Fox (ship)

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Auxiliary Steamship Fox
Career (UK) Merchant Navy Ensign
Name: Fox
Builder: Alexander Hall, Aberdeen
Launched: 1854
Fate: Wrecked on the Greenland coast 1912
General characteristics
Class and type: Auxiliary steamship
Tons burthen: 320 BM, 177 register. In 1900: 187 tons gross, 110 net register.
Length: 132.0 ft (40.2 m) (hull overall)
120.5 ft (36.7 m) (between perpendiculars)
Beam: 24.3 ft (7.4 m)
Depth of hold: 11.5 ft (3.51 m)
Propulsion: Sails and steam (16 nominal horse power)
Sail plan: 3-masted schooner rigged
Complement: 26
Armament: None fixed.

The steam yacht Fox was the vessel commanded by Francis Leopold McClintock on an expedition of the Arctic in northern Canada searching for the fate of the missing expedition of Sir John Franklin in 1857-1859.

Construction and Early History

Fox was a built as a yacht for Sir Richard Sutton, 2nd Baronet at a cost of about £5000. The ship's hull was diagonally planked with Scotch larch on the inside and East India teak on the outside, and the two-cylinder auxiliary steam engine of 16 n.h.p. gave a speed of about seven knots.

Fox had made just one cruise to Norway before Sutton’s death, and after a period of use in the Baltic during the Crimean War, the vessel was laid up in a partly dismantled state at the builders’ yards. The executors sold the ship for £2000 to Lady Franklin for her Arctic search.

The 1857-59 Expedition

Land-based expeditions in 1854 and 1855 under John Rae and James Anderson had discovered relics from the missing expedition north of Back River, south-west of the Boothia Peninsula. Lady Franklin had previously sent three expeditions to search this area, but all had failed to reach it. She purchased the Fox in April 1857 after finally accepting advice that the 159-ton auxiliary schooner Isabel that she had owned since 1852 was too small for the job, and efforts to use HMS Resolute were denied.

The sailing master was Allen Young who donated £500 towards the subscriptions raised for the expedition (about £3000 in cash or kind), and second in command was Lieutenant William Hobson, RN.

Fox left Aberdeen on 1 July 1857, and managed to pass through the Bellot Strait briefly before finding a secure winter anchorage to the east of the Strait off the Boothia Peninsula. Over the next two years extensive expeditions were made by sled to the west of the Boothia Peninsula. On 6 May 1859 William Hobson discovered the only written messages from the missing expedition ever found, in cairns on King William Island. The overland parties returned to the ship, which then left for Plymouth, arriving on 20 September. Three of the ship's crew died during the expedition: the engineer from natural causes, his assistant by a shipboard accident, and the steward from scurvy.

Later Service

Still under Allen Young's command, Fox was engaged in survey work off the coast of Norway in conjunction with laying a North Atlantic telegraph cable in 1860-61 before being sold to the Danish Royal Greenland Company. By the late 1880s Fox was owned by Akties. Kryolith Mine-og Handels Selskabet of Copenhagen, and was refitted with a 17 nhp compound steam engine made by Burmeister & Wain. After a long and useful career Fox was wrecked on the coast of Greenland in 1912.


  • Francis Leopold McClintock, The Voyage of the Fox in the Arctic Seas: A Narrative of the Discovery of the Fate of Sir John Franklin and his Companions, John Murray, London, 1859.
  • Francis Leopold McClintock, Die Reise der Fox im Arktischen Eismeer. Ein Bericht von der Expedition zur Aufklärung des Schicksals von Sir John Franklin und seiner Gefährten (1857-1859), ed. E. Berkenbusch, St. C. Saar, Wiesbaden 2010
  • Roderic Owen, The Fate of Franklin: The Life and Mysterious Death of the Most Heroic of Arctic Explorers, Hutchinson Group (Australia) Pty. Ltd., Richmond South, Victoria, 1978.
  • The Times newspaper (London), 16 April 1857, 16 May 1857, 3 June 1857, 6 August 1912.
  • Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of London, 11 February 1861 (RGS, London).
  • Lloyd's Register of Shipping, 1900 edn.