HMS Resolute & Intrepid in 1853


Quite a while ago my friend, Martin Kellett, asked me about the graves in this image “Headstones on Dealy Island of Kellett’s Men”. In total 5 men from Resolute and Intrepid died during the Belcher Expedition. Three of them died while Kellett’s 1852-1853 winter camp was still in place off Dealy Island before Resolute & Intrepid headed back east during the autumn of 1853. The remaining two men died in 1854.

The men are listed in date order of their deaths:
Thomas Mobley died on 19 October 1852. From the small village of Buckland, in Buckinghamshire, Thomas was a 39 year old Private in the Royal Marines, and had first enlisted in the Royal Navy on 12 April 1834. He mustered in to served onboard Resolute on the 21st of February 1852. (All the rest of the men who died were serving on Intrepid.) He died near the close of the autumn sledging trips, while everyone anxiously awaited the return of the final team led by McClintock. Having a weak heart, Dr. Domville had hoped to preserve Thomas’ health by keeping him on light duties. When, on 18 October, Mobley tried going outside without wearing proper clothing, the shock of the cold air made him turn back. Upon reaching the deck his heart stopped and he immediately collapsed. He had been well liked by his shipmates and the Intrepids, and his sudden death badly affected everyone. The sadness permeated Resolute, and McDougall wrote:
Few things in my somewhat eventful life, have produced a more saddening effect than that occasioned by the death of this man-who was beloved and respected by all onboard…the respect of the officers and men toward him was sincere. He was beloved by his shipmates for his amiable qualities, and respected by the officers for his trustworthy character…an upright man, and I believe a sincere Christian, he died as he had lived- ‘the noblest work of God’ -an honest man.”

The Royal Marines were formed into divisions. The first 3 divisions were based in Chatham, Portsmouth and Plymouth. The 4th division was established at Woolwich from 1805 – 1869. Each division consisted of several infantry companies, and these were numbered. Mobley mustered from the Woolwich Division, and his infantry company number was 92.

George Drover, died on 12 December 1852. George was Intrepid’s fo’c’le captain. Variously recorded as being 27 and 33 years old, he was from Alverstone, Hampshire, on the Isle of White, and had served on HMS Assistance during the 1850-1851 Austin Expedition. He was a Woolwich volunteer who mustered in onboard Resolute on 24 February 1852. Dr. Domville recorded pleuritis as the cause of his death. (The same as pleurisy, it is the painful inflammation of the tissues that separate the lungs from the chest wall.) George had crossed Melville Island between 14 September and 2 October 1852. He then set out again on HM Sledge Hero on 7 October, but he had to return that same day because he was feeling unwell, and he remained on the sick list util his death. His funeral service was on 19 December and McClintock had him buried next to Thomas Mobley.

John Coombes, who died on 12 May 1853, was born in St. Stevens, Cornwall. He mustered in onboard Resolute on 24 February 1852 to serve as a stoker onboard Intrepid. At the time he had been serving on Victoria & Albert and was 32 years and 9 months old. Resolute’s Muster Book reveals he was 5 feet, 9 inches tall, had a fair complexion, grey eyes and brown hair, and was married. John had spent his entire working life in the Royal Navy. Before the Belcher Expedition he had served on:
HMS Gordon (1839-1842)
HMS Styx (1842-1844)
HMS Stromboli (1844-1847)
HMS Victoria & Albert (1848-1852)
Coombes died while sledging under the command of Francis Leopold McClintock. They were returning to the ships, and McClintock’s men had joined De Bray’s team on the way. After an autopsy, Dr. Domville recorded his death as being caused by hypertrophy of the heart and pulmonary apoplexy.

From the American Mayo Clinic’s website,
“Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is a disease in which the heart muscle becomes abnormally thick (hypertrophied). The thickened heart muscle can make it harder for the heart to pump blood. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy often goes undiagnosed because many people with the disease have few, if any, symptoms and can lead normal lives with no significant problems. However, in a small number of people with HCM, the thickened heart muscle can cause shortness of breath, chest pain or problems in the heart’s electrical system, resulting in life-threatening abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias) or sudden death.”

Below are the two remaining “Kellett Men” who died during the Belcher Expedition.

