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Admiral Sir Edward Belcher: Encyclopedia Arctica 15: Biographies
Stefansson, Vilhjalmur, 1879-1962

(Adm.) Sir Edward Belcher

GEORGE M. DOUGLAS
LAKEFIELD, ONTARIO
ADMIRAL SIR EDWARD BELCHER, K.C.B. ADMIRAL SIR EDWARD BELCHER, K.C.B.
Sir Edward Belcher (1799- ----- 1877) was the descendant of an old and distinguished
New England family, whose founder in the New World was Andrew Belcher ,
born 1615, son of Thomas Belcher of London. Andrew Belcher's name
first appears in New England in 1659. His great-grandson was Chief
Justice Jonathan Belcher, and Jonathan's son Andrew became a
prominent merchant of Halifax , N.S. , and a member of the Nova Scotia
Council. In 1792 , Andrew married Marianne Von Geyer, daughter of
Frederick and Susan Von Geyer of Boston, another old and distinguished
New England family. By this marriage there were 11 children , of whom
Edward was born in 1799. Edward's sister Catherine married Charles
Marryat , M.P., father of the novelist Frederick Marryat. . Hence, when
Frederick visited the United States U.S. in 1837, at the height of his fame as a
novelist , he was eagerly hailed by the American P p ress as a "Boston Boy"
though later threatened with lynching for the things he said about
America and American habits.
Edward Belcher entered the Royal Navy in 1812. In 1816 he was a
midshipman in the "Superb" Superb and took part in the bombardment of Algiers.
He was made L l ieutenant in 1818, and in 1825 was appointed As'st assistant
S s urveyor to H.M.S. "Blossom" Blossom, in command of Captain F.W.Beech e y , : and
sailed on a voyage of discovery, exploration, and survey which lasted
three years, and which covered the entire Pacific Ocean, the Be h ring
Strait s , and the North American A a rctic coast eastward to Point Barrow.
The greater part of the "Blossom's" Blossom's time was spent visiting and
surveying the Pacific I i slands. A manuscript in Belcher's writing
dated "Pitcairn Island 4th Dec. 1825 (Sunday) " describes the island
and it inhabitants at that date, and a manusc r ipt also in Belcher's writing gives a long description of Tahiti. These descriptions correspond so
closely with those of Capt Beech e y in his "Voyage of the "Blossom" Voyage of the Blossom
that Beechey probably copied Belcher's MS. It was the custom that all
journals , etc. , kept by the officers of the Royal Navy exploring vessels
should be first handed over to the Admiralty on the return of such
vessels to England. It was on th e is voyage of th e is "Blossom" Blossom that
Belcher gained his first experience of the Arctic.
When Beechey left England in 1825 an important part of his instructions
directed him to proceed eastward from Be h ring Strait in the summer of
1826 in the hope that Franklin, who was travel l ing westward from the
Mackenzie River that same summer might be met and aided. Franklin was
informed of the instructions given to Beechey, and enjoined not to run
undue risks in attempting to meet the "Blossom" Blossom . Before they left
England on their respective travels Beechey and Franklin had discussed
details of meeting, and arrangement for places where records or caches
might be found. Franklin and some of his men left England on Feb 16 ,
1825 , bound for Be h ring Strait via New York, Canada, and the Mackenzie R. iver.
Beechey left Spithead on May 19th , 1825 , bound for Be h ering Strait via
Cape Horn.
