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.
Dean Cemetery – last resting place of a Franklin sailor, and a Franklin searcher
The bones that lie under the stunning Celtic cross monument near Dean Cemetery’s western gate were found by Franklin searcher Frederick Schwatka in 1879. Animals had disturbed the grave at some point, and the site was a jumble of scattered relics and tattered cloth.
But beside the grave was a medal. It had been presented as a prize in mathematics to John Irving.
The remains were brought first to Glasgow, on an Anchor Line steamer, and from there to Edinburgh. The bones were reburied in Dean Cemetery on 7th January 1881 with full honours.
Writing in Altas Obscura, researcher DJ Holzhueter notes that “Irving’s grave is marked with a tall Celtic cross with his name, an epitaph recalling the story of his death and recovery of his remains, and a Bible verse.
An imagined funeral
“Below the verse is a carving of the math medal identifying Irving’s body, an etching of an imagined funeral in the Arctic, and a stack of rocks symbolizing the stone grave where Irving’s body was found.”
To read a detailed post about one of the monument’s mysteries, and see more photos, please visit The Medallion on Irving’s Tombstone by Logan Zachary on illuminator dot blog.
The cemetery also has strong connections to Henry Duncan Spens Goodsir – Harry – of HMS Erebus. Three of Harry’s four brothers are buried in Dean. But only two of them are named on the headstones.
Harry’s eldest brother John Goodsir (1814 -1867) was an anatomist – the man who made the Edinburgh Medical School into one of the best in 19th Century Europe.
He died young following a progressive disease, and is buried next to his very close friend Edward Forbes, a Manx naturalist (Macintyre et al, 2021). Edward predeceased John in 1854, aged 39.
Edward Forbes was close to all the Goodsirs. He drew a sketch of Harry just before he left with the Erebus – an image that was forgotten until rediscovered by Allison Lane in 2018.
And he helped Robert Anstruther Goodsir publish his first book, Robert noting Forbes’ “valuable guidance of my doubtful and wavering steps through the mysteries of ‘the Press’.”
After Forbes’ death, John Goodsir moved into his home, South Cottage in Wardie, then on the outskirts of Edinburgh. And there he died in 1867, with sister Jane Ross Goodsir (1817-1893) and brother Joseph Taylor Goodsir (1815-1893) by his side.
Joseph, a former Church of Scotland minister and religious scholar, is buried in the same lair as elder brother John. Poor Joseph suffered from serious mental health challenges for much of his life, and unfortunately died in the Royal Edinburgh Asylum.
But Joseph’s name and dates are not recorded on John’s monument. And, so far, nothing has yet come to light to explain why.
At this point, we hit something of a bump on the road. So far, these graves have been right on one of the paths. But the next one is not.
Franklin searcher Robert Anstruther Goodsir – younger brother of Harry, John and Joseph – is also buried here. But paying your respects is not as easy as it once was (see the Warning at the end of this section).
Robert made two voyages into the Arctic in search of Harry, and was the first person to discover the three Franklin Expedition graves on Beechey Island.
He wrote one book about his Franklin search experiences – An Arctic Voyage to Baffin’s Bay and Lancaster Sound in Search of Friends with Sir John Franklin – which was published in 1850.
His headstone is in a wide grassy area just up from the house. He is a few rows behind the striking monument in memory of pioneering photographer and artist David Octavius Hill (look for the hottie with the blue-green coiff).
Warning: The cemetery’s policies seem to have changed since the pandemic. Some visitors are now being told to keep off the grass – which unfortunately limits access to Robert’s grave.
The Dean Cemetery Trust has privately owned and operated the cemetery since its inception. They have done a great job of preserving the graveyard as it was always meant to be used and appreciated. Nobody questions the right of the Trust to set its own rules and regulations.
However, visitors to the cemetery, who visit to leave flowers or just to pay their sincere respects, should expect clear signage in the first instance.
