Second to No Other
Note – [This is one of the background chapters cut for length from the original 1984 manuscript of Unravelling the Franklin Mystery. As such it has not had the benefit of a professional editor.]
“Canon Wright, then a schoolboy full of the healthy hero schoolboy’s worship, retains a vivid recollection of Franklin’s farewell to Mrs. Wright on the eve of his fatal voyage, and recalls the cheery raillery with which he put aside his ambitious young nephew’s entreaty to be allowed to accompany him. “No, my boy,” said he, “we are not allowed to take any cats with us that can’t catch mice.”
Once John Barrow had set his mind on another expedition to the Arctic, the question arose as to who would command it.
By 1845 there was one pre-eminent officer whose experience on seven expeditions far outranked all others, and it was natural that he should be considered first. Once again, the Admiralty approached James Clark Ross.
“But he declined to go. According to one account, he considered that his age unfitted him for the post, according to another, he had agreed when he had married, a few months after his return from the Antarctic, not to take part in the suggested expedition.”
Ross’ voluntary withdrawal left an apparent vacuum. Parry had retired, Back was too broken in health, and Ross’ uncle John, although always eager, was still persona non grata with Barrow. However, there were many junior officers who were anxious to apply for such a prestigious appointment.
Barrow’s personal favourite was a young officer who was “a personal friend of the Barrow family and particularly of his son.” This was James Fitzjames. Fitzjames was the 33-year-old “gunnery lieutenant” whose lack James Ross had bemoaned in Hobart 4 years before. Recently returned from the Far East and promoted to Commander, he had certainly enjoyed an exciting and impressive career to date.
James Fitzjames joined the Navy in 1825 at the age of fourteen and gained experience in various ships of the line. In 1835 he won the Freedom of the City of Liverpool when he bravely leapt into the harbour and saved a customs official from drowning. His next accomplishment was to serve as mate on the only steamer of Colonel Chesney’s famous expedition to complete the first successful navigation of the Euphrates River.
After rounding off his mid-eastern tour aboard HMS GANGES – where he was involved in operations against Mehemet Ali in Syria – he was transferred, in 1841, to the Orient and HMS CORNWALLIS. He commanded the rocket brigade during several engagements against the Chinese and was wounded at the capture of Ching-Kiang-Foo. Like his future commander Franklin, Fitzjames served his apprenticeship in battle for later life as an explorer.
Having finally gained enough experience for command, he was given HMS CLIO and served as her Captain until returning to England in 1844. Although completely lacking in either Arctic or exploratory expertise, he was a gifted and energetic young officer, and numbering Sir John Barrow among his friends didn’t harm his cause.
Fitzjames had written to Barrow that he would gladly “go anywhere in any capacity but not as a second “with somebody whose name begins with B,”” The “B” was Edward Belcher, who was notorious for mistreating his officers. Barrow desired to see Fitzjames take overall command in the EREBUS while Fitzjames’ friend Charlton took the TERROR. However, the Admiralty felt that Fitzjames was too young to assume the responsibilities of such a task (apparently forgetting that Parry had been only 28 when he made his first voyage), and turned down both appointments.
Meanwhile, an old Arctic veteran had recently returned to England. Sir John Franklin’s departure from Tasmania had been sudden and unexpected. His successor had abruptly stepped ashore at Hobart, conveying a letter of reproof and instructions for Franklin to return home and face a governmental inquiry. From the day of his arrival in Tasmania, Franklin had been plagued by the officials and bureaucratic problems he had inherited. He was immediately faced with widespread corruption and a clique of administrators who were more concerned with amassing personal power and fortunes at the expense of the convict labourers than with the proper conduct of their duties.
Franklin, with his forthright shipboard manner, impenetrable morality, and uncompromising righteousness, was no match for their political machinations. They succeeded in having him recalled so that a more amenable master could be put in his place.
Having been removed from his position under a cloud of disapproval, Franklin returned to England and immediately commenced to fight the official verdict and clear his name.“During the latter end of 1844, Franklin was busy (“obsessed” would not be putting it too strongly) with righting the slighting … [he] embarked on a “Narrative” which dismayed his friends, who admitted that he had been wronged but didn’t wish to be involved in the argument.”
While in the depths of his depression, the old commander watched the preparations to send the EREBUS and TERROR to the north with avid interest. He determined to restore his good name by again embarking on the work that had made him famous – exploration.
It has been averred that Franklin’s entry into the contest for command was the real reason for James Ross’ withdrawal. However, as Lamb so aptly remarks, Ross actually “sacrificed his own wish to go, so that he might enable his friend to have his heart’s desire” is probably overstated. “A man who has spent almost twenty-five years in almost continuous polar exploration is not being necessarily quixotic when he expresses a desire to settle down, at the age of forty-four, with a newly married wife.”
