Friday, 21 July 2017

The Oldest Can Opener in the World

Replica 1, 2, and 4 pound cans, plus "Lever knife"
A few years ago I visited the vaults of the National Maritime Museum to do some research for a mini-project of mine, to make some replica Goldner cans.

Later, after piecing together photographs of the fragmentary surviving labels, I was surprised to discover that the labels include a picture of a can-opener to the left of the text and on the right an illustration of how the opener was intended to be used.

That the cans and labels date to 1845 is not in doubt, thus an article in a well known on-line encyclopedia which states that "dedicated can openers appeared in the 1850s" clearly needs to be updated.

The can opener depicted (referred to as a lever knife in contemporary sources) has a short stabbing blade at one end for puncturing the can, and at the other end a claw comprising a blade to continue the incision and a projection for a fulcrum.

The text on the can says "To open, stab a hole with the but–end of the knife insert the knife and cut it round."

Fortnum and Mason's 1849 catalogue also includes very similar instructions for opening preserved provisions canisters.

In 1851, when Goldner was still the Navy's main supplier of preserved meats, the Admiralty declared: "The canister is to be opened with the lever knife furnished for the purpose, and is to be cut completely round the body near the top."

Preserved meat manufacturer John Gillon of Leith claimed, in 1840, to be the inventor of the lever knife although the device described is slightly simpler with no mention of the short stabbing blade.

Vintage can openers similar to that depicted can sometimes be found for sale. I prided myself that the one I bought was a genuine 1840s relic and probably the oldest can-opener in the world until I discovered that the company which made it, F G Pearson & Co. of Sheffield, was only established in 1854.

The true "oldest can opener in the world" therefore remains on the list of treasures which are waiting to be plucked from the icy depths of Erebus and Terror.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

My paper concerning the lead in the Franklin expedition remains.

I'm pleased to announce that my 'Franklin lead' paper has now gone live on the Hakluyt
Society website:

It can be argued that last week's triumphant discovery of the wreck of HMS Terror can be linked to the lead in the bones recovered from King William Island in the 1980's. Had Owen Beattie not detected high levels of lead in those remains then the Beechey Island excavations wouldn't have happened and the worldwide publicity arising from the bestseller Frozen in Time would not have raised public and private support for the ultimately successful search for the ships.

The story of lead and the Franklin expedition has had so many twists and turns that it is reminiscient of the search for the lost expedition itself. I'm sure that the story still has some distance to run and hope that my paper is received as a useful contribution.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Roll Call of the Doomed

The sides of the pedestal of Franklin's statue in Waterloo Place, London, list the names of the full complement of the expedition's lost, cast in bronze. To produce what I hope is a definitive list, I have combined the names from the plaques with my own transcriptions of the muster books of Erebus and Terror in the National Archives.



Sir J. Franklin Kt. K.C.H.Captain11
James FitzjamesCommander12
Graham GoreLieutenant16
H.T.D. Le VesconteLieutenant13
J.W. FairholmeLieutenant17
Robert O. SergeantMate19
Charles F. Des VœuxMate14
Edward CouchMate110
James ReidMaster (Acting)18
Stephen S. StanleySurgeon22
Charles H. OsmerPaymaster & Purser21
Harry D.S. GoodsirSurgeon (Acting)23
Henry F. CollinsSecond Master15
Thomas TerryBoatswain, 3rd Class41
John WeekesCarpenter, 2nd Class43
John GregoryEngineer, 1st Class44


Samuel BrownBoatswain's mate27Hull, Yorks.54
Richard WallShip's Cook45Hull, Yorks.55
Robert SinclairCaptain of the Foretop25Kirkwall, Orkney56
Joseph AndrewsCaptain of the Hold35Edmonton, Middx.51
William FowlerPaymaster & Purser's Steward26Bristol, Somerset57
James W. BrownCaulker28Deptford, Kent59
John CowieStoker32Bermondsey, Surrey510
John SullivanCaptain of the Maintop24Gillingham, Kent515
Phillip ReddingtonCaptain of Forecastle28Brompton, Kent516
John MurraySailmaker43Glasgow, Lanarks.520
John BridgensSubordinate Officers' Steward26Woolwich, Kent521
Thomas WatsonCarpenter's Mate40Gt. Yarmouth, Norfolk522
Thomas PlaterStokerWestminster, Middx.523
William SmithBlacksmith28Thibnam [Tibenham], Norfolk524
Francis DunnCaulker's Mate25Llanelly, S. Wales525
Edmund HoarCaptain's Steward23Portsea, Hants528
Daniel ArthurQuartermaster35Aberdeen532
William BellQuartermaster36Dundee, Forfar543
John Downing2nd Quartermaster34Plymouth, Devon552
James HartLeading Stoker33Hampstead, Middx554
Richard AylmoreGunroom Steward24Southampton, Hants555
James RigdenCaptain's Coxwain32Upper Deal, Kent518