The extensive explorations and surveys carried out by the
"Blossom" Blossom in the Pacific have no place in an Encyclopedia dealing with
the Arctic. But part of a letter from Belcher to his father may be
quoted on account of its Arctic interest. This letter is dated
" H.M.S "Blossom" Woahoo(one of the Sandwich Islands) May 29th 1826,"
It concludes:---"Tomorrow, on dit, we sail for Peter and Pauls or
" Petropauloskoi where I understand we send dispatchs through St Petersburg
and from where I shall write to you again as the conveyance is sure
and only two months from England. From Peter and Paul's we proceed to
Kotzebue's Sound where we leave a party (on Chamisso Island) to wait for
Franklin and party until our return from Behring Streights. Who will be "the unfortunate is a mystery, I do not think it will be me as I expect
to command the Barge on the Northern Survey, no enviable [: ] ommand you
will say. Should Franklin not arrive before October I think it not
unlikely a party will be left all winter to await him, in which case I
think I will volunteer, this will depend on my judgment of the weather
I find previously . I think it would considerably augment my future
claims. As we have been disappointed in our expectations of supply of
bread and flour here the Captain has said he will go first to China then
here provided we have not Franklin on board, in which case it is
probable we shall go direct home after touching here. As he acts at
present on his own judgment there is no depending on one word he says
therefore I will not lead you astray "
On her first voyage in A a rctic waters the "Blossom" Blossom reached Icy Cape,
Belcher's services were required for the survey work along the coast
and Elson, the Master of the "Blossom" Blossom was put in command of the barge.
Under his leadership the coast was explored to Point Barrow and a short
distance beyond before they turned back on August 25th
Meanwhile Franklin on his journey westward from the mouth of the
Mackenzie River had reached his f u a rthest point west at Return Reef
on August 18th. After their long journeys a gap of only 150 miles
had prevented Franklin from connecting with Beechey. If it had not been
for the delay Franklin suffered at Foggy Island he might well have met
Elson at Point Barrow or even to the west of it. Perhaps it is just as
well Franklin did not know of the proximity of the party from the
"Blossom" Blossom or that of the "Blossom" Blossom herself. Had he known these things for
certain he might have been tempted to push on at all costs in an effort
to connect with the "Blossom" Blossom , and such an attempt might have proved
fatal to his party. For he could not, at that date, have overtaken the
barge, and he would have arrived at Kotzebue Sound probably too late to connect with the "Blossom" ship .
Next year the "Blossom" Blossom returned to the Arctic, the intervening time
having been spent in continuing her survey in the Pacific. In 1827
conditions for navigation were less favorable than they had been in 1826
and the "Blossom" Blossom was unable to reach Icy Cape. Once more the barge
was sent eastward , this time under the command of Belcher. After an
unsuccessful search for any traces of Franklin the barge was wrecked in
a sudden and severe storm near the rendezvous at Chamisso Island.
Three lives were lost, and the barge was a total loss. No blame attaches
to Belcher for this misfortune , ; on the contrary , he was not only
exonerated from all blame, but in a report to the Admiralty by Captain
Beechey was complimented for his behavior under very trying circumstances.
The "Blossom" Blossom returned to England after her long voyage on Oct 12th ,
1828. Belcher was made Commander on March 16th, 1829, and from May 1830 to September
1833 was in command of H.M.S. "Aetna" Aetna engaged mostly in the survey of
the north and west coasts of Africa. Part of this time the "Aetna" Aetna was
stationed in the Duoro to protect British interests while a civil war
raged in Portugal. After being paid off from the "Aetna" Aetna , Belcher was
employed surveying in home waters, especially of those coasts bordering
on the Irish Sea. In 1836 he was appointed to command H.M.S. "Sulphur" Sulphur ,
then on the W w est C c oast of South America, taking over from his old friend
and commander Captain Beechey, whose health required his return to England.
During the next three years the "Sulphur" Sulphur was employed on the survey of the
W w est C c oasts of South and North America. At the end of May 1839 Belcher
received orders to return to England by way of the Cape of Good Hope
and to make further surveys of South Sea Islands while en route.
On the arrival of the "Sulphur" Sulphur at Singapore in October 1840 these orders
were countermanded, and instructions were given to return to China
to take part in the war which had broken out there. For the next year he was actively engaged in China waters, especially in surveying
operations in the Canton River. The "Sulphur" Sulphur finally arrived back
in England in July 1842, after a commission of nearly seven years.