Nevertheless, when Lady Franklin learned that James Ross would not accept the command for himself, she promptly wrote to request his support for her husband’s claim. “If you, who are the right person, do not go, I should wish Sir John to have it at his power to go and not be put aside for his age … I think he will be deeply sensitive if his own department reject him … I dread exceedingly the effect on his mind of being without honourable and immediate employment, and it is this which
enables me to support the idea of parting with him on a service of difficulty and danger better than I otherwise should.”
Franklin’s other friends rallied around as well. John Ross approached Lord Haddington about his friend’s petition. When he was told that Franklin was being objected to due to a supposed susceptibility to cold, he retorted that “he had never even heard it hinted at before.” Franklin’s old friend and fellow explorer, Dr. Richardson, agreed to give him a clean bill of health, although he had not examined him professionally for several years. “I should have no hesitation in signing a certificate stating that I believe your constitution to be perfectly sound and your bodily strength sufficient for all calls that might be made upon it in conducting a squadron even through an icy sea … As to your power of enduring cold, Back and Kendall can testify as well as myself.”
Even Parry joined the chorus of support and remarked to the Admiralty that “he’s a better man to go than any I know, and if you don’t let him go, the man will die of disappointment.” The final interview between Franklin and Lord Haddington himself, on February 5th, 1845, has passed into folk legend:
“Lord H. : ‘We’d like you as our man but your age is against you, you see I know your age; you’re fifty-nine.’
F. : ‘Actually fifty eight my lord. Not fifty nine till April!’
H. : Indeed! Well, I know your record. You’ve done all sorts of things in your career, including a civil service which must have caused you great care and anxiety.’
F. : “Far greater than any expedition we can conceive of … (laughter from both). But if you mean, can I still stand up to physical hardship, if I didn’t think myself equal to it I shouldn’t wish to go. Shall I show you Dr. Richardson’s testimonial?
H. : ‘Dear me no. I don’t need anyone else’s word – only your own -.’
F. : ‘If it had been a question of walking, then I wouldn’t be the right man. I’m rather heavier than I was … (murmurs of polite disagreement, meaning ‘yes, yes, we needn’t go into that!’) … But as it’s a ship’s expedition it’s quite different.’
H. : ‘Quite different, of course.’
F. : ‘Other than feeling that I’m the right man for the job, which, God knows, I will do my best to be – I have nothing to gain by it.’
H. : “Hmm!’ (To this Lord H. did not reply – reported Lady Jane. Sir J. said his manner was exceedingly kind.) ‘Well Franklin, you must keep all this under your hat for the moment’.
With the confirmation of Franklin’s post on Feb. 8th, Barrow attempted to secure the position of second in command for-his young protege Fitzjames. “But the Admiralty offered the post to Captain Stokes, and when he had declined it, Captain Francis Rawdon Moira Crazier, who had commanded the TERROR during the Antarctic voyage, was appointed.”
There is evidence that Crozier had been in line for the expedition’s command before Franklin’s entry into the matter. “Lord Haddington … wanted Crozier. Crozier flatly refused. He … would not stand in the way of his good friend Sir John Franklin and besides, one can imagine that his acceptance would destroy any small chance he might have of marrying Sophy [Cracroft – Franklin’s niece].”
Although personal considerations may have played a part, Crozier likely did not press his case for command for other reasons. He had sailed on three Arctic expeditions before the three-year Antarctic voyage. Much more experienced than any other available officer when it came to conducting ships through icebound seas, absolute command and responsibility do not seem to have been his ambition.
Francis Crozier had had a long and successful naval career before venturing into the Polar Regions. As a midshipman in HMS BRITON, he had been among the first to stumble upon the final resting place of the BOUNTY mutineers when his ship put into lonely Pitcairn Island. Before receiving his command, he had served in HMS STAG, a 46-gun frigate, while she was engaged in “particular duty” off Portugal. ‘This work was most secret and nothing is known about it. We do know that it was during the period of the first Carlist Wars when Portugal asked England, her oldest
ally, to transport royalty to take refuge in England. In all probability this was part of Crozier’s work.”
Crozier received his first taste of Arctic voyages under Sir William Parry and, as we have seen, commanded the TERROR on her Antarctic voyage with his friend Sir James Ross. Despite his spotless record, Crozier lacked the essential spark of a dynamic leader and had a realistic self-image. He wrote to Ross, “I hesitate not a moment to go second to Sir John Franklin … Of course, I am too late to volunteer for command, but, in truth, I sincerely feel I am not equal to the leadership. I would not, on any terms, go second to any other, Capt. Parry or yourself excepted.” At another time, he wrote: “I feel quite satisfied in my own mind that I was right in volunteering to go second to Sir John Franklin and also in not volunteering as a leader, come of it what may.”
In deference to Barrow, James Fitzjames was appointed as Franklin’s Captain on the EREBUS.
Despite self-effacing comments, one can sense in contemporary documents that although both Fitzjames and Crozier had cause to feel slighted at Franklin’s appointment, the former bore the situation much better than the latter.