Thomas Hood died on 2 January 1854. He was a Private in the Royal Marines, and first enlisted in the Royal Navy on 16 June 1841. Born in Brewood, Staffordshire, a small village (just NW of Birmingham, Staffordshire), he was 30 years old when he mustered in on 21 February 1852 for service on Intrepid. He was among the Royal Marine Woolwich volunteers, and his infantry company number was 60.This is what I wrote about him in my new manuscript:
Only two days into the new year Intrepid’s Royal Marine Thomas Hood died. He was one of the experienced Arctics, and McClintock knew him well because they’d traveled together in 1851 on a ninety day sledge journey during the Austin Expedition. He’d been ill for a long time with a chest complaint and died after suffering a heart attack. While his shipmates had expected his death, it was still seen as an ill omen for the new year to begin with his funeral. In his will he left five pounds and all his clothes to his friend, Jeremiah Shaw, who had nursed him through his illness. He left everything else to his sister.

The final Kellett man to die was Intrepid’s ice quartermaster James Wilkie on 2 February 1854, exactly one month to the day after Hood. 37 years old when he mustered in, his nickname was “Stoneman” and he was born in Dartmouth, Devon, was only 36 years old, and left a wife and three children. Stoneman Wilkie was also an experienced Arctic, having served with Hood twice, during the 1848-1849 Ross Expedition, and in the 1850 – 1851 Austin Expedition.

McDougall wrote about them in his journal, noting both were respected for their strength and endurance: “Poor Wilkie, ice quartermaster of the ‘Intrepid’, breathed his last at 3AM, of disease of the heart and effusion of the chest. He had been on the sick list nearly the whole winter, but was not considered in danger until within about three weeks of his death…It is a sad reflection that Intrepid should have lost no less than four out of her crew of thirty souls, being nearly one-seventh of the whole…The following day, the 3rd, all that remained of poor Wilkie was consigned to the grave, just as the first beams of the long absent sun tinged the southern horizon.”

From my ms I wrote:
What a difficult juxtaposition of feelings the men must have felt, those of loss and sadness, against that of relief. Even the well-attended lecture series couldn’t lift the cloud of gloom these deaths left behind. 

HMS Resolute & Intrepid in 1853 The Widening Search

The Fate of HMS Resolute & Intrepid in autumn 1853

After Kellett sent his report to Belcher the Resolutes and Intrepids had to wait for the sledging party’s return.

(From my manuscript)
During this time the officers organised races and wrestling matches. Kellett, with McClintock on his back, raced Pim and, rather suspiciously, won easily. Richard Roche described the festivities in his journal:

8 Aug 53 All hands from both ships went on shore…where a race course had been measured off. Various matches were made, the men running for sweepstakes of 1, 2, and 3 pounds sterling. Several (both officers and men) stripped and ran in drawers and stockings so eager were they for the winning. The Captain ran 50 yards, carrying Captain McClintock on his back, while Pim ran 100 yards in 14 seconds and 300 yards in 46 seconds. Most of the officers ran 150 yards for sweepstakes and Nares (being  a long legged young fellow) carried off the first prize. We returned on board by 2 o’clock, the Captain, in a fit of generosity, and in consideration of the fatigue we had undergone, served out a pint of beer all round. I realised 1 pound 10 shillings by the above transactions.

In mid August the ice broke up and Kellett prepared the ships for sailing. With anticipation of an open run, everyone’s spirits filled with soaring joy but, just as the sails were set, the winds shifted and the floe ice solidly blocked the channel ahead of them from Melville Island to the northernmost tip of Byam Martin. The men pretended a philosophical indifference to this turn of events, but most couldn’t hide their disappointment. These fits and starts continued to plague them as they kept trying to make headway towards Beechey Island. But by the beginning of September they began doubting they could reach their goal. Kellett shifted supplies between the ships in case he’s have to order them to separate. He planned to send Intrepid ahead alone if it looked like Resolute wouldn’t get through.

