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RESOLUTE!
January 27, 2009 9:56 AM   Subscribe

It is the central, most eyecatching feature of the modern Oval Office. But for over a year, abandoned by a captain said to be harsh and venereal, it drifted slowly, its huge frame creaking, locked in ice, in the land of endless night.

In 1845, famed explorer Sir John Franklin set out in the Terror and Erebus to discover the Northwest Passage, thought to link the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans by a water route above Canada. Last seen by a whaling ship in Baffin Bay, the Franklin expedition disappeared into the Arctic wilderness.

Years passed and, despite the ample stores the expedition had laid in, concern grew. The British Admiralty launched a rescue mission in 1852, led by Captain Belcher, aboard the Resolute, Pioneer, Assistance, North Star and Intrepid. Captain Belcher, a scientist, circumnavigator, war hero, venereal wife-suer, and controversially well-loved or hated explorer, bottled some beer for this cruise which resulted in the biggest and most expensive ebay mistake ever made.

But back to the expedition. Belcher spent a year searching in vain for Franklin, but then ran across and rescued the bedraggled crew of the Investigator, another exploration ship which had become precariously locked in ice:

"[Investigator's Captain] McClure was walking on the ice with an officer, close to the ship, "[w]hen within about two hundred yards of us, this strange figure threw up his arms, and made gesticulations ressembling those used by Esquimaux, besides shouting, at the top of his voice, words which, from the wind and intense excitement of the moment, sounded like a wild screech; and this brought us both fairly to a stand-still. The stranger came quietly on, and we saw that his face was black as ebony, and really at the moment we might be pardoned for wondering whether he was a denizen of this or the other world, [...] as it was, we gallantly stood our ground, and had the skies fallen upon us, we could hardly have been more astonished than when the dark faced stranger called out, 'I'm Lieutenant Pim, late of the "Herald", and now in the "Resolute". Captain Kellett is in her at Dealy
Island!"'


The Investigator had left from the Pacific Ocean and been discovered by a ship from the Atlantic Ocean -- as tenuous and untraceable as it was, the Northwest Passage had been proven.

Abandoning the trapped Investigator, Belcher's squadron searched further for Franklin only to get locked into the ice as winter came. The squadron weathered a year in the ice -- a time of unbelievable hardship. The accounts of some Dutch explorers in the same situation during the same time period:

Here [Captain Barentz] became, in spite of his utmost efforts, gradually frozen up, and saw before him no alternative but that of passing the winter in that desolate region. Happily an abundance of driftwood supplied him with the means of building a house, and with the necessary fuel. The task of erecting a shelter was not, however, accomplished without immense labour, aggravated by the loss of the carpenter, who died at this critical moment. The party were attacked by the bears, who actually scaled the ship's side and compelled them to a close fight for their lives. They completed their hut by the middle of October; and then, provisions falling short, had to put themselves on allowance. The cold which soon after set in terrified even more than tortured them -- the ice was two inches thick on the walls and on the sides of their sleeping cots; and their clothes were white with frost as they sat by the fire, burning holes in their stockings without warming their feet. For three whole months they saw no sun; but their courage never flagged, and they made merry on Twelfth-night, as they would have done in their own country. When the spring at length came, and they looked for the means of return, they found their vessel was so jammed in by drift-ice that her escape was hopeless, and they were obliged to attempt a voyage of two thousand miles in the two open boats which offered their only chance. On the fourth day of the voyage the boats were too much injured to proceed, and had to be drawn up on a floating piece of ice for repair. Here, on this ice-raft poor Barentz breathed his last. He died calmly and bravely, with a chart of those perilous seas spread out before him, and his last words were directions as to the course which his companions had to steer. By the end of August the wreck of his party arrived at Kola, where they found their old comrade Ryp, who conveyed them to Amsterdam.

Belcher's situation was equally grave, and it must have been a shocking moment when the Breadalbane, a supply ship sent to provide more stores, arrived at his squadron only to be caught up between two ice sheets, crushed and sunk in the span of less than 15 minutes -- becoming the farthest-north known shipwreck.

After a tense argument with his captains, none of whom wanted to leave their otherwise-seaworthy vessels locked in the ice, Belcher resolved to abandon the four ice-locked ships and return to England post-haste.