Fitzjames wrote to his friend John Barrow Jr. that Franklin was “full of life and energy, with good judgement and a capital memory (one of the best I know). His conversation is delightful and most instructive, and of all men, he is the most fitted for the command on an enterprise requiring sound sense and great perseverance. I have learned much from him and consider myself most fortunate in being with such a man, and he is full of benevolence and kindness withal … I would not lose him for command of the expedition, for I have a real regard, I might say affection, for him, and believe this is felt by all of us.”
The morale onboard the EREBUS was high. Fitzjames wrote that “there is incessant laugh from morning to night. We are most comfortable and happy”, while another officer (Couch) added, “Old Franklin is an exceedingly good old chap – all are quite delighted with him – and very clever.”
Lieutenant Fairholme wrote a letter from Greenland which summarizes the issue.
“I will now tell you something about the ship and expedition, having given an outline of our voyage to this time. When I last wrote, I told you how comfortable we all were in this ship, and since then everything has tended to make us still more so. We all know each other probably as well as we ever shall, and I really think there could hardly have been selected a set more likely to get on well together … I never felt that the Captain was so much my COMPANION with anyone I have sailed with before. He has certainly made a friend of every person on board and I believe not a thing he has said or done has given rise to the slightest complaint … he has such experience and judgement that we all look on his decisions with the greatest respect.”
For his part Franklin was quite pleased with his officers. He wrote to Sir Edward Parry, “it would do your heart good to see how zealously the officers and men, in both ships, are working, and how amicably we all pull together.”
The only evidence of depression came from Crozier. The tone of his last letter differs significantly from the rest. Written to James C. Ross from Greenland, this letter almost whines:
“My dear James,
I cannot allow Transport to leave without writing you a line altho’ I have little to say and our many detentions keep me in anything but a fit mood for writing … How I do miss you – I cannot bear going on board EREBUS – Sir John is very kind and would have me there dining every day if I would go.All things are going on well and quietly but we are I fear, sadly late … James, I wish you were here, I would then have no doubt of our pursuing the proper course. I must have done with croaking; I am not growling, mind, indeed I was never less disposed to do so … all goes on smoothly, but James dear, I am sadly alone, not a soul have I in either ship that I can go and talk to; except to kick up a row with the helmsman or abuse Jobson at times I would scarcely even hear the sound of my own voice … I know not what else I can say to you – I feel that I am not in the spirits for writing but in truth I am sadly lonely and when I look back to the last voyage I can see the cause, and therefore no prospect of having a more joyous feeling.”
Crozier’s melancholy may have been partly attributable to his personal problems. At forty-eight he remained a bachelor, for he had been disappointed in his pursuit of Franklin’s niece.
“Miss Sophia Cracroft … was by all accounts, as well as from the internal evidence of her own letters, a very delightful person. There was … some kind of attachment on Crozier’s part, which certainly increased with the passage of time, and it seems that he proposed to her at least once before the expedition left Van Diesan’s Land [Tasmania] … Nor did things run more smoothly for him in this matter when they all met in England again in 1844, for there is an urgent letter from Lady Jane to [J.C.] Ross in which she writes: ‘There is another subject on which I wish to speak to you but I think it had better not be in writing – it relates to Captain Crozier and Sophy under present circumstances … I should be glad of your advice … I wish to tell you what Sophy writes to me on the subject.’… It was always understood in the family that Crozier wanted to marry [Sophy].”
The simplehearted Franklin was a little uncomfortable with the situation. He wrote to his wife:
“‘Entre noun – I do not think he has had quite his former flow of spirits since we sailed – nor that he has been quite well. He seemed more cheerful and better today, and has always been very kind and attentive – I endeavour to encourage in him a close intimacy with me, and which I think will soon come on. He has never mentioned Sophy – nor made the slightest allusion to her – and I sometimes question myself whether or not it would be agreeable or proper for me to speak of her to him.”
Besides Crozier’s cris-de-coeur, he sorely missed James Ross with whom he had sailed since they were midshipmen. While the ships were outfitting Crozier had lived with Ross at Blackheath. “Sir James Ross and Captain Crozier were like brothers, so attached by their mutual tastes and dangers shared. Their hands shook so much they could hardly hold a glass or cup. Sir James, when he took me into dinner said, ‘You see, our hands shake! One night in the Antarctic did this for us!’”
It is important, though, not to make too much of the tone of a solitary letter sent by a tired Captain in farewell to a lifelong friend. Historians who read this one piece of evidence as indicative of an overall melancholic sensibility in Crozier’s character ignore his personal letters and others accounts of him that better reveal his personality. It must be remembered that even this subdued letter from Greenland does not necessarily imply any profound displeasure with his new station or compatriots. Lest Ross should make overmuch of his note, Crozier added that “the bustle of the season will however be life to me and come what may I will endeavour to set down at the end of it content.”
Another interesting occurrence highlights the morale on the ships. Fitzjames wrote:
“Our men are all fine hearty fellows, mostly north countrymen, with a few man-of-war’s men. We feared at Strosness that some of them would repent [of signing on to such an expedition], and it is usual to allow no leave – the TERROR did not. But two men wanted to see – one his wife-whom he had not seen for four years, and the other his mother, whom he had not seen for seventeen – so I let them go to Kirkwall, fourteen miles off. I also allowed a man of each mess to go on shore for provisions.
