Officers and ice experience part 2

My previous post on this subject took asked the question of whether Franklin could have appointed more lieutenants or mates with ice experience to the expedition, and argued that he could not have appointed any more of the men who had gained ice experience while holding these ranks on the Cove Arctic search and rescue mission of 1835, George Back’s Arctic expedition of 1836 or James Clark Ross’ Antarctica expedition of 1839. 

Read more: Officers and ice experience part 2

This post gives the full list of men who had held these ranks on those voyages, notes the four who left the1839 expedition at Hobart before ice was encountered, and lists what the others were doing at the start of 1845.   The two names in italics are the two officers who were on the Franklin Expedition, and the two marked with an x are the two who appear on the list twice.  Some of the other names are men who later took part in the Franklin search.

Voyage and dateNameRank on voyagePosition in early 1845
Cove 1835
Francis CrozierLieutenantCaptain HMS Terror
Richard InmanLieutenantDismissed service December 1838
Erasmus OmmanneyLieutenantPromoted to Commander 1840
Alexander Smith xMateIn Tasmania
Terror 1836
William SmythLieutenantPromoted to Commandar 1837, to Captain 1843
Owen StanleyLieutenantPromoted to Commander 1839, to Captain 1844
Archibald McMurdo xLieutenantPromoted to Commander 1843
Graham GoreMateLieutenant HMS Erebus
Robert McClureMateAboard HMS Romney at Havana, Cuba
Peter FisherMatePromoted to Commander 1841
Charles MarcaurdMateIn the East Indies
Erebus 1839
Edward BirdLieutenantPromoted to Commander 1841, to Captain 1843
John SibbaldLieutenantPromoted to Commander 1843
James WoodLieutenantPromoted to Commander 1843
Alexander Smith xMateIn Tasmania
Henry OakleyMateAboard HMS Cygnet off the coast of Africa
Joseph DaymanMateLeft ship at Hobart
Terror 1839
Archibald McMurdo xLieutenantPromoted to Commander 1843
Charles PhillipsLieutenantAboard HMS Helena at the Cape
Joseph Kay *LieutenantLeft ship at Hobart
Peter ScottMateLeft ship at Hobart
Thomas MooreMateAppointed to HMS Winchester at the Cape
William MolleyMateLeft ship at Hobart

* Another poster on the FE Facebook page pointed out to me that Kay did have some ice region experience, having been on the Chanticleer Pacific voyage of in 1828 which reached as far south as the South Shetland Islands.  Since Kay was only in his early teens at the time it’s hard to say how well this would have prepared him for an expedition 17 years later, but the point is academic anyway as Kay was still at the Magnetic Observatory in Tasmania when Franklin was selecting his officers.  If he had been close enough for Franklin to offer him a place it’s extremely likely Franklin would have done so, as Kay was the nephew of Franklin’s first wife, Eleanor Porden, had served with Franklin on HMS Rainbow and worked closely with him in Tasmania. 

Lieutenant Graham Gore. Source: Creative Commons

What of the other navigating officers?  As the Franklin Expedition carried Ice Masters appointed from outside the Navy there were no vacancies for men with the naval rank of Master, but there were two vacancies for Second Masters.   Byrne’s work does not cover ship’s Masters and Second Masters, fortunately there was information available elsewhere on the men who held the rank of Second Master on the three ice region voyages of the 1830s which proves all of them had been promoted by 1845.  Henry Mapleton, Second Master on the Cove voyage had been promoted to Master in 1839, and at the time the Franklin Expedition sailed was acting as Harbour Master at St. Helena.  George Back’s 1836 expedition carried an ‘Ice Mate’ appointed from outside the Navy instead of a Second Master, but Acting Master James Saunders held the substantive naval rank of Second Master.  Saunders was promoted to Master in 1838, and would later take part in the Franklin search commanding the North Star.  The two Second Masters from the Antarctica expedition, Henry Yule and John Davis, had both been promoted to Master shortly after the expedition returned to England in 1843.  James Ross had been generous in recommending promotions after the Antarctic voyage, which was great for the men concerned but perhaps not so great for Franklin.