And if visitors unknowingly step out of line, it is hoped that they will have any regulations explained to them with respect and courtesy, as befitting anyone visiting a place of rest such as Dean Cemetery.
106 Princes Street – birthplace of Lt John Irving of HMS Terror
On February 8th 1815, when John Irving was born at 106 Princes Street, it was unrecognisable from the run-down thoroughfare visitors see today.
The lush Princes Street Gardens did not exist. The space they now occupy was the Nor’ Loch, a stagnant human-made body of water that seemed to be mostly sewage and rubbish.
The street was never intended to be the focal point of the city – that honour went to the elegant George Street, parallel to it. And it didn’t take long for Princes Street – envisaged as a purely residential thoroughfare – to be commercialised.
“A terrace of palaces”
Robert Louis Stevenson had described it as “a terrace of palaces” (McKean, 1992). But a century later many of the original buildings had been replaced with utilitarian concrete boxes, prompting historian Moray McLaren to condemn it as “chaotically tasteless” (Henderson, 2015).
The street’s fortunes have not improved. Even before the pandemic, retailers were deserting the area in droves, tempted by purpose-built malls nearby.
In Lost Edinburgh (Birlinn, 2008), local historian Hamish Coghill notes that the original dwellings of Princes Street were “fairly plain, stone built, three-storey houses”.
The present day building may have lost some of its height, but at least it endures.
21 Lothian Street – home to the Goodsir brothers and other animals
Surviving accounts of conditions inside the Goodsir-Forbes apartment at 21 Lothian Street might have raised some eyebrows at the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
(The SSPCA was founded in 1839 – the same year that the Goodsirs moved in. I’m not saying that there’s a connection, but you have to wonder.)
All tall men
Professor John Goodsir’s biographer Henry Lonsdale remembered that the rooms were small. But they nevertheless managed to accommodate “two or three brothers Goodsir, Edward Forbes, George E. Day – all very tall men, and also their visitors, and a housekeeper or cook, and two lads.”
However, “Man was not the sole occupant. Other living things – biped, quadruped, manuped and nulliped – had their share in the fortunes of the household. ‘Jacko’ the monkey, ‘Coco’ the tortoise, ‘Caesar’ the dog, ‘Doodle’ the cat… the birds were caged, the great eagle stood Prometheus-like on his Caucasus.”
Jacko the monkey
Whatever they were paying the housekeeper, it wasn’t enough. In 1904, Sir William Mitchell Banks recounted a story he had heard from John Goodsir decades earlier.
Just before the [dinner guests arrived], Goodsir thought he would look into the kitchen to see what the old housekeeper was about. ‘To my horror,’ he said, ‘there I found Jacko the monkey sitting in the potato-pot enveloped in steam’.”
21 Lothian Street does not exist any more: it was demolished decades ago to make way for the expansion of the National Museum of Scotland.
The building boasts a plaque marking Charles Darwin’s time at No.11. One day, I’d like to see a similar memorial to the chaotic but productive time the Goodsirs, Forbes and Day spent at No.21.
National Museum of Scotland
Of course I’m going to point out that the Museum of Scotland has a John Rae section. They have Rae’s Franklin relics on display, alongside other items from the man’s life and travels.
These relics were collected in 1854, from Inuit around Repulse Bay and Pelly Bay. They were “said to have been found with the part of Sir John Franklin’s party who starved to the west of Back’s River in 1850.”
While most of the relics were distributed to various people and institutions, Rae kept a handful for himself. He wasn’t shy about showing them off in company, as this October 1856 news story in the Inverness Courier demonstrates.
The scene is the Caledonian Hotel in Fort William, Scotland, at a dinner hosted by the Lochaber Agricultural Society.
After Rae’s death, they passed to his wife, Kate. She in turn donated them to Rae’s alma mater, the University of Edinburgh. From there, they made their way to what is now the National Museum of Scotland.
The relics were loaned by the University to the Royal Scottish Geographical Society for their Commemoration of the Franklin Expedition in 1895.
