Maritime Art

Critical position of HMS Investigator on the North coast of Baring Island, August 29th 1851 (1854)

By Lieut. S. G. Cresswell, R. Ackermann, W. Simpson

This superbly detailed coloured chromolithograph is plate IV of a series of eight illustrations published by Day & Son entitled ‘A Series of Eight Sketches in Colour: together with a Coloured Map of the Route; By Lieut. S. G. Cresswell, of the Voyages of H. M. S. Investigator, Capt. Mclure, during the Discovery of the North-West Passage‘ (1854). It shows HMS Investigator trapped between two giant floes of ice in the arctic at Mercy Bay near Banks Island. She was there to search for the Franklin expedition which had disappeared in 1847. After nearly three years of entrapment she was finally abandoned on 3 June 1853. Her crew under the command of Robert Mclure took to sledges and were rescued by a crew from HMS Resolute which had sailed into the arctic from the east, unlike the Investigator which had sailed in from the west and was then also wintering in the ice 28 days travel away by sledge. Resolute itself then became trapped in ice but McLure and his men from the Investigator survived, made it back to England and thus became the first people to successfully traverse the Northwest Passage – and subsequently the first to circumnavigate the Americas.

There have been several ships named HMS Investigator and the ship in this painting the fourth to carry that name. The first HMS Investigator was originally a merchant ship, purchased by the Royal Navy in 1795 and subsequently converted into a survey ship. Under the command of Matthew Flinders in 1802 she became the first ever ship to circumnavigate Australia. The Society has published an article in the Mariner’s Mirror exploring her history.

H.M. Sloop Investigator (1970) describes the career of the Investigator, best known for carrying Matthew Flinders on his 1802 circumnavigation of Australia, discussing its construction as the collier Xenophon, and later career after returning to Great Britain in poor condition in 1805, being paid off in 1810, and its subsequent career in commercial service until broken up in 1872. Particular attention is paid to the design and equipment considerations fitting her out for Flinders’ voyage.

The Society has also published a number of articles on this important period of arctic exploration including ‘The Unsolved Problem of the Franklin Expedition Records Supposedly Buried on King William Island’. In May 1845 Captain Franklin set sail from the Thames leading an expedition aimed to discover a North-West passage. His ships were seen for the last time in Baffin Bay the following July. The fate of the expedition: unknown. Franklin and his men never came back, so several expeditions took place in the course of the years to determine what had became of them. In 1859 the first of them was led by Captain F. M’Clintock, who discovered that Franklin had died in June 1847 and his ships, beset in ice North of King William Island, had been abandoned. M’Clintock discovered a camp on the island but the records of the expedition were missing. Suspect rose that they had been buried. An expedition in 1869 and a following one in 1878 produced evidence that such records had been hidden in a vault inland or eastwards of Point Victory but were not able to recover them.

Arctic Sledge Travelling by Officers of the Royal Navy, 1819–49 explores the early developments in sledges that were overshadowed by the later improvements introduced by Lt. (later Admiral Sir) Francis M’Clintock. This article considers the early developments by explorers including William Parry, John Ross and his nephew James Cark Ross, G.F. Lyon, George Black, John Franklin, Edward Bird and H. T. Austin. The author considers the early expeditions using sledges, with and without Eskimo dogs, the design and construction of sledges, the provisioning, clothing and routines adopted by the expeditions and their achievements.

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