HMS Resolute (1850)

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An etching of HMS Resolute from December 1856.
An etching of HMS Resolute from December 1856.
Career (UK) Naval Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg
Builder: Smith of Shields, UK
Acquired: 1850
Fate: 1854, left locked in Arctic ice[1]
Career (US) 50px
Acquired: 1855, found adrift in ice[1]
Fate: 1856, Restored and returned to UK as a gift[1]
Career (UK) Naval Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg
Acquired: 1856[1]
Struck: 1879[1]
Fate: Broken up[1]
General characteristics
Tons burthen: 424 tons
Length: 115 feet (35 m)
Beam: 28.5 feet (8.7 m)
Sail plan: 3-masted Barque[1]

HMS Resolute was a mid-19th century barque-rigged ship of the British Royal Navy, specially outfitted for Arctic exploration. Resolute became trapped in the ice and was abandoned. Recovered by an American whaler, she was returned to Queen Victoria in 1856. Timbers from the ship were later used to construct a desk which was then presented to the President of the United States.


In the face of rising concerns on the fate of the Arctic expedition of Sir John Franklin, which had left Britain in 1845 in search of the North West Passage and had not been heard from since, by 1848 the British Government began sending expeditions in search of it. Few existing warships being deemed suitable, six merchant ships were purchased between 1848 and 1850 and converted into exploration ships: two were steamships (HMS Pioneer and Intrepid), the other four (HMS Resolute, Assistance, Enterprise and Investigator) being seagoing sailing ships.

Resolute was formerly the barque Ptarmigan built on the Tyne, which was purchased on 21 February 1850 and initially commissioned into the Royal Navy as HMS Refuge, but was renamed HMS Resolute a month later. The ship was fitted for Arctic service by Green's Blackwall Yard, with especially strong timbers, an internal heating system, and a polar bear as a figurehead.[1]

During 1850-51 HMS Resolute (flag-ship), Assistance, Pioneer and Intrepid, supported by a store-ship, the former warship HMS North Star, searched the eastern Arctic under the overall command of Horatio Thomas Austin. The only positive trace of Franklin they found was the remains of his first winter camp on Beechey Island. Meanwhile HMS Investigator and Enterprise were sent to search the Arctic from the west via the Bering Straits, but also returned unsuccessful.

Between October 1850 and March 1851, members of the Resolute crew under Captain Horatio Austin published at least five numbers of a handwritten newspaper, "The Illustrated Arctic News," during the wintering of the Resolute in what the editors identified as the "Barrow Strait." Upon the return of the Resolute to home port in England, the manuscript paper was printed in London in 1852. Atwood (1997) references extant copies of the papers at both the British Museum and the Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge.[2]

After returning to England all six vessels were reprovisioned and sent back to their respective search areas, the four eastern Arctic expedition ships including Resolute and their tender North Star being under the overall command of Sir Edward Belcher. They crossed Baffin Bay westward in June 1852 while Investigator and Enterprise explored the Northwest Passage eastward from Alaska.[1] Each ship took a different route to search for evidence of Frankin's lost ships Erebus and Terror. Only the Enterprise found any trace of them - a small quantity of timber on the eastern coast of Victoria Island, and was ultimately the only one of the six ships to survive the Arctic.[1]

Resolute became beset in the Arctic ice and wintered off Dealy Island near the north shore of Viscount Melville Sound.[1] In August 1853 a storm moved the ice flows with the entrapped Resolute eastward from the Dealy Island base.[1] Resolute was still beset by ice in the spring of 1854.[1] In May Captain Keller stowed the sails below, caulked down the hatches, and left Resolute locked in ice to lead his men in a hard march across the ice to reach other ships of the expedition. Their number included the crew of HMS Investigator, who had marched overland to the Resolute after abandoning their own vessel in May 1853.[1]

The three other main vessels of Belcher's fleet were also abandoned late in August 1854 and the crews taken on board HMS North Star, which had been moored in a less ice-bound position off Beechey Island. Most were transferred to the relief ships HMS Phoenix and Talbot which arrived at Beechey Island just as the overcrowded North Star was about to sail.