These relics are in just one small display area of a huge museum that’s full of wonders. But the staff are lovely and helpful – just ask them where to find John Rae. And If you visit, please give yourself enough time to appreciate the vast scope of the exhibits.
At the time of writing, the Museum is hosting an incredible exhibition called Anatomy: A Matter of Life and Death until the end of October 2022. This brings together collections and relics from centuries of anatomical study, with a focus on Edinburgh’s medical history from the Enlightenment to the darkest days of Burke and Hare.
The Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh and Surgeons’ Hall Museums
Three of the surgeons/assistant surgeons on the Franklin Expedition sat their exams here, and became Licentiates of the Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh: Harry Goodsir (1840), Alexander M’Donald (1838), and John Smart Peddie (1836) qualified here.
John Rae, traveller and Franklin searcher extraordinaire, qualified here in 1833, as did Peter Cormack Sutherland, surgeon of the Sophia during the 1850-51 Franklin search (1847).
Other Licentiates include John Stuart, the enfant terrible who served as assistant surgeon/3rd mate on William Penny’s other ship, the Lady Franklin, in 1850-51, and qualified in 1852.
Today, Surgeons’ Hall Museums is one of the most popular visitor attractions in Edinburgh – although it’s not for the squeamish.
It’s one of the oldest museums in Scotland. It has grown from its beginnings in 1699, as a collection of “natural and artificial curiosities”, into to one of the largest and most historic pathology collections in the United Kingdom.
And the Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh library and archive are treasure troves covering more than 500 years of the history of medicine in Scotland.
Three Goodsirs, one museum
Harry’s eldest brother John Goodsir served as conservator of the Surgeons’ Hall Museum between 1841 and 1843. Harry took over from him and worked in this capacity until securing his place on the Franklin Expedition in 1845.
When Harry left for the Arctic, the youngest Goodsir brother – Archie – stepped in for a few months until a full-time successor could be found.
And a relic intimately connected to Harry and Archie is now on display there.
The hair strands are from 11 members of the family, including Dr. John Goodsir (1782-1848) and his wife Elizabeth (Betsy) Dunbar Goodsir (1785-1841), Harry (1819-c.1848) and Archie (1826-1849), and baby sister Agnes Johnstone Goodsir who was born in 1821 and only lived for one year (Tracy, 2021).
Another Goodsir connection in the museum is Only An Old Chair. This chair belonged to the pioneering doctor and naturalist John Hunter. It was bought by John Goodsir, passed to brother Joseph after John’s death, and was eventually donated by Robert Anstruther Goodsir to the University of Edinburgh in 1883, its Tercentenary year.
Robert wrote a wildly odd book about this chair the following year. And because he’s Robert, it was initially published under the pseudonym “D.R.A.G.M.”.
There’s another striking Goodsir relic in the building – but it’s not inside the museums. You can find it outside the bathrooms on the lower floor.
This is a cast of a body partially dissected by John Goodsir circa 1845, when he was Professor of Anatomy at the University of Edinburgh, and one of his younger brothers was sailing north on HMS Erebus. The object is fibreglass and is believed to be a comparatively modern version cast from the original, which was created in plaster.
Frozen in time
Nobody seems to know who the man was, but he has been frozen in time in a similar position as Christ in Michaelangelo’s Pietà.
Medical historian Ruth Richardson, writing in The Lancet in 2011, said: “[John] Goodsir was an unusual anatomist, being also an artist, and a man who thought about humanity.
“He had an interest in the proportions of the human body and their relation to musical intervals, in human dignity, and in the immaterial principle that animates the human.
“His work on casting this body was not simply for the creation of a ‘scientific’ specimen, the entire body was cast, legs, feet with slight bunions, working hands, weary head.
“This imperfect human body was cast as the image of God on Earth, and placed in the invisible arms of Mary.”
You can search RSCEd’s digitised collections, and find contact details for the wonderful archive and library team, here.
The Anatomical Museum
The Anatomical Museum is currently closed to the public, but I hope that won’t always be the case.