Captain Kellett demanded and received clear written instructions that he was to abandon ship. Later, when Captain Belcher and his command were court-martialed for destroying British property, Kellett was acquitted and returned his sword with congratulations and acclamation -- but Belcher was returned his sword silently, with the implied censure of the Admiralty for losing valuable British property.

A year after abandoning the ships, an American whaler made a strange discovery.

The whaler, George Henry, Captain Buddington, hailing from New London, Connecticut, was beset by ice in Baffin Bay. On looking through his glass one morning, Captain Buddington saw a large ship fifteen or twenty miles away, working her way slowly toward him. For several days he watched her gradually approach, and on the seventh day, the mate, Mr. Quail, and three men were sent out to find out what she was.

After a hard day's journey over the ice, -- jumping from piece to piece, and pushing themselves along on isolated cakes, they were near enough to see that she was lying on her larboard side, firmly imbedded in the ice. They shouted lustily as soon as they got within hailing distance; but there was no answer. Not a soul was to be seen. For one moment, as they came alongside, the men faltered, with a superstitious feeling, and hesitated to go on board. A moment after, they had climbed over the broken ice, and stood on deck. Everything was stowed away in order -- spars hauled up and lashed to one side, boats piled together, hatches calked down. Over the helm, in letters of brass, was inscribed the motto, 'England expects every man to do his duty.' But there was no man to heed the warning.

The whalemen broke open the companionway, and descended into the cabin. All was silence and darkness. Groping their way to the table, they found matches and candles, and struck a light. There were decanters and glasses on the table, chairs and lounges standing around, books scattered about -- everything just as it had been last used. Looking curiously from one thing to another, wondering what this deserted ship might be, at last they came upon the log-book. It was indorsed, "Bark Resolute, 1st September 1853, to April, 1854."


Among other items they found -- tin playing cards, fashioned from cans, waiting for someone to finish the game.

The whalers repaired the still-seaworthy boat and a few arduous months later brought it back to Connecticut.

At this time America and Britain -- still licking their wounds from the wars -- had an uneasy peace. The British public was outraged that an American whaler could accomplish what their own captain couldn't, and the American public was overjoyed to take a British prize. In order to quell the popular feeling, Queen Victoria released all claim to the Resolute; and in turn, the American Congress purchased it from the whaler, had it refit it to perfection, and returned it to
the Queen as a token of goodwill.


The HMS Resolute never served again, and was broken up in 1878. But that wasn't the end of it.

Queen Victoria had the best timbers of the ship saved, and worked by master naval craftsman William Evenden into three desks -- one for the widow Franklin, one for Captain Buddington, and the largest -- and most famous -- for President Rutherford B. Hayes.

The Resolute Desk, intricately carved, was discovered by Jackie Kennedy in the Treaty Room of the White House and moved into the Oval Office. Various presidents had it slightly modified -- FDR had the desk raised to accommodate his wheelchair and a panel built in the front, and Reagan had it raised slightly. A picture, famous at the time, shows JFK Jr. peeking out through the panel while his father works.

And, at least today, President Obama uses the desk as well. In this now-famous picture you can just barely see the commemorative plaque built into the front of the desk, which reads:


H.M.S. "RESOLUTE" Forming part of the expedition sent in search of SIR JOHN FRANKLIN IN 1852, was abandoned in latitude 75 41' N. Longitude 101"22' W. on 15th May 1854. She was discovered and extricated in September 1855, in latitude 67 N. by Captain Buddington of the United States whaler "George Henry." The ship was purchased, fitted out and sent to England, as a gift to her Majesty Queen Victoria by the President and People of the United States, as a token of goodwill & friendship. This table was made from her timbers when she was broken up, and is presented by the QUEEN of GREAT BRITAIN & IRELAND TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, as a memorial of the courtesy and loving Kindness which dictated the offer of the gift of the "RESOLUTE."


As for Sir John Franklin, the explorer for whom the Belcher expedition had been searching? John Rae, an Arctic explorer with beautiful handwriting, ran across some Inuit hunters who spoke of trading with a crew of shipwrecked white men, showing artifacts of the expedition, and concluded:

From the mutilated state of many of the corpses and the contents of the kettles, it is evident that our wretched countrymen had been driven to the last dread alternative resource — cannibalism — as means of prolonging existence.