Belcher had been advanced to Post rank May 1841, and had been
decorated for his b distinguished services with a C.B. In January 1843
he received the honor of knighthood. In Nov . 1842 he was appointed to
the command of H.M.S. "Samarang" Samarang for the survey of the China C c oast,
the Phillipine Islands, and Formosa. Belcher prosecuted this
extensive work with marked ability, and for a period of five years .
He returned to England on the last days of 1847.
In 1852 he was appointed to command the last of the Naval Ar c tic
V v oyages in search of Sir John Franklin's ships. And so, after a
space of twenty years, Belcher, now Sir Edward in recognition of
his distinguished service, returned once more to the North,
and once again was engaged in a search for traces of Franklin.
This part of Belcher's career is most familiar to the general public
and it may be well briefly to review the events of the Franklin Search
up to the time of his appointment.
Two N n aval expeditions and a number of private vessels had been
engaged in searching Lancaster Sound and the various straits and inlets
leading from it. But , except for evidence that Franklin had wintered
with his ships at Beech e y Island in 1845- - 46 , no traces of the missing
ships had been found; nor , most strangely, no records, not even at
Beechey Island. The ships of Austen's squadron, immediately preceding
Belcher's, had been hampered in their task by the unfavorable condition
of the ice in the severe winter of 1851- - 52 . In spite of difficulties ,
much exploration had been carried out, and it had been established
with practical certainty that Franklin must have pursued a course by
one of the straits leading to the south from Lancaster Sound, in
pursuance of the orders that had directed him to explore such openings . and to seek for a North W w est Passage as close as possible to the
shores of North America.
In 1852 not only were Franklin's two ships missing, but also the two
ships "Enterprise" Enterprise and "Investigator" Investigator which had been sent into the
Arctic by way of Be h ring Strait s to prosecute the search from the
west eastward, and there was acute uneasiness on their behalf. Public
opinion, though it counted for but little by with the Admiralty, was becomin g
ominously critical of the manner in which the search was being directed
and the barren results achieved. The nervous state of mind of the
Admiralty is reflected in the I i nstructions Belcher was given as regards
the safety of the ships and more especially of the crews. No risks
were to be taken by remaining in the Arctic for longer than a strictly
limited period of time.
It has become a matter of tradition, one might say dogma, to
describe Belcher as Old; Incompetent; In Bad Health; of No Arctic
Experience; and as having the reputation of being an Unpopular Commander
with his subordinate officers. As regards his A a ge , he was five years
younger than Franklin at the time Franklin was appointed to command
the discovery ships of 1845.
The charge of I i ncompetence may be
dismissed at once as absurd. Belcher's highly distinguished career
of the previous twenty-five years is a sufficient answer to this
charge. A typical instance of branding Belcher as I i ncompetent
may be quoted here, and from one of whom it might be least expected.
It occurs in a book by the well - known Archdeacon Hudson Stuck,
missio j n ary, travel l er in the Arctic, and author of some of the best
books about Alaska that have been written. In his "Winter Journey Winter Journey
around Our Arctic Coasts" around Our Arctic Coasts , Archdeacon Stuck writes thus of Belcher
"Belcher, to whom I referred disparagingly, opened his career by
" losing the "Blossom"s barge — " etc. There is less excuse for Archdeacon Stuck to make such a statement than for almost any other man, Clement Captain AI l bert Markham alone
excepted. Stuck had read Beechey's narrative, for he writes of it
in high praise, which it deserves. He also refers to "My copy" of the
book, in which Beechey's chapter on the Eskimos is annotated in
manuscript " By the man who, whatever one may think of some of his
" views, knows more about the western Eskimos at first hand than any
"other living man — V Stefansson — and it is surprising to fi how little
"he finds to correct."
