Friday, 14 August 2015

The Map which Franklin Carried

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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.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Windlass and Cathead

The thrilling news of the discovery of the remains of one of Franklin's ships has left everyone wanting to know the answer to one question: is it Sir John Franklin's HMS Erebus or Francis Crozier's HMS Terror?

Windlass and cathead of HMS Terror (top) and HMS Erebus (bottom),
From Chris Ware's "The Bomb Vessel: Shore Bombardment Ships of the Age of Sail".

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Erebus (launched 1826) had been built with many more iron components than had been used for Terror's construction a decade earlier. This difference is noticable in the case of the knees (shaded blue) which reinforce the windlass and cathead (shaded red).

Terror surely gained a good deal of  additional iron reinforcement during her various refits but it seems reasonable that if a wooden component was still doing its job then it wouldn't have been replaced without good reason. For very sound reasons Parry had ruled that Arctic ships should be identically equipped but I think it would be stretching that doctrine too far to extend it to structural components such as these.

Just possibly these small details may play a role in restoring a name to this currently anonymous victim of the Franklin tragedy.


Friday, 1 August 2014

Return to Poctes Bay

In his book the Voyage of the Fox, McClintock suggests that Franklin steered to the West of King William Island, resulting in the permanent besetment of his ships, because he was supplied with charts showing 'King William Land' as a peninsula connected to the mainland - thus giving the appearance that there was only one course open to him. I don't really agree with this reasoning: Franklin's mission was to sail West - he will surely only have learned the true nature of the ice conditions in Victoria channel once it was too late.

When Sir John Ross published his Narrative of a second voyage in search of a North-west passage the map at the end of volume one shows what we now know to be the navigable Rae Strait closed with a dotted line to make a Bay, known to history as Poctes Bay. I have long wondered who Mr, or perhaps SeƱor, Poctes was and why he deserved such an honour. Who were Landon, Rowley, and Sheridan whose names are given to three entirely imaginary capes within the bay. Were they delighted to see their names immortalised in geography only to be crestfallen when the whole coastline proved to be a fantasy?


A close look at the map from Ross' Narrative (above) shows the bay in question actually labelled Poctes's Bay - a somewhat ungrammatical construction which hints at a mistake.


The Royal Geographical Society read it as Poetess Bay (also independently suggested by a commentator on my earlier post). The Society's journal article after the return of George Back's expedition down the Great Fish River tentatively concluded on the balance of presumption that the land which Captain Ross had explored was an island.


The Hydrographic Office's chart of 1847 has dotted lines connecting King William Island to the Boothia Peninsula by a spindly isthmus but without naming the bay. The 1849 chart (above) includes the title Poctes Bay but dispenses with the dotted lines. The fact that some of the geographical features have different names to those in Sir John Ross' map (top) is a good story in it's own right.


John Arrowsmith's early charts of the region also use Poctes but later editions, including the above, from 1850, use Poets Bay.

So what is the correct name for this imaginary bay - Poctes's, Poetess, Poctes, or Poets? What did Sir John Ross intend?

A hint may be found in the fact that opposite the imaginary bay on Ross' chart can be found Artists Bay. Three capes within that bay are named Lawrence, Shee, and Landseer. Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830) and Sir Martin Archer Shee (1769-1850) were among the most notable portrait painters of the day while young Edwin Landseer (1802 - 1873) would make his own contribution to Arctic history in 1864.

Returning to the capes in 'Poctes Bay', and taking Poets as our clue:

Sheridan is easily recognised as the playwright and poet Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751 – 1816)

Landon is surely Letitia Elizabeth Landon (1802 – 1838), often referred to by the initials L.E.L., one of the most popular and well-known poets of the 1820s and 1830s.

Rowley may be Thomas Rowley, the pseudonym of Thomas Chatterton (1752 – 1770) forger of pseudo-medieval poetry, the authenticity of which was still debated at the time of The Ross' voyage.

How appropriate then, that an imaginary geographical feature should bear the name of an imaginary poet.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

The sole survivor of the Franklin saga.


Last Saturday I joined three other Franklin expedition aficionados in a very enjoyable visit to Hartlepool's Historic Quay, home of the beautifully restored Leda class frigate HMS Trincomalee.

Trincomalee is in a sense a big sister to Crozier's HMS Terror, both ships were ordered during the War of 1812. While Terror played a memorable role in that conflict, Trinco was not launched until 1817 due to the plans going astray en-route to Bombay where she was to be built.

By happy coincidence, Franklin's HMS Erebus also has a surviving Leda class sister:HMS Unicorn - preserved at Dundee, Scotland. I hope to visit her too some day. Unicorn and Erebus were launched just two years apart, in 1824 and 1826 respectively.

Although these frigates were much bigger than Franklin's ships, a visit to either gives a vivid impression of life on board.

Comparing constructional details of the two frigates we can see that Unicorn has the iron knees introduced during Sir Robert Seppings tenure as Surveyor of the Navy.


HMS Unicorn 1824

Similar features can be seen in the well known engraving of Fitzjames' cabin.


Trincomalee uses an earlier pattern of iron strapped wooden reinforcement.


HMS Trincomalee 1817
These differences in construction can also be seen in the plans of Erebus and Terror: the 1839 profile of Erebus has iron knees reinforcing the cat-heads and windlass while on the 1837 profile of Terror they are wooden.

 If the ice-crushed wreck of either ship were found these details might aid identification.

The key significance of HMS Trincomalee to Franklin buffs is that in 1854, under the command of Captain Wallace Houstoun, she played a supporting role in the search for Franklin by carrying supplies to the West coast of North America for the ships looking for Franklin via Bering's strait. Thus, as well as being the oldest British warship still afloat, she is the sole survivor of the Franklin saga.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

To Build a Fire


One particular group of Franklin relics in the National Maritime Museum nicely illuminates the story of one of the humblest but also one of the most profound technological advances of the mid-Victorian period.



Prior to the 1840s, every household would have considered a tinderbox, with flint, steel, and brimstone matches, to be essential equipment for domestic existence. Flint and steel created the spark to set the tinder glowing then a brimstone match turned that ember into a flame. The damper was used to exclude air from the smouldering tinder in order to preserve it for use another day.






Friction matches were invented in the 1820s and were variously referred to lucifers, congeves, or vestas. By the time of the 1845 expedition they were on the brink of the mass production which would drastically reduce their cost and consign the tinderbox and its accoutrements to the museum. The vesta cases in the NMM indicate a time when matches were considered sufficiently valuable to warrant a fine container. A tin cylinder in the collection may also be a vesta case. The 'J. HYNAM' matchbox shown above is a particular puzzle. The information that when found it "was sewn up in cloth & that within was a paper" inspires a pang of grief that it may once have contained a critical piece of information from the lost expedition.

Click the image to read the whole magazine on Google Books.

In the third issue of his magazine Household Words, dated April 13, 1850, Charles Dickens wrote an article dealing with the subject of the old way of making fire as a memory of a bygone age.

By coincidence, the preceding article in that paper contains an interesting snippet relevant to the issue of lead poisoning on the Franklin expedition:

"It is a wise provision of Nature, that waters should contain a greater or less quantity of foreign ingredients; for without these water is dangerous to drink. It never fails to take up from the atmosphere a certain proportion of carbonic acid gas, and when passing through lead pipes it imbibes enough carbonate of lead to constitute poison."