Lady Franklin went to her grave angrily fighting that notion; she is still famous today as the subject of 'Lady Franklin's Lament', a popular tune covered by artists including Sinead O'Connor.

Ironically, at the height of the Cold War in 1953, in order to help assert territorial claims, the Canadian government forcibly relocated many Inuit families from Northern Quebec to an airfield that had been established in 1947...named Resolute, Nunavut after HMS Resolute. The Inuit were very much out of their element, not being used to the wildlife, having no shelter, and having to deal with weeks of endless night and endless day. Nevertheless, like so many people over history warring with the elements in the most inhospitable of places, they perservered. Resolutely, one might say.
posted by felix (123 comments total) 364 users marked this as a favorite

 
The post contest was last month.
posted by bowline at 10:01 AM on January 27, 2009 [19 favorites]


An epic post.
posted by stbalbach at 10:01 AM on January 27, 2009


Wow. Incredible post.
posted by Rinku at 10:02 AM on January 27, 2009


My eyes are burning.
posted by rokusan at 10:03 AM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Can someone summarize?
posted by gyusan at 10:03 AM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Superb post, thank you for this.
posted by CRM114 at 10:04 AM on January 27, 2009


Wow. Amazing. Thank you. *speechless*
posted by jokeefe at 10:06 AM on January 27, 2009


Thank GOD for [more inside]. God, Goddess, fishes, Cthulhu, whomever.
posted by pineapple at 10:07 AM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Summarize? It's a history of the Oval Office desk. Along with various curling tendrils of event, song, image, and event.
posted by jokeefe at 10:07 AM on January 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


within about two hundred yards of us, this strange figure threw up his arms, and made gesticulations ressembling those used by Esquimaux, besides shouting, at the top of his voice, words which, from the wind and intense excitement of the moment, sounded like a wild screech; and this brought us both fairly to a stand-still. The stranger came quietly on, and we saw that his face was black as ebony, and really at the moment we might be pardoned for wondering whether he was a denizen of this or the other world,

Frankenstein?
posted by mannequito at 10:07 AM on January 27, 2009 [4 favorites]


Holy cow. Wonderful post! Wonderful. Thank you for compiling.

Bonus points for the 19th century whaling connection. I had NO idea the desk was from the Resolute, nor that a New London whaler was part of the rescue. I need to dig in to the links now, but the story was well told and crafted, so kudos for that. I'm sending this link to all my maritime-geek friends.
posted by Miko at 10:07 AM on January 27, 2009


For a second, I thought the post was going to be about this.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:08 AM on January 27, 2009


And, of course, a stunning entry into the recent field of Deskology, as pioneered on Metafilter.
posted by jokeefe at 10:10 AM on January 27, 2009 [23 favorites]


We are witnessing the pinnacle of deskology
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 10:11 AM on January 27, 2009 [10 favorites]


And, of course, this is another superb entry in the field of Deskology, as recently explored on Metafilter.
posted by jokeefe at 10:11 AM on January 27, 2009


Wow, that's quite a story for a desk. I had no idea, and I've been quite a fan of the whole Terror/Erebus story for a while.
posted by Artw at 10:12 AM on January 27, 2009


Looking at the image, trying to guess the "central, most eye-catching element" ... I would have said the presidential seal on the floor, but I guess the desk would be next.

For massive posts, I'd prefer to eliminate the long block quotes and just keep the links to a word or two. I won't click any of these links (not sure if that's a bad thing or not).

Great story, though. Thanks.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:12 AM on January 27, 2009


Naval history, a mysterious disappearance, presidential trivia, and rumors of cannibalism.

MARRY ME FELIX! We're soul-mates, I can tell.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:14 AM on January 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


Nice work felix, fascinating story!
posted by arcanecrowbar at 10:15 AM on January 27, 2009


Summary: Your desk sucks.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:15 AM on January 27, 2009 [13 favorites]


tl;dr
posted by MrBobaFett at 10:16 AM on January 27, 2009


That story was fascinating! Thanks for posting this!
posted by parilous at 10:16 AM on January 27, 2009


What, no link to the desk post and all it's ill-begotten children?

And thanks for this very detailed post about an item of furniture I thought was simply imposing and stoic.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:17 AM on January 27, 2009


Double.