It may should be noted in passing that Belcher may have written this descripti on
of the Eskimos referred to, for he came in closer and more frequent
contact with them than Beechey did: and it had been pointed out that
Belcher almost certainly wrote the description of Pitcairn Island and
of Tahiti tha n t appears in Beechey's book.
The Archdeacon makes it plain that he does not agree with Stefansson
on "Some of his views" without stating what views, nor why he disagreed.
On what grounds does he disagree with Beechey regarding Belcher and the
loss of the barge ? In fact the Archdeacon's statement in regard to
Belcher is unfounded, preposterous, and maliciously ignorant and presumptuous : and comin g
from a n man author so generally accurate, so well known and distinguishe d
it may well be mistaken as authoritative.
Belcher was by no means an incompetent officer, but is sometimes an
incompetent and confused writer, and on this hand therefore often leaves himself
wide open to misinterpretation and criticism. But on some subjects
he wrote very well, especially those dealing with technical matters.
His "Treatise on Nautical Surveying" was long a standard work on the
subject. His Reports to the Admiralty are clearly expressed, and so are
his Instructions to his officers, though often written under to meet complicated and
unpredictable circumstances. He was a trained engineer, an expert
mechanical draughtsman , and an artist of considerable ability, for his water - colors and sketch e s illustrating the Arctic in his account of his expedition
are much the best of any of the Naval officers of the period.
He was most ingenious in the devi s c es he employed to secure the safety
of the ships and the comfort and well-being of their crews; and in
making accurate scientific observations. On these matters he wrote well
but they are usually beyond the comprehension of his critics and he has
been judged by his account of matters concerning which he wrote badly.
Far too much has been made of the charge that Belcher was unpopular
with his officers. The Royal Naval Service of the period 1825--1850
was saturated with sychphancy, a down-growth from the latter Hanoverian
monarchs, particularly from William IVth ("Silly Billy") who posed
as a Sailor King and the Patron of the Royal Navy. The inevitable
concomitants to sycophancy are jealousies and quarrels, and such were
peculiarly rife among the officers of those ships which served long
commissions on the surveys of the Pacific Ocean. In this service
Belcher was pre-eminent, and such officers as Collinson,Kellett,and
others had gained well deserved renown. Kellett appears to have been
jealous of Belcher, and adroit at using others to make trouble. The
affair on the "Sulphur" Sulphur affords an illustration of this. When Belcher
joined that ship as Captain, he found Kellett, who had been First
Lieutenant under Beechey acting as Commander until his arrival, and
Collinson temporarily promoted to First Lieutenant.
Collinson had been with Belcher for three years on the "Aetna" Aetna .
During that time the men were good friends. Collinson writes of
Belcher that he was exceedingly " friendly and considerate" : "It is a
"pleasure to go with Belcher ---the most indefatigable person I have
ever met---only one fault, he is his own trumpeter . " And Belcher
wrote to the Hydrographic Office praisin g Collinson : "Mr Collinson is
"the best officer on the ship . " Later, when vacancies occurred in
the As'st Surveyorship, Collinson was passed over, and he appears to have held Belcher responsible for this, which seems unlikely. When Belche r
joined the "Sulphur" Sulphur his appointment was viewed "With trepidation" by
Kellett and Collinson, which indi ac ca tes trouble-making on the part of
Kellett, for Collinson writes that the new commander behaved "With the
"greatest cordiality--no doubt the best man we have."
