Monday, 28 August 2017

Game of Thrones... On Ice





The choice of the ‘HOPE ON HOPE EVER’ sledge flag as the signature image for the exhibition 'Death In The Ice: The Shocking Story Of Franklin’s Final Expedition', currently on at the National Maritime Museum, is a masterstroke in my opinion.

This flag, sewn by Jane Lady Franklin in 1852 for the final goverment searching expedition, neatly summarises the last desperate hopes of the families and loved ones of the 129 men who by that date had been missing for nearly seven years.

The use of embroidered banners inspired by medieval heraldry had an interesting origin and would have a remarkable future.

Sir Walter Scott, whose novel Ivanhoe, set in 12th-century England and first published in 1820 has been credited as the influence which "first turned men's minds in the direction of the Middle Ages".

An earlier work by Scott, the narrative poem 'The Lady of the Lake' includes the character James Fitz-James who provided the name for the First Officer of HMS Erebus.

At length his rank the stranger names,
The Knight of Snowdoun, James Fitz-James;
Lord of a barren heritage,

The illegitimate son of Sir James Gambier, Commander FitzJames was known by some in that family as "Our Lord of Snoudoun". The late William Battersby suggested that this was also a clue to the name of Fitzjames' Mother.

The sphere of romantic medievalism was greatly boosted in 1839 by the Eglinton Tournament which involved forty knights in armour plus their entourages and drew a crowd of 100,000. The spectacle was unfortunately marred by torrential rain.



Five weeks later Erebus and Terror, commanded by of James Clark Ross and Francis Crozier, set sail for the Antarctic regions.

The sledges of the various Franklin search expeditions usually carried flags with an ecclectic collection of inspiring phrases or family mottoes. They also served a practical purpose in that they enabled individual sledges to be identified at telescope distance.

Clement Markham, who, as a Naval Midshipman, had participated in the search for Franklin in the 1850's, elevated the art of sledge flags to a new height for the 1870 Nares Arctic expedition. Markham's banners were closely modelled on medieval standards, each carrying the family crest and colours of the officer who carried them. Decades later, as the driving force behind Robert Falcon Scott's Antarctic expeditions, Markham would ensure that his medieval banners were carried to the South Pole.




It has been suggested that the nostalgic sentiments with which Markham imbued Scott's expeditions played a part in making that saga a tragedy rather than the intended triumph.

The spirit of Medievalism, a defining characteristic of the long Victorian age, remains strong to this day.

Further reading:
Barbara Tomlinson, 2001, Chivalry at the Poles: British Sledge Flags.

Friday, 21 July 2017

The Oldest Can Opener in the World

Replica 1, 2, and 4 pound cans, plus "Lever knife"
A few years ago I visited the vaults of the National Maritime Museum to do some research for a mini-project of mine, to make some replica Goldner cans.

Later, after piecing together photographs of the fragmentary surviving labels, I was surprised to discover that the labels include a picture of a can-opener to the left of the text and on the right an illustration of how the opener was intended to be used.

That the cans and labels date to 1845 is not in doubt, thus an article in a well known on-line encyclopedia which states that "dedicated can openers appeared in the 1850s" clearly needs to be updated.

The can opener depicted (referred to as a lever knife in contemporary sources) has a short stabbing blade at one end for puncturing the can, and at the other end a claw comprising a blade to continue the incision and a projection for a fulcrum.

The text on the can says "To open, stab a hole with the but–end of the knife insert the knife and cut it round."

Fortnum and Mason's 1849 catalogue also includes very similar instructions for opening preserved provisions canisters.



In 1851, when Goldner was still the Navy's main supplier of preserved meats, the Admiralty declared: "The canister is to be opened with the lever knife furnished for the purpose, and is to be cut completely round the body near the top."

Preserved meat manufacturer John Gillon of Leith claimed, in 1840, to be the inventor of the lever knife although the device described is slightly simpler with no mention of the short stabbing blade.