(just kidding)
posted by m-a-s-o-n at 10:18 AM on January 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


Incredible story and post. Will return to site survivors after coffee, I promise.
posted by freebird at 10:19 AM on January 27, 2009


Wow. Incredible post.

I've been reading through some of the links--enjoyed the picture of little John, Jr. under the desk and sputtered in indignation at the judge's finding in the venereal wife-suing case--and even just a few of them would have made a *good* post, but you really went the extra mile.

I've favorited it to share with my family (my son likes history and my Mom is big on British naval history in particular).

Thank you!
posted by misha at 10:19 AM on January 27, 2009


Definitely a triumph for deskology. And it definitely makes my story about the time I didn't have any bus fare and had to walk to the mall on a rainy day seem somehow less heroic.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:20 AM on January 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


Also, I imagined the desk was first found as a whole item, as some arctic relic of a people's long lost to the advances of the ice age. Good thing there was more inside.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:20 AM on January 27, 2009


And now you know ... the desk of the story.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:20 AM on January 27, 2009 [8 favorites]


Bill Vollmann's extremely dark The Rifles contains a great deal on Franklin, and includes a first-person narrative of the author's experience in deliberately spending two weeks in an abandoned arctic campsite at midwinter. (Midwinter? Winter, anyway).

As a side effect of looking for that book link, I know know of the collaborative litblog Reading Vollmann, which interests me greatly.
posted by mwhybark at 10:22 AM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Great post...although slightly marred for me by that miserable film, National Treasure 2. Damn you Nicholas Cage!
posted by cazoo at 10:24 AM on January 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


er, now know.
posted by mwhybark at 10:27 AM on January 27, 2009


To my eye, the central most eye-catching feature is the hideous blue carpet with the presidential seal. The last time I saw blue carpet was in a van in the '70s. Maybe a big Frazetta mural on the wall would help tie it all together?
posted by doctor_negative at 10:32 AM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the history of my desk, from its first days as tree byproducts to its discovery in a flat box on a shelf in IKEA, isn't nearly as compelling, somehow.
posted by jokeefe at 10:33 AM on January 27, 2009 [5 favorites]


Awesome post! For those looking at the '44' photo and wondering where the plaque is, I made a new version by gamma correcting it and then adding some contrast and bringing up the saturation.
posted by jwells at 10:34 AM on January 27, 2009 [4 favorites]


Great story and great post!

Anyone who would like to read a fictional account of what happened to Sir John Franklin should check out Dan Simmons' "The Terror" from 2007, which really is a great mix of historical realism, gothic horror and mythology.
posted by gemmy at 10:35 AM on January 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


Sure you can read these mind numbing posts and links or you could just watch the movie.
posted by Gungho at 10:36 AM on January 27, 2009


Someone needs to forward this FPP to Obama. We may witness the first Presidential MeFi shoutout in history.
posted by scrump at 10:37 AM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Be it Hereby Resolved that This Day, the 27th of January in the Year 2009, is to be Proclaimed Hereafter "Felix's Wicked Long Desk Post Day".
posted by kuujjuarapik at 10:38 AM on January 27, 2009


"Can someone summarize?"
posted by jckll at 10:39 AM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


The Terror by Dan Simmons, is a fictionalized account of the Franklin expedition, if you're into that sort of thing.
posted by tommasz at 10:39 AM on January 27, 2009


Actually, when you wrote "most I catching feature" I thought this post was going to be about the carpet. (added bonuns: if you scroll down, there's a photo of what appears to be Nixon chewing out Kissinger.) Interestingly, it appears that W's carpet, designed by Laura, is a big hit with both Clinton and Obama, and there are no plans yet to replace it.
posted by Pastabagel at 10:43 AM on January 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


Great, great post. Well done!
will return later to further explore the links more fully
posted by geekyguy at 10:45 AM on January 27, 2009


the relocation of the inuit to resolute is an issue of personal significance to my family, and worthy of further mention.

The Long Exile (Review) which I haven't read yet, appears to tell the tale.

