The hearty explorers fighting to keep their spirits up throughout the dark months of the winters remind me of how we are all trying to keep our spirits up through our dark Covid winter. From my new manuscript:
“Between Christmas and New Year’s Eve the men and officers resumed daily chores including working on their spring traveling gear. The carpenters rigged an electric telegraph between the ships so, even in the worst of snowstorms, they could stay in contact with each other. Midweek Nares gave his lecture about wind. On New Year’s Eve, Kellett invited the officers to his cabin for supper, where they toasted the health and happiness of their wives and sweethearts, families and friends. At midnight everyone from both ships gathered at the highest point of Dealy Island where they raised a flag and set off two rockets.

The Resolutes and Intrepids greeted New Year’s Day with a band of flutes and fifes, accordion, drum, tambourine and triangle. The warmth of the celebrations was in direct contrast to the falling temperature: the lowest reading yet ushered in the new year. On 2 January 1853 the mercury froze, and by the 4TH the thermometer stood at -48°F. McDougall cheered the men by giving his geology lecture in a humorous manner. (Anyone who’s capable of making such a dry subject funny must be quite a wag.) On 14 January the Intrepids entertained everyone again with songs and recitations, accompanied by conjuring tricks and followed with a gunroom supper. On 1 February, after much anticipation the Arctic Theatre Royal reopened with two plays: King Glumpus, performed by the officers, and Raising the Wind, performed by the men. De Bray recalled in his journal he had never been so cold as when he performed in ladies’ clothes with his feet in thin satin slippers.
The costumes of Miss Durable and Peggy in Raising the Wind were truly admirable; all the articles were manufactured onboard, from the stays of number eight canvas, and laced with marline, to the black silk mantle and hood, with its crimson silk lining vying with the rouge on their cheeks. Miss Durable was perfection’s self, barring the ankles…Peggy was also capital, as far as costume and appearance went, and could she only have remained still, would perhaps have been the better of the two; but alas! There was a certain swagger and rolling in her gait, which would have brought down roars of applause…but certainly didn’t add to the ladylike appearance of a lovely, retiring, and accomplished girl yet in her teens, particularly when backed by a hitching up of the frock with both hands, as sailors occasionally do to the waistband of their trousers.

King Glumpus by John Barrow, Jr. followed an interlude of songs and recitations. The ‘women’ in this play wore masks and extravagant dresses, complete with bustles. McDougall’s ‘…faithless spouse [De Bray] wore a bloomer costume, such as is…worn by decoy bar girls in London as an inducement to very young men to expend a certain amount of capital in a glass of beer.’ [From McDougall’s Eventful Voyage of HMS Resolute]
Many thought Nares’ Queen, complete with coronet, could’ve been mistaken for Boadicea. The men truly suffered for their art: even within five feet of the stove the temperature was -5° F. The ‘women’ felt it the most and drank hot whiskey punch to keep warm. Off stage their unladylike postures included extending their legs over the heating stove. After the last curtain-call the officers dined in Intrepid’s gunroom, and the men’s supped in the mess. 

After the carpenters dismantled the stage, the men returned to spring sledging preparations. The shoemakers made boots, the sailmakers robes and tents; each man made his traveling costume. The lectures resumed with McDougall’s about Arctic exploration, Nares’ lecturing on mechanics and how pulleys and levers work. Men studied various subjects alone like navigation and maths. One noble soul planned to read the whole ten volume Encyclopaedia, but gave up after the first two. Some men played games of draughts (checkers) and chess; and of course, Kellett required daily exercise. No Arctic hardship was more strongly felt than the loss of light for months. The plays, work, lecture games, exercises,…all lightened that burdensome darkness.”


HMS Resolute Winter 1852-1853

During the winter of 1852-1853 Captain Kellett took daily walks with his second in command Lieutenant Commander McClintock (HMS Intrepid). I note in my ms: “McClintock described his captain as a ‘very communicative and pleasant companion, in full sympathy with all of [my] ideas and plans.’” 