The British Government announced in The London Gazette that the ships, including Resolute, were still Her Majesty's property, but no salvage was attempted.[1]

On 10 September 1855, the abandoned Resolute was found adrift in an ice flow off Cape Walsingham of Baffin Island, some 1,200 miles (1,900 km) from where she had been abandoned, by the American whaler George Henry, captained by James Buddington of Groton, Connecticut.[1] The Americans freed Resolute from the ice, re-rigged the spars and sails, and arrived at New London, Connecticut on 24 December 1855.[1] The British government waived all claims to the ship upon learning of its arrival in New London.[1]

Although most of the expeditions seeking the lost Franklin expedition before 1856 were funded by either the British government or by public subscription from within the British Empire, two expeditions were funded by Henry Grinnell, a New York merchant and shipowner who had grown up in New Bedford, with additional United States government assistance. Grinnell convinced the United States government to restore Resolute and return her to England as a gesture of "national courtesy". The United States Congress bought her for $40,000 and then had her refitted and sailed to England under the command of Commander Henry J. Hartstene USN, where she was presented to Queen Victoria on 17 December 1856 as a token of comity.[1]

Both Grinnell and Lady Jane Franklin had hoped that the restored Resolute would be employed for a further search for the Franklin expedition, but evidence found by John Rae having proved beyond any reasonable doubt that the men were all dead, the British government declined. Instead, Lady Franklin organised another private expedition under Francis Leopold McClintock, which in 1859 located the only written account of the fate of Franklin.

HMS Resolute served in the Royal Navy through the American Civil War and was retired and broken up in 1879.[1]

The Canadian settlement of Resolute, Nunavut, is named for Resolute.

In March, 2009, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown presented US President Barack Obama with the framed commission of HMS Resolute, and a pen holder made from the wood of another Royal Navy ship, HMS Gannet.

The Resolute desks

The British government ordered at least two desks to be made from the timbers of the ship; constructed by cabinet makers at the Joiner's Shop of Chatham Dockyard. A large partner's desk was presented to U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880 as a gesture of thanks for the rescue and return of Resolute.[1] Since then, the desk - known as the Resolute desk - has been used by every President except Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. Most Presidents have used it as their official desk in the Oval Office, but some have had it in their private study in the Executive Residence. Dwight D. Eisenhower was the first to remove it from the Oval Office, and it was returned to the Oval Office first by John F. Kennedy and then by Jimmy Carter.[1]

A second desk called the Grinnell Desk, or the Queen Victoria Desk, was also made from the timbers of HMS Resolute. This smaller lady's desk was presented to the widow of Henry Grinnell in 1880 in recognition of her husband's generous contributions to the search for Franklin. It was given to the New Bedford Whaling Museum in 1983, and is currently in their collection in New Bedford, Massachusetts.

Accounts of dubious provenance state that one or more additional desks were made from Resolute timbers. In fact a third desk was commissioned by Queen Victoria, though it appears it was never housed at Buckingham Palace. This desk was eventually used aboard the Royal Yacht Victoria & Albert. It remains part of the Royal Collection and is now on long-term loan to the Royal Naval Museum in Portsmouth.

HMS Resolute in popular media

See also


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 1.17 1.18 1.19 1.20 1.21 Wallis, Geoffrey "A 'Resolute' Reminder" United States Naval Institute Proceedings (January 1978) pp.74-75
  2. Roy Alden Atwood (1997). "Shipboard News: Nineteenth Century Handwritten Periodicals at Sea." Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (80th, Chicago, Illinois, July 30-August 3, 1997) Addendum I.

Further reading

  • Elizabeth R. Matthews (2007). HMS Resolute: From the Canadian Arctic to the President's Desk. ISBN 978-0-755203-96-3
  • Roderic Owen (1978). The Fate of Franklin, Hutchinson. ISBN 009131190X.
  • 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.
  • Sherard Osborn and George F. McDougall, eds. (1852) Facsimile of the Illustrated Arctic News, Published on Board H.M.S. Resolute, Captain Horatio T. Austin, C.B., In Search of the Expedition Under Sir John Franklin (London, Ackerman, 1852).
  • Roy Alden Atwood (1997). "Shipboard News: Nineteenth Century Handwritten Periodicals at Sea." Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (80th, Chicago, Illinois, July 30-August 3, 1997) Addendum I.

External links

de:HMS Resolute fr:HMS Resolute it:MSH Resolute ru:Резолют (барк)