Franklin also showed some concern to appoint lower decks men with suitable experience.  On 10th of February he wrote to James Ross, who was in Yorkshire at the time, asking Ross to ‘enquire after Ice Masters and leading men’ for both ships.  Franklin makes reference to Ross being near Hull, which was a centre of the whaling trade, so he was probably intending to appoint leading men with whaling experience.  He also asked Ross ‘where I can find the Clerk you spoke of, or any of the Warrant Officers’.  It’s not clear who the clerk in question was (it can’t have been George Moubray, who was clerk on HMS Terror on the Antarctica expedition, because Moubray had been promoted to purser), but it’s possible that one of the warrant officers was Thomas Honey, who would be reappointed to the post of carpenter on HMS Terror that he had held during the Antarctica expedition.

Conclusion: Franklin’s not appointing more junior officers with ice experience was likely down to there not being many such officers available, which in turn was down to there not having been much Naval ice region exploration between Parry’s last expedition in 1837 and Franklin making his appointments in 1845. 


William Battersby,  James Fitzjames: the Mystery Man of the Franklin Expedition

William O’Byrne, A Naval Biographical Dictionary

Richard J. Cyriax, Sir John Franklin’s Last Arctic Expedition: a Chapter in the History of the Royal Navy

Richard J. Cyriax, ‘The voyage of H.M.S. North Star, 1849-50’

A.G.E Jones, ‘The voyage of H.M.S. Cove, Captain James Clark Ross, 1835-36’

A.G.E Jones, ‘Henry Mapleton, Staff Commander, R.N.’

Andrew Lyall, ‘David Lyall (1817–1895): Botanical explorer of Antarctica, New Zealand, the Arctic and North America’

M.J. Ross, Ross in the Antarctic

Glenn M. Stein, ‘The Arctic Medal 1818-55 to Members of the Antarctic Expedition of 1839-43’

R. Potter, R. Koellner, P. Carney, Mary Williamson, (eds), May We Be Spared to Meet on Earth: Letters of the Lost Franklin Arctic Expedition

Visions of the North ‘Reginald the (Un)lucky

Officers and ice experience part 1

The number of officers on the Franklin Expedition with ice navigation experience has been discussed a good deal.  In addition to Franklin himself they were Captain Francis Crozier, Lieutenant Graham Gore, the two Ice Masters James Reid and Thomas Blanky, Assistant Surgeon Alexander MacDonald and Purser Charles Osmer.  It has often been argued the Expedition should have had more experienced men, especially as Franklin’s own exploring had mostly been done overland and his ice navigating experience consisted of a few months in 1818.

William Battersby argued that criticisms of the Franklin Expedition for not including more officers with ice experience were unfair by claiming the FE actually had more officers with ice experience than James Clark Ross’ 1839 Antarctica voyage, which he claimed had only four such officers – the two  captains and the two first lieutenants.  Battersby however had overlooked at least four additional officers with ice experience from the 1839 voyage – Surgeon Robert McCormick had been on Parry’s 1827 expedition, Mate Alexander Smith and Purser Thomas Hallett had been with Ross in the Cove search and rescue mission, and Assistant Surgeon David Lyall had whaling experience. McCormick, Lyall and Hallett would not have been involved with the navigation of the ships, but neither would MacDonald and Osmer.

Read more: Officers and ice experience part 1

In addition, although the Antarctica voyage did not carry designated ice masters Erebus’ gunner Thomas Abernethy, an experienced Arctic hand, was referred to as ice master by McCormick and may have performed some ice master duties.   John Lumsden, gunner on the Terror,  also had ice experience, having been an able seaman on Parry’s 1827 expedition.   My previous post ‘The gunner of the Franklin Expedition’ goes into this a bit more.   Despite the title of my post the Franklin Expedition did not carry gunners. 

Rather than debating whether the FE should have had more officers with ice experience this post is looking into whether it could have done.  Were there experienced officers available who were not picked?  Finding that the content of William O’Byrne’s Naval Biographical Dictionary, published in 1849, was available online encouraged me to try and find out what officers who did have ice experience but were not on the FE were doing at the beginning of 1845.

The first major period of nineteenth century British Navy Arctic exploration was from 1818 until 1827. I have not tried to trace the later careers of every junior officer who took part in seagoing Arctic expeditions during that period, but I very much doubt that by 1845 there were many of them still in the Navy, below command rank, and ready to volunteer for another trip to the Arctic.  Officers on Arctic expeditions were normally volunteers, and those who had been promoted to command rank – Commander or Post Captain – would not have been considered for Lieutenants or Mates positions.