Since I did not blog about Resolute’s 1852-1853 theatre performances earlier, only those on Assistance, this is what I wrote about the winter activities in my manuscript, beginning in November:

“The Resolutes elected Kellett as head of their Theatrical Committee, a role he gladly took up, serving with Domville and McDougall. The Resolutes began rehearsals in preparation for their first performances after the sun disappeared. The Theatre Committee also oversaw the stage’s completion on Resolute’s main deck, the organisation of a series of lectures to be given by the officers and men, and a series of classes taught by those willing to share their knowledge and expertise to those willing to learn. McDougall gave the first talk on the history of Arctic expeditions during the 1800s, and taught eight students the principles of navigation. Kellett lectured about astronomy: outlining its history from the earliest times, including the many theories which led to astronomers’ current expertise. Domville gave two talks about chemistry, surprised that almost all of the Resolutes and Intrepids attended. He illustrated his points with simple experiments, and concluded with how thermometers and barometers work. Nares lectured about winds: how they are created, including monsoons, land and sea breezes, and the Tradewinds…

“The Resolutes and Intrepids willingly attended the lectures and classes, but their greatest enthusiasm was reserved for the eagerly anticipated theatre performances, the highlight of the season’s activities. Much hard work went into learning lines, and the imaginative creation of costumes and scenery. McDougall was Resolute’s primary set designer and painter, and in charge of creating costumes. Finding the ensembles for the female parts significantly difficult to make, even though some items had been brought from Britain for this purpose, he had to rely on his considerable ability to improvise…

“Finally, on 23 November, the great day came to raise the curtain on Resolute’s Arctic Theatre Royal, the first in that region since Parry’s 1822 performance. After a quickly devoured early supper, the actors completed their finishing touches: the ‘ladies’ shaved, and De Bray applied their makeup, which consisted of magnesium to whiten their faces, and Chinese rouge to bring some colour back onto their cheekbones. Kellett was given the best seat in the house: an armchair set against the mainmast with a canopy made from flags and Kellett’s family coat of arms. Resolute’s and Intrepid’s officers sat in the front row. 

“The evening began precisely at 18:30 with the orchestral performance, consisting of six fifes, an accordion, a drum and a triangle. Dressed as the Hyborean King, Dr. Domville read out McDougall’s prologue in a strong voice:
‘Tis now some two and thirty years ago,
This region of eternal ice and snow
Was first discovered by one Edward Parry,
Who near this spot eleven months did tarry;
Icebound as you are now, like you in hope
Next season’s summer sun the ice might ope.
Their coming here I deemed a great intrusion,
And thought to cover all with dire confusion:
Frostbites I sent, and covered them with scars;
They murmured not, but laughed, like jolly British tars.
I then forgave them, for I couldn’t feel resentment,
‘Gainst men who midst privation had contentment.
You’re welcome for their sakes, I can’t dissemble,
For you, your persevering predecessors do resemble
In everything-including killing deer and even my musk-oxen
You cooly shoot, and then with musket knock ‘em
Down: their carcasses next skin and bear off,
Whilst not a particle of meat I get a share of.
But I o’erlook it all. You see I’ve come today
To join you as of old in forwarding the play.
Well! ‘tis a splendid house, quite equals Parry’s,
And far surpasses that of Mr. Barry’s
Houses of Parliament, for you I see don’t need
The ventilating process used by Doctor Reid.
And Brothers, for such we are by common consanguinity,
Let’s live as such, in constant unanimity.
Take exercise, be cheerful, and care throw aside,
Cold, darkness, and monotony you may thus deride:
For even here that cherub sweet, with heart both kind and soft,
The life of Jack holds dear; she’s watching now-aloft!
Last spring a herald from the Tehoutschi’s king
Told me this season to my realms would bring
A ‘Resolute’ and ‘Intrepid’ band, and bid me tell it,
In order to surprise his friend, their leader-Captain Kellett.’
[A bell rang]
‘But hark – a bell! Ah! That’s a hint to close my long oration;
They’re anxious to appear, my friends, to gain your approbation;
But remember they’re beginners, for I know they’ve fondly reckoned,
On your kindness to gloss lightly o’er the faults of 
Charles the Second.‘ 

“The first of the two plays was the historical drama Charles II…A group serenaded the audience during the intermission with amusing songs, followed by the programme’s second half: the comedy, Who Speaks First…When the final curtain fell, chorus followed chorus of heartfelt cheers over the pounding of profuse clapping. Everyone stood and removed their hats for a rousing rendition of ‘God Save the Queen’, then all fell upon the refreshments that Kellett had provided. Though the temperature was 0°F, having a most powerful effect on the ‘women’ in their petticoats, nonetheless McDougall opined they would’ve been well received on any London stage.”

