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…

By Elizabeth Matthews

Leading authority on HMS Resolute

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