Between 1827 and the commissioning of the FE in 1845 there was only one Naval Arctic voyage of exploration, George Back’s expedition in the Terror in 1836, and one Antarctic one, James Clark Ross’ expedition in Erebus and Terror in 1839.  John Ross’ privately funded Arctic expedition of 1829 was too small to add to the pool of ice experienced navigating officers, the only officers carried in addition to John Ross and his nephew James being a surgeon and a purser, and George Back’s 1833 Great Fish River expedition was overland. 

Perilous position of H.M.S. Terror, Captain Back, in the Arctic Regions in the summer of 1837 by William Smyth. Royal Museums Greenwich collection

Undoubtedly there would have been other voyages in this period which took the crews into regions where there was some ice.  Voyages to Newfoundland, for instance, would have had a good chance of encountering ice, at least at certain times of the year.  I haven’t tried to identify all of these or trace the juniors officers who had served on them.   There was however one voyage which, whilst not one of exploration, was deliberately directed towards dangerous pack ice, and that was James Clark Ross’ Arctic 1835 search and rescue mission in the Cove, which is considered here along with the 1836 and 1839 expeditions.

I checked out the lists of officers for the these three ice region voyages and found twenty-one men served as either Lieutenant or Mate on one of these voyages (two men, Archibald McMurdo and Alexander Smith, were junior officers on more than one of these voyages).  However on the Antarctica Expedition one Lieutenant and three Mates left the Expedition on its first visit to Hobart and before any ice was encountered, one being invalided home and the other three assigned to run the newly established Magnetic Observatory.  This reduces the number of Lieutenants and Mates who gained ice experience on these expeditions to seventeen.

Nine of these seventeen had been promoted to command rank by 1845.  One of these was Francis Crozier, who was appointed as the Captain of HMS Terror.  Of the remaining eight officers, one, Richard Inman, does not appear in Byrne’s Dictionary and according to Richard Cyriax had been dismissed the service in 1838.  Six others were serving overseas. 

The Franklin Expedition was on a tight timetable.  Franklin was told of his appointment on 7th February 1845.  The relatively short window for ice exploration meant the expedition needed to sail no later than May, and the officers’ positions needed to be filled quickly.  It’s therefore unsurprising that most of the officers appointed appear to have either been on half pay or serving in home waters.  Crozier was on holiday in Italy, but he had volunteered for the expedition by letter at the end of December, having been tipped off it was being planned by his friend James Clark Ross.  He was appointed on the same day as Franklin, who had made it clear he would be happy to have Crozier as second-in-command.  With the exception of Commander James Fitzjames, who had also known enough to volunteer for the expedition well in advance, most of the other officers were chosen by Franklin although not all of them were personally known to him.  Most of the appointments were announced by mid-March.

Franklin did consider appointing two officers that were overseas in early 1845, but his letters show the problems with this.  Crozier had written to recommend a lieutenant called Reginald Levinge, perhaps without knowing that Levinge was serving off the coast of South America.  Franklin’s comment on this in a letter to James Ross was ‘If he [Crozier] reaches Mr Levinge he can of course have him – Lieutenant Little is however quite ready to go if Crozier wishes to have him’,  Evidently Crozier could not reach Levinge in time, and Edward Little was duly appointed.  Ironically Levinge died at sea in 1848 just two days after Erebus and Terror were deserted. 

In a later letter to his future son-in-law John Gell Franklin stated ‘You will regret to learn that Dayman only reached England just in time to say goodbye to me…. I had at the first left a vacancy open for him to accompany me but was obliged to get it filled – He is equally sorry with me at the disappointment for he would have gladly gone.’  Dayman was Lt Joseph Dayman, one of the officers who had been stationed at the  Magnetic Observatory in Tasmania.  The context implies that Franklin had known Dayman was on his way back from Tasmania when he was appointed to command the Expedition, and tried to leave a spot open in the hope Dayman would want to volunteer when he reached England.  (It’s not stated who sailed in Dayman’s place, but it was probably either Fairholme or Irving.  Dayman died a post-captain in 1868.)  Although neither Levinge nor Dayman had ice experience, Franklin’s letters about them show it would have been impractical to write to ice experienced officers in places as far flung as Tasmania, the East Indies and South Africa, offer posts, and then wait to see if they arrived or if they refused the offer or were refused release by their current commanding officers. 

