Auxiliary Steamship Isabel (1850)

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Career (UK) Merchant Navy Ensign
Name: Isabel
Builder: Mr. Hilary McIsaac, at St Peter's Bay, Prince Edward Island
Launched: 1850
General characteristics
Class and type: Auxiliary steamship
Tons burthen: 149 net register.
Length: 86.5 ft (26.4 m) (between perpendiculars)
Beam: 22.9 ft (7.0 m)
Depth of hold: 11.9 ft (3.63 m)
Propulsion: Sails and steam (16 nominal horse power V-twin)
Sail plan: 2-masted brigantine rigged
Complement: 18
Armament: None fixed.

The Isabel was a vessel intended to be used in four planned expeditions in search of the fate of the missing Franklin Expedition between 1852 and 1856, although she only managed to reach the Arctic once, in 1852. All of these expeditions were sponsored by Lady Franklin who also owned the vessel over most of this period, and expended much money for little result.

The Isabel was a nearly-new sailing vessel when purchased by Donald Beatson in 1851 for a proposed expedition to the Arctic via the Bering Straits. Lady Franklin became one of the major sponsors, but lack of funds forced Beatson to withdraw from the project in April 1852.

Lady Franklin herself became the ship's owner and, it being too late to reach the Bering Straits in time for the following summer, arranged for the vessel to make a brief sortie to the coast of Greenland under Edward Inglefield, RN, later that year.

Public subscriptions, including over £1671 from Van Diemens Land received early in 1853, allowed Lady Franklin to send the Isabel for the Bering Straits under William Kennedy, who had been commander of her previous expedition using the ketch Prince Albert in 1851-52. The sailing master was Robert Grate, who had been a crewman on the first Prince Albert expedition in 1850, and sailing master on the second. However, Grate and most of the crew mutinied at Valparaiso in August 1853, on the grounds that they believed the vessel was too small and unsuitable for the mission. After two years trading on the South American coast in the hope of finding another crew for the Bering Straits, Kennedy returned the ship to England in 1855.

After preparations were begun late in 1856 to send the Isabel back to the Arctic via Baffin Bay, Lady Franklin was finally convinced that the ship was unsuitable. After unsuccessful efforts were made to acquire HMS Resolute, the Isabel was sold and replaced by the auxiliary steamship Fox.

Isabel later became the tender to the Arctic whaler Emma of Hull. Her engine was later removed, and she was still in service as a sailing vessel, owned by G. Sinclair of Aberdeen, in the 1880s.


  • John Brown, F.R.G.S. (1860). The North-West Passage and the Plans for the Search for Sir John Franklin: A Review with maps, &c., Second Edition with a Sequel Including the Voyage of the “Fox” London, E. Stanford, 1860.
  • Edward Augustus Inglefield, A summer search for Sir John Franklin; with a peep into the polar basin, Thomas-Harrison, London, 1853.
  • William Kennedy, A short narrative of the second voyage of the "Prince Albert" in search of Sir John Franklin, Dalton, London, 1853.
  • 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.
  • Lloyd's Register of Shipping, 1886 edn.