</derail>
posted by klanawa at 10:45 AM on January 27, 2009


Great post. (I admit that I read it only after seeing the many positive comments.)
posted by exhilaration at 10:46 AM on January 27, 2009


^^ "most eye catching feature" What the hell is wrong with me today???
posted by Pastabagel at 10:47 AM on January 27, 2009


Great post, though I hope you mean "venal" in that first bit, and not "venereal". (Though I believe that would describe its previous user, if not its previous captain...)
posted by mhoye at 10:51 AM on January 27, 2009


Just...wow. Thanks for compiling and sharing.
posted by VicNebulous at 10:56 AM on January 27, 2009


Nice job, but for future reference, you should always append "SLYT" to the title for these types of posts.
posted by zylocomotion at 10:58 AM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Astounding job on this FPP. Easily one of the best mefi posts ever. Timely, too.
posted by empath at 10:59 AM on January 27, 2009


Totally sweet post. Loved reading it.
posted by 3.2.3 at 11:00 AM on January 27, 2009


Sit on this for eleven months? Free iPod.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 11:01 AM on January 27, 2009


Thanks for altering that photo, jwells. I, too, was wondering where the plaque was.
posted by parilous at 11:01 AM on January 27, 2009


I usually think that the lengths of these epic posts outstrip their content, but this story deserved the space it was given. Good job!
posted by painquale at 11:01 AM on January 27, 2009


Wow.

♫♬ Ah, for just one time I would take the Northwest Passage
To find the hand of Franklin reaching for the Beaufort Sea;
Tracing one warm line through a land so wild and savage
And make a Northwest Passage to the sea ♫♬

posted by GuyZero at 11:02 AM on January 27, 2009 [4 favorites]


The Terror by Simons was frigg'n bleak, man. Bleak.
posted by tkchrist at 11:02 AM on January 27, 2009


Bit padded, but overall and excellent and rewarding book. If it had been 400 pages shorter it would be fucking amazing.
posted by Artw at 11:10 AM on January 27, 2009


The desk was featured as a key element in the deplorable Disney film National Treasure: Book of Secrets. It's a wonderful bit of history stuck in an otherwise un-wonderful movie.
posted by thanotopsis at 11:17 AM on January 27, 2009


tl:dr
posted by evilgenius at 11:21 AM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Great post--thank you!
posted by donovan at 11:26 AM on January 27, 2009


You know, tl:dr is not funny or clever. If it's really tl, then just dr it. You're not even original in the thread you're crapping. Or is the thread tl for you to r?
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 11:28 AM on January 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


Actually, when you wrote "most I catching feature" I thought this post was going to be about the carpet. (added bonuns: if you scroll down, there's a photo of what appears to be Nixon chewing out Kissinger.) Interestingly, it appears that W's carpet, designed by Laura, is a big hit with both Clinton and Obama, and there are no plans yet to replace it.

It really ties the room together.

I'm sorry
posted by theclaw at 11:28 AM on January 27, 2009 [4 favorites]


FDR used to hold press conferences at his Oval Office desk because of his disability, and initially started recording the sessions to ensure that reporters did not misquote him. Nixon attracted so much flak for his secret bugging habits that it comes as something of a shock to learn that the first chief executive to ignore moral qualms about secret taping was FDR, the revered champion of the New Deal, victor in the war against Adolf Hitler and a wheelchair-bound polio victim who successfully concealed his disability until the end of his widely admired presidency. It was in the late summer of 1940 that an inventor named J. Ripley Kiel started drilling holes in Roosevelt's desk to accommodate the wires that led from a microphone hidden in a lamp to an early version of a tape recorder concealed in a room below. -- (source)
posted by netbros at 11:29 AM on January 27, 2009


Great post, though I hope you mean "venal" in that first bit, and not "venereal". (Though I believe that would describe its previous user, if not its previous captain...)

If you read the link, you'll see that he does indeed mean venereal.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:30 AM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Thanks for all the positive comments. The initial idea from the post came from the Boston Herald Big Picture pic referenced in the post -- I saw a glimmer of the plaque under the notebook and was quickly taken far afield.

Although Google Books' links and navigation are terrible, I'd like to note that it's an inconceivably great resource -- several of the quoted items above are direct links into books you would be hard pressed to find in even a well-stocked regional library.

Fans of 1800s British naval lore should, of course, purchase all of the works of Patrick O'Brian.
posted by felix at 11:43 AM on January 27, 2009


Nevertheless, like so many people over history warring with the elements in the most inhospitable of places, they perservered. Resolutely, one might say.