With the six overseas officers effectively unavailable there remained just one available officer with Lieutenant or Mate rank who had ice experience from the 1830s or early 1840s.  This was Lieutenant Graham Gore, who had been with Back in the Terror, and was appointed as First Lieutenant to HMS Erebus.

A full list of the officers in question, along with a list of sources and some commentary on whether Franklin could have appointed Second Masters with ice experience, will follow in the next post.

The gunner of the Franklin Expedition

Who was the gunner of the Franklin Expedition?  That’s not a trick question, although it may sound like it as nobody holding the rank of gunner sailed with Erebus and Terror.  However the expedition did have a gunner attached to for just over a month – between 4th March and 7th April 1845.  This man’s name was Joseph George Robinson.

Read more: The gunner of the Franklin Expedition

I first heard of Robinson on Alison Freebairn’s blogpost about another man who was assigned to the expedition, but did not sail with it – clerk George Frederick Pinhorn.   ‘G.F. Pinhorn’ and ‘J.G. Robinson’ were both named as crewmembers in 1845 periodicals.  I briefly considered investigating Robinson, concluded his surname was far too common, and promptly forgot about him, only remembering when I happened to be looking at Edmund Wuyts’ very useful transcript of the expedition muster book for HMS Erebus on the Arctonauts website and found ‘Joseph G. Robinson’ listed there as ‘Gunner 2 Class’.  He had joined Erebus from HMS Herald, a ship which would later play a part in the long searches for the Franklin Expedition.

With a full first name to go on, a search for Robinson suddenly seemed more promising, and Ancestry turned up two copies of his service record – a long one which spilled over two pages. From this and other poking around the web, I put together a bit of basic information on Robinson. He was born in Kent about 1797, which if he’d stayed with the expedition would have made him one of the oldest members with only the two captains, Franklin and Francis Crozier, known to have been older. He first joined the Navy in 1808, when he was only about eleven. It was a time when boys that young serving aboard ship, even at the height of the Napoleonic war, was quite normal. There’s a gap in his naval career between 1814 and 1824, after which he was more or less constantly employed in the Navy down to 1850, receiving his gunner’s Warrant in 1835.

Part of Joseph Robinson’s service record from ADM 29 Piece No 15, showing HMS Erebus

Perhaps Robinson’s return to the Navy was connected with his marrying Mary Ann Marks in Deptford in 1824.  They had at least four children: George Joseph b. 1825, Mary Ann b. 1843, Louisa Hannah b. 1845 and Albert Thomas b. 1849.  The long gap between George and Mary Ann may mean there were more children I haven’t picked up, or it might be that Joseph’s naval service was severely limiting opportunities for conception.  However the younger Mary Ann was born in Malta, so her mother must have followed Joseph overseas on one occasion at least.  Some captains in the age of sail did allow warrant officers to bring their wives aboard, although the examples I’ve found date from rather earlier than the 1840s.

I scanned the list of ships Joseph Robinson served on with interest, wondering if he had previous ice experience.  At least two previous expeditions had appointed gunners who had been on ice expeditions before, and made good use of their knowledge.  On the 1839 Antarctica expedition Erebus’ gunner was the redoubtable Thomas Abernethy, who had already been on three Arctic expeditions, including the 1829 Ross expedition where he was second mate, and who would go on to take part in three Franklin search expeditions.  Surgeon McCormick referred to him ‘our gunner and ice-master’ (there was no official position of ice-master on the Antarctica expedition) and ‘one of the most experienced ice men of our day’.  He also described Abernethy ‘lying full length on the ice plank’ keeping lookout during one particularly hair raising encounter with ice bergs.  Abernethy’s counterpart on HMS Terror, John Lumsden, had been on Parry’s North Pole expedition in 1827, he was invalided home on the expedition’s second visit to Hobart in 1841.  On George Back’s 1836 expedition in HMS Terror the gunner was Thomas Donaldson, who had been on at least one of Parry’s expeditions and is described by Back as sharing ice piloting duties with the ‘ice-mate’ George Green.  Sadly Donaldson died of scurvy in February 1837.