After the theatre was packed away and December began I continued…
“Now the men began looking forward in earnest to Christmas, which was soon upon them. By Christmas Day, in both ships, the men had decorated their mess tables with flags and festive centrepieces, and Kellett and McClintock ordered the men extra food allowances. The Intrepids hosted the luncheon for all the officers, which consisted of muskox, hare, ptarmigan and reindeer. Everyone dug in with gusto. Afterward the Resolute officers prepared the evening dinner. At 17:00 they gathered in Resolute’s gunroom for an even more elaborate feast, which included roast beef and Arctic hare. However, the twenty-one pound haunch of Arctic venison was everyone’s favourite. After dinner they played Mecham’s game called Quack. No details survive about this, but they apparently had a grand time playing it with their enjoyment, no doubt, heightened by their consumption of alcohol-based festive drinks.”


Henry Grinnell

Grinnell looks less comfortable in front of a camera than when he worked behind the scene in realm of politics and commerce when promoting his Arctic interests.


Henry Grinnell & Resolute

Henry Grinnell’s involvement in Resolute’s story is frequently misrepresented. Some accounts even say he is responsible for proposing the 1856 resolution in Congress for the US to buy Resolute from the Perkins and Smith whaling firm, refurbish her at a USN yard, then send her back to England as a gift. His role in the Franklin searches in general is also one that gets represented differently in various sources. So my next series of blog posts are going to be about him, his role in the Franklin searches, and his involvement in the life of HMS Resolute.
Part 1:
In 1850 Grinnell pledged $5,000 towards an American search expedition to find Franklin. After a poor response to a public subscription he increased this pledge to $10,000. Eventually he used $30,000 to buy the two ships Advance and Rescue. However, the rest of the expedition’s costs fell upon the US Congress. On the recommendation of President Zachary Taylor, Congress provided naval personnel, and covered their pay, food and equipment costs. This American Expedition shared with the British 1850 Austin Expedition the discovery of Franklin’s 1846 winter camp on Beechey Island. Both Advance and Rescue and their crews came home safely. The ships were then returned to Grinnell. Although he put his capital at risk, in effect Grinnell’s financial contribution was exactly $0,000, and the American taxpayers footed the rest of the bill. He reaped the benefit on both sides of the Pond during his lifetime for being a philanthropic person and forever by having this 1850 expedition named after him as the 1st Grinnell Expedition to search for Franklin. For many years after this suited his financial shipping industry interests, which included whaling.

a photograph of shipping and whaling magnate Henry Grinnell in the blog about his role in the searches for Franklin and in HMS Resolute's story
Henry Grinnell


Correction of Bernard Colby’s description of the discovery of HMS RESOLUTE

A somewhat fanciful image of HMS Resolute found in Davis Strait by James Munroe Buddington

I mentioned earlier that Barnard Colby’s For Oil and Buggy Whips, (Mystic, Connecticut, Mystic Seaport Museum, Inc.) 1990, is an excellent book on the whaling captains of New London, Connecticut. I used it as a source for the background on the men involved in forming Perkins and Smith, the whaling firm Buddington worked for, and as one of my sources for the history of the New England whaling industry. I also used it as one of my many sources about Buddington’s 1855 voyage on the George Henry and the circumstances surrounding his discovery of HMS Resolute in Davis Strait. My more recent research, however, has shown his account to be quite wrong, although I must stress that his research on the rest of New London whaling is very good. On page 78, Colby begins recounting Buddington’s voyage by saying he left New London on 20 May, my research shows he departed on May 29th. Having begun the trip on the wrong date, Colby’s dates get consecutively worse throughout his account on pp 78-79. He mentions the damage the George Henry sustained 16 days into their trip, which I also have, but in my ms this date is 14 June, then I agree they headed to Greenland for repairs. He then says, after their repairs, still in June, they caught whales is Disco Bay then headed home. Buddington wasn’t actually headed home quite yet, and he wasn’t in Disco Bay until 31 July. The following is what really happened with the George Henry before finding Resolute. (an excerpt from my new ms:)

“Five days along the pack, on the 19th [June], quickly moving, sharp-edged flow ice severely mangled the George Henry’s cutwater (the forward edge of her prow and gripe, where the stem and keel are joined). Now, when they needed even more extensive repairs, their ability to actually arrive at Greenland was in serious doubt. They had to make their way very carefully to be able to reach Holsteinsborg for repairs.

