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Arctic Riddles & Theatre

From the Illustrated Arctic News (October 1850 edition) come the following saying and riddle. The 1850 Austin Expedition consisted of 4 of the 5 ships sent under Edward Belcher two years later in 1852: Assistance, Resolute, Intrepid and Pioneer. The only ship missing was North Star. She was added as a depot ship for Belcher’s men, which the Admiralty ordered him to keep on Beechey Island so she could be utilised as a rendezvous point in addition to being a place for additional supplies to be landed.
Its important to know these four ships’ names to understand this saying McDougall placed in the October 1850 news letter:


A good Pioneer must be a Resolute man.
Few men, however Intrepid, but have felt the want of Assistance.

This following query speaks for itself:
Q: Why should we in our present position be considered very knowing?
A: Because there is nothing green about us!

As I noted a couple of days ago, the explorers searching for the lost Franklin men used a variety of occupations to get themselves through the long Arctic winters. After setting up their winter camps almost all of them participated in theatre performances in one way or another. Some worked on the scenery and costumes, others diligently practiced their lines. In 1852 the Resolutes appointed Captain Henry Kellett to be the head of their theatre committee, and McDougall wrote about the theatre preparations in The Eventful Voyage of HMS Resolute:

“All has been hurry and bustle for the last fortnight, in preparing scenes, decorations, dresses, etc for the theatre. In addition to being a committee man, I was obliged to take on myself the responsible offices of scene painter and dressmaker; the former was sufficiently difficult in consequence of the want of proper materials; to remedy which we were obliged to have recourse to soot, blacking, chalk, etc.

“The dress-making business was, indeed, extremely puzzling, particularly in the ladies’ department; but success attended our enterprising efforts, and although much criticised, elicited warm expressions of admiration.” p.158-159

When the Resolutes opened their theatre in the winter of 1852, the Theatre Royal, Melville Island had not taken place since 1820, when Captain Parry opened it! Now in 1852, Captain Kellett provided the after play refreshments, then McDougall commented further:

“Amateur theatricals are seldom subjected to severe criticism…but here, where the dreary darkness of an Arctic winter affects the mind and body in no small measure, where the the temperature is at zero on the stage (no joke in petticoats), besides having to depend on our own resources, where is the man who could look on such performances with too critical an eye?” p. 162

Once their play was over, and they had toasted good health to one and all with Kellett’s spirits (of one kind or another!) they dismantled the stage and began their preparations for Christmas. In tomorrow’s blog I will detail some of those Christmas preparations as they unfolded onboard HMS Resolute in 1852.

By Elizabeth Matthews

Leading authority on HMS Resolute

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