Vintage can openers similar to that depicted can sometimes be found for sale. I prided myself that the one I bought was a genuine 1840s relic and probably the oldest can-opener in the world until I discovered that the company which made it, F G Pearson & Co. of Sheffield, was only established in 1854.

The true "oldest can opener in the world" therefore remains on the list of treasures which are waiting to be plucked from the icy depths of Erebus and Terror.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

My paper concerning the lead in the Franklin expedition remains.

I'm pleased to announce that my 'Franklin lead' paper has now gone live on the Hakluyt
Society website: http://www.hakluyt.com/journal_index.htm



It can be argued that last week's triumphant discovery of the wreck of HMS Terror can be linked to the lead in the bones recovered from King William Island in the 1980's. Had Owen Beattie not detected high levels of lead in those remains then the Beechey Island excavations wouldn't have happened and the worldwide publicity arising from the bestseller Frozen in Time would not have raised public and private support for the ultimately successful search for the ships.


The story of lead and the Franklin expedition has had so many twists and turns that it is reminiscient of the search for the lost expedition itself. I'm sure that the story still has some distance to run and hope that my paper is received as a useful contribution.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Roll Call of the Doomed




The sides of the pedestal of Franklin's statue in Waterloo Place, London, list the names of the full complement of the expedition's lost, cast in bronze. To produce what I hope is a definitive list, I have combined the names from the plaques with my own transcriptions of the muster books of Erebus and Terror in the National Archives.





HMS EREBUS

OFFICERS

NameQualitiesAgeBirthplaceListNo.
Sir J. Franklin Kt. K.C.H.Captain11
James FitzjamesCommander12
Graham GoreLieutenant16
H.T.D. Le VesconteLieutenant13
J.W. FairholmeLieutenant17
Robert O. SergeantMate19
Charles F. Des VœuxMate14
Edward CouchMate110
James ReidMaster (Acting)18
Stephen S. StanleySurgeon22
Charles H. OsmerPaymaster & Purser21
Harry D.S. GoodsirSurgeon (Acting)23
Henry F. CollinsSecond Master15
Thomas TerryBoatswain, 3rd Class41
John WeekesCarpenter, 2nd Class43
John GregoryEngineer, 1st Class44


PETTY OFFICERS

Samuel BrownBoatswain's mate27Hull, Yorks.54
Richard WallShip's Cook45Hull, Yorks.55
Robert SinclairCaptain of the Foretop25Kirkwall, Orkney56
Joseph AndrewsCaptain of the Hold35Edmonton, Middx.51
William FowlerPaymaster & Purser's Steward26Bristol, Somerset57
James W. BrownCaulker28Deptford, Kent59
John CowieStoker32Bermondsey, Surrey510
John SullivanCaptain of the Maintop24Gillingham, Kent515
Phillip ReddingtonCaptain of Forecastle28Brompton, Kent516
John MurraySailmaker43Glasgow, Lanarks.520
John BridgensSubordinate Officers' Steward26Woolwich, Kent521
Thomas WatsonCarpenter's Mate40Gt. Yarmouth, Norfolk522
Thomas PlaterStokerWestminster, Middx.523
William SmithBlacksmith28Thibnam [Tibenham], Norfolk524
Francis DunnCaulker's Mate25Llanelly, S. Wales525
Edmund HoarCaptain's Steward23Portsea, Hants528
Daniel ArthurQuartermaster35Aberdeen532
William BellQuartermaster36Dundee, Forfar543
John Downing2nd Quartermaster34Plymouth, Devon552
James HartLeading Stoker33Hampstead, Middx554
Richard AylmoreGunroom Steward24Southampton, Hants555
James RigdenCaptain's Coxwain32Upper Deal, Kent518