In early July the George Henry arrived at Holsteinsborg, Greenland. On [July] 15th, with the repairs finished, Buddington headed west hoping to manoeuvre into the pack. But the ice was still too solid to penetrate, so he steered George Henry north, along Greenland’s west coast, hoping to hunt in Disco Bay. Arriving there on 31 July, the hunting was terrible. They only caught halibut and four humpback whales, which yielded the very meagre reward of 184 barrels of oil. [Having begun the voyage on the wrong date, Colby skates over this part of Buddington’s trip. But we do come close to the same information about the whaling being very meager indeed on this trip, though he has the George Henries rendering 188 barrels of oil in June rather than 184 in August.] 

Early on 20 August Buddington left Disco and sailed southwest…By late summer the warmer water always flowed up from the south, sweeping north along Greenland’s coast and melting the floe in the eastern part of Davis Strait. The pack ice could still be frozen solid, however,  in the middle of the Strait and along Baffin Island’s coast, although Buddington was expecting the summer sun and warmer waters to have begun breaking it up. They made good progress sailing southwestward in open water, covering approximately 50 miles each day for three days. On the 23rd [August] Buddington saw four ships off his starboard bow, solidly frozen in the pack.The following day Buddington lost sight of them…He then boldly steered George Henry into the pack. Over the next few days Buddington manoeuvred approximately 40 miles into it…[on the 28 August] the ice firmed up around George Henry, and two days later they were solidly frozen in…”

Tomorrow I will continue correcting a few points in For Oil, and add some extra information. Still on page 78 of For Oil and Buggy Whips, Colby admits he has conflicting information about when and how Buddington discovered Resolute. Stay tuned!

Carrying on from yesterday’s blog posting we find ourselves on the George Henry and coming up on the memorable day when James Munroe Buddington found the abandoned HMS Resolute. Colby says Buddington was headed home to New London in June when he saw a ship in the distance. In reality it was in August that Buddington headed SW toward home. From my new manuscript:

“They made good progress sailing southwestward in open water, covering approximately 50 miles each day for three days. On the 23rd [August] Buddington saw four ships off his starboard bow, solidly frozen in the pack.The following day Buddington lost sight of them as he continued towards [the SW]. He then boldly steered George Henry into the pack. Over the next few days Buddington manoeuvred approximately 40 miles into it…On the 28th [August] Buddington first saw land…[but then] the ice firmed up around George Henry, and two days later they were solidly frozen in…

On 10 September…climbing the rigging to examine the state of the ice, Buddington paused halfway to the maintop when he saw a large, three masted ship to the SW, about ten miles away….he suspected she was in distress, because she was almost ashore…was listing badly to port, and he’d received no responses to his repeated signals. If any able-bodied crew were onboard they would’ve responded…”
[The following is an 1855 contemporaneous quote from Buddington which I use in my ms.] ‘We kept gradually nearing one another, although I couldn’t exactly say what caused the thing to come about, except, perhaps the ship may have been struck by a counter current from Davis Straits and driven towards us in that manner. For five days we were in sight of one another and continued to drift toward each other.’
[Colby says on p.78, ‘Captain Buddington maneuvered (sp) the George Henry as near the craft as he deemed advisable, and only his skill prevented his own vessel from being chopped to pieces by the grinding ice of the ice field which surrounded the vessel in the distance.’ This was not correct: the George Henry was already solidly frozen into the pack ice and was drifting with the flow as was the mysterious ship.]