Did they persevere or endure?
posted by Pollomacho at 11:48 AM on January 27, 2009


Imagine all the gum stuck under it! Although, Bush probably ate some.
posted by orme at 11:54 AM on January 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


This post is better than some of papers I wrote in freshman english and that is a sad thing.
posted by govtdrone at 11:56 AM on January 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


Man, my desk SUCKS!
posted by not_on_display at 12:13 PM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Shit, Guyzero beat me to the Stan Rogers quote.

Epic Post, felix.
posted by benzenedream at 12:15 PM on January 27, 2009



The initial idea from the post came from the Boston Herald Big Picture pic referenced in the post -


It's The Boston Globe, not the Murdoch owned rag. Credit where credit is due.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 12:16 PM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


In case you missed the subtle link in Pollomacho's question mark above, here's a great mefi post on Sir Shackleton and the Endurance, and a similar situation.
posted by felix at 12:16 PM on January 27, 2009


Paul Harvey voice: And now you know... the REST... of the story.
posted by wastelands at 12:18 PM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wow. This makes up for the Updike rush job just below. Excellent post.
posted by dawson at 12:18 PM on January 27, 2009


(oops on the Globe...sorry Globe!)
posted by felix at 12:18 PM on January 27, 2009


Sir John Franklin was one of the world's most stupendous blundering idiots. He took idiocy out of its normal small-time self-defeating realm and carried it to truly inspired new heights. Or depths.

I feel honor bound to mention that whenever Sir John "Bloody Stupid" Franklin is mentioned.

Also, no way did Peary reach the Pole.
posted by rusty at 12:20 PM on January 27, 2009


Amazing post, thanks a lot!
posted by Talanvor at 12:23 PM on January 27, 2009


Wow.

It's not often that I leave MetaFilter feeling smarter but this is one of those occassions.
posted by mazola at 12:29 PM on January 27, 2009


occassions

Ha ha!
posted by orme at 12:37 PM on January 27, 2009


Felix is right about the Patrick O'Brian novels, even for people who aren't fans of 1800s British naval lore. However, don't get the whole collection to which he linked: apparently it's chock-full of typos. Buy the books individually. Seriously. It's the one 20-volume collection that is absolutely worth reading.
posted by nushustu at 1:06 PM on January 27, 2009


gyfb

seriously, though, neat post
posted by heathkit at 1:14 PM on January 27, 2009


This is a great addition to MetaFilter deskology and the Terror and National Treasure 2 and tl;dr and my desk sucks and now you know the rest of the story!

...and now we wait for the favorites to pour in.
posted by team lowkey at 1:50 PM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


How different the story would be if the intrepid sailors had waited a couple of centuries for global warming and climate change to open the northwest passage year 'round. According to a National Geographic feature, commercial shipping is already utilizing the passage in the warmer months.
posted by Cranberry at 1:55 PM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Very deskriptive.
posted by turgid dahlia at 2:33 PM on January 27, 2009


Sir John Franklin was one of the world's most stupendous blundering idiots. He took idiocy out of its normal small-time self-defeating realm and carried it to truly inspired new heights. Or depths.


I think you're being a bit harsh on the guy. He went into his task with incomplete knowledge of the terrain while trusting in what was the best technology available at the time. He was kind of like the astronaut of his day, in the sense that not all of them come back. Sure, he probably shouldn't have taken a left at Prince of Wales Island, but hindsight is 20/20 and he would have had no idea of the consequences. Aside from that turn, he was probably dead before the really horrible decisions were made.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 2:45 PM on January 27, 2009


I was just reading about Franklin's failed voyage, because I remember reading how woefully under prepared they were, they brought their full officers tea set with them, etc.