They all came on board to their leave; but finding we were not going to sea till the following morning, four men (who probably had taken a little too much whisky, among them was the little old man who had not seen his wife for four years) took a small boat that lay alongside and went on shore without leave. Their absence was soon discovered, and Fairholme, assisted by Baillie and somebody or other, brought all on board by three o’clock in the morning. I firmly believe each intended coming on board (if he had been sober enough), especially the poor man with the wife – but according to the rules of the service these men should have been severely punished – one method being to stop their pay and give it to the constable, or others, who apprehended them.
It struck me, however, that the punishment is intended to prevent misconduct in others, and not to revenge their individual misconduct – men know very well when they are in the wrong – and there is clearly no chance of any repetition of the offence until we get to Valparaiso, or the Sandwich Islands, so I got up at four o’clock, had everybody on deck, sent Gore and the Sergeant of marines [David Bryant] below, and searched the whole deck for spirits, which were thrown overboard. This
took two good hours: soon after which we up anchor, and made sail out. I said nothing to any of them. They evidently expected a rowing, and the old man with the wife looked very sheepish, and would not look me in the face, but nothing more was said, and the men have behaved not a bit the worse ever since.”
Fitzjames’ understanding of his men and his – for the times – extremely lenient treatment of a serious offence, must have made him a beloved commander.
That Crozier was perhaps not as unconventionally concerned with his men’s comfort – he had not allowed any leave – might also be inferred from the fact that four out of five of the “invalids” returned to England came from the TERROR. Of these, two, the armourer Robert Carr, and sailmaker James Elliot, were thought by Crozier to be “perfectly useless either at their trade or anything else.” Crozier also appears to have been a hard taskmaster to his men during the Antarctic voyage. He wrote to Lieutenant McMurdo concerning one of his junior officers that “I shall keep little Davis at it. I had already given him notice that he must work 16 hours for Her Majesty and to take the rest for his Present Planning.” His only remark concerning any of the officers of the TERROR during her last journey was that “I find Irving will do all the chart work that I want quite well enough. He is a diligent hard-working fellow.”
During the Antarctic cruise Dr. Hooker, the naturalist/surgeon onboard EREBUS, was quite aware that the discipline was much stricter on Crozier’s ship and remarked that this was a fact “that the TERROR’s officers are proud of.” The stricter discipline on the TERROR had a way of showing up in the sick lists. Hooker remarked that “in the way of medical duty I have very little to do as far as regards the EREBUS, but the men of TERROR are so much inferior in constitution and morals that there are 5-1 of them ill, to what there is of our men.”
The implication that Crozier was perhaps more doctrinaire and traditional than the younger Fitzjames in the method in which he dispensed regular naval discipline does not imply that he was an inferior officer. There is no evidence that he was abnormally cruel or neglectful of the welfare of his crews. In fact, of the dozen men who remained with the EREBUS and TERROR after the Antarctic voyages, seven remained with their old captain in the TERROR, while two who had been in EREBUS with James Ross joined them. One could surmise that the loyalty of the “TERRORs” to their old ship and the apparent defection of half of the EREBUS veterans showed that Crozier enjoyed a better reputation. However, such a conclusion would probably be spurious. It is more likely that the distribution was the result of chance or perhaps of the innate conservatism of seamen who preferred to sail with a captain they already knew than risk life with an unknown newcomer like Fitzjames.
Lest one be left with the wrong impression about Crozier, it must be noted that the only officer from the TERROR to comment on morale (Irving) wrote to his sister that “I have every course to be pleased with my shipmates … I think we shall all be Bons Compagnons de Voyage. I like my skipper very well,” and that Lt. Fairholme of the EREBUS remarked after a visit to Crozier’s ship that “they are all happy there also,” noting, however “but I would not change” (Fairholme’s italics).
The junior officers of the Franklin expedition are generally less well-known than the three commanders. However, enough information does survive to allow us to build good pictures of some individuals. A review of their histories shows a marked interconnection of careers.
Lieutenants Gore and Irving had been shipmates on board HMS VOLAGE during the Chinese war. Others had served with Fitzjames; Fairholme in the GANGES; Des Voeux, Stanley, and Hodgson in CORNWALLIS; and Le Vescomte, who was his second in command in CLIO. Irving, Fairholme, and Le Vescomte all served in HMS EXCELLENT, and the latter two were again together in the SUPERB.
Franklin allowed Fitzjames a relatively free hand in choosing his officers, and he understandably chose his friends to accompany him. Even so, “the Admiralty considered three of the officers chosen by him to be too young,” and these (who included Fitzjames’ best friend Lt. Charlton) were replaced by officers chosen by the Board.” One of those selected as a replacement was Frederick Hornby, one of the few for whom we have a detailed biography.
