The Mystery of the Missing Goodsir Organ

It was certainly the most eye-catching lead I’d ever stumbled onto.

Messrs C. and F. Hamilton, Organ Builders, including letter regarding a ‘really fine’ organ, removed ‘from Dr. Goodsir Danube Street’.”

This 1893 sentence sent me off down a dozen rabbit holes until I located Dr. Goodsir’s really fine organ, hiding in plain sight, in one of Edinburgh’s oldest churches – which is also one of its most popular tourist attractions.

The organ belonged to the Goodsirs of Anstruther Easter. Henry Duncan Spens Goodsir (1819-c.1848), a naturalist and surgeon, had sailed with Sir John Franklin’s doomed 1845 expedition to find a North-West Passage. 

Robert Anstruther Goodsir (1823-1895) travelled to the Arctic twice, hoping to find and rescue his brother. Both attempts were unsuccessful.

An image of organ pipes. The focus is on a shiny plaque fixed beneath them.

The plaque reads:

“This organ was presented to the Lodge Dramatic and Arts of Edinburgh No.757, in November 1893, by Robert Anstruther Goodsir MD, Artic (sic) explorer & traveller, who in March 1849 led a search party to the Artic regions in the ship ‘Advice’ in search of the Franklin Expedition”

There are a few problems with the wording on this plaque, but we’ll get to that later. So for now, let’s look at the history of the organ, and how it got to where it is today.

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A Franklin Expedition guide to Edinburgh

Detail of the monument to John Irving in Dean Cemetery

This Edinburgh guide is the fourth in an ongoing series of UK Franklin Expedition touring guides written in partnership with Logan Zachary of Illuminator dot blog.

Many of the men lost on the Franklin Expedition of 1845 – or who went in search of it – were from Scotland. Some had close ties to Edinburgh, the country’s capital city. They had been born there, had qualified in medicine there, lived there. Some of their papers are in archives there.

And Edinburgh boasts the only known burial place of a Franklin Expedition sailor outside the Arctic, and outside London.

Lieutenant John Irving of HMS Terror was born at 106 Princes Street, Edinburgh, in 1815. He died, along with 128 others, somewhere in the Canadian Arctic. But bones believed to be his were returned to Edinburgh in 1880, and reburied in the city in 1881.

Only two of Franklin’s men came home. One of them is in Dean Cemetery.

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