Us (ant)artic-o-philes should hang out more often.
posted by mrzarquon at 3:09 PM on January 27, 2009


Awesome post.
Lady Jane Franklin who you've mentioned in passing was also pretty notable in her own right, as an explorer, political activist and diarist. From the Canadian dictionary of biography link:
Lady Franklin took a leading part in the organization of the searching expeditions. Between 1850 and 1857 she outfitted five ships wholly or mainly at her own expense, and she inspired substantial contributions to her cause from other persons and from other nations. This work involved her with many leading personalities of her time and she became as learned in Arctic geography as any authority of the day. By returning again and again to the orders Admiralty had given her husband and to her knowledge of his invincible sense of duty, she was, as events proved, in general more nearly correct about his route and where his ships should be sought than anyone else except, perhaps, Dr Richard King..
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 3:17 PM on January 27, 2009


I'm naming my firstborn Breadalbane. Breadalbane, Breadalbane, Brea-dal-bane!
posted by steef at 3:18 PM on January 27, 2009


very thoughtful...
posted by christhelongtimelurker at 4:11 PM on January 27, 2009


excellent post!
posted by rmd1023 at 4:12 PM on January 27, 2009


Great fucking post.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:13 PM on January 27, 2009


♫♬ Ah, for just one time I would take the Northwest Passage
To find the hand of Franklin reaching for the Beaufort Sea;
Tracing one warm line through a land so wild and savage
And make a Northwest Passage to the sea ♫♬


The whole video used to be up on line, but it seems to be gone now. Those of you who haven't heard the whole song should listen to it here. It really is both lyrically and musically a gem.
posted by Mental Wimp at 4:14 PM on January 27, 2009


Superb job: I really love history!
posted by Upon Further Review at 4:24 PM on January 27, 2009


[Most Inside Ever.]

Love this stuff. I've read quite a few books on Arctic and Antarctic exploration. I don't know why it fascinates me so.
posted by Devils Rancher at 4:27 PM on January 27, 2009


The HMS Resolute never served again, and was broken up in 1878. But that wasn't the end of it.

A incredibly minor point but:
"The Resolute served in the Royal Navy for twenty-three years until she was decommissioned. No longer in service, she was sent to the breakers dock for salvage."

And WP says:
"HMS Resolute served in the Royal Navy through the American Civil War and was retired and broken up in 1879."
posted by markr at 4:35 PM on January 27, 2009


Another fascinating read on a similar subject is The Ice Master: The Doomed 1913 Voyage of the Karluk. It also includes lots of freezing, dying, crazy-assed surviving and amazing rescues. Although unfortunately, no desks resulted from that particular voyage.
posted by Devils Rancher at 4:45 PM on January 27, 2009


(Ant)arctic-o-philes, represent! I can't believe I didn't know the Lord Franklin story till now. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
posted by GrammarMoses at 4:54 PM on January 27, 2009


The Terror by Dan Simmons, is a fictionalized account of the Franklin expedition, if you're into that sort of thing.

My goodness what amazing timing. I am right in the middle of reading The Terror right now, and it was only just this afternoon it occurred to me that the novel might be based on real events. It's been absolutely enthralling. Sunday I had to get the world almanac out on the floor so I could see where they were attempting to go. I had never given any thought to the famed Northwest Passage, but looking at how such a route would compare to sailing all the way around the horn of Africa or around the tip of South of America, you can see why the idea held such a fascination.

To think of all the men who were lost and all the money that was spent trying to sail through the ice. What has made Dan Simmon's novel so outstanding to me is the vivid way he writes about ice and cold: How the ice interacts with the ships and what it feels like to go out in layers of woolen clothes to work in conditions of 70 below freezing. What it looks like, what it feels like, what it sounds like. This would be an especially great read in summer.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 4:54 PM on January 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


The Vancouver Maritime Museum claims that HMS Resolute never returned to service. There could also be different distinctions of 'service' -- I suspect a gift to Queen Victoria would never be seriously put at risk at sea. I'll call the Royal Navy tomorrow.
posted by felix at 5:04 PM on January 27, 2009


There was also a pretty groovy Nova episode. (not sure if it was one of the ones cribbed off of Horizon)
posted by Artw at 5:10 PM on January 27, 2009


Ah, here we go.
posted by Artw at 5:17 PM on January 27, 2009


working link
posted by Artw at 5:17 PM on January 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


(looking down at all of this and thinking "wow, I'd totally die down there" is my favorite part of any Atlantic flight)
posted by Artw at 5:18 PM on January 27, 2009


kuujjuarapik: If Franklin had led one expedition, I'd agree with you. But he made the same mistakes repeatedly, out of blind arrogance and an immovable sense of cultural superiority. He led fiasco after fiasco and never changed or adapted a bit. The first time, anyone could have screwed up. But by the last one, he was really pushing blinkered stupidity and incompetence to its utmost limits.
posted by rusty at 5:54 PM on January 27, 2009


I have both favorited and flagged the hell out of this, and I'm only one of a cacophony of voices here to congratulate you on this post, felix, but goddamn this is an excellent read.

