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

Monday, 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:

Monday, 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:

Monday, 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.

Thanks to you!

Wednesday, December 6th, 2017

We’re enormously grateful to National Lottery players for all you’ve done to support the Polar Museum and the Scott Polar Research Institute over the years. As a big thank you we’re offering all players a free audio guide between 12 December and 16 December. All you need to do is bring your ticket along and show it to the team on our front desk.

The National Lottery were substantial funders of our fantastic Museum refurbishment – when we reopened in 2010 we were very proud to be shortlisted for lots of awards, including the ‘Museum of the Year’ award. We’ve also had fantastic support for purchasing Captain Scott’s photographs, Inuit art and we currently have a Heritage Lottery Fund supported project to build our collection of material relating to Sir Ernest Shackleton.

So, there really is a huge amount to thank you all for!



Terms and Conditions
• One National Lottery ticket provides a free audio guide each for a family of up to 6 people. The offer includes the audio guide for adults and the audio guide for children.
• All National Lottery games qualify for free entry, including tickets from any National Lottery draw based game or National Lottery Scratchcard. Proof of ticket can be paper or digital.
• The offer is valid from 12-16 December. The Polar Museum is open Tuesday-Saturday, 10am-4pm.
• The Polar Museum has the right to refuse entry in the unlikely event of venue reaching capacity, as well as unforeseen circumstances.
• Audio Guides will be given at the welcome desk in the Polar museum when visitors arrive with their National Lottery tickets.


New Science in the Museum

Wednesday, September 14th, 2016

I mentioned in my original blog post was that I’ve had one or two ideas about how the Museum could better communicate modern Polar science. Well, here’s one of them: revamping the interactive science displays. The Museum currently has three touchscreens explaining modern Polar science, entitled, respectively, Ice, Climate and Science. These were first installed when the museum was redeveloped in 2010 and are now a little out of date as technology and science have moved on a lot in the last few years. There’s plenty of good information, but the whole thing could do with being rethought and revamped to make it clearer and more representative of the current foci of Polar science.

The Museum's current interactive screen setup

The Museum’s current interactive screen setup

This would be a good way of improving the Museum’s modern science offering – the screens are simply html pages, so there’s very little back end to manage – without having to spend a lot of time or money. I’ve come up with a few suggestions for how things could be improved, such as dedicating one screen to providing the background to Polar science, one to remote sensing (satellites and all that jazz) and one to computer modelling (I may be slightly biased there). These last two are essential tools across all aspects of modern science, so it seems sensible to focus on them. This redesign will also give the Museum the opportunity to link in with the scientific research work many of the staff are involved in, which would also greatly help it to better represent recent scientific developments.

Perhaps you can think of some things that you’d really like to see in the museum. If so, drop the team a line at or find them on Twitter or Facebook!


Old Science in the Museum

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016

I promised in my last blog post to give some details about some of the more unusual or interesting objects I’ve found whilst poring over the Museum’s scientific collection. I mentioned Andrée’s stuffed carrier pigeon previously, but here are four more objects that I think give a good sense of the Museum’s holdings.

First up is an early pocket sun compass used by Captain Sir James Clark Ross on his voyages in both the Arctic and the Antarctic. Ross’s work was crucial in fixing the position of both Magnetic Poles, which allowed great improvements in Polar navigation. Until the shape and contours of Earth’s magnetic field were known, navigation near the Poles had to be carried out using non-magnetic instruments, such as a sun compass, because the difference between true north/south and magnetic north/south was very large at these high latitudes, but of unknown magnitude. Therefore, other solutions were devised, making this compass not only an item of immense historical significance, but also a good demonstration of practical navigation and the difficulties inherent in early Polar exploration.

Ross's sun compass

Ross’s sun compass

Of possibly even greater historical significance is the second item: Amundsen’s reckoning of his position at the South Pole. Scott and his men found this tied to a flag when they arrived five weeks later and thus knew they had been beaten. The text reads:

‘The Norwegian Home Polheim // is situated in 89° 58′ S Lat // SE by E (comp.) 8 miles // 15 Decbr. 1911 // Roald Amundsen’

Amundsen went to a great deal of effort to verify his position and make sure he had actually reached the Pole, sending men out in several directions for several miles, just to be certain they hadn’t got it wrong. This piece of paper is therefore the outcome of some quite precise navigational and cartographic science as well as marking one of humanity’s major exploratory achievements.