Born in 1819 at Bury, Hornby was, like Franklin, the son of a clergyman. A memorial to a local man – Lt. Robert Hood of Franklin’s first expedition – had been erected in his father’s churchyard when he was just a boy. He joined the Navy at 14, and the commanding officer of one of his first ships, Captain Harding, had served with Lyon in the Arctic expedition of 1824. Hornby sailed to the Far East and visited Van Dieman’s land in 1838 when Franklin was governor so that he may have met his future commander there. His biography states that he was very young when he passed his exam for Lieutenant’s rank in 1841 and was frustrated at his slow rise to the head of the selection list. This frustration and the hope that service in an unusual capacity might expedite things led him to volunteer for the Arctic expedition. With sponsors like Harding and possibly Franklin himself, he would have little difficulty securing a berth despite his lack of experience.
Similar thinking seems to have motivated Lt. Irving, who was overlooked in the initial selection. In a letter written to his sister Kate on Feb. 12th, he remarks: “I had, on arriving here, mentioned to my father that I should like to go on a discovery voyage to the Arctic regions, which is now being projected. I have dust heard from him that he had informed Sir George Clerk of my wishes, and had got no answer. So I am awaiting the result. It would give me chance of promotion, on returning after two or three years, and would, at all events, be a change of scene, a relief, and, if one came back, something to talk of.”
A few days later, he was “still in suspense whether or not I am to go on the Arctic expedition … I do not believe I have much chance of going,” which disappointed him as he thought it “not a service of much danger, and they take provisions for only two years; so they must come back: in that time, if at all.”
In early nineteenth-century England, a position onboard an exploration vessel, particularly one destined for either polar extreme, was much sought after. Such a berth appealed to officers languishing on half-pay as a means of escape from enforced idleness and a road to possible fame. It also held the prospect of speedy career advancement for what, to the layman, were extraordinary services.
John Irving had not always been totally satisfied with Naval life. He had been born in Edinburgh on February 8th, 1815, and been described by a schoolmate as a “nice fellow, fond of play, with a good deal of quiet humour, courageous, but very slow to quarrel or take offense.” He entered the Navy at 13 and was noted for his academic skill. Still, by 1834 he considered that his “prospects in the Navy having become so bad that I can hardly do worse than remain in it,” he might as well leave and join his father as a settler in the new colony of New South Wales. He procrastinated for four more years but did go to Australia in 1817, apparently having forsaken the sea for life.
“After five month’s experience, I can say only that I do not in the least seriously regret leaving the Navy, though sometimes when I see a goodly ship clearing the heads with a tearing breeze, I cannot help having a kind of wish to be on board of her.”
But five years of shoreside life wrought a change, and by 1843 Irving once again craved the sea. “Finding the sheepfarming in Australia a losing concern, and happening to meet the FAVOURITE in Sydney, I, through the first lieutenant and surgeon, old messmates of mine in the EDINBURGH, got on board as an acting mate, the Captain writing to the Admiralty that, having no officers to do duty, he had taken me.” Having newly arrived in England, Irving appears to have managed to secure an appointment to the TERROR through influential sponsors.
Not all officers received their appointments through friendship with Fitzjames or patronage in high places. The ice-masters, Blanky and Reid, were experienced Arctic hands, the former having sailed with John Ross in the VICTORY. Both men also had vast experience on whalers, as did surgeon MacDonald who now served in the TERROR. The purser Osmar (sometimes spelled Osmer) was another experienced veteran.
We are fortunate to have detailed descriptions of some other junior officers, especially those who served aboard EREBUS. This unsight is primarily thanks to Commander Fitzjames, who described his messmates in a journal sent back from Greenland. Although this journal is fascinating in delineating the characteristics of the individuals that Fitzjames describes, the document, in its perceptive and lighthearted style, is also illuminating as to the character of its author.
“In our mess we have the following, whom I shall probably from time to time give you descriptions of: – First Lieutenant, Gore; second, Le Vescomte; third, Fairholme; purser, Osmar; surgeon, Stanley; assistant surgeon, Goodsir; ice-master (so called), Reid; mates, – Sargent, Des Vouex, Couch; second master Collins; commander, you know better than he does himself. The most original character of all – rough, intelligent, unpolished, with a broad north-country accent, but not vulgar, good humoured, and honest hearted – is Reid, a Greenland whaler, native of Aberdeen, who has commanded whaling vessels, and amuses us with his quaint remarks and descriptions of the ice, catching whales, etc. For instance, he just said to me, on my saying we should soon be off Cape Farewell at this rate, and asking if we might not generally expect a gale off it (Cape Farewell being the southern point of Greenland), ‘Ah! now Mister Jems, we’ll be having the weather fine sir! Fine! No ice at arl about it, sir, unless it be the bergs – arl the ice’ll be gone, sir, only the bergs, which I like to see. Let it come on to blow, look out for a big ‘un. Get under his lee, and hold on to his fast, sir, fast. If he drifts near the land, why, he grounds afore you do.’ The idea of all the ice being gone, except the icebergs, is racy beyond description.