One suspects
that Kellett was in some way responsible for the trouble that afterwards
came to a head between Belcher and Collinson, though Kellett was not
actually on the ship at the time. It is not recorded what the trouble wa s
about. Perhaps Belcher " " Blew his own trumpet" too much and too often,
and this i tt rr itated Collinson 's modesty to such an extent that he showed
it before Belcher who would be quick to re - act, and to do so in such a manner that
Collinson felt his honour was injured. He therefore appealed to the
Admiral of the China Station requesting a court martial, which the
Admiral refused to grant, probably for lack of sufficient reason. However
he transferred Collinson to his own ship, and later sent him back to
England. On arrival there Collinson laid his case before the Admiralty ,
who refused to take any action in the matter. One may imagine that
the Admiral on the China Station had informed the Admiralty that
Collinson was a very able officer, but that he had no real grievance
against Belcher. Collinson was given the post of Surveying Officer
and returned to the China Station with Captain Beaufort. He was then
sent aboard the "Starling" Starling , once more under Kellett. Collinson perhaps
realized that he had made a fuss about nothing, and that the action of
the Admiralty had healed the hurt his honor felt. As has been noted ,
Belcher, Kellett and Collinson all distinguished themselves by their
valuable services in the China War.
The choice of Belcher as commander of the expedition of 1852 has been
criticized, but it was the logical and indeed the best choice. His ability
had been proved by twenty-five years of exploration and surveys covering
the whole of the Pacific Ocean. Such criticisms might have been be applied with more justice to Franklin, who was even older than Belcher at the time of
his appointment, and whose experience in exploration Arctic travel had been limited
to journeys by land and small boats, and who lacked experience knowledge of
exploration by ships.
Belcher, in command of the expedition, was Captain of the "Assistance" Assistance ,
with the "Pioneer" Pioneer , a small steam vessel, as consort . , He assumed assuming what
was considered the more important task of exploring the Wellington
Channel. Kellett was appointed Captain of the "Resolute" Resolute with the
"Intrepid" Intrepid as consort, a steam vessel similar to the "Pioneer" Pioneer .
Kellett was directed to search the western parts of Barrow Straits
and Melville Sound, through which Parry had passed thirty years before.
As Captain of the "Resolute" Resolute and senior officer of the western division ,
Kellett appears to have become impatient of any control by Belcher
and to consider his an independent command. Perhaps McClure, when
Kellett rescued him and the crew of the "Investigator" Investigator from their
imprisonment in Mercy Bay at the north of Banks Land, may have
encouraged Kellett in this attitude, for so it was that McClure had
treated his superior officer Collinson.
There is no evidence of bad feeling between Belcher and the officers
immediately under him. Commander Richards, Belcher's second in command
on the "Assistance" Assistance , proved himself a zealous and efficient officer and
a consistent friend to his Captain.
Belcher was ever most concerned with the health and welfare of his
crews. He had reproved Kellett for permitting his men to be over-worked
at the killing labor of dragging sledges, and thereby permanently injuring
their health for no better reason than over-zealous competition among
Kellett's junior officers. When in command of the "Samarang" Samarang his
coxswain said "We called him 'Old Vinegar Face' but the men liked him."
Apparently "Old Vinegar Face" was a term of affection rather than
opprob r ium.
Evidence of Belcher's for e bearing disposition may be found in the
relations between him and his nephew Frederick Marryat, a brilliant
but turbulent and quarrelsome character , even at that time when quarrels
were common. One of Frederick's sons , Sam , was a midshipman aboard the
"Samarang" Samarang , and Sam appears to have possessed all his father's objectionable
qualities unredeemed by any of his good ones, and added besides some bad
qualities peculiarly his own. Sam made such a pest of himself that
Belcher was obliged to get rid of him and send him back to England.
A letter from Sir Edward to Frederick Marryat throws light on the
writer's for e bearance under provocation. It is dated "H.M.S ? "Samara i n g"
" Anjer July 13th 1846 " and reads " Dear Fred:- They tell me you are
"very wrothy against me but this is nonsense. You ought to support me
"for never in my born days did I ever submit to such conduct as I have
"put up with from 'Master Sam' " The letter tells at some length
the trouble 'Master Sam' caused, and concludes "And now, my dear fellow
" let your steam off, and be prepared to make the best of the bargain
" when we return " Father Frederick and son Sam did let
their steam off in a long and furious effusion directed against the
Admiralty, the Navy, and particularly against Sir Edward Belcher. It
appears to have been intended for the closing chapter of some projected
novel. In reading over this stuff one's sym ap pa thies are strongly on the
side of Sir Edward Belcher.