ABLE SEAMEN

George ThompsonAB27Staines, Berks58
John HartnellAB25Brompton, Kent511
John SticklandAB24Portsmouth, Hants.513
Thomas HartnellAB23Chatham, Kent512
William OrrenAB34Chatham, Kent517
William ClossanAB25Shetland519
Charles CoombsAB28Greenwich, Kent53
John MorfinAB25Gainsboro., Lincolns.529
Charles BestAB23Fareham, Hants.540
Thomas Mc. ConveyAB24Liverpool, Lancs.541
Henry LloydAB26Christiansen, Norway542
Thomas WorkAB41Kirkwall, Orkney544
Robert FerrierAB29Perth545
Josephus GeaterAB32London, Middx.546
George WilliamsAB35Holyhead, Angelsea547
Thomas TadmanAB28Brompton, Kent548
Abraham SeeleyAB34Gravesend, Kent549
Francis PocockAB24Upnor, Kent550
Robert JohnsAB24Penryn, Cornwall551
William MarkAB24Holyhead, Angelsea552


ROYAL MARINES

Daniel BryantSergeant31.5Shepton Montague, Somerset71
Alexander Paterson*Corporal30Inverness91
Robert HopcraftPrivate38.8Nottingham, Notts.81
William PilkingtonPrivate28.4Kilrush, Clare92
William BrainePrivate31.3Oakhill, Somerset93
Joseph HealeyPrivate29.10Manchester, Lancs.94
William ReedPrivate28.8Bristol, Somerset95


BOYS

George ChambersBoy, 1st Class18Woolwich, Kent61
David YoungBoy, 1st Class18Sheerness, Kent62


HMS TERROR

OFFICERS

NameQualitiesAgeBirthplaceListNo.
F.R.M. CrozierCaptain11
Edward LittleLieutenant12
George H. HodgsonLieutenant13
John IrvingLieut15
Frederick HornbyMate13
Robert ThomasMate14
Thomas BlankyMaster (Acting)17
John S. PeddieSurgeon (Acting)21
Alexander Mc. DonaldAssistant Surgeon22
G.A. MacBeanSecond Master16
E. J. H. HelpmanClerk in Charge31
Thomas HoneyCarpenter, 3rd Class41
John LaneBoatswain, 3rd Class42
James ThompsonEngineer, 1st Class (Acting)43


PETTY OFFICERS

John DiggleShip's Cook36Westminster, London52
Henry PeglarCaptain of the Foretop37London, Middx.53
William GibsonSubordinate Officers' Steward22London, Middx.512
Cornelius HickeyCaulker's Mate24Limerick513
William GoddardCaptain of the Hold29Gt. Yarmouth, Norfolk515
Reuben MaleCaptain of the Forecastle27Woolwich, Kent517
Alexander WilsonCarpenter's Mate27Holy Island, N. Durham518
John WilsonCaptain's Coxwain33Portsea, Hants520
Thomas DarlingtonCaulker29Plymouth, Devon521
William JohnsonStoker45Kiston-Lindsey, Lincolns.522
Thomas R. FarrCaptain of the Maintop32Deptford, Kent523
Luke SmithStoker27London, Middx.537
David Mc. DonaldQuartermaster46Peterhead, Scotland540
John KenleyQuartermaster44St. Monance, Fifeshire553
William RhodesQuartermaster31Redingstreet, Kent556
Thomas JohnsonBoatswain's Mate28Wisbeach, Cambridge546
Thomas ArmitageGunroom Steward40Chatham, Kent549
Samuel HoneyBlacksmith22Plymouth, Devon550
Thomas JopsonCaptain's Steward27Marylebone, Middx.552
Edward GengePaymaster's Steward21Gosport, Hants.555
John TorringtonLeading Stoker19Manchester558