I have just had a game of chess with the purser Osmar, who is delightful. He was with Beechey in BLOSSOM, when they went to Behring Straits to look out for Franklin, at the time he surveyed the north coast of North America, and got within 150 miles of him; he was at Petro Paulowski, in Kamchatka, where I hope to go, and served since on the lakes of Canada. I was at first inclined to think he was a stupid old man, because he had a chin and took snuff; but he is as merry-hearted as any young man, full of quaint dry sayings, always good humoured, always laughing, never a bore, takes his ‘pinch after dinner’, plays a ‘rubber’, and beats me at chess – and, he is a gentleman.
The second master Collins is the very essence of good nature, and I may say good humour … Couch is a little, black-haired, smooth-faced fellow – good humoured in his own way; writes, reads, works, draws, all quietly. Is never in the way of anybody, and always ready when wanted; but I can find no remarkable point in his character, except, perhaps, that he is, I should think, obstinate.
Stanley, the surgeon, I knew in China. He was in the CORNWALLIS a short time, where he worked very hard in his vocation. Is rather inclined to be good-looking, but fat, with jet black hair, very white hands, which are always abominably clean, and the shirt sleeves tucked up; giving one unpleasant ideas that he would not mind cutting one’s leg off immediately – ‘if not sooner’. He is thoroughly good natured and obliging, and very attentive to our mess.
Le Vescoste you know. He improves, if possible, on closer acquaintance.
Fairholme, you know or have seen, is a smart, agreeable companion, and a well informed man. Sargent, a nice, pleasant-looking lad, very good-natured. Des Voeux I knew in the CORNWALLIS. He went out in her to join the ENDYMION, and was then a mere boy. He is now a most unexceptionable, clever, agreeable, light hearted, obliging young fellow, and a great favourite of Hodgson’s, which is much in his favour besides.
Graham Gore, the first lieutenant, a man of great stability of character, a very good officer, and the sweetest of tempers, is not so much a man of the world as Fairholme or Des Voeux, is more of Vescomte’s style, without his shyness. He plays the flute dreadfully well, draws sometimes very well, sometimes very badly, but is altogether a capital fellow …’
I can’t make out why Scotchmen just caught always speak in a low, hesitating, monotonous tone of voice, which is not at all times to be understood – this is, I believe, called ‘cannyness’. Mr. Goodsir is ‘canny’. He is long and strait, and walks upright on his toes, with his hands tucked up in each jacket pocket. He is perfectly good humoured, very well informed on general points, in natural history learned, was Curator of the Edinburgh Museum, appears to be about twenty eight years of age, laughs delightfully, cannot be in a passion, is enthusiastic about all ‘ologies, draws the insides of microscopic animals with an imaginary-pointed pencil, catches phenomena in a bucket, looks at the thermometer and every other meter, is a pleasant companion, and an acquisition to the mess. So much for Mr. Goodsir.”
Crozier also had something about Franklin’s naturalist:
“Goodsir in EREBUS is a most intelligent fellow … never idle, making perfect sketches of all he collects very quickly … He has the happy knack of engaging everyone around him in the same pursuit. He certainly is a great acquisition …’
Fitzjames summed up the atmosphere in his wardroom in these words:
“I don’t know whether I have managed to convey an impression of our mess, and you know me sufficiently to be sure that I mention their little faults, failings, and peculiarities all in charity. I wish I could, however, convey to you a just idea of the immense stock of good feeling, good humour, and real kindliness of heart in our small mess. We are all very happy, and very fond of Sir John Franklin, who improves very much as we come to know more of him.”
Shortly before their departure the officers were asked to pose for their portraits using the new “Daguerreotype” method, an early precursor to true photography. Their faces, preserved in the Illustrated London News, show a bewiskered and unremarkable group who show little of the individual spark which Fitzjames’ descriptions relate. Franklin, (who was suffering from a cold) looks stuffy and ill at ease. But the humanity of these men is evident when one reads their own descriptions of the event. Lt. Fairholme wrote:
“I hope Elizabeth got my photograph. Lady Franklin said that she thought it made me look too old, but as I had Fitzjames’ coat on at the time, to save myself the trouble of getting my own, you will perceive that I am a Commander! and have anchors on the epaulettes, so it will do capitally when that is really the case.”
We have little idea whether Crozier’s officers in TERROR met with his approval; we know that Franklin was very pleased with the officers assigned to him.
“My officers are from a different class of society and better informed men than on any former expedition … The more I see of Gore, the more convinced I am that in him I have a treasure and a faithful friend … I expect to derive great assistance from him if we have to winter, from his previous knowledge of the TERROR when encumbered with ice. Stanley, who is often with us, tells me he is a very valuable fellow to have near you. I like the ice-master Reid, and so do the other officers.”
