From the first traces discovered on Cape Riley in 1850, the RUSI Museum in Whitehall, London, laid a strong claim to being the world’s premier museum of Franklin relics. Even the trove brought back by McClintock was first exhibited there before travelling to Greenwich.
In the 1960s, however, this august museum was kicked out of its home at the Banqueting Hall, and its historical treasures dispersed throughout the world. Tracing what was lost and where everything went is the work of many small corners of history, not just the Franklin Expedition’s. In general it is the work of Jacqui Grainger, the current librarian in charge of the still-existing RUSI Library, whose knowledge has been invaluable in mining this seam of Frankliniana.
These document records from the Treasury department show a small window into the preparation for the dispersal of that collection – including some contemporary editorials of horrified public reaction. May they be of use to Franklin Expedition hunters on the track of where everything went.
All images from The National Archives at Kew.
The following appears to be the RUSI Museum’s own recommendations of where exhibits should go to. All Franklin relics are designated class “A”.
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Conversely, as if to reply, the following appears to be the National Maritime Museum’s ranking of which RUSI exhibits they would like most, classed in groups A, B & C.
All Franklin relics appear as a single entry, in List B. (And thus did the Beechey Island Anvil end up in Calgary.)
Three additional editorials:
An internal government document detailing some of the museum’s demise.
8 thoughts on “Disposal records of the RUSI Museum”
Seeing your photo of the front of the dossier was a thrilling moment. It is like the Victory Point Record in that it alludes to plans, but we have no record of the subsequent actions. Unfortuately, the dispersal of RUSI artifacts is not actually documented in this file, just the plans. I wonder if there wasn’t another folder that detailed where each item went and what was paid for it.
I sounds like the RUSI must have had premises other than the Banqueting Hall in which things were displayed or just stored, for example the aircraft, huge pieces of ships, anchors, etc. Note II hints that there were other things that were not displayed. If Schwatka’s double sea chest lid (as I think it must have been), carrying the initials of two Franklin seamen in copper tacks was received by RUSI, it was a Note II object stored in another facility.
I will now leave this message in the provided metal tube and replace the stones.
Wonderful post, Logan! You’ve inspired me to go back and put up a post I’d planned back in 2018 on the RUSI materials — it’s thrilling to see that the Anvil Block is here on this list! https://visionsnorth.blogspot.com/2020/04/eric-harvie-and-franklin-relics.html
[…] at RUSI, he pointed me to a great guest post by Logan Zachary on Alison Freebairn’s blog on the dispersal of items from RUSI. At that point, I was still confused, but then @Flitcraft following the clues found Balfour’s […]
“Seeing your photo of the front of the dossier was a thrilling moment. It is like the Victory Point Record in that it alludes to plans, but we have no record of the subsequent actions. Unfortuately, the dispersal of RUSI artifacts is not actually documented in this file, just the plans.”
This is exactly right, Randall – that is exactly how I felt as well. I sat down with that folder thinking I had hit the jackpot. Instead it’s another marker along the path. Like a TV series that keeps ending on another cliffhanger instead of resolving the plot.
“I will now leave this message in the provided metal tube and replace the stones.”
Thank you for this: it makes me so happy!
Logan – I hope you won’t mind me adding a comment but he history of the museum and its collections is the focus of a research project I am embarking on in collaboration with the University of Westminster and funded by Techne AHRC. In time, I will be able to share much more with the history of collecting, museums and imperial history communities and answer some of your questions. Best wishes, Jacqui, Librarian, RUSI
I have just discovered that notices from this blog have been filed away as junk mail. It might be wise to inform new members of that possibility.
Thank you for the heads-up, Randall.