Returning to my ms: “As the movement of the ice brought the ships closer to each other, something in the mystery ship’s rigging made Buddington suspect she was British. But he couldn’t think of any British ship unaccounted for in the vicinity of the Davis Strait. Finally, on the 15th Buddington sent his first mate John T. Quayle, second mate Norris Havens, and two boat steerers, George E. Tyson and Alexander Tillinghurst to investigate. [This is my correction of Colby’s book, wherein he does admit he had found conflicting stories about what happened next.] Tyson claimed 20 years later in his book he saw the ship first, and had to persuade a reluctant Buddington to let men go investigate. He even had to help his shipmates get onto her deck! Perhaps the popularity of the story once the newspapers reported it prompted Tyson to make these false claims. But some of the information he disclosed in the book was accurate, and therefore valuable…
Boarding the mystery ship the George Henries found seven feet of water in her hold, and discovered the heavily ice-encrusted port side exterior was what forced her to list so badly. When they went below they groped their way in the dark until they kicked the captain’s cabin door open and lit some candles. Gazing around they beheld an eerie scene. Decanters and tumblers, still holding wine, were sitting on the table around the mizzen mast, where the captain and his officers had placed them after their last toast before abandoning their gallant ship. Tyson wrote:
‘It was a strange scene to come upon in that desolate place. Some of my companions appeared to feel somewhat superstitious, and hesitated to drink the wine, but my long and fatiguing walk made it very acceptable to me, and having helped myself to a glass, and they seeing it did not kill me, an expression of intense relief came over their countenances, and they all, with one accord, went for that wine with a will; and there and then we all drank a bumper to the late officers and crew …’ 
As they drank the wine the George Henries glanced around the cabin, and noticed everything: beams, books, clothes, and instruments, were covered in mould. Then the captain’s discarded epaulets on the table shed some light on the mystery ship’s identity: these were the epaulets worn by a British naval officer. Soon, astonishingly, other evidence in the cabin convinced them they were onboard HMS Resolute. But how could she possibly be the same ship that had been abandoned seventeen months ago, and 1,200 nautical miles away? This was incomprehensible! A ship simply couldn’t survived such a journey without divine providence. How had she not been crushed? How had she not run aground? How had she not been smashed against rocky headlands as she rode the current, still encased in ice, through Lancaster Sound and into Davis Strait? As they pondered these mysteries, the George Henries lit a fire in the captain’s stove. The combination of its heat, their exhaustion, the ingestion of much wine and rum caused them to fall into a deep, sound asleep.” At this point our narratives about the salvage of HMS Resolute are in accordance with one another. On page 79 Colby’s account of our gallant ship in the Arctic is again very inaccurate. But that is another topic altogether.


HMS Resolute Christmas 1855

HMS Resolute in the Arctic sun

I love this image of HMS Resolute making her way across sun-spangled Arctic waters. It has nothing to do with Christmas, since by December the Resolutes and Intrepids, along with the other men in the Belcher Expedition and the indigenous Arctic peoples, had already said goodbye to the sun. Their long, dark winter was upon them, but now, as then, keeping the memory of light ever present in our hearts is the best remedy for surviving the darkest of times…

Today I am continuing on from my earlier post about Resolute’s 1855 Christmas:
Much later in his life (on 28 November 1906 and only 2 years before he died) James Buddington described the scene that greeted him as he arrived in New London. His memory was beginning to fade and he contradicted the contemporary accounts in 1855 of George Henry’s arrival before Resolute’s subsequent return:

“It was one of the worst winters I ever experienced – either up north or here. They told me they had uncommonly fine weather…until a few days before I arrived. If they had, I never met it. It was bitter cold. In those days the snow came down and stayed. No one went out without having ears covered. The men wore shawls outside of their coats and the women, and the men, too, used to put stockings on outside their shoes to keep them from slipping.
“When I got into the harbour the news spread and there was the shore crowded with folks wondering what the ship was. I had our colours flying, of course, but, out of politeness to the Britisher, I had his flying, too.
“The harbour froze over solid the very night the Resolute lay there, about opposite Fort Trumbull, with the George Henry on the west side. I used to say that the Resolute brought the ice with her. Crowds came out on the ice and visited her. [the river froze so solid] the folks used to walk across to Groton, and horses and teams went over, well ladened, too. No winter ever like it before or after.”

I have taken this from my new manuscript, quoting from For Oil and Buggy Whips by Barnard L. Colby, P. 80. Sadly, although Mr. Colby has a great deal of valuable information about New England whaling in this well researched book, his account of Resolute’s story has a number of inaccuracies in it. Over the years I have encountered quite a few mistakes, largely…but not exclusively…on the internet. I am creating a page as part of this website where I can correct the mistakes I find.


HMS Resolute’s Most Fantastic Christmas 1855

HMS Resolute arriving in New London Connecticut on Christmas Eve 1855 with Captain James Munroe Buddington in charge, a whaling captain working for the New London whaling firm Perkins and Smith
HMS Resolute entering New London, Connecticut, 24 December 1855, from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper. 19 January 1856.