The only possible reason this hasn't been sidebarred must be that the mods are just way too busy with site cleanup right now. Because this is one of the best things I've ever read on Mefi.
posted by middleclasstool at 6:13 PM on January 27, 2009


Eh? This time they had superships! and canned food! It couldn't fail! (unless they got pinned down at the wrong end of a never-ending ice flow)
posted by Artw at 6:14 PM on January 27, 2009


href="http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/28879135/">

Stuck in the ice...Today...Much further south.
posted by Jumpin Jack Flash at 6:50 PM on January 27, 2009


Artw - Thank you, thank you, thank you, and thank you for that Nova episode link. I saw it was on a week or two ago and wanted to record it. Unfortunately our PBS station went down when it aired. I've been looking for it ever since and somehow missed it on YouTube.

Also, fantastic post! I'm becoming a bigger and bigger fan of (ant)arctic exploration and MeFi is certainly feeding that interest lately.
posted by bristolcat at 7:11 PM on January 27, 2009


Catching up on my evening reading, let me also praise the quality of this post. The [more inside] should be narrated by James Burke.
posted by ceribus peribus at 7:24 PM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Damn it. I wasn't going near this post at work, and now it's time for bed. Shit. Thanks everyone for reminding me to read The Terror by Dan Simmons.

Has anybody mentioned Shackleton yet? What about Shackleton?

Oh yeah, and The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard. Best British guys freezing to death book. Ever.

Great post.
posted by marxchivist at 8:06 PM on January 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


Seconding Dan Simmons' The Terror, a really interesting, if brutal, fictional account of the John Franklin Expedition. It's one of the best books I read last year.

And if it hasn't been said enough (and really, how could it?), that is a goddamn epic post, doubly impressive being a somewhat obscure and unknown subject. Kudos to you, felix, you should write a book. No, really.
posted by zardoz at 8:27 PM on January 27, 2009


WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU!!! PDF warning on the last link PLEASE!!
posted by odinsdream at 8:40 PM on January 27, 2009


Also highly recommended for Arctic and Antarctic exploration-philes is Andrea Barret's Voyage of the Narwhal, which I just spent a fruitless half hour searching for in my bookshelves. I have a horrible feeling I lent it to somebody, and now I'm on fire to read it again...
posted by jokeefe at 9:55 PM on January 27, 2009


Lady Franklin's Revenge is an exhaustively researched account of Jane Franklin's remarkable life, pulling no punches about her arrogance. It is a great companion book to those reading the Terror. I love reading about the arctic but prefer to experience winter indoors personally (it is only -13 right now but I am too wimpy to nip out for something I need). My mind boggles at how those men survived as long as they did.
posted by saucysault at 3:53 AM on January 28, 2009


Oh yeah, and The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard. Best British guys freezing to death book. Ever.


Oh, so bookmarked!
posted by Devils Rancher at 4:42 AM on January 28, 2009


It turns out there's no real good contact information I can find for the Royal Navy historian. There appears to be a large national archive in Kew which might have info about what happened to Resolute after it was returned to Britain. Their web interface is not ideal, but I'll update here if I find anything within the month.
posted by felix at 6:33 AM on January 28, 2009


The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard. Best British guys freezing to death book. Ever.
Seconded. The Moby-Dick of Antarctic exploration - but true.
posted by GrammarMoses at 11:27 AM on January 28, 2009


Unfortunately our PBS station went down when it aired.

In rough, uncharted seas, with all hands lost.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:44 PM on January 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


If you think that's good, you should hear the one about the pencil holder.
posted by starman at 1:46 PM on January 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


I just hope Lex Luthor doesn't give the president a commemorative piece of his home planet.
posted by Artw at 1:59 PM on January 28, 2009


Waxy.org
posted by jckll at 2:31 PM on January 28, 2009


Epic. Faved.
posted by madh at 3:41 PM on January 30, 2009


I feel proud that America finally has a president who could read and comprehend this entire post.
posted by chuckdarwin at 1:42 AM on February 3, 2009


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