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The Polar Museum: news blog

Preparing to leave Blog 5:

In 1844, a community of prominent magnetic researchers persuaded the octogenarian head of Admiralty administration, Sir John Barrow, to lobby the Admiralty for another Arctic expedition. In an orchestrated pincer movement, and keen to make amends for the disastrous Tasmanian appointment, the veterans of polar exploration, William Edward Parry, James Clark Ross, Francis Beaufort, Frederick William Beechey, and Peter Fisher, lined up to back Franklin to lead the expedition. The Erebus and Terror were both Hecla-class bomb vessels, refitted for Arctic service in the winter of 1835 and deployed on subsequent expeditions. Built for the bombardment of coastal targets, with capacious holds and extremely strong construction, bomb vessels had long been the Admiralty favourite for conversion into discovery ships. The influence of the lobbyists and famous explorers was such that when on 3 March 1845 the Admiralty ordered the Erebus and Terror should be prepared for sea, they were already under refit at Woolwich dockyard.

Franklin relics in the Polar Musum, silver cutlery carrying London hallmarks, the maker’s mark of George Adams (GA), and Franklin’s family crest – a conger eel’s head between two laurel branches. Polar Museum N:980.

Amid the hectic final preparations for a large crew, extreme conditions and a demanding programme of scientific observations, substantial effort went into keeping up appearances. Aberdeenshire whaler James Reid, appointed ice master for Erebus, wrote home on 13 May 1845 to complain of the expense incurred with every officer required to buy his own silver spoons and forks. These badges of class and rank would become some of the most recognisable relics of the expedition, each item not only carrying the hallmarks of the original maker but also often the crests of individual officers. Because of these provenance marks the cutlery became a particular focus for search parties, with the McClintock Search Expedition (1857-59), led by McClintock himself, deciding to only acquire items associated with identifiable members of the missing Franklin expedition. Of particular significance, many of the recovered pieces bore more than just the crests and hallmarks; they also carried marks scratched into the silver that bore witness to layers of ownership. The marks, initials of crewmembers such as able seaman William Wentzell, quartermaster William Rhodes, and caulker’s mate Cornelius Hickey, were suggestive clues as to the fate of the expedition after all written records ceased. It seemed as though the officer’s silver cutlery must have been redistributed amongst the men, possibly to preserve it.

 

Silver spoon collected as a Franklin relic, repaired by Inuit using copper. Polar Museum N:980

 

One of the items of cutlery N:980 in the Polar Museum’s collection, carries a further testimonial. A silver tablespoon bearing Franklin’s crest – a conger eel’s head between two laurel branches – and London hallmarks, the date code for 1844-5, and the maker’s mark of George Adams (GA), also features a copper join; a repair made by Inuit from Repulse Bay. Stone cooking pots were also mended in this way, using copper almost like thread to stitch the broken material back together, see the Parry blogs for more detail. In the mid nineteenth century, white men had visited the Inuit camp and gifted this spoon, before dying from the effects of scurvy.  When, in 1877, the whaler A. Haughton was wrecked on the north-west shore of Hudson Bay, crewmember Thomas F. Barry purchased the spoon. Barry sold the spoon on and it passed to the state department who presented it to Sophia Cracroft, John Franklin’s niece and Lady Jane Franklin’s companion, on 13 August 1878.

 

Sophia Cracroft had been a companion to the Franklins out in Hobart where Francis Crozier, Franklin’s second in command, had fallen passionately in love with her. In the final preparations for departure, Crozier proposed to Cracroft; it was not his first attempt but it would be the last. When the expedition departed 19 May 1845, delayed four days waiting on final provisions, Crozier was in a state of deep depression. Cracroft had rejected him yet again and he set sail not expecting to return, well aware of Cracroft’s preference for the Arctic hero, James Clark Ross, ‘the handsomest man in the Navy’.

 

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