As you can see I actually took a 2 day break over Christmas, despite saying I would only take Christmas Day off. Yesterday I gathered together some interesting tidbits about Resolute’s 1855 Christmas. Without a doubt this was her 2nd most adventurous holiday of her entire life!
From my Resolute (concisely) page you know James Munroe Buddington was the Connecticut whaler, working for the New London whaling firm of Perkins and Smith, who found the abandoned HMS Resolute still afloat in Baffin Bay during September 1855. This whaling season hadn’t been kind to the George Henries, and here is a passage about it from my new manuscript:

“Buddington and his crew encountered storm after storm after storm. The hunting wasn’t any good either. Ice completely blocked Cumberland Sound, and only sixteen days after leaving home [29 May 1855] floating ice stove in George Henry’s port bow and knocked out her stem. Although most of the damage was above the waterline, they still needed repairs urgently, and Buddington headed east for Holsteinsborg (now Sisimiut), Greenland. En route they found dense pack ice completely blocking Davis Strait, and Buddington had to sail along its edge. Five days later quickly moving, sharp-edged flow ice severely mangled the George Henry’s cutwater (the forward edge of her prow and gripe, where the stem and keel are joined). Now, when they needed even more extensive repairs, their ability to actually arrive at Greenland was in serious doubt….On the 15TH [July], with the repairs finished, Buddington headed west hoping to manoeuvre into the pack. But the ice was still too solid to penetrate, so he steered George Henry north,along Greenland’swest coast, hoping to hunt in Disco Bay. Arriving there on 31 July, the hunting was terrible. They only caught halibut and four humpback whales, which yielded the very meagre reward of 184 barrels of oil.”

James Munroe Buddington. Image still in copyright, in the collection of The New Bedford Whaling Museum, New Bedford, Connecticut

  After Buddington got stuck in the pack, his lookout spotted Resolute, and he decided to investigate the ship. He helped to pump her out and found she still held water. Considering his very meager haul so far, Buddington decided to sail Resolute to his homeport for salvage. Here’s another passage from my new manuscript:
“Splitting his crew, he left Quayle in charge of the George Henry with fourteen men, and took ten with him to Resolute. Using George Henry’s charts (surveyed by Beaufort’s men and produced by the British Admiralty) Buddington drew an outline of the American coast on a piece of foolscap. He took this, his lever watch, a quadrant, and a wonky unreliable compass with him to the Arctic discovery ship. But he knew it was his years of experience and extensive knowledge of these waters which would get him home. Though it would be prudent and safer for them to sail in company, Buddington advised Quayle to make his own way home if the ships got separated.”

Unfortunately they did get separated. The new American Resolutes encountered even more storms, which forced them far to the south and almost to Bermuda, where Resolute’s former captain Kellett was stationed. But the worst problem they encountered was becoming dangerously close to running out of drinking water. I write about their entire trip home in detail in the manuscript, but to shorten this blog entry a bit I am jumping ahead now to just before Christmas. The George Henry arrived home first:

“The usual holiday joy of the local whaling families must have been tainted by worry as they kept an anxious vigil for Resolute. Finally, on Little Christmas Eve, after 63 stormy days at sea, Buddington dropped anchor at Groton, his hometown. Groton’s residents had suffered dearly during the Revolutionary War and was still strongly anti-British. Most of the local patriots had been killed resisting the British advance on the heights above their town where 164 militia and local men had been manning Fort Griswold. The Yankee traitor, Benedict Arnold, led his soldiers in a two-pronged attack, using half to take Fort Trumbull still under construction on the New London side of the Thames. Then, splitting the rest he used half to scale the heights and attack Fort Griswold, while the remaining men fought their way directly into Groton. The patriots fought hard to repulse the attack on Fort Griswold, but, after its American commander, Lieutenant Colonel Ledyard, surrendered his sword, the British murdered him with it then slaughtered the entire garrison of 88 men and boys. 
“James Buddington’s mother, Esther Hill, was only eight days old when James’ maternal grandfather, Samuel Hill, was killed at Fort Griswold. In 1830 the town had erected a 127-foot monument to memorialise the sacrifice made by their slain martyrs, but now this British exploration ship rocked at anchor, directly in its shadow. Now, after the War of 1812 seriously damaged the local whaling and commercial fishing industries, here wasn’t much sympathy for Britain in the area, particularly as anti-British sentiments about recruitment spread across the country. With Resolute anchored in their harbour, local feelings would’ve quickly hardened against any British attempts to reclaim her.”