The most damaging charge against Belcher, and the most frequently
repeated is "That he showed undue haste in abandoning his vessels".
Belcher had been given repeated instructions not to incur risks of
loss of life. Finally , under date of April 28th 1854 , the Admiralty gave
positive instructions to Belcher , directing : "Your special attention to
" the measures they now require to be adopted for at once withdrawing
" if possible, the whole of the force now employed in the search of
" Sir John Franklin from the Polar Seas " and " If Captain Kellett has been unable to move from his position at Melville Island it may
be necessary to give orders to him to abandon the "Resolute" and the "I
"Intrepid" and secure his retreat to Beechey Island --"
In the early summer of 1854 Belcher's ships were hopelessly beset on
the east side of Wellington Channel. His flagship "Assistance" Assistance was
leaking badly, and there was no prospect of her floating even if free.
The abandonment of these vessels was a matter of necessity. Kellett's
ships were beset in the pack of Melville Sound, in no immediate danger
but with no prospect of liberation except by the slow and perhaps
fatal drift of the pack into Baffin Bay. This the "Resolute" Resolute
eventually did, in safety and the fact was seized by Belcher's detractors to
show how unnecessary the order for abandonment was. In fact it does
nothing of the sort. Belcher was in a difficult position and the
Admiralty orders to withdraw were imperative. Kellett's ships
were not actually in a hopeless condition, but they were burdened with
the crew of the "Investigator" Investigator , already abandoned. In the face of
Admiralty orders Belcher could not take the risk of ordering the
crews of the "Resolute" Resolute and the "Intrepid" Intrepid to remain on their ships.
Kellett and his men would have gladly obeyed such an order, and the
order to abandon their vessels was naturally very unwelcome to them.
But their work was done, and very well done: there was nothing to be
gained by s staying on their ships. The ships themselves were valueless ,
they were obsolete, and as Belcher truly said, "Of no more value than
so much cordwood." Belcher played safe, and by means of three ships
which had then joined at Beechey Island, brought all of his men and
the crew of the "Investigator" Investigator back to England in safety.
I have given as an example of the cultivated persistent bias against Belcher ,
leading even such a man as Archdeacon Stuck to make damaging and
unjustified reflections on his competence. What shall be said about
Albert Markham, one of the notable explorers of a later date ? Markham states that Belcher's order to abandon the ships was given
"For some unaccountable reason, best known to Sir Edward Belcher" ; and
again , "This wholesale abandonment of a fine squadron without any
"apparent reason." These statements are little short of bewildering,
and it has been shown they are completely wrong. But coming from Markham
it is not surprising that they should be accepted as authoritative.
Such perversion and misrepresentation of facts e c all for more than passing
notice. What prompted it ? Was it merely reprehensible ignorance and
carelessness ? Was the perversion deliberate ? and if so, for what end?
Surely Markham must have been above a desire for cheap popularity by
saying something the multitude would find acceptable sensational ? He may have been
influenced by the brilliant Sherard Osborn e whose friend and protege
he was. Belcher had incurred Osborn e 's bitter enmity for a rebuke
which one can easily imagine to have been well deserved.
It is strange to find Markham condemning Belcher for obedience to orders
which almost certainly saved many lives; when, in later years, in blind obedience to an
order which he knew must be a blunder, and the execution of which he
himself described as "Mathematically Impossible" , he sent the latest
battleship of the British Navy to the bottom with a loss of nearly 400
lives. This, truly, is one of the darkest pages in the history of
the British Navy.