The lookout in Resolute’s crows nest on 11 September saw nothing but ice in all directions. Kellett’s ships were in danger of having to make winter camp drifting in the pack ice. The only consolation was the pack kept moving slowly eastward. If it didn’t crush them, by spring they should be closer to Beechey Island. The pressure of the ice all around caused many eerie and startling sounds, putting the men on edge. Though written about the Antarctic, the Resolutes and Intrepids would’ve recognised Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s description of ice in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner: 

And now there came both mist and snow,
And it grew wondrous cold:
And ice, mast-high, came floating by,
As green as emerald.
And through the drifts of snowy cliffs
Did send a dismal sheen:
Nor shapes of men nor beasts we ken-
The ice was in-between.
The ice was here, the ice was there,
The ice was all around:
It cracked and growled, and roared and howled,
Like noises in a swound! 

The days passed with a succession of storms while the pack continued to move ESE. Some days they could sail, others a sudden squall would force them to reduce canvas. On 9 September at 01:30 a strong westerly quickly moved the ships along, but in less than an hour a mass of thick, icy sludge stopped Resolute. This time Intrepid towed her out of the nearly impassable ice soup to stable land ice where the men secured both ships. 

Kellett sent out hunting parties after spotting a herd of thirty-five muskox. They successfully killed eleven, yielding 1,970 pounds of meat.  The day after the hunt Kellett called McClintock and McClure into his cabin to review options. A few hours later, Kellett took the Intrepid aheadto check the state of the ice. Before leaving, Kellett ordered enough supplies brought out of Resolute’s hold to supply seventy men through 1 June 1854 and put them onboard Intrepid. McDougall interpreted this order to mean Kellett would leave Resolute behind if it looked like only the steamship Intrepid could get through.

Later that afternoon McDougall received the signal that he should sail Resolute east to join Intrepid. Only a few minutes after reaching the steam tendera slurry of young ice stopped them again. This time Resolute didn’t budge. They lit Bickford’s fuses, Resolute didn’t budge. They rigged hawsers from both her sides sides to pull and rock her. Resolute didn’t budge. Kellett ordered lines to Intrepid. Resolute made an modicum of progress. But around midnight the ice formed up and stopped our gallant ships.

By 20 September Kellett accepted they had to prepare winter camp on the floe ice. They stowed the topgallant yards and furl the jibs and trysails. As other camp prep took place, some Resolute’s were taken completely by surprise, only a short time after being beset, to find the ice was already 20 feet deep.

Wintering in the pack was dangerous: its instability and movement put the ships at great risk of being crushed. if the floe headed southward and they had to abandon ship, they’d have a much longer trek to North Star. Kellett faced a claustrophobic winter with Resolute and Intrepid so overcrowded. Without secure surrounding land, he couldn’t off load supplies, leaving the deck cluttered with equipment.

Space was so cramped that McClure and Kellett, sharing a tiny cabin, found that one man had to stay in bed while the other washed and dressed; there wasn’t room for two to stand upright. And when the steward came to tidy the room, both [Kellett and McClure] had to go out onto the cold deck…

26 April 2021 blog post:
[From my manuscript: as always italicised print indicates material quoted in the ms]

The Resolutes and Intrepids had initially greeted the Investigators with enthusiasm, and the Investigators, on their part, returned this with their own heartfelt gratitude. Investigator’s translator Johann Miertsching, a Moravian Brothers missionary who could speak Inuit, recorded their initial reception:

I was conducted to the Captain’s cabin, where for the first time in sixteen days I had a decent wash and put on clothes and linen leant me by Captain Kellett. After breakfasting with the two captains [Kellett and McClure], and drinking my first cup of coffee in two and a half years, I went to rest and enjoyed a refreshing sleep until 2 o’clock when I was called for lunch. The ship Intrepid- two hundred paces from the Resolute- has been set up as a hospital for the sick, and twenty two men of our company placed there immediately.

(McClure had told Miertsching to leave his journals behind, but on Resolute he wrote a new one using paper, pens, and ink Kellett, Domville, and DeBray gave him.) 

Space was seriously short on both ships:

As for comfortable quarters on board, they lie beyond our sphere of knowledge…On the Intrepid our lot…[is bad] for we have neither the necessary bedding nor warm cabins. Our beds consist of two woollen blankets (coverlets) , one of which each man brought in his sleeping-bag from the Investigator, and the other issued to us here; more cannot be given us for there is no more to give; and our cabins, framed of canvas instead of plank, are so cold that the temperature never rises above freezing point.