Except Irving’s previous endorsement, Crozier had no comment on his officers. It must be remembered however that Crozier had recently bid adieu to companions and crew with whom he had served for many happy years only to have them replaced wholesale by a group of unfamiliar, and as yet unfriendly, faces. In contrast, Franklin was overjoyed to again be in command of a seagoing vessel.
As to the seamen under his command there is evidence that Crozier was not entirely pleased with them. He wrote:
“Now do I wish the engine was again on the Dover line and the engineer [James Thompson] sitting on top of it, he is [a] dead and alive wretch full of difficulties and is now quite dissatisfied because he has not the leading stoker to assist him in doing nothing as on board EREBUS.” Crozier sent four of his crew (John Brown, Robert Carr, James Elliot, and William Aitken) back to England when the transport BARRETTO JUNIOR left Greenland. They were officially classed as “invalids” but whether this was the true reason for their dismissal is questionable for Crozier later remarked of them that they were “good for nothing.” May Fluhmann is probably correct in concluding that “the truth is that Crozier fired them for incompetency.”
These men were undoubtedly the exception rather than the rule. The men who were finally chosen to accompany Franklin on his expedition seem to have been a mixed lot like most British naval crews of their day. If the voyage this crew was about to undertake had been as unremarkable as most, little, if anything, more would be known of them. Even with the intense interest which later accrued to any member of the ship’s companies, little solid information is known about individuals. Before the advent of modern public records, courtesy of the census and taxation bureaus (the presence of which may be bemoaned by civil libertarians but which will undoubtedly benefit future historians), the average “Jack Tar” of the Royal Navy was a largely faceless character.
However, fragmentary records have survived, which may allow some insight into the behaviour and motivations of some members of Sir John Franklin’s crews. As noted, the Arctic Service had a good reputation among seamen, and a position in an exploration vessel was thought to be in most respects little worse, and in many others better, than a posting to any other of Her Majesty’s warships. “Navy Estimates for 1846-47” show that Arctic crews traditionally received double pay. They were issued new and expensive clothing, and their vessels were usually extremely well stocked with provisions. The death rate by illness (to which more seamen have always succumbed than to the machinations of the enemy) was negligible onboard Arctic vessels, especially when compared with that experienced by the crews who tossed in fever-racked hammocks in the close confines of a vessel on the notorious stations such as the West Indies or Far East. To most seamen of the day, the only hardship entailled would be the prolonged absence from their families and civilization. However, in a time when a trip to the South Seas could easily encompass many years, even this trial, the constant companion of service members in all ages, was commonplace.
Usually, crew selection for such an enterprise involved the problem of turning away a great number of interested and qualified applicants. Yet, in the case of the EREBUS and TERROR, that does not seem to have been the case. Due to the extreme rush involved in fitting out the ships and making ready to sail by the summer of 1845, the crews seem to have been assembled somewhat haphazardly. Upon the return of the ships from the Antarctic and the subsequent “paying off” of their crews, most of the seamen had, not surprisingly, drifted off to other ships or shoreside employment. Therefore there was no real core of veterans available.
The muster books from 1840-43 and the “description book” of HMS EREBUS are still available at the Public Record Office. A comparison of these with their 1845 counterparts reveals that about a dozen of the crew from the earlier voyage either remained or rejoined for the proposed expedition.
Five of these men, namely Thomas Farr, Thomas Johnson, Thomas Jopson (alternatively Jobson), Luke Smith, and Thomas Honey remained in the TERROR. They were joined by John Diggle and Thomas Evans, men who had previously served in EREBUS. Meanwhile, James Rigden, Samuel Brown, and Richard Wall (of “kooning” fame with Ross) stayed on the latter ship and were supplemented by ex-TERROR William Smith.
Names alone often cannot be used as failproof indicators of a person’s identity, especially when dealing with the free and easy seamen of Franklin’s day. A careful reading of the various “Muster
Books” shows some perplexing things.
In the crew of TERROR, during the Antarctic expedition, we note that Thomas Farr, aged 29, was noted as a “deserter” on Oct 7, 1840. According to other records, this is presumably the same man who joined TERROR on the 25th of June 1839. However, he is noted as “paid off Hobarton, 14 Sept. ’40”. He changed his mind (or was caught), for he appears again as having served briefly from Oct. 15th until Nov. 8th, 1840, when he was again “discharged.” As if this was not confusing enough, we find that another Farr, also named Thomas (or Richard), joined TERROR on Oct 9th, 1840 and served until the 23rd of Sept. 1843. That this is a different man can be inferred from his age, 24, and the fact that he is described as “VG” (Very Good) upon discharge. The final muster list of TERROR, ADM 38-1962, which lists the crew from 3 March to 20 June 1845, shows that a “Thomas R. Farr” was Captain of the Maintop for the Franklin expedition. It is likely that this is the second man of this name and that he re-enlisted. However, even this is not certain, for the original signature on the TERROR’s final crew list is ambiguous and could also be read as “Farar.”