Joseph Robinson, by contrast, does not seem to have had ice experience.  However it’s clear from his service record that he was not chosen at random.  From August 1830 to January 1834 he was gunner’s mate aboard HMS RainbowRainbow’s captain for most of this time was Sir John Franklin. 

Part of Joseph Robinson’s service record from ADM 29 Piece No 24 showing HMS Rainbow

A note in the muster book records that Joseph Robinson was discharged to ‘HMS Vernon Per Order BA96’.  I’ve found no evidence of why he was discharged, or what the meaning of the BA96 reference was, whatever the reason for the discharge it clearly did not prevent Robinson taking up a new post.  There is, however, a cryptic passage about the discharge in a letter from Franklin to the expedition’s third-in-command James Fitzjames dated 5th April.

I am glad that you have entered an Armourer & Carpenter’s Mate and to hear your opinion of our men.  The one exception we must part with.

Sir George Cockburn immediately acquiesced in my opinion that a new Gunner should not be appointed – & gave instruction to reduce our Complement accordingly.  We have therefore no further inconvenience about the Cabins to fear.

The cabin problem was presumably a consequence of the decision to add engines to Erebus and Terror.  Engines needed engineers, and engineers, like gunners, were Warrant Officers.  Choosing not to reappoint a gunner made room for the engineer.  I’ve found no evidence that a gunner had been appointed to HMS Terror, so there would have been no difficulty making room for the engineer there.

Figurehead of HMS Vernon, the ship Robinson was discharged to, from Creative Commons

Joseph Robinson ended his career in a home posting aboard the training ship HMS Excellent and was superannuated – that is retired due to age – in December 1850.  He applied for, and received, a pension and died in Tower Hamlets, Middlesex in January 1855, less than a year after the Admiralty officially gave up all hope for the men of the Franklin Expedition.   Did he talk about his lucky discharge, or was he just quietly thankful for it?  I’ve found no evidence. 


Postscript: After writing this up I found the late William Battersby had noted Robinson’s first name in a blog post dating from 2011.  I’m giving the link below in case anyone wishes to follow up on any of the other ‘survivors’ from the Franklin Expedition.


Glenn Stein, “The Arctic Medal 1818-55 to Members of the Antarctic Expedition of 1839-43”

George Back,  Narrative of an Expedition in HMS Terror, Undertaken with a View to Geographical Discovery on the Arctic Shores, in the Years 1836–37

Robert McCormick, Voyages of Discovery in the Arctic and Antarctic Seas, 2 vols

R. Potter, R. Koellner, P. Carney, Mary Williamson, (eds), May We Be Spared to Meet on Earth: Letters of the Lost Franklin Arctic Expedition

The mystery of the missing Erebus clerk‘ on There Stood No Friendly Finger-Post To Guide Us

Transcription of the muster book of HMS Erebus on

Update: Since writing this I’ve found a comment by Conner Nelson on Alison Freebairn’s original post, giving Robinson’s first name, and also his history of service on HMS Rainbow. I was genuinely unaware of this comment when I wrote the post, and will clearly need to be more careful to check ll coments in future!

Richard Wall: Proof from Greenwich

Before I begin, a quick note to say this posting schedule is not going to be kept up long term!  I started the blog to put up what I had learned about Richard Wall, and although I may make occasional other posts about the Franklin Expedition and related things, and intend to put up anything else I find out about Wall, this is the last in my initial posting marathon. 

My poking around in Richard Wall’s history was done from lockdown, and therefore entirely online.  The National Archives copying service finally reopening gave me a chance to access some material which had not yet been digitised. 

I therefore decided to splash out on ordering a copy of the Greenwich Hospital School records of Richard Wall the younger.  I hoped to see whether I was right in my hunch that the 1849 service record for his father, which was one of my first online finds, had been drawn up in connection with Richard the younger’s application for entry, and also whether Richard the younger had indeed joined the coastguard after leaving school. 

