Resolute’s 1853 Winter Camp

After the previous post about Resolute’s autumn and then winter camp, (Blog Post titled: The Fate of HMS Resolute and Intrepid in autumn 1853) which ended with the November Guy Fawkes ceremonies conducted by the Resolutes, Intrepids, and Investigators, the tensions between the ships’ companies didn’t disappear. The undercurrent of tension, no doubt partly caused by the overcrowding, lingered the entire winter. However, they all did work together to prepare camp and the ships’ winterising.

You will recall the ships did not have the opportunity to make camp this year in the stable land ice. Instead the floe ice had formed up around them, and they had to secure the ships as best they could. This was not ideal: the floe ice was much less stable and therefore more dangerous than the stable ice along a shore. However, it did have one advantage: the floe was moving slowly eastward. If it didn’t break and consume the ships they would be closer to Beechey Island where Kellett wanted to send the Investigators so they could go home as quickly as possible.

(From my manuscript, taking up immediately after the Guy Fawkes ceremonies at the end of the previously noted blog post:)

On 6 November winterising resumed. With no shore gravel available the ice quartermasters used cinders for the slurry deck covering. Kellett created a clear passage between the ships through the hummocks and rough ice to make winter communication between them safer. To mark the passage so they could follow it even in the midst of a snow storm, Kellett also had the ice quartermasters build snow pillars along the edges of the path. The men had great fun turning these shapeless lumps of snow into sculptures. They carved their images with knives, and adorned several of these snow Resolutes and Intrepids with black buttons for eyes and old boots and bits and bobs to make them realistic additions to the crew.

Sadly, Investigator’s Mate Hubert H. Sainsbury died on 14 November, after being very poorly for two years with a chest ailment. Domville had diligently nursed him, and he’d rallied upon arriving at Resolute, even taking a few walks along the deck. But his strength seeped away when he realised the ships wouldn’t now breaking free until 1854. De Bray recorded Sainsbury had lost hope of seeing England again: taking to his bed he no longer resisted the decline to death. On the 16TH Kellett led Sainsbury’s funeral service and, the men having cut a hole in the ice for his weighted body, he was buried ‘at sea’. Before an hour had passed, new ice had completely sealed his grave.

Winter activities began on 21 November. Domville’s chemistry lecture was the first. The hushed men concentrated until bursting into enthusiastic applause an hour later when he finished.

Such a numerous audience astonished us all, for the original intention was to read the paper quietly in the sickbay to the few men who suggested the idea, but as all the crew wished to attend, the chests were arranged as for church, and the lower deck lighted up. Had Dr. Domville supposed for a moment that he would have been complimented by such a numerous and attentive audience, he would have extended the information to the Intrepid.This is to be remedied next lecture night.” G. F. McDougall

Next, the crew began rehearsals for The Taming of the Shrew, while officers prepared Two Bonny Castles. Others polished songs and poems for the intermission. The curtain rose on 30 November as the ships’ orchestra of six fifes, one violin and a drum played introductory tunes. 

“The fifes had been made from hollow copper curtain rods and the tinsmith has spent many days in making the marvellous [tin] violin. With a certain amount of good will one could passably recognise the numbers, and they might have been a lot worse.” (Emille De Bray)

Miertsching complained the theatre performances did nothing for him, but he hoped he would get better enjoyment from the upcoming lectures. The well attended new series included presentations about astronomy, geology, mechanics, and the history of Arctic traveling….

to be continued

13 May 2021 Resolute’s 1853-1854 winter camp (continued from my new manuscript)

After the Intrepids gave their theatre performance, everyone began Christmas preparations. For days the lower deck made decorations, even painting festive designs on the candles. They hung a chandelier above each mess table, decorated with glass beads, paper rosettes and flags. They used flags to disguise the shelves of gear and hanging equipment, over which they placed every picture they could find onboard. Some put pen to paper and made drawings of themselves, while others hung very neatly printed phrases and slogans appropriate to the day. It was quite a respectable gallery when finished. On Intrepid festivities began on the 22ND with a magic lantern show, conjuring tricks, songs, burlesque and comic turns. A farce called Box and Cox followed. McClintock gave each man a glass of grog and pint of beer, then held a dinner for the officers.

On Christmas Day in Resolute’s mess two long rows of tables groaned under the weight of the food: roast beef (muskox), bacon, preserved meats, beef pies, plum puddings, and cranberry and apple tarts. Several jugs of home-brewed ale (tasting very much like a porter from home) crowned the holiday spread, which the men called ‘Richards’ after Resolute’s brewer, William Richards.Kellett dined with the officers in the wardroom, and all were in fine spirits. 