We know from Fitzjames` records that 134 officers and men sailed from England in the EREBUS and TERROR in 1845; 5 were “invalids,” and 129 entered the ice. R.J. Cyriax, in his book Sir John Franklin’s Arctic Expedition, gives complete crew lists for the two ships. These are generally faithful to the last Muster Lists (except for Marine Private James Daly, who does not appear in the Official List). There are slight changes in name between the two sources due to spelling or illegibility.
The Muster Lists named another 34 men who were receiving pay as late as March 1845 but who, for one reason or another, did not make the voyage. They also mention the three local Pilots (John Gunn, James Grey, and Peter Irvine) who sailed from London but were landed shortly after that. It is likely that only the best men were taken and that the final number was decided by the constraints of provisions and storage space.
It is difficult to obtain information on the seamen in Franklin’s crews. The “description book,” a compendium of information on each crewmember which had come into being after the fleet-wide mutiny of 1797, listed a man’s appearance, birthplace, and character assessment for administrative purposes. TERROR’s copy is, unfortunately, missing, but the one made up for the EREBUS crew of 1840-43 is still preserved, and from it, we can build a picture of the men comprising the exploration crews. We note that James Rigden was 22 years old (in 1843), single, with a fair complexion and grey eyes. Rigden was 5’ 7” tall, originally from Kent, had brown hair and had served on one ship before joining EREBUS.
Johnathan Diggle was 25, married, and had served on five prior ships. He was 5’ 7” tall with fair skin, blue eyes, and light brown hair, with “no marks, scars or wounds.” Another married man was our erstwhile romantic hero Richard Wall, a native of Newcastle-Under-Tyne, a 40-year-old and to the native ladies at least, a good-looking 5’ 6” tall man with pale skin, grey eyes and dark hair.
The only future Franklin crewman who did not receive a favourable character assessment was Thomas Evans, a single 34-year-old, who, although a veteran of eight naval appointments, was rated only “fair” in performance. In 1845 he was listed as a “boy,” a strange job for one of his experiences, so Franklin’s “Thomas Evans” was probably a namesake of this earlier crewman. The latter, in one of those curious coincidences designed to vex historians, replaced him.
At least two sets of brothers sailed on the EREBUS and TERROR. John and Thomas Hartnell were both able seamen on the former ship, while the versatile Honey brothers served the TERROR – Thomas was the ship’s carpenter while Samuel was the blacksmith. It is also possible that the TERROR’s boatswain’s mate Thomas Johnson was related to seaman Charles Johnson of the same ship or that the two Smiths, William and Luke, were somehow related; however, the commonality of these surnames makes this uncertain.
Among the numerous newcomers (EREBUS lists 23 “first entry” crewmen), a disproportionate number seem to have come from Scotland and northern England. That a drive was launched to entice some hardy highlanders is evidenced by a recruiting poster for the expedition that can still be seen (1983) in the museum at Edinburgh Castle. Also apparent from the lists is that the navy veterans were mainly drawn from the vessels at hand in port during the spring of 1845. Men and officers were evidently drafted for the project from idle ships that could spare them, and these were relatively few. Fifteen men came from HMS PERSEUS, and eleven from HMS ST. VINCENT, including Mate Couch and Petty officer Hoar. Lieutenant Graham Gore and Petty Officer Joseph Andrews joined EREBUS from the CYCLOPS. At the same time, nine seamen, Petty Officers Lane and Plater, and surgeon Peddie arrived from the WILLIAM AND MARY. HMS EXCELLENT provided four seamen and five officers – Hodgson, Hornby, Irving, Des Vouex and Sargent.
Other ships also contributed their share; eight men, including the clerk Helpman, came from the HERALD; HMS MASTIFF spared two mates – Thomas and MacBean and Lt. Fairholme brought four men with him from HMS SUPERB. Petty Officer Peglar’s seaman’s certificate survived the tragedy and shows him to have served on the GANNETT, OCEAN, and WANDERER before joining the TERROR, serving with Fairholme and Osmar on the first, Hodgson on the last, and many other members of the 1845 crew who were drawn from the OCEAN.
This wholesale transfer of interconnected naval personnel undoubtedly enhanced the esprit and cohesiveness of the new crews as the men worked with old companions under officers who were familiar to them. It is certain that the crews of the EREBUS and TERROR, both officers and men, felt grateful to be included in the “final effort” to attain the Northwest Passage. The young officers were all from the same social circle, many were personal friends, and all were chosen for their ability to endure the privations of Arctic exploration and survive the claustrophobic environment of a small crowded ship during an Arctic winter. Fifteen of them had prior Arctic or Antarctic experience.
On the other hand, the seamen were primarily drawn from Naval veterans, some with Arctic experience and most with former service. They were also well acquainted with their officers and, as far as can be ascertained, respected them. Except for a few grumbles of dissatisfaction from Crozier, there are no hints that personalities played any part in the future disaster which befell these men. The impression is of a young and capable group of Victorian seafarers, devout, earnest, and patriotic, a likeable and ordinary group of men who were soon faced with extraordinary difficulties and terrible decisions.