43. Belcher, Edward, Sir (1799-1877)    

The Last of the Arctic Voyages: Being a Narrative of the Expedition in H.M.S. Assistance, under the Command of Captain Sir Edward Belcher, C.B., in Search of Sir John Franklin, during the years 1852-53-54.  London: Lovell Reeve, 1855.


The Assistance and Pioneer frozen in at Northumberland Sound, under the light of a paraselene, from Edward Belcher, The Last of the Arctic Voyages, 1855.


The Hamilton chased by a walrus off Exmouth Island, from Edward Belcher, The Last of the Arctic Voyages, 1855.

Belcher’s  “Arctic Squadron” was a five-ship flotilla that in 1852 was ordered to go through Lancaster Sound to Barrow Strait and split up, with two ships, the Assistance and Pioneer, going north to search for Franklin in Wellington Sound, and two more, the Resolute and Intrepid, searching westward toward Melville Island; a fifth supply ship, North Star, would remain at Beechey Island. 

By one measure the expedition was a disaster, since the four ships were frozen in for two years, and in 1854 Belcher gave the orders to abandon them, which did not sit well with anyone except Belcher.  But while the ships were frozen in, a number of sledge expeditions were sent out that were quite successful.  One sledge, commanded by Bedford Pim, stumbled on HMS Investigaror, under the command of Robert McClure, which had been frozen in at Mercy Bay on Banks Island for two years; their crew was rescued, and later brought back to England with Belcher’s men.

Belcher’s narrative is illustrated with an abundance of chromolithographs, a relatively new color printing technique.  One of the most memorable depicts the Assistance and Intrepid frozen in at Northumberland Sound in 1852, under the light of a beautiful paraselene, or lunar halo.  Another records a lighter moment, when Belcher and some of his crew were sailing their small boat Hamilton to Exmouth Island, at the north end of Wellington Channel, when they were pursued by an ornery walrus.

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