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The remarkable ship Resolute

Friday, July 19 2019

The remarkable ship Resolute

HMS Resolute was an Arctic discovery ship specially outfitted for a dangerous task in a dangerous environment. However, even purpose-built ships were easily lost, trapped between platforms of ice which treacherously drifted and attached themselves to vessels, crushing or imprisoning them.

Charlie Kelley profile shot

In the 1800’s, the British Government wanted to find a faster trade route to Asia and thus looked to transit the Arctic Ocean to get there. The route was perilous requiring ships to travel through the dangerous ice laden waters which surround the North West Passage past northern Canada and through the Arctic Ocean. Between 1848 and 1850, the British Government, lacking enough ships for exploration, purchased HMS Pioneer and HMS Intrepid. Formerly civilian steamships, these were converted to Arctic exploration vessels alongside HMS Resolute, HMS Assistance, HMS Investigator and HMS Enterprise.

HMS Resolute was originally a barque rigged merchant vessel. She was bought in 1850 and fitted out for Arctic exploration before later being dispatched to the Canadian Atlantic in a group of five ships in search of the lost Franklin party. Although Sir John Franklin nor his crew would ever return alive, HMS Resolute did reach the stranded HMS Investigator and rescued the crew who had, three years earlier, set off in search of the earlier Franklin expedition.

On 28 April 1854, HMS Resolute, locked in Arctic ice, was reluctantly abandoned by Captain Henry Kellett, on orders from Sir Edward Belcher. Post abandonment the fate of the vessel remained a mystery, assumed lost she drifted unbeknown to the world at a rate of one and a half nautical miles per day. In 1855 Captain James Buddington of the whaler George Henry found HMS Resolute just outside of Baffin’s Bay - an astonishing 1,200 miles from where she was abandoned by her crew. Buddington took the HMS Resolute back to America. During this time Anglo-American relations were fractious so HMS Resolute was returned to England as a peace offering to ease the strain on the relations after a $40,000 re-fitting of the ship. HMS Resolute served in the Royal Navy uneventfully until she was retired and broken up in 1879.

The HMS Resolute was built as the merchant ship Ptarmigan in South Shields in 1849 and acquired by the Royal Navy the following year. A model of HMS Resolute was given to William Mumford, a former Lloyd’s Register Principal Surveyor at Glasgow. The model currently resides at 71 Fenchurch Street in the Lloyd’s Register Heritage and Education Centre department. It is approximately 124cm wide and 80cm tall.

HMS Resolute model general

William Mumford was born in 1830 and died in 1908. He was employed as a surveyor by Lloyd’s Register from 1857 until 1889. He began as assistant surveyor for the first five years of his career but was made surveyor in Sunderland in 1862, later being stationed at Liverpool and then at Glasgow. Mumford’s diary is currently in the possession of The Public Archives of Canada covering the period when he was a crew member onboard HMS Resolute.

Below is a photo of Mumford from the 1854 Bernard Waymouth presentation volume.

William Mumford BW address

The British Government ordered a minimum of three desks to be created from the oak of the former HMS Resolute. One of these desks is now one of the most recognised desks in the whole world - The Resolute desk, presented to US President Rutherford B Hayes in 1880 as a thankyou from Britain for the return of their ship. The desk currently resides in the Oval Office of The Whitehouse. It has been used by every American President since it was gifted to Rutherford, except for Presidents Johnson, Nixon and Ford.

Obama resolute desk

Read more about the voyage of the HMS Resolute here.

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Charlie Kelley