During the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve Nares gave his lecture about wind, describing the directions and causes of land and sea breezes, the effects of geography on local weather systems, and even examined the tropical trade winds. De Bray called the talk interesting and well handled, but McDougall felt it was a little too esoteric for most of the seamen. Understood or not, Nares received loud applause.

For New Year’s Eve the officers invited Kellett and McClure to the wardroom for dinner at 16:00. Ox tail and hare soup was followed by…
…a leg of venison, ditto of musk veal, roast ptarmigan, musk beef pie and ham with vegetables in the shape of mashed turnips, green peas, parsnips, and preserved potatoes. The second course was composed of a plum pudding, mince pies (real), and numerous tarts and tartlets, the whole decorated with gaily coloured miniature flags…Cheese, of course, followed, and an ample desert of almonds and raisins, of gingerbread nuts, wine biscuits, French olives, and, though last, not least, a noble plum cake, which would have been excellent, had it not been for the numerous geological specimens the cook had inserted, creating a somewhat unpleasant surprise on coming in contact with one’s teeth.

With the aid of beer, champagne, port and sherry, to assist the flow of soul, the dinner passed off admirably; the celebrated Arctic band being in attendance, playing popular and appropriate airs, after the removal of the cloth; when with full hearts and glasses we drank to ‘absent friends! God bless them!’ – George F. McDougall –

Earlier, Kellett had ordered Hamilton to install an electric telegraph line between the ships, allowing communication between the ships irrespective of weather. The ‘poles’ were thirty foot long oars borrowed from the boats and securely driven into the snow and ice. Hamilton then gave instruction to anyone who wanted it.During their celebrations the weather deteriorated from a pleasant breeze to a strong gale, which whipped up snow into huge drifts, and blocked both ships from view. The revellers could hear the howling winds over their festive noise. Tipsy from the alcohol so joyously consumed the officers made the wise decision that everyone was to stay on Resolute. At 22:00 two Intrepids unexpectedly arrived covered from head to toe in snow, looking for their shipmate, Hartnell, missing for over an hour. Worried he was lost in the blizzard, Hamilton used the telegraph for the first time to send Kellett’s message, ‘Is Hartnell onboard?’ Every officer crowded around, eagerly awaiting the response. In just a minute or two the response came back, to their great relief, ‘Yes.’ This convinced everyone of this newfangled contraption’s usefulness. It had saved them from an impossible and dangerous search in the dark stormy blizzard. At midnight, the men heartily sang ‘Auld Lang Synge’ and put the telegraph to use again for the exchange of new year greetings between the ships. Miertsching called the system ‘schnell-post’ (fast post) or ‘blitz-post’ (lightning post). The men even began using it for chess tournaments, and faced the new year with high spirits. 



The primary purpose of having Royal Marines on a navy ship was to protect the captain or commander, and the other officers from within, via a mutiny by the ship’s company, or from without via attack. Interestingly, Belcher specifically requested the presence of one bombardier per each of his ships from the Royal Marine Artillery at Portsmouth (except for the depot ship North Star). The Admiralty immediately complied with this request, and four bombardiers subsequently joined the Belcher Expedition on 20 February 1852. These men then served alongside the Royal Marines from the Woolwich Division.

The significance of the Portsmouth Royal Marine Bombardiers is that they were trained in handling cannon. One wonders with whom Belcher expected to have such significant trouble that he would need to use cannon! Perhaps his request was coloured by his experience with his prior near-mutiny on HMS Sulphur when at least one Hampshire newspaper prematurely announced Belcher’s death???

He later emphatically denied his demise in the Times.



We have some new Resolutes to welcome to the Resolute website! One is a direct descendent of Francis Leopold McClintock and another is a direct descendent of one of Resolute’s Royal Marines. I encourage them say more about themselves if they want to by commenting on this blog post. We also have another new member who has been very interested in all things Franklin for quite a few years now. All of them have come from the Remembering Franklin Facebook page which I just recently joined myself.

I do have a long time and faithful Resolute who bears the Kellett name, though he cannot be a direct descendent of my hero Captain Kellett since Henry Kellett never married and had no children. Martin has been faithfully following me for years and I consider him a dear friend now. I am hoping some more of my Facebook followers will register here as we go along, but I am so glad to have folks coming here from the Remembering Franklin FB page.