ABLE SEAMEN

George J. CannAB23Battersea, Middx.51
William StrongAB22Portsmouth, Hants.54
David SimsAB24Gedney, Lincoln.55
John BaileyAB21Leyton, Essex56
William JerryAB29Pembroke, Wales58
Henry SaitAB23Bognor, Sussex514
Alexander BerryAB32S. Ferry, Fifeshire516
John HandfordAB28Sunderland524
John Bates*AB24London, Middx.525
Samuel CrispeAB24Lynn, Norfolk536
Charles JohnsonAB28Halifax, Nova Scotia538
William ShanksAB29Dundee, Scotland539
David LeysAB37Montrose, Scotland541
William SinclairAB30Sallaway [Galloway], Scotland542
George KinnairdAB23Hastings, Sussex543
Ed. LawrenceAB30London, Middx.547
Magnus MansonAB28Shetland, Scotland548
James WalkerAB29S. Shields554
William WentzallAB33London, Middx.557


ROYAL MARINES

Solomon TozerSergeant34Axbridge, Somerset71
William HedgesCorporal30Bradford, Wilts91
William HeatherPrivate35Battersea, Surrey81
Henry WilkesPrivate28Leicester92
John HammondPrivate32Bradford, Yorks.93
James DalyPrivate30Luberclue [Tubberclare], Westmeath94


BOYS

Robert GoldingBoy19Deptford, Kent61
Thomas EvansBoy18Deptford, Kent63


The final two columns, "List" and "No.", refer to the individual lists within the muster books and the number of each man within them. The titles of the lists referred to above are shown in the following table.

1. Commissioned Officers - Military Branch
2. Commissioned Officers - Civil Branch
3. Subordinate Officers
4. Warrant Officers
5. Ship's Company
6. Boys, 1st Class
7. Marines, Not Classed
8. Marines, 1st Class
9. Marines, 3rd Class

Andrew Lambert notes that "In February 1914 the Board of Works corrected the spelling of des Voeux's name from des Vauex, and changed le Vesconte's middle initial from F to T in 1931, at £2 a time. Then the Board checked the Admiralty record to ensure there were no more errors."

I have to take issue with the Board of Works in two cases, Alexander Paterson of HMS Erebus, and Able Seaman John Bates of HMS Terror, who gain a "t" and lose an "s", respectively, on the plaques.

Even the legendary Richard Cyriax was not immune to error. His transcription of the muster lists spells the surname of William Clossan as "Closson" and renames Sergeant Daniel Bryant as David.

In the light of the above, I can make no claims for perfection, but hope that this is an improvement on previous compilations.


Friday, 28 August 2015

Arrowsmith's Extraordinary Maps

Arrowsmith's maps were regularly updated with the latest discoveries.


The above map from 1850 now has Boothia correctly attached to the mainland, thanks to John Rae's 1847 survey of the western shore of Boothia Gulf, and it includes Peel Sound, discovered by James Ross in the spring of 1849. Bellot Strait had not yet been found so North Somerset is shown contiguous with Boothia. The West coast of Boothia, denoted by a dotted line, is a guess which would later prove to be remarkably accurate.

Both the main map and the lower strip now uses Dease and Simpson's longitude values for the coastline South of King William Island.

In the lower strip, King William Island is still connected to Boothia by a spindly isthmus - a guess which would later prove to be remarkably inaccurate. The imaginary Poctes Bay has now morphed into Poets Bay, which John Ross had surely intended, to balance Artists bay opposite.

In the main map the geography to the West of KWI is somewhat ambiguous with the supposed isthmus lacking a southern coastline so that the blue wash representing the sea is divided only by a single dashed line. This could be considered the first depiction of the track which would be sailed by Roald Amundsen in his epic transit of the Passage more than fifty years later.

This 1855 edition incorporates all the whole Northern archipelago discovered during the Franklin search and McClure's precarious but ultimately successful over-ice transit from West to East.

Cornwallis and Bathurst Islands are shown joined, a detail which wouldn't be corrected until the Victory Point record revealed that Erebus and Terror had passed between them en-route to Beechey Island.

Rae's 1854 survey of the West coast of Boothia has proven that King William Island is just that and Bellot Strait also confers island status on North Somerset.