Belcher and his men arrived back in England in October 1854, and at
about the same time as Rae, who returned from a survey of the mainland
shores of the Eastern Arctic. Rae brought back a story, derived at
second hand from a band of Eskimos, of the death of white men near the
Great Fish River, and from these Eskimos he had obtained relics which
had belonged to some of Franklin's men. "Unaccountably" indeed , Rae
had failed to investigate and ver u i fy the report as easily he might have
done, but it was evident that some at least of Franklin's men must have reached the mainland, and that at a place persistently denied by the
Searching Council as likely.
Then the storm of public indignation, which had been gather ed ing for some years
broke on the Admiralty for their fatuity in conducting the Franklin
Search, and especially in their neglect to send parties to look for
the missing men in those places where they were most likely to be
found. The Naval authorities at the Admiralty had shown confirmed
folly in the direction of the search in its latter stages. Now,
when Rae's report made that folly evident their actions became as
contemptible as hitherto they had been foolish. To avert criticism and
to allay public anger , McClure, who had been rescued by Belcher's men
and who returned to England with them, was presented to the nation
as a H h ero and the "Discoverer of the Northwest Passage." McClure was
nothing of the sort. He had acted rashly, disregarding his superior
officer and in direct disobedience of the Admiralty order enjoining
the two ships under Collinson not to part company when entering the ice .
It may be noted that Kellett was stationed at the W w estern entrance
to the Arctic when McClure arrived in the "Investigator" Investigator , and that
Kellett strongly advised Mc Clure to wait until Collinson arrived
before proceeding. Kellett, as McClure's superior officer, had the
power to order McClure to wait. He might have issued such an order
when his mere advice was not taken, but McClure did not wait to give for
Kellett a chance to do so. By the strange operation of chance it
was reserved for Kellett to rescue McClure three years later.
McClure indeed des e rves much credit for the notable explorations he
effected. He nearly circumnavigated Banks Land, his journey along
the west coast of that island being a very difficult and hazardous one .
It was a matter to be deplored that McClure showed poor judgment
in laying up his ship in Mercy Bay, instead of boldly continuing his
journey when the porospects were favorable and when there was open water ahead. Had he grasped that opportunity he would have most likely
taken his ship all the way from the Pacific to the Atlantic. McClure
seems to have lost his nerve at a critical time, the strain of the
passage along the dangerous west coast of Bank's Land might well
excuse this. He had made a very fine voyage, but it was absurd
the call him "The Discoverer of the North West Passage" and to assign
the reward for doing so to him, when he had lost his ship, had been
rescued and brought to safety by passages already well known and
explored, and first discovered by Parry th ri ir ty years previously.
Other and more practical "Passages" exist, these had been discovered
and explored by various different men, Franklin and Collinson
chiefly among them. Collinson did indeed deserve special praise and
reward for making one of the most successful voyages in the history
of Arctic exploration, achieving results that dwarfed McClure's,
and it might be said, of any of his predecessors.
The Admiralty employed the device well-known to governments and
corporations of diverting public anger from their own acts by creating
a Hero, or a Scape Goat. McClure was made the Hero, with much public
acclaim; Belcher the Scape Goat. Belcher's defence at his court
martial was so feeble that one suspects he was willing to sacrifice
himself for the repute of the Service. Collinson, who did not get back
to England until after the storm had died down, was merely ignored.
The mismanagement of the Franklin Search was forgotten amid the
more appalling official blunders of the Crimean War, and the Admiralty
made haste to wind up the whole discreditable affair. Franklin was
officially declared dead, though no proof of his death had been
established. Now that it was known where some at least of his men
had perished, and where some record of their end might be found
the Admiralty did nothing further about it, but to their lasting disgrac e
left it to Lady Franklin and her devoted aides to discover the only record known, and the traces from which the tragic end of the
Franklin Expedition may be constructed.
In later years Belcher's real merits were recognized by new
authorities at the Admiralty. His F f lag rank of Admiral was duly
attained as a matter of course and seniority. The honour of K.C.B.
with which he was decorated in 1867 was a belated recognition of merit.
He died in 1877 at the age of 78.
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