Tempers were already frayed enough between the two countries without any additional stress being added…but that part of Resolute’s eventful story is best saved for another day. (Again…from my manuscript:) “On Christmas Eve Buddington crossed the Thames River to New London. By the time he passed the lighthouse the pier was awash with men and women. Holding their torches high, they welcomed the brave whalers who had sailed the Arctic discovery ship to their home just in time for Christmas.”

The story of Resolute’s arrival will continue tomorrow, with additional insights made by one of the followers of my FaceBook “HMS Resolute History and News” page!


Arctic Christmases 1850 & 1852

1850: Onboard HMS Resolute they celebrated Christmas with a call to “Let our Arctic Christmas rival its predecessors. Although nature here denies us the accustomed decorations for his reception, let us give the old Father [Christmas] a rich jolly welcome, and I’ll warrant we shall receive an ample return.” (Arctic Miscellanies, p. 145)

The Illustrated Arctic News December 1850 Christmas Day

In the Arctic Illustrated News that same year McDougall wrote:
“Christmas Day in Latitude 74° North…has the merit of being a novelty, although we must plead guilty to being like most other people sufficiently old fashioned, to prefer spending it at Home…we ‘Mariners of England’ shall have to do fun 1850 as we have done before, namely spend a merry Christmas and a Happy New Year amongst those jolly mortals called Shipmates…It is true no gentle hand rests on ours, no laughing child clambers on our knee…We… rejoice in the unfaded beauty of her who never spoke a word unkind…Such can only be found in that one bright spot – an Englishman’s Home! Yet our chair will be there, and our name will not be forgotten. God be thanked we have each our consolation. We rejoice in the hope that they are happy, they gladden with the thought that we are doing our duty.

“And so we will, gallant Friends! Thanks to Her Majesty’s Roast Beef and plum pudding – our Christmas in spite of Emperor Zero must be a jovial one, and we can best insure a happy entrance to the coming Year, by drawing still closer the bonds of friendship which unite us to our Brother Arctic Navigators.”

1852: When the Belcher Expedition was divided at Beechey Island during the autumn Belcher took his flagship, HMS Assistance, and steam tender, Pioneer, up the Wellington Channel. Kellett sailed westward with HMS Resolute and steam tender Intrepid. Although similar, the Christmas celebrations unfolded a bit differently in each camp. Onboard HMS Assistance and Pioneer the men marked the Winter Solstice with the opening of their theatre. They passed the evening of the shortest day by attending the Pioneers’ performance of Hamlet, followed by the Assistances’ ‘much admired comedy’ of The Scapegrace.

The Queen's Arctic Theatre 1852 onboard HMS Assistance, under the patronage of Captain Sir Edward Belcher. and manager Commander Richards

Onboard HMS Assistance on Christmas Day Belcher wrote about what had happened in the middle of the night: “At midnight certain sounds of music, not customary, were noticed near my cabin door, and permission to enter having been granted [there followed the recitation of] a Christmas Ode…

A Christmas Piece
Awake! Awake! The Old Year’s going,
Time flies a pace;
Awake! Awake! The New Year’s coming,
To take the old one’s place.

Arise, arise, good shipmates all,
And do not danger fear;
Arise, arise, good shipmates all,
To welcome the New Year.

God bless our brave old Commodore,
And our good Commander too;
Not forgetting all our Officers
And our true and gallant crew!

Sleep on again, and on your brows
May soft repose be seen!
Sleep on again, while in our lay
We’ll sing, God bless the Queen!”
(Last of the Arctic Voyages, by Edward Belcher, vol I p. 189-190)

Onboard HMS Intrepid on 23 December 1852 the Intrepids welcomed the men from HMS Resolute to their performance of “a series of tricks in legerdemain, interspersed with songs, recitations, etc. Captain McClintock and Lieut. Pim had, with the most praiseworthy zeal and forethought, gone to considerable expense in providing amusing tricks which were entrusted to Mr. Krabbe…

“Nothing could have gone off with greater eclat than the entertainments of the evening; the laughter and surprise were at times intense, particularly when the qualities of the “inexhaustible bottle” were, top the intense delight of the recipients of its contents, proved to be something beyond mere fiction…

