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The Polar Museum: news blog

Search parties, the badge and the Fox Blog 7:

 

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.

 

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