George ThompsonAB27Staines, Berks58
John HartnellAB25Brompton, Kent511
John SticklandAB24Portsmouth, Hants.513
Thomas HartnellAB23Chatham, Kent512
William OrrenAB34Chatham, Kent517
William ClossanAB25Shetland519
Charles CoombsAB28Greenwich, Kent53
John MorfinAB25Gainsboro., Lincolns.529
Charles BestAB23Fareham, Hants.540
Thomas Mc. ConveyAB24Liverpool, Lancs.541
Henry LloydAB26Christiansen, Norway542
Thomas WorkAB41Kirkwall, Orkney544
Robert FerrierAB29Perth545
Josephus GeaterAB32London, Middx.546
George WilliamsAB35Holyhead, Angelsea547
Thomas TadmanAB28Brompton, Kent548
Abraham SeeleyAB34Gravesend, Kent549
Francis PocockAB24Upnor, Kent550
Robert JohnsAB24Penryn, Cornwall551
William MarkAB24Holyhead, Angelsea552


Daniel BryantSergeant31.5Shepton Montague, Somerset71
Alexander Paterson*Corporal30Inverness91
Robert HopcraftPrivate38.8Nottingham, Notts.81
William PilkingtonPrivate28.4Kilrush, Clare92
William BrainePrivate31.3Oakhill, Somerset93
Joseph HealeyPrivate29.10Manchester, Lancs.94
William ReedPrivate28.8Bristol, Somerset95


George ChambersBoy, 1st Class18Woolwich, Kent61
David YoungBoy, 1st Class18Sheerness, Kent62



F.R.M. CrozierCaptain11
Edward LittleLieutenant12
George H. HodgsonLieutenant13
John IrvingLieut15
Frederick HornbyMate13
Robert ThomasMate14
Thomas BlankyMaster (Acting)17
John S. PeddieSurgeon (Acting)21
Alexander Mc. DonaldAssistant Surgeon22
G.A. MacBeanSecond Master16
E. J. H. HelpmanClerk in Charge31
Thomas HoneyCarpenter, 3rd Class41
John LaneBoatswain, 3rd Class42
James ThompsonEngineer, 1st Class (Acting)43


John DiggleShip's Cook36Westminster, London52
Henry PeglarCaptain of the Foretop37London, Middx.53
William GibsonSubordinate Officers' Steward22London, Middx.512
Cornelius HickeyCaulker's Mate24Limerick513
William GoddardCaptain of the Hold29Gt. Yarmouth, Norfolk515
Reuben MaleCaptain of the Forecastle27Woolwich, Kent517
Alexander WilsonCarpenter's Mate27Holy Island, N. Durham518
John WilsonCaptain's Coxwain33Portsea, Hants520
Thomas DarlingtonCaulker29Plymouth, Devon521
William JohnsonStoker45Kiston-Lindsey, Lincolns.522
Thomas R. FarrCaptain of the Maintop32Deptford, Kent523
Luke SmithStoker27London, Middx.537
David Mc. DonaldQuartermaster46Peterhead, Scotland540
John KenleyQuartermaster44St. Monance, Fifeshire553
William RhodesQuartermaster31Redingstreet, Kent556
Thomas JohnsonBoatswain's Mate28Wisbeach, Cambridge546
Thomas ArmitageGunroom Steward40Chatham, Kent549
Samuel HoneyBlacksmith22Plymouth, Devon550
Thomas JopsonCaptain's Steward27Marylebone, Middx.552
Edward GengePaymaster's Steward21Gosport, Hants.555
John TorringtonLeading Stoker19Manchester558


George J. CannAB23Battersea, Middx.51
William StrongAB22Portsmouth, Hants.54
David SimsAB24Gedney, Lincoln.55
John BaileyAB21Leyton, Essex56
William JerryAB29Pembroke, Wales58
Henry SaitAB23Bognor, Sussex514
Alexander BerryAB32S. Ferry, Fifeshire516
John HandfordAB28Sunderland524
John Bates*AB24London, Middx.525
Samuel CrispeAB24Lynn, Norfolk536
Charles JohnsonAB28Halifax, Nova Scotia538
William ShanksAB29Dundee, Scotland539
David LeysAB37Montrose, Scotland541
William SinclairAB30Sallaway [Galloway], Scotland542
George KinnairdAB23Hastings, Sussex543
Ed. LawrenceAB30London, Middx.547
Magnus MansonAB28Shetland, Scotland548
James WalkerAB29S. Shields554
William WentzallAB33London, Middx.557