Martin asked me a question quite a while ago about some graves, but answering it got lost in the shuffle of life. I have started a blog post about it today, which I will publish soon.


Lieutenant Hamilton’s 1853 Search for Collinson & Franklin

So far in this blog we have covered Lieutenant Pim’s rescue of McClure and the Investigators, McClintock’s long search and Mecham’s sledging trip. When Mecham returned to HMS Resolute it was mid summer. We haven’t covered yet Lieutenant Hamilton’s sledging search, so this is where we will focus our attention now. During his trip search parties from Belcher’s ships Assistance and Pioneer overlapped and joined Hamilton’s team. As always, quotes from the explorer’s letters and reports are in italics. From my manuscript:

Before the expedition split at Beechey, Belcher and Kellett created a rendezvous point at Latitude 77°N, Longitude 105°W for the men from the Western and Eastern branches of the expedition to deposit and share information. Kellett had given Hamilton his charts, the account of the Investigators’ rescue, and Investigator’s journal of proceedings to exchange for Belcher’s despatches. On his second trip Hamilton set out to search the northern reaches of Melville Island via Hecla and Griper Bay. Taking Hope out for 54 days, from 27 April – 21 June, his team covered 663 miles. Including several experienced Arctics, his men were George Murray, Quartermaster; Robert Hoile, Sailmaker; William Silvey, Ice Quartermaster; William Colville, Blacksmith; Thomas Wilson, AB; John Coghlan, AB; David Ross, Corporal Bombardier Royal Marines. McDougall, with several men on Erin, accompanied Hamilton until 2 May, setting up cairns before heading back to Resolute.

On his second day Hamilton met Roche returning from depositing supplies at Cape Mudge. Roche gave him directions to the depot, and a ‘very acceptable present’ of a muskox shoulder he’d been hauling. During his first few days Hamilton made good progress, reaching Roche’s Cape Mudge cairn on the 4TH. But then the coast was covered in three feet of snow, making it difficult to trace, particularly since it was devoid of any prominent points or features. Mist and fog slowed their progress, and their runners kept breaking through the ice. However, at long last on Friday the 13TH, they,

…took advantage of this fine day to dry our wet clothes and robes, also to wash our hands, face, and feet in snow, which is more refreshing than a stranger to the process would imagine. Obtained very good sites.

On 16 May, after a considerable snowfall in the night, the glare completed blinded Hoile, and partially blinded several others. Hamilton used a concoction of…  

…drops of wine of opium into the men eyes, and [bathed] the eyeballs with weak spirits and water. A remedy for snow blindness I have generally found efficacious. 

After dinner three days later they were astonished to hear footsteps outside their tent, and to welcome an unexpected guest, Commander George Richards. En route to Resolute, he found Hamilton’s sledge tracks and followed them for three miles to their camp. Richards told Hamilton about a cache of muskox at Latitude 76°, 33 minutes N, Longitude 104°, 50 minutes W, where he could also find Belcher’s new orders. Richards also said he’d parted ways with Osborn only the day before, and Hamilton could overtake him if he hurried. Richards then headed directly for Resolute, and Hamilton took his satellite sledge with Hoile and Ross to catch Osborn. They found the cairn containing muskox and dispatches, but hurrying on too quickly Hamilton capsized on a hummock and broke his sledge. He took off swiftly, alone on foot, reaching Osborn at 09:00 on 21 May, much to Osborn’s surprise. Osborn sent his carpenter’s mate back to help repair the broken sledge, but the resourceful Hoile, in only two hours, had already effected a temporary repair and was well on his way towards them. The carpenter used a new set of poppets he’d made from a spare batten to make a more permanent repair.

Hamilton, Osborn and their men, reached the depot containing Belcher’s new orders on 28 May. Hamilton picked up these despatches, gave Osborn Investigator’s journal, Kellett’s charts and his account of the Investigator rescue, then set off that evening, rejoining his men on 3 June. They were heartily glad to begin their homeward trek. While Hamilton was away, they’d killed a deer and four ptarmigans, making a good celebratory feast for their reunion.

Hamilton deviated from his outward route only once to examine his namesake, Hamilton Island, then reached Cape Mudge on the 14TH. The deep and muddy sludge made their progress extremely slow, but they all reached Resolute safely on 21 June.

At Resolute, Kellett had finished his detailed report on 7 May. It began in autumn 1852…