As it turned out the records didn’t help with the second question, as almost all the surviving records were about the application for entry, made by Hannah Wall on behalf of her son.  There was, however, further confirmation that the Richard Wall who sailed and died with Franklin was identical with the Richard Wall who had been on the 1829 Ross Expedition.  There was a scan of Hannah Wall’s application on behalf of her son, with a column to list the Royal Naval ships her boy’s father had served on.  Victory was listed at the top, with an explanatory note ‘Captain Ross Arctic Expedition’, then the two entries for Erebus followed.  The papers also included another copy of the same service check results I had seen before, with the same  ‘Victory | not found’ note, confirming that the check had been made due to Hannah Wall’s application for her son to be entered into the Greenwich Hospital School. 

Richard Wall’s service history. Copyright: The National Archives. ADM 73/370/52

That was all good to have, but the best part was something I had never expected to find, a letter supporting the application written to the Governor of Greenwich Hospital by none other than Wall’s old captain, Sir John Ross.  In the letter Ross stated outright that ‘Mr Richard Wall’ had been ‘a Petty Officer in my late voyage of discovery’ and went on to describe Wall as ‘one of the very best and most trustworthy men I had with me’.

Here then was clear cut proof.  I’d been building an elaborate case the two Richard Walls were the same man, and here was a letter from John Ross just stating it outright! The same statement also confirms that Steward Light had been right when he called Wall a Petty Officer, despite this not being stated in John Ross’ own official account.

Unlike his nephew James Ross (who was in the Arctic looking for the Franklin Expedition when Hannah Wall made her application to Greenwich Hospital School), John Ross lived in Scotland, and the letter was written from his home at Stranraer.  Hannah Wall, or someone acting on her behalf, must therefore have contacted Ross to ask for the recommendation.  In the letter Ross described Richard Wall jr as ‘a most promising youth’ .  How did he know?  Perhaps he did not really know anything about the younger Richard and simply wanted to do the Wall family a good turn. 

On the other hand, perhaps he had kept in touch.  In November 1849 John Ross wrote to the Admiralty about the ongoing Franklin Expedition search, and included a statement about ice conditions in Barrow Strait in 1832 which he said could be supported by ‘Serjeant Park of the E division of police, Robert Shreeve, of Lower Seymour-street and Thomas Abernethy’.   These were all veterans of the 1829 expedition.  Abernethy, the former second mate, had just got back from serving as ice master to James Ross on HMS Enterprise and would soon fill the same role for John Ross on his final, privately funded, Arctic voyage in the Felix so it is not surprising that Ross was apparently in contact with him.  However the other two men do not seem to have continued in the discovery service, nonetheless John Ross evidently had up to date information about them.  The 1851 census confirms that John Park, who had been a seaman on the Victory, was indeed a police sergeant, and though the address of former carpenter’s mate Robert Shreeve is given as Seymour Place rather than Lower Seymour Street in 1851 he could have moved the short distance between the two addresses. 

(Out of curiosity I followed Park and Shreeve up a little further.  Both men claimed their Arctic medals in 1857 and were still alive on the 1861 census.  Park retired from the police with a pension in 1858.  I haven’t found his death, but Shreeve died in 1864, and appears to have been buried in All Souls Cemetery, Kensal Green.)  

Regardless of whether John Ross had stayed in touch with the Wall family, Hannah Wall’s obtaining a letter of support from him suggests a determined woman, who knew what her family might be entitled to, and how to go about getting it. Greenwich Hospital School was a charity school, but it was also intended to train boys for the Navy, or if they were not admitted to the Navy, the Merchant Service. Boys admitted were supposed to be sons of navy sailors who had died while on naval service, or become incapable of serving due to wounds or long service, or whose fathers were actively in service on shipboard and whose mothers were dead, or whose fathers were actively in service on shipboard and the families were ‘numerous and in need’.  Richard Wall jr did not fall into any of these categories – three children was not a large family by Victorian standards and Hannah Wall would still have been collecting a regular allotment from her husband’s pay.  However the rules did allow the Governor to use discretion with boys who did not strictly qualify, perhaps John Ross’ letter, the public concern for the fate of the Franklin Expedition, or both, tipped the balance in young Richard’s favour.  The Principal of the school at this time was the Reverend George Fisher, who had himself been on two Arctic expeditions and would certainly have known Franklin. 

