Tuesday 19 March 2019

An Unsung Hero: John Salmon - Intrepid Sledger of the Franklin Search

Michael Smith has led the way in celebrating the lives of Ireland's lesser known Polar explorers. His marvelous biography of Tom Crean being a shining example.

I would now like to draw your attention to another unsung hero: Able Seaman John Salmon -  a leading member of Francis McClintock's sledge crew during three expeditions of the Franklin search. In many ways he may be considered the Tom Crean of an earlier era. This post was sparked by a chance conversation with a descendant.

Salmon is commemorated by a point of land which bears his name. Just off Intrepid Inlet on the Eastern coast of Prince Patrick Island. A coastline delineated during McClintock's 1853 sledging expedition.

John Salmon was born in July 1827, his father, also named John, had married his mother Ellen Furlow in Dundalk parish church on 19th July 1823 according to the rites of the Church of England,

Clements Markham, in his book "The lands of silence, a history of Arctic and Antarctic exploration" (published posthumously in 1921), noted that M'Clintock's sledge crew "deserve a niche in the Arctic temple of fame" in connection with M'Clintock's first great sledge journey during the 1850-51 Expedition under Captain Horatio Austin.

Markham, who served with McClintock on HMS Assistance, wrote:
"John Salmon, a small, wiry man, who was with M'Clintock in the Enterprise, was really the strongest of all."

In the aftermath of the scurvy ravaged Nares expedition of 1875–76, Robert Scott, who had been Assistant Surgeon of HMS Intrepid wrote to the Times:

  Sir, - Having served in the Arctic expedition of 1852-54,
I beg to send you the following statement of facts:-
    In the Autumn of 1852 Sir L. M'Clintock and myself
were absent travelling 38 days, and accomplished 222 miles,
the temperature ranged from +28 deg. to -35 deg. We took
no lime-juice, the scale of diet in other respects being
similar to that given by Commander Herbert. We all re-
turned in the best health. In 1853 Sir L. M'Clintock was
away 106 days; distance accomplished 1,210 miles; no
lime-juice was taken. The men returned in perfect health,
and 17 days after their return took part in games on shore,
When John Salmon, Captain of Sir L. M'Clintock sledge,
carried off the chief prizes against competitors who had not
been away travelling, and who had been given lime-juice

Salmon collected his Arctic Medal on 23rd June 1857, signing the register with a cross, which suggests he was illiterate at that time.  

Nonetheless, he found secure employment in later life. The 1881 census gives his occupation as Gauger of HM Customs. In modern parlance, an Excise Officer.

Salmon would have been a natural choice for a member of McClintock's famed Voyage of the Fox in 1858, however that was apparently precluded by his poor health.
He died on December 6th 1886 at his house in Litchfield Road in Bow, London E3, of Addison's disease and exhaustion.

The London Standard, of  December 14th 1886 carried his obituary:
    Admiral Sir F. Leopold M'Clintock writes to
us:— "There has just passed away one of the very few
survivors of that memorable series of Arctic Expeditions
which were engaged in the Franklin search between
1847 and 1855. The late John Salmon served through-
out the three Government expeditions to Barrow's
Strait, in each of them taking part in the most ex-
tended sledging journeys. These journeys were gradu-
ally lengthened as experience increased, from forty
days in the first expedition, to eighty in the second, and
one hundred and five in the third, this last being the
longest continuous journey of the kind ever accom-
plished. Arctic travellers need not be reminded that
these sledges were dragged over the ice by their own
crews, at an average rate of about ten miles a day, and
that such intense and long-sustained labour required
much  more  than  ordinary  endurance and resolution.
In this manner Salmon served as one of my own sledge
crew in five sledging journeys, making a total of two
thousand six hundred miles in two hundred and seventy
days. His cheerful disposition and heroic endurance
gained for him the esteem of all, but the labour and
exposure permanently injured his constitution: he did
not live to see his sixty-first birthday. The great lesson
of Divine watchfulness through many perilous adven-
tures was  not lost upon him.  His end was  one  of
joyful Christian hope and peace."

The  East London Advertiser of Saturday December 18th 1886 added the detail that his funeral had taken place the previous Saturday at Bow Cemetery, he was one of the oldest members of the Conservative party in East London, and a man highly respected by a very large circle of friends.

Salmon and his wife, who predeceased him by 6 years, had invested their earnings in property. As they had no children of their own, after his death the rental income was distributed among the families of his siblings and their descendants. The properties were eventually sold in 1939 and provided a lasting legacy for the prosperity of this family to this day.

John Salmon rightfully deserves his niche in the Arctic temple of fame.



Russell Potter has pointed out that details plus a photograph of the grave of John Salmon and his wife Ellen can be seen on the website Findagrave.com


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