Nerves had started fraying before the ice formed up around the ships; then Kellett had to initiate reduced rations. The Investigator’s carpenter George Ford had already begun complaining before summer ended:

We have no place to sit down or wash and but for [Resolute’s carpenter] Mr. Dean’s kindness no place to get our food. All that we have to sleep on is a blanket and buffalo robe we brought with us in a haversack. The men have been doing all the most servile work while this ship’s company does nearly nothing, and part of them officers’ servants. We have never received the least extra to renew our strength, noting but barely the ship’s allowance whilst the traveling parties of this ship on returning got preserved milk, Normandy pippens (sic).

Every Resolute and Intrepid had donated portions of their rations and any extra blankets, but felt their sacrifices weren’t appreciated. When the Investigators excluded them from their celebration it added insult to injury. Miertsching recorded the unpleasant mood in both ships, claiming his shipmates’d been nothing but amiable. But their actions spoke louder than his words as the Investigators followed their captain’s lead in showing no gratitude.

Resolute had a serious condensation problem this winter, probably due to the extra men. Kellett lit all the stoves before building the snowbanks around her to try drying her out as much as possible. It didn’t really help. During October the men alternated between winterising jobs and playing games like rounders on the ice. By the end of the month they’d built a snow depot alongside Resolute, cleared most of the main deck and had secured the tent over it. 

The Resolutes, Intrepids, and Investigators welcomed in November by celebrating Guy Fawkes Day. As morning dawned on 5 November masked, blacked-up and disguised Resolutes played music and drew a sledge with their Guy on it to Intrepid, where their stuffed Guy waited upon her deck. They sang, delivered an address to McClintock, played more music then returned to Resolute. An hour later the Intrepids did the same. As night fell Kellett lit an enormous bonfire and the men threw both ships’ gunpowder-filled Guys onto it. The Arctic resounded to explosions, fired rockets and loud huzzahs. Kellett served up double rum rations to close the festivities. Although the Investigators had been included, Ford wasn’t happy: his only words about the celebrations were complaints about the Investigators still being subjected to punishment for their Northwester Day.

HMS Resolute & Intrepid in 1853 The Widening Search

Captain Kellett’s Spring 1853 Report to Belcher

From my manuscript: Kellett’s report “…began in autumn 1852, covered the voyage from Beechey to Dealy, making camp, autumn sledging, and Mecham’s discovery of McClure’s message. Kellett described their winter theatricals and lectures, explaining he’d sent Pim as early as possible in the spring to Investigator, where Pim’d arrived just as McClure was preparing his weakest men for a cross-Arctic death march. He described the Investigators’ arrival at Resolute, medical conditions, and ultimately his order for the abandonment of Investigator.

Kellett wrote up his plans for the upcoming summer and autumn, then detailed what he would do if Resolute and Intrepid broke free from the ice in August. He informed Belcher he intended to send Intrepid to Beechey Island with all the Investigators, so they could sail to England on the first available ship. He asked Belcher to send Intrepid back the following year with another vessel carrying food, clothing, and fuel. If it was necessary to leave Resolute they would head east for Beechey after leaving a depot for Collinson. He added, at the time of writing, he knew nothing about the Enterprises.

Don’t think of waiting for me yourself. Leave me a vessel at Beechey Island, and a good depot, sufficient to place us on full allowance when we get there, and to sustain us for a winter. It will be necessary for North Star to have her water complete, and as  many casks as she can fill besides, in readiness to supply any vessel that may reach her…and all the provisions she can spare landed in a secure depot…and all will be well. All my traveling parties left in the highest spirits, in the best possible condition, and admirably equipped. I am most anxious for the results of their journeys. If Sir John Franklin’s ships are ever to be found, I think they will [be] now….It is very painful for me to be obliged to send away Mr. Roche with this party; it looks as if I wanted to get rid of him, or that I could most easily spare him. On the contrary, he is one of my most efficient officers…His crew think they are disgraced by being sent away; not so, they are all excellent men; their only fault is they eat. You will be pleased to hear…they have all vied with each other in performance of their duty, and also in pleasing me. My next letter will show what stuff they’re made of.

Kellett signed and sealed the report, and gave it to Roche, who departed with the report, Beauty, Cresswell, Wyniatt, and ten men that same day, headed for North Star.