The collections and the building itself are used for teaching, and there is a legal requirement for a licensed teacher of anatomy to be present whenever the public are admitted. This is due to the sensitive nature of the collections.
Three centuries of teaching
The collection boasts more than 12,000 specimens, instruments and art works, all spanning three centuries of anatomical teaching at Edinburgh University. As of August 2022, these are currently being re-catalogued.
If you’re not able to visit at the time of reading, the museum runs a relentlessly entertaining and informative Twitter account – @TeviotPlace. I urge you to follow them.
If you search their feed, you can find images of life masks of Sir John Franklin and Sir Old John Ross among other treasures.
National Library of Scotland
With 34 million items to choose from, you will never get bored at the National Library of Scotland.
This beautiful library is on Edinburgh’s George IV Bridge, which links the Royal Mile to the university district and the Meadows. Other points of interest along this route include the National Museum of Scotland (covered above) and Greyfriars’ Kirk (to follow).
There are two Reading Rooms available – General, and Special Collections. Both are accessible, peaceful, and comfortable places to study. And the staff are superb: friendly, helpful, and very knowledgable.
Not everyone can visit Edinburgh, and this is where the NLS truly provides an excellent service. Membership is free and available to everyone worldwide. Its Digital Gallery, Maps site and Data Foundry are open to all.
But if you are based in Scotland, your membership also includes a dazzling array of eResources, giving students and researchers access to more than a hundred online resources, the vast majority of which would otherwise be paywalled.
They have a wealth of rare books and articles related to the Franklin Expedition and Arctic/Antarctic exploration in general.
My personal favourite part is the Sir James Wordie collection – Polar explorer Jock Wordie, of the Endurance, of the Scott Polar Research Institute, who was a friend of RJ Cyriax and collaborated frequently with him.
There are some of Robert Anstruther Goodsir’s papers here – shelfmark MS.170. These include a blistering takedown of Robert Louis Stevenson over his short story The Body Snatcher, which Robert felt was an unfair attack on anatomist Robert Knox.
Greyfriars Kirk – burial place of Sir William Baillie Hamilton, and the location of the Goodsir family organ
The Franklin Expedition is synonymous with Sir John Barrow Bart, 2nd Secretary of the Admiralty, who spent decades championing Arctic and other explorations – with wildly unpredictable consequences.
But Barrow officially stepped down on 28th April 1845 – nearly a month before Erebus and Terror sailed from Greenhithe.
And it was William Alexander Baillie Hamilton (1803-1881) who took over.
Baillie Hamilton was at the helm for the next ten years. This was a tumultuous time, in which he not only had to decide what (if any) expeditions should be sent after Sir John Franklin, but also deal with the chaotic aftermath of failed search after failed search.
Lady Jane Franklin and others were infuriated by the Admiralty’s decisions or lack thereof. And no amount of heroic-looking paintings by Stephen Pearce could put a spin on that.
He died in Portree, on the Isle of Skye, on 11 October 1881. But his remains were buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard. He rests there with his wife Harriet, but it’s not clear exactly where.
Their headstone has been displaced. It may once have been on the wall it now rests on, or it may have been elsewhere.
Inside the Kirk itself, you can see an organ that once belonged to the Goodsir family.
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”
Robert Goodsir donated the organ to a Masonic Lodge following the 1893 deaths of brother Joseph Taylor Goodsir and sister Jane Ross Goodsir.
It’s not clear what happened to it after 1912, but it was salvaged and restored by a civil servant and musician and given to Edinburgh’s Rudolph Steiner School. In 1968, it was bought by Greyfriars Kirk and dedicated to the memory of one Gladys Iverach.
55 George Square – a link to the Franklin search, and the death of a brother
Robert Anstruther Goodsir was living with his family at 55 George Square in early 1849, and his younger brother Archie was very sick with tuberculosis.
At the same time, their older brother Harry was missing in the Arctic with the rest of the Franklin Expedition.