Amundsen’s reckoning of his position

Amundsen’s reckoning of his position

The third object symbolises what is perhaps a lesser-known facet of Polar science: geology. Geology was an important element of many early Polar expeditions, with Antarctic fossils and rocks used to support the emerging theory of continental drift and plate tectonics, and remains of interest to this day. Indeed, this particular piece of rock is a specimen of basaltic lava from the 1967 eruption of Deception Island in the South Shetland Islands (just off the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula). Antarctica might be seen as a frozen continent, but this piece of lava goes to show that it’s alive and kicking!

Deception Island lava

Deception Island lava

The fourth and final object brings us bang up to date. It’s a digital optical module (DOM) from the IceCube Neutrino Observatory. The observatory was completed in 2010 and sits more than a kilometre under the ice sheet at the South Pole, with thousands of DOMs spread over a cubic kilometre of ice. The observatory detects the flashes of light emitted by neutrinos as they interact with normal matter, allowing information about their origin and energy to be extracted. It’s also unexpectedly turned out to be a surprisingly-useful glaciological tool, as it’s allowed scientists to map the movement of deep layers of the ice, which would otherwise be virtually impossible. This particular DOM developed a fault in testing, so wasn’t used, but this remains probably the Museum’s best current example of modern Polar science and of so-called ‘Big Science’.

Digital Optical Module from the IceCube Neutrino Observatory

Digital Optical Module from the IceCube Neutrino Observatory

Samuel Cook, work placement student

Toby Booth’s Epic Kayak Adventure

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014

kayak 1

Age 11, Toby Booth has recently completed an epic kayak expedition to London from Harlow, 25 miles and 20 locks. Inspired by the world’s greatest living explorer, Sir Ranulph Fiennes and a recent visit to The Polar Museum where he learned more about the men of the heroic age, Toby decided to embark on his own adventure and to raise money for the Scott Negative Appeal.

Toby began his journey in June of this year, starting from Harlow Outdoor Centre but due to a number of setbacks he had to postpone the final leg until September.

kayak 2

Four older lads and two adults, both keen kayakers with coaching experience, took part in the initial paddle along with him.   Toby used a sea kayak, as this type of boat is ideal for comfort, but it proved to be quite heavy and was difficult to portage at many of the locks.  Some of the locks had extremely high banks and he needed help to climb down into his boat.

His intention was to complete the trip in a single day starting at 8am, but two of the group became very tired as were in smaller ‘play’ boats (which were unsuitable for the long journey) and another participant fell in when portaging. Heavy showers along the route also hampered his efforts. Initially disappointed, Toby still enjoyed the day and vowed to complete his plans.

kayak 15

On Saturday 20 September, Toby reached his final destination, Limehouse Basin at the edge of the River Thames in London. Using his own boat, which is a reliable and lightweight racing kayak called a ‘Couger’, Toby and Ant Wright, an adult volunteer who took part in the initial paddle, completed the journey.

The journey was at times difficult, but his experience and perseverance enabled him to reach his final destination. He was sponsored by friends and family and believes he may have raised up to £300.

kayak 9

A pupil at St Andrew’s C of E Primary School in Much Hadham, Toby is a member of Bishop’s Stortford Canoe Club and most recently won gold in the under-12 category last Sunday (June 22) representing the club in Leighton Buzzard.

Bridget Cusack, Museum Development Coordinator said

“We are delighted that Toby completed his journey to London. We are all impressed by his determination and achievement. Toby’s extraordinary generous response to the appeal proves how important Captain Scott remains in the national imagination.”

After hearing of the journey, Toby’s Grandfather recalled a piece of family history telling him that his own father had completed the same journey as a young man as a swimmer. At the turn of the 20th century, Harlow used to hold river swimming races, and it transpires that Toby’s great grandfather had completed a swim from Harlow to London, not in a race but simply because he enjoyed a challenge.