Solomon TozerSergeant34Axbridge, Somerset71
William HedgesCorporal30Bradford, Wilts91
William HeatherPrivate35Battersea, Surrey81
Henry WilkesPrivate28Leicester92
John HammondPrivate32Bradford, Yorks.93
James DalyPrivate30Luberclue [Tubberclare], Westmeath94


Robert GoldingBoy19Deptford, Kent61
Thomas EvansBoy18Deptford, Kent63

The final two columns, "List" and "No.", refer to the individual lists within the muster books and the number of each man within them. The titles of the lists referred to above are shown in the following table.

1. Commissioned Officers - Military Branch
2. Commissioned Officers - Civil Branch
3. Subordinate Officers
4. Warrant Officers
5. Ship's Company
6. Boys, 1st Class
7. Marines, Not Classed
8. Marines, 1st Class
9. Marines, 3rd Class

Andrew Lambert notes that "In February 1914 the Board of Works corrected the spelling of des Voeux's name from des Vauex, and changed le Vesconte's middle initial from F to T in 1931, at £2 a time. Then the Board checked the Admiralty record to ensure there were no more errors."

I have to take issue with the Board of Works in two cases, Alexander Paterson of HMS Erebus, and Able Seaman John Bates of HMS Terror, who gain a "t" and lose an "s", respectively, on the plaques.

Even the legendary Richard Cyriax was not immune to error. His transcription of the muster lists spells the surname of William Clossan as "Closson" and renames Sergeant Daniel Bryant as David.

In the light of the above, I can make no claims for perfection, but hope that this is an improvement on previous compilations.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Arrowsmith's Extraordinary Maps

Arrowsmith's maps were regularly updated with the latest discoveries.

The above map from 1850 now has Boothia correctly attached to the mainland, thanks to John Rae's 1847 survey of the western shore of Boothia Gulf, and it includes Peel Sound, discovered by James Ross in the spring of 1849. Bellot Strait had not yet been found so North Somerset is shown contiguous with Boothia. The West coast of Boothia, denoted by a dotted line, is a guess which would later prove to be remarkably accurate.

Both the main map and the lower strip now uses Dease and Simpson's longitude values for the coastline South of King William Island.

In the lower strip, King William Island is still connected to Boothia by a spindly isthmus - a guess which would later prove to be remarkably inaccurate. The imaginary Poctes Bay has now morphed into Poets Bay, which John Ross had surely intended, to balance Artists bay opposite.

In the main map the geography to the West of KWI is somewhat ambiguous with the supposed isthmus lacking a southern coastline so that the blue wash representing the sea is divided only by a single dashed line. This could be considered the first depiction of the track which would be sailed by Roald Amundsen in his epic transit of the Passage more than fifty years later.

This 1855 edition incorporates all the whole Northern archipelago discovered during the Franklin search and McClure's precarious but ultimately successful over-ice transit from West to East.

Cornwallis and Bathurst Islands are shown joined, a detail which wouldn't be corrected until the Victory Point record revealed that Erebus and Terror had passed between them en-route to Beechey Island.

Rae's 1854 survey of the West coast of Boothia has proven that King William Island is just that and Bellot Strait also confers island status on North Somerset.

The colouring, Red for the Hudson's Bay Company's discoveries and Blue for the Royal Navy's, is slightly inaccurate as the coast South of Cape Colville (charted by Rae) is wrongly coloured blue and the unsurveyed West side of King William Island should not be coloured at all.
On this map we can indisputably draw the course of Amundsen's epic voyage: West through Lancaster Sound and Barrow Strait; South through Peel Sound and the area labelled Victoria Strait (only the Southern portion of which currently bears that name); then East of King William Island through James Ross and Rae Straights, then all the way West along the coast of the North American continent to the Bering Strait.

Ironically if this had been the best map which Amundsen had had before he set off he may well have shared the fate of Franklin.

Arrowsmith's 1855 map gives no hint as to the existence of McClintock Channel. That strait between Prince of Wales Island and Victoria Island enables masses of heavy ice to drift South into Victoria Strait where it is trapped against the barrier formed by Royal Geographical Society Islands and the Crozier Peninsula on the West side of King William Island.