An impossible choice
Robert had an impossible choice to make. Archie was dying. Robert could stay with him until the end or he could go in search of Harry – who might still be alive, and who might still be saved.
He chose to travel to the Arctic with Captain William Penny on the whale ship Advice, knowing that he would never see Archie again.
Some months after his return, Robert moved back to George Square. He wrote to Lady Jane Franklin from this address in 1850, desperate for another opportunity to go north in search of Harry. (See the Appendix for a full transcript of this letter)
A plea from Edinburgh
He offers his services, and gives some advice on what he sees as the best course of action should the Admiralty send out a search expedition for the 1850 season. And he tries very hard to reassure her:
I have never for a moment doubted as to their ultimate safe return, having always had a sort of presentiment that I would meet my brother and his companions somewhere in the regions in which their adventures are taking place. This hope I have not yet given up, and I trust that by next summer it may be fulfilled, when an end will be put to the suspense which has lasted so long, and which must have tried you so much.”
His faith in Lady Franklin was rewarded: just five days later, she sent his letter to the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty for their consideration (Elce, 2009).
Edinburgh’s George Square was built in the 18th Century. It was a highly sought-after residential area as the city’s South Side continued to expand.
Its proximity to the University made it popular with academics and lecturers – including Professor John Goodsir. He moved in to number 55 in 1847, and various family members lived with him there until the summer of 1851.
Hamish Coghill, writing in Lost Edinburgh (2008), notes that “its charm was destroyed by the University of Edinburgh’s redevelopment plans in the mid-20th Century. Only one side of the square – the west – escaped unscathed.”
It’s true that the University buildings don’t look like much. But it’s what’s inside that matters.
Edinburgh University Library and the Centre for Research Collections
I agree that it’s not pretty. But who cares what the building looks like, when it’s home to the Centre for Research Collections?
CRC is custodian of the Goodsir Papers – an extensive collection of family history, lecture notes, drafts, letters and ephemera removed from 11 Danube Street after the death of Robert Anstruther Goodsir on 17th January 1895.
If you want to see the original versions of Harry Goodsir’s last scientific papers, you can find them in Gen 300, Box 1, Folder 1. Harry sent these drafts home from HMS Erebus and they were published posthumously.
These papers – however extensive – are just a very small part of the CRC’s massive collection of Scottish and world history, covering every aspect of life and work. You can search the collections here.
Plan a research trip
Staff can give you support if you’re planning a research trip, or if you want to work with CRC materials but can’t visit in person. Everyone working here is an absolute star – they’ll be very happy to help.
You can find full contact details on the CRC website.
Accessibility note. The CRC itself is accessible, and there are lifts/elevators from the ground floor to the lofty heights of the Reading Room. However, this is a busy university library. The university has done what it can, in that there’s lots of signage urging people to use the stairs.
Appendix: “There is still not the slightest reason that we should despair” – Robert’s letter to Lady Jane Franklin dated 18th January 1850, published in The Morning Post, 18th March 1850
“George Square, Edinburgh, Jan 18th 1850
l ought to apologise for having been so long in writing to you, but I have been so busy for some time back that I have almost unconsciously allowed the time to slip away until now.
I trust you are not allowing yourself to become over anxious; I know that, although there is much cause to be so, there is still not the slightest reason that we should despair.
It may be presumptuous in me to say so, but I have never for a moment doubted as to their ultimate safe return, having always had a sort of presentiment that I would meet my brother and his companions somewhere in the regions in which their adventures are taking place. This hope I have not yet given up, and I trust that by next summer it may be fulfilled, when an end will be put to the suspense which has lasted so long, and which must have tried you so much.
I need not say how anxious I am that I may have an opportunity of devoting my services to the cause during the ensuing season, and I hope I am not asking too much in requesting your good offices in obtaining me an appointment of any kind in any of the expeditions that may be sent out during the next season.