In 1849 there were in fact two schools at Greenwich, a Lower School and an Upper School, sharing a single site.  Boys admitted to the Upper School needed to be able to read, and a note in the papers records that as of August 1849 Richard Wall jr could not read.  He was therefore admitted into the Lower School, and another note records that by March 1850 he had learned to read, which allowed him to be admitted to the Upper School just before his twelfth birthday.  Unfortunately there seem to be no surviving records of his time in the Upper School.

Greenwich Hospital School Site, now the National Maritime Museum:

As the school was intended to prepare boys for the Navy conditions were Spartan and discipline strict, although the same was true for most boarding schools of the time.  In addition to general education the boys were taught swimming, music and some basic astronomy; they could also be instructed in trades such as sailmaking and carpentry.  Some were later selected for transfer to the attached Nautical School where they learned navigation, which could allow them to become naval Second Masters, and later ship’s Masters; the two Second Masters on the Franklin Expedition, Henry Collins and Gillies Macbean, had both been educated at Greenwich.  By 1849 some boys might also be selected as engineer apprentices.  As we have seen, Richard Wall jr did not become either a navigator or an engineer, but it is likely he learned his trade of sailmaking at the school. 

Richard Wall jr would have left the school by the time the carved memorial to the Franklin Expedition was dedicated in the Painted Hall at the Royal Hospital, Greenwich in 1858, but he was probably still living nearby, as were his brother William and mother Hannah.  Perhaps they went to see it, although Richard Wall’s name does not appear as only the commissioned officers were individually named.* Today the memorial has been moved to the nearby chapel and was recently restored.  The remains of one of the expedition members, perhaps Assistant Surgeon Henry Goodsir of the Erebus, lie beneath it.

Franklin Expedition Memorial: from Wikimedia Commons

*Update: Peter Carney has correctly pointed out that the memorial does include the names of four of the six warrant officers, namely the two boatswains and the two carpenters. The two engineers, also warrant officers, are not individually named.


Richard Wall and the 1829 Ross Expedition

Having looked into the later history of Wall’s family, the next step was to see how much more I could find out about his own story.  The records of the 1829 Ross expedition don’t have much to say about Richard Wall, but John Ross did give a summary of his previous career. 

                He served his apprenticeship of seven years to the sea in the Mary and Joseph, in the Madeira, Gibralter, and coal trade, and after his time was served he went on a voyage to Archangel; he was afterwards both in the East India and West India merchant service.  His father was a sailor, and after being twenty-three years in the Navy, retired as a pensioner.

Continue reading “Richard Wall and the 1829 Ross Expedition”

Following the Wall family

The evidence that the Richard Wall who died on the Franklin Expedition had already been on both the 1929 Ross Expedition and the 1830 Antarctica Expedition gave me a real interest in Wall and his family.  Clearly Wall was a tough man, who brought a great deal of experience to the Expedition.  I therefore set out to find out as much about the Walls as I could from online sources. As noted in my previous post, Richard and Hannah Wall had three children: Hannah, born in 1835, Richard born in 1838, and William James born in 1845 a few months after his father left England for the last time.  Hannah the elder died in January 1862. I was not able to trace the younger Hannah after 1851, she may have died or married and changed her surname. 

Continue reading “Following the Wall family”

Looking for Richard Wall

This blog is to share the results of my lockdown hobby looking into the history of Richard Wall, ship’s cook on HMS Erebus during Sir John Franklin’s tragic 1845 expedition. 

What started me off was Roderic Owen’s The Fate of Franklin saying Richard Wall was not only a veteran of the 1839 Antarctica Expedition, but had also been on John Ross’ privately funded 1829 Arctic Expedition, which survived an extraordinary four years in the Arctic despite being forced to abandon their ship, the Victory.  John Ross’ own account is available online, as is a parliamentary report on the expedition made after his return, and from these sources I was quickly able to learn that there was a Richard Wall on the 1829 Expedition, he was listed variously as harpooner and seaman, and he survived.  Was he indeed the same Wall who perished on the Franklin Expedition?  Certainly there was one veteran of the 1829 Ross expedition with Franklin, Thomas Blanky the Ice Master of HMS Terror, but Owen was the only writer I had seen claim there was a second.  If Owen was right that would make Wall one of the most experienced men on the expedition, and perhaps a more important man after the abandonment than his rank of cook would suggest.  Owen’s book doesn’t have footnotes, so I went looking for myself

Continue reading “Looking for Richard Wall”