“Christmas Day has at length arrived and many were the expressions of good will and friendship interchanged. The Intrepids with their usual hospitality, provided luncheon; and, after a walk for an appetite, all the officers of the squadron met at 5 pm in the gun-room of the Resolute and sat down to a substantial dinner. Besides other delicacies, there was a splendid piece of roast beef (killed in April), an Arctic hare, and a noble paunch of Arctic Venison weighing twenty-one pounds. The latter was the favourite dish, and called forth the unqualified praise of all present. The evening was spent agreeably over a new and amusing game (called ‘Quack’) introduced by Lieutenant Mecham.

“I had almost forgotten to say, the men had an extra allowance issued, and at 1 pm sat down to good fare, the various tables being decorated with transparencies, flags, and devises of various descriptions alike appropriate and tasteful.” (Eventful Voyage, p. 170)

God bless them everyone!
The RESOLUTE Blog will return on 26 December 2020

A follower on my Facebook page added this information about “Zero’s tricks”:
You asked if anyone had any inking about what the reference to “Zero’s Tricks” may be alluding to. This may, or may not, be an explanation. Card games were, as they are now, very popular with seafarers who have a lot of time on their hands at night. There are a number of old card games where, if you do not have anything to give even a hint of a winning bidding hand ( a hand like a fist some of us call it), you may go to the other extreme and bid “Zero Tricks” – which means, you know you are really up against it, but reckon you can strategically lose every hand ! That is not as easy as it sounds as, if your opponents can make you win even just once, you are ‘dog tucker’ and incur a massive penalty deduction in points. Mind you, if you miraculously succeeded in losing every single play, your points reward is greater than going “full no trumps” 


“The Arctic Anthem”


In the Illustrated Arctic News, produced onboard HMS Resolute during our galant ship’s very first Arctic winter, of 1850-1851, the Editors George McDougall and Sherard Osborn published McDougall’s Arctic Anthem. You can sing it in your head, or actually out loud, to the tune of the British National Anthem “God Save the Queen”. Americans can sing it to the melody of “My Country Tis of Thee” which is the same. (I quote the first verse in the front of my non-fiction manuscript which I am still sending around to agents!) I have made bold the words that might need definition, with their explanations below. Here are all the verses:

God bless the Resolute,
A ship of good repute,
And all her crew!
Make her victorious,
Over old Boreas,
Whene’er he’s uproarious,
Our consorts too.

Of Button’s Balloons, a store,
We have sent on a tour’
Franklin to cheer!
From toil, we’ll not refrain,
To release his crew from pain,
And return with them again
To friends sincere.

Let this our winter be,
From every care, quite free,
Health to us all!
Don’t let old Zero’s tricks,
perplex the brave Arctics,
Nor let for want of sticks,
Sylvester* fall.

Let us return once more,
To England’s happy shore,
Never to roam!
May we ne’er want for prog,
Or what is better – Grog,
To keep all our lives agog,
Till we reach home.

Boreas is the Greek God of the North Wind and Winter
consorts: Austin’s 3 other ships 1850-1851 Intrepid, Assistance & Pioneer.

George McDougall, Master on HMS Resolute 1852-1854, wrote the Arctic Anthem about Resolute

Button’s Balloons: The Austin Expedition released many balloons to which were attached, according to McDougall, thousands of slips containing the expedition’s whereabouts. On 12 September 1852 Kellett dispatched a balloon “with 800 papers attached to a tail of quick-match. The balloon disappeared in a north-westerly direction.” (McDougall’s Eventful Voyage of HMS Resolute, p. 127) McDougall noted that he was unaware of any of the “many thousand slips” scattered in every direction were ever picked up.
Zero’s tricks: I’m not sure what McDougall meant. Any ideas anyone?
Sylvester*: This word has an asterisk next to it the Illustrated Arctic News with this explanation: “The name of the inventor of the warm air stove”. The Admiralty equipped all their Arctic search vessels with this device.
prog: short for “progress” made to rhyme with Grog
Grog: defined in Admiral Smyth’s The Sailor’s Word Book (edited by our story’s Edward Belcher) “a drink issued in the navy, consisting of 1 part of spirits diluted with 3 of water…as the water onboard in olden times was very unwholesome it was necessary to mix it with spirits…”


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.