We have heard nothing here as yet of what are the intentions at the Admiralty with regard to what may be done by way of Baffin’s Bay and Lancaster Sound. From a letter which I had from Mr Penny a few days ago, I learn that there is a chance of his being employed; I was glad to see this, for I think the employment of a person of his experience and skill in the navigation of these regions may be productive of much good.
I am exceedingly anxious to hear what is likely to be done by the Admiralty, and whether there is any chance of their sending out special vessels, or merely employing a whale ship or ships for the purpose. The latter I think would be a most advisable plan, particularly if the commander is unrestricted by unnecessary instruction, and left to the guidance of his own good sense and experience, with only one object in view, that of obtaining information of, and rendering assistance to, the expedition.
May I take the liberty of requesting from your ladyship any information you can give me on these points?
My brother joins me in best respects, and I remain,
Dear Madam, your most obedient servant,
Robert Anstruther Goodsir”
About the FE Guides on Fingerpost & Illuminator
4. A Franklin Expedition guide to Edinburgh
5. Coming soon
This guide – like every other FP&I Guide – is a living document. We welcome comments, corrections, tweets, and emails pointing us at anything relevant for inclusion. All contributions will receive full credit and thanks. We will always ask how you want to be credited, and under which name.
… and everyone working in Scottish archives, museums and libraries, for their unfailing kindness, humour and knowledge.
Bailey, Lt. Col. Fred – List of objects shown at the Franklin commemoration meeting, Edinburgh, on 4th June 1895, and on subsequent days, Scottish Geographical Magazine (1895)
Banks, Sir William Mitchell – Introductory Address to the Anatomical Society of the University of Liverpool delivered January 15th 1904, University Press of Liverpool (1906)
Barry, Ian – Alexander M’Donald L.R.C.S.E (1817 – c. 1848), Arctic, Vol. 62, No. 2 pp. 239-240 (2009)
Chamber of Curiosities: A Short History & Guide to Surgeons’ Hall Museums, Someone Publishing (2015)
Cogill, Hamish – Lost Edinburgh: Edinburgh’s Lost Architectural Heritage, Birlinn (2008)
Elce, Erika Behrisch – As Affecting the Fate of My Absent Husband, McGill-Queens University Press (2009)
The Goodsir Papers (GB 237 Coll-28), Centre for Research Collections, University of Edinburgh.
Goodsir, Robert Anstruther – An Arctic Voyage to Baffin’s Bay and Lancaster Sound in Search of Friends with Sir John Franklin, Jan Van Voorst (1850)
Goodsir, Robert Anstruther (originally published as D.R.A.G.M.) – Only an Old Chair: its story as taken down in choice shorthand and done into English, David Douglas of Edinburgh (1884)
Henderson, Jan-Andrew – Black Markers: Edinburgh’s Dark History Told Through its Cemeteries, Amberley Publishing (2015)
Inverness Courier, 16th October 1856, report on the dinner of the Lochaber Agricultural Society, accessed via The British Newspaper Archive
Lonsdale, Henry and Turner, William – The Anatomical Memoirs of John Goodsir Vol 1, Adam and Charles Black, (1868)
Macintyre, Gardner-Thorpe and Demetriades – John Goodsir (1814-1867) and his Neurological Illness, Journal of Medical Biography (2021)
McKean, Charles – Edinburgh: An Illustrated Architectural Guide, Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (1992)
The Morning Post – letter from Robert Anstruther Goodsir to Lady Franklin, Monday 18 March 1850, p3, accessed via The British Newspaper Archive
The National Archives, ADM 7/193
Richards, RL – Dr John Rae, Caedmon of Whitby (1994)
Richardson, Ruth – Cast into the Light, The Lancet vol 337 issue 9783 (2011)
Schwatka, Frederick – The Long Arctic Search, Maine Historical Association (1965)
Tracy, Michael T. – The Annals of the Goodsir-Taylor Brooch, academia dot edu (2021)
Tracy, Michael T. – The Provenance of the Hunter Chair and the Goodsir Family Connection, academia dot edu (2020)