The mystery of the missing Erebus clerk

The history of the Franklin Expedition is full of ghosts, but this particular story is a little different. HMS Erebus is being haunted by a man who never sailed on her. The ghost has a name: George Frederick Pinhorn.

You can only see him online, and in certain places, but he’s there: forever linked to a ship he never set foot on.

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Immortal beloved: the grave of Sophia Cracroft

Time and the equally relentless British weather had obliterated almost every letter on Sophia Cracroft’s gravestone, which stands in London’s Kensal Green Cemetery.

While the “IN MEMORY OF LADY FRANKLIN/DIED 18 JULY 1875” memorial stone* was still mostly legible,  all that was left of Miss Cracroft’s was a few partial letters clinging to a blackened base.

Such was Sophy’s monument, and perhaps it would not have displeased her. But it certainly didn’t please the Franklinites who have visited to pay their respects to this remarkable woman. So last year, Logan Zachary photographed the site and carefully reconstructed the inscription on illuminator.blog:

“SOPHIA CRACROFT
THE DEVOTED AND ATTACHED NIECE OF SIR JOHN FRANKLIN
AND CONSTANT AID IN ALL LADY FRANKLIN’S EFFORTS IN
THE FURTHERANCE OF ARCTIC SEARCH FOR TRACES
OF HER HUSBAND AND HIS BRAVE COMPANIONS
DIED 20th JUNE 1892 AGED 76″

 

Right at the end of this project, when Logan had already done all the hard work, I found a partial reference to the inscription online. I spoke to the museum, paid the fee, and they sent me a copy of the item. I nearly fell off my chair when I opened the file.

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The Beechey Island Memorial Board at the Science Museum

A wooden board with a piece of metal secured to it.
“Memorial board relic from Franklin’s Northwest Passage expedition.” Courtesy Science Museum Group Collection Online. © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

The moment I saw the Memorial Board, I said: “That’s a hunting trophy.”

Some hunter on the track of the Franklin Expedition – perhaps an officer from any one of the 1850-54 search expeditions – found a relic on Beechey Island, brought it home, secured it to a board, and hung it on a wall. Whoever he was, and wherever he displayed it, I’ll bet he told some capital stories about it.

We can only guess, because none of them have accompanied the relic. There’s very little information about it, and what little we have isn’t accessible right now. But now, for the first time, we have a photograph of it.

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Communication channels: how one little search note found its way home

A detail of a 1850 search note left by Captain Erasmus Ommanney of HMS Assistance. Copyright: The National Archives.
A detail of a 1850 search note left on Cape Warrender by Captain Erasmus Ommanney of HMS Assistance. © The National Archives. Editing: Logan Zachary.

They were cold, they were tired, and they had just torn down a large stone cairn on a freezing Arctic headland and found it empty. This is where Sir John Franklin’s men should have left a written record of where they had gone next. To find Erebus and Terror, the searchers had first to find a note.

But there was something even worse than finding nothing in the cairn.

It was finding a cylinder in the cairn, frantically opening it, unrolling the note with shaking hands and hammering heart, and finding it was a missive from another Franklin searcher – possibly even from someone on your own expedition.

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In Praise Of… Frances J. Woodward

No.1 in an occasional series where love is bestowed upon a Franklin searcher – or a Franklin researcher – who doesn’t get enough of it. Today: Frances J. Woodward.

As usual, I was looking for something else when I found it: a story about the sale at auction of an item once belonging to Lady Jane Franklin, found among the effects of the late Frances J. Woodward, her first biographer.

Woodward’s Portrait of Jane: A Life of Lady Franklin is one of my favourite Franklin-related books. I consult it regularly, and often have to tear myself away from it when I’ve found the reference I need. To my shame, I’d never given the author much thought. The book was published way back in 1951 and I’d assumed she was long dead.

But this story told me that not only had Frances J Woodward died relatively recently, in 2014, but also that she had served as a codebreaker at Bletchley Park during the Second World War.

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Disposal records of the RUSI Museum

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. Continue reading “Disposal records of the RUSI Museum”