The colouring, Red for the Hudson's Bay Company's discoveries and Blue for the Royal Navy's, is slightly inaccurate as the coast South of Cape Colville (charted by Rae) is wrongly coloured blue and the unsurveyed West side of King William Island should not be coloured at all.
On this map we can indisputably draw the course of Amundsen's epic voyage: West through Lancaster Sound and Barrow Strait; South through Peel Sound and the area labelled Victoria Strait (only the Southern portion of which currently bears that name); then East of King William Island through James Ross and Rae Straights, then all the way West along the coast of the North American continent to the Bering Strait.

Ironically if this had been the best map which Amundsen had had before he set off he may well have shared the fate of Franklin.

Arrowsmith's 1855 map gives no hint as to the existence of McClintock Channel. That strait between Prince of Wales Island and Victoria Island enables masses of heavy ice to drift South into Victoria Strait where it is trapped against the barrier formed by Royal Geographical Society Islands and the Crozier Peninsula on the West side of King William Island.

Without this information, and the knowledge, which McClintock learned from the inuit, that the was open water in Rae Strait during the short Arctic summer, Amundsen may reasonably have chosen the obvious path to the West of King William Island resulting in the Gjoa becoming beset in the same place Erebus and Terror.

Friday, 14 August 2015

The Map which Franklin Carried

Click through to larger versions


The well stocked libraries of Erebus and Terror in 1845 will certainly have included at least one copy of this fine engraving by John Arrowsmith - contained within Thomas Simpson's 1843 book: Narrative of the discoveries on the north coast of America: effected by the officers of the Hudson's Bay Company during the years 1836-39.

In compiling this map Arrowsmith was faced with the problem of reconciling some severe  contradictions between longitude data from Dease and Simpson's 1839 expedition with the corresponding figures from George Back's 1835 decent of the Great Fish River. For Montreal Island the difference was nearly a whole degree.

Arrowsmith cleverly solved this conundrum by using Dease and Simpson's geography combined with Back's latitude numbers for the main map (in which Montreal Island is shown to the East of Matty Island) while displaying Dease and Simpson's survey unadulterated in the lower panel (which has Montreal to the West of Matty). Later surveys by John Rae would confirm the veracity of Dease and Simpson's measurements.

Other features which later proved to be erroneous are the presumed open water between the mouth of Back's River and the Gulf of Boothia and the isthmus, indicated by dotted lines, connecting King William Island and Boothia Felix.

Franklin would, of course, have been driven to fill in as many of the blank spaces as possible, and to ink in or delete the dotted lines as appropriate. With the good state of preservation to be expected from the cold dark waters of Wilmot & Crampton Bay, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that such a corrected map may one day be revealed.

Monday, 30 March 2015

Fraser's Patent Firehearth and Coppers

Inspired by the recent post on the building HMS Terror blog here are a few images to explain my current thinking about the galley stoves of Erebus and Terror.

The various parts of the galley stove and its attachments.

The above diagram suggests the general layout but requires revision as I drew it before learning (from the above source) that pencilled amendments to the lower deck plan of HMS Terror suggest that the stove was moved a couple of feet from its original position. This change would seem to enable the cook to do his job with less risk of banging his head on that huge iron tank.

One question which has caused me considerable head scratching is the number of boilers (also referred to as "coppers") the stove had. I made the above image quite a while back when I favoured four but my best guess is now two, partly on the basis that four is excessive for such a small stove and that finding room for the drain cocks on the back would be a problem.



The best example I have found of a contemporary drawing showing a stove similar to Fraser's is this picture of Goodbehere's Improved Ship's Hearth (below), which was displayed at the Great Exhibition of 1851.


When, next month, Canada's underwater archaeology experts dive below the ice to make the first detailed examination of the wreck of HMS Erebus, they will undoubtedly return high quality images which will reveal to the world how well the above conjectures match up to reality. I'm certain that every Franklin Expedition enthusiast will wish them the best of luck for the success of the mission and that we will be struggling to contain our excitement for the publication of the results.