Without this information, and the knowledge, which McClintock learned from the inuit, that the was open water in Rae Strait during the short Arctic summer, Amundsen may reasonably have chosen the obvious path to the West of King William Island resulting in the Gjoa becoming beset in the same place Erebus and Terror.

Friday, 14 August 2015

The Map which Franklin Carried

Click through to larger versions

The well stocked libraries of Erebus and Terror in 1845 will certainly have included at least one copy of this fine engraving by John Arrowsmith - contained within Thomas Simpson's 1843 book: Narrative of the discoveries on the north coast of America: effected by the officers of the Hudson's Bay Company during the years 1836-39.

In compiling this map Arrowsmith was faced with the problem of reconciling some severe  contradictions between longitude data from Dease and Simpson's 1839 expedition with the corresponding figures from George Back's 1835 decent of the Great Fish River. For Montreal Island the difference was nearly a whole degree.

Arrowsmith cleverly solved this conundrum by using Dease and Simpson's geography combined with Back's latitude numbers for the main map (in which Montreal Island is shown to the East of Matty Island) while displaying Dease and Simpson's survey unadulterated in the lower panel (which has Montreal to the West of Matty). Later surveys by John Rae would confirm the veracity of Dease and Simpson's measurements.

Other features which later proved to be erroneous are the presumed open water between the mouth of Back's River and the Gulf of Boothia and the isthmus, indicated by dotted lines, connecting King William Island and Boothia Felix.

Franklin would, of course, have been driven to fill in as many of the blank spaces as possible, and to ink in or delete the dotted lines as appropriate. With the good state of preservation to be expected from the cold dark waters of Wilmot & Crampton Bay, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that such a corrected map may one day be revealed.

Monday, 30 March 2015

Fraser's Patent Firehearth and Coppers

Inspired by the recent post on the building HMS Terror blog here are a few images to explain my current thinking about the galley stoves of Erebus and Terror.

The various parts of the galley stove and its attachments.

The above diagram suggests the general layout but requires revision as I drew it before learning (from the above source) that pencilled amendments to the lower deck plan of HMS Terror suggest that the stove was moved a couple of feet from its original position. This change would seem to enable the cook to do his job with less risk of banging his head on that huge iron tank.

One question which has caused me considerable head scratching is the number of boilers (also referred to as "coppers") the stove had. I made the above image quite a while back when I favoured four but my best guess is now two, partly on the basis that four is excessive for such a small stove and that finding room for the drain cocks on the back would be a problem.

The best example I have found of a contemporary drawing showing a stove similar to Fraser's is this picture of Goodbehere's Improved Ship's Hearth (below), which was displayed at the Great Exhibition of 1851.

When, next month, Canada's underwater archaeology experts dive below the ice to make the first detailed examination of the wreck of HMS Erebus, they will undoubtedly return high quality images which will reveal to the world how well the above conjectures match up to reality. I'm certain that every Franklin Expedition enthusiast will wish them the best of luck for the success of the mission and that we will be struggling to contain our excitement for the publication of the results.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Interior details of HMS Erebus

I have referred previously to the superb depiction of Fitzjames's cabin printed in the Illustrated London News, and also to the subject of on-board illumination.

The above picture is flipped over this from the way it was originally printed in order for it to reflect the layout of the cabin shown in the ship's plans. When the orientation wasn't considered important, images were often drawn directly on the wood in order to save time causing them to appear reversed when printed.

The cabin is shown flooded with natural light by means of the "Preston's Patent Illuminator" overhead. It seems likely that these will prove to be of use to the underwater archaeologists investigating the recently discovered wreck. By unscrewing the iluminator and removing the glass it may be possible to pass cameras and miniaturised remotely-operated vehicles through the aperture in order to survey each of the surviving cabins with minimal disturbance to the contents.

Turning now to artificial illumination, I have tried to make sense of the part of the drawing in the immediate vicinity of the wall mounted lamp. When blown up to several times the original size, it would appear the lamp is held out from the bulkhead by a bracket with a cloth draped over it and what may reasonably be interpreted as a mirror perched on top to spread the light.

The 3D reconstruction is based on a pattern of patent candle lamp which in differs from the original drawing in that it has a rounded weight at the bottom.

The final image is an example of a candle lamp which is plausibly of the type which the artist saw. It has a flat bottom and the pattern of steps and ridges on the counterweight may be what the artist has tried to represent.

It is truly amazing how the engravers of the time were able to cram so much detail into a tiny wood-block while working under the pressure of tight deadlines. I look forward to the day when photographs of Fitzjames' cabin are published and we can directly compare them with the works of this anonymous Victorian artist.