir John Franklin. He had been missing for twelve years since his attempt to discover a sea route north of the American mainland. Following reports that the Inuit had seen Europeans on King William Island and the nearby mainland, the expedition aimed to rescue any survivors, retrieve relics, and establish if Sir John’s expedition had achieved its mission. It carried with it a number of copies of Sir John Franklin’s Star of the Guelphic Order made for distribution amongst the Inuit. The Polar Museum holds two such copies, one in full colour (N: 988) and the other plain (Y: 54/20/5).

 

The badge of Knight Commander of the Royal Hanoverian Guelphic Order was awarded to Sir John Franklin on 25 January 1836. The original was made that year, 1836, from enamel and gold, and is now held by Greenwich National Maritime Museum (AAA2079). In 1854 Dr John Rae, Captain of the British Hudson Bay Company exploring and Franklin search expedition 1853-54, encountered Inuit from Pelly Bay with oral accounts and artefacts from Franklin’s lost expedition, which he purchased. Franklin’s original badge was among their number. The Inuit told Rae that they had heard accounts of multiple bodies discovered near the Great Fish (Back) River as well as evidence of widespread British survivor cannibalism, which Rae reported to the Admiralty and The Times upon his return. Full-page engravings of the relics brought back by Rae, together with the inscription “Repulse Bay, 8th July, 1854”, were printed in the November 1854 Illustrated London News, authorized by the Admiralty and Jane Franklin, to whom Rae had given the objects he collected. The badge was subsequently presented to Greenwich Hospital by the Lord Commissioners of the Admiralty, on 2 December 1854.

Left, colour copy of Franklin’s Star of the Guelphic Order, made for distribution among the Inuit. Polar Museum, N: 988. Right, the original, Franklin’s Star of the Guelphic Order, obtained from Inuit at Repulse Bay by the Rae Expedition in 1854. Now held in the National Maritime Museum (AAA2079)

Lady Franklin appointed McClintock to command the ‘Fox’, which crossed the Atlantic and entered the Arctic Archipelago from Baffin Bay in 1857. Finding Peel Sound blocked by ice, McClintock sailed down Prince Regent Inlet and wintered at the eastern end of the Bellot Strait. In March 1858, a small sledge party led by McClintock and Allen Young met a party of Inuit near the North Magnetic Pole on the Boothia Peninsula. McClintock purchased a number of items that had belonged to the missing expedition. A larger sledge party also set out and found traces of the missing expedition at Cape Felix. Further south they came across the place where the expedition had reached the shore after abandoning ship.

 

Scenic model of the Fox entering the Arctic. National Maritime museum, SLR0242

 

Recovered record, Polar Museum

 

Nearby were found two records, each deposited in a cairn, that provide the only written evidence of Franklin and Crozier’s decisions and the expedition’s route.

 

McClintock described the discovery in print in 1860, his account will be reproduced for the following blog post. Further down the coast at Erebus Bay, Hobson found a boat containing a large quantity of equipment and facing in the direction of the abandoned ships. He also found the remains of two men who had been armed with a couple of loaded shotguns at this site. When they crossed to King William Island they found a skeleton in the remains of steward’s uniform. The ‘Fox’ returned to London on 23 September 1859. Of all the voyages sent in search of Franklin, McClintock’s men provided the most information about the fate of the missing expedition. Later, the Fox was engaged in survey work off the coast of Norway in conjunction with laying a North Atlantic telegraph cable in 1860-61 before being sold to the Danish Royal Greenland Company. By the late 1880s Fox was owned by Atkies. Kryolith Mine-og Handels Selskabet of Copenhagen, and was refitted with a 17 n.h.p compound steam engine made by Burmeister & Wain. After a long and useful career Fox was wrecked on the coast of Greenland in 1912.

 

The daguerreotype portraits Blog 6:

March 26th, 2018

Pre-1851 copies made for Sophia Cracroft on high quality salted paper, Derbyshire County Archives.

 

Among the most famous images of the Franklin expedition are the daguerreotype portraits taken of the twelve officers of Erebus in the run up to departure, together with Francis Crozier and James Fitzjames of the Terror. From a particular feature of the daguerreian apparatus (described below), we know the images were taken in pairs, making a total of twenty-eight images. Of the thirteen known originals still in existence, almost all are in the Polar Museum, which holds the glass plate image of Fitzjames and eleven of the officers of Erebus, missing only original portraits of Robert Sargent, (Erebus), and Francis Crozier, (Terror). The only other extant known original is nearly identical to the Polar Museum’s daguerreotype of Henry Le Vesconte, Lieutenant HMS Erebus and in the hands of Le Vesconte’s descendants. However, pre-1851 copies made for Sophia Cracroft on high quality salted paper (shown above) as well as other images distributed across collections and private ownership, have made it possible to glean some idea of the full set of twin images.

 

Left, James Fitzjames daguerreotype portrait by Richard Beard, taken spring 1845 on the dockside at Greenhithe near HMS Erebus and Terror Polar Museum: N: 589/3. Right, a photograph of the original daguerreotype twin of the N: 589/3.

 

In nearly every case, the sitter – for whom photography was new – held the same static position for both twin images. For James Fitzjames, Henry Thomas Dundas Le Vesconte, Charles Frederick Des Voeux, James Walter Fairholme however there are identifiable differences. In the case of the James Fitzjames portrait held by the Polar Museum he is stern-looking; while in the other, for which the original dagguerotype is lost and only copies are known to exist – he has picked up a brass telescope, and there is a hint of a smile. Fairholme described the sitting to his father, saying

‘I hope Elizabeth got my photograph. Lady Franklin said she thought it made me look too old, but as I had Fitzjames’ coat on at the time, to save myself the trouble of getting my own, you will perceive that I am a Commander! and have anchors on the epaulettes so it will do capitally when that really is the case.’

Thanks to Dr Huw Lewis-Jones of the Scott Polar Research Institute who was first to notice the phenomena, scholars of the Franklin daguerreotypes have been able to glean information about where the images were taken from the reflections in the peaks of the caps carried by Fitzjames and Lieutenant Graham Gore. Most of the portraits, including that of Sir John Franklin himself who was recovering from the flu, looking ill, and uncomfortably stuffed into his uniform, were taken in front of a cloth backdrop. However, the caps reveal this to be a temporary dockside studio rather than Richard Beard’s professional premises, illustrated by the infamous satirist George Cruikshank in 1841.

Richard Beard’s daguerreotype studio, illustrated by George Cruikshank, 1841.

Franklin’s portrait, taken while he was stuffed and unwell with flu. Polar Museum N: 589/1

 

Franklin had taken a strong interest in the invention of the daguerrotype as early as 1840, while in Tasmania, and daguerrian apparatus was included among the instruments brought aboard “Erebus” and “Terror”. While the interest originated with John Franklin, the commission for the portraits of the officers to be taken in the days before the expedition departed appears to have come from Jane, with ice master James Reid writing to his family ‘Lady Franklin has ordered all the officers’ likenesses to be taken, and mine among the rest, with my uniform on. She keeps them all by herself.’

The photographer, Richard Beard, was a coal merchant who had taken to speculating in patents and one of only two men (the other being Antoine Claudet) with any kind of licence to make daguerrotypes. The twin images were a product of Beard’s mirror camera which had a singular feature: the mirror had a pivot something like a modern SLR camera, and by turning it the photographer could record two images on a single oblong plate. This gave Beard the opportunity to choose the better of the exposures, or – if both were satisfactory – provide two daguerreotypes and double his profit. This he did with the Franklin images, one set, now in the Polar Museum were given to Lady Franklin; the other once thought to have been given to the Admiralty, may have been purchased or distributed by relatives of officers. After the images were made the apparatus was stowed on Erebus. The challenges of sensitizing and exposing a plate, which required (at different stages) vaporizing both iodine and mercury, would have been considerable in the Arctic climate and there are no known Daguerreotypes of the frozen regions from this era.

This blog post on the Franklin daguerreotypes draws heavily on the blogs and publications of Russell Potter (visionsnorth.blogspot.co.uk), William Battersby, (http://hidden-tracks-book.blogspot.co.uk) and William Schultz (The Daguerrian Annual, Pittsburgh: The Daguerreian Society, 2005). For biographical detail on Beard and his rise as one of the most influential figures nineteenth-century photography in England, see Hannavay, John, ‘Beard, Richard (1801-1885),’ Encyclopaedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, London: Routledge, Vol. 1. 126-7.