Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Missing Chronometer, Part 2

I just heard this morning from Jonathan Betts, who was most interested to learn of our discussion here, and offered some considerable additional background on the matter. I'll put his comments here in quotes:
1. "Erebus and Terror both took ten chronometers (don't have the source in front of me, but that much is known) and the receipt you refer to (ADL/D/18) is for nine chronometers supplied to Erebus from the Observatory on 10 May. Arnold 294 is not one of them, but that doesn't rule out the possibility of its either already being on Erebus, or joining them on the ship later."
2. "The chronometer ledgers are simply 'in and out' books for chronometers arriving and leaving the Observatory. If a chronometer left directly to a ship then we know where it went, but sometimes they were sent to naval bases (usually Portsmouth or Plymouth) and then we lose sight of where they went afterwards. The last entry for Arnold 294 on its ledger page before the "Lost..." entry, was it being sent with Commander Wickham on Beagle in June 1837. This was at a time when Beagle was being used as a kind of packet ship, usually delivering stuff to Portsmouth and Plymouth, so my guess is that Arnold 294 went to Portsmouth for issue to whichever ship needed it.

The chronometer in question is definitely Arnold 294, and that chronometer is stated in the Observatory ledgers as "Lost in the Arctic Regions with 'Erebus'."

3. "It is perfectly possible, as you said in your discussion, that this chronometer was issued to J.C.Ross on Erebus and that it was retained (or was supposed to be retained) for use on the following expedition, but got 'lost' during the refit at which point there was a cover-up of some kind. However the ships were said to have ten chronometers each and (as observed in your discussion) I cannot explain how the absence of Arnold 294 was not noticed at that point. Your correspondent Peter Carney postulates this scenario, stating that the officer whose responsibility it was... had a motive to maintain the fiction that it was still with the ship. But it would have required several officers to be complicit in such a crime which I find very difficult to imagine. Crozier was common to both expeditions and I suppose its possible he had agreed to transfer the chronometer and somehow it failed to make the transition for 'legitimate' reasons? Anyway, hopefully it will be possible to establish whether or not this chronometer was indeed with J.C.Ross & Crozier and then continue that line of conjecture if appropriate."

4. "A part of the "...Chronometer-box with its number, name of the maker..."etc., sounds like the Franklin relic we hold, which is from the chronometer by French, No.4214." (my comment: this corresponds with a note I found from Hall which implies that items specifically marked as state property were returned to the UK).

5. "Don't know who your contacts are that you refer to, but the NMM purchased the chronometer directly, but using funds kindly provided by the Friends of the NMM. The sale catalogue stated it had come from Franklin's expedition, not Ross's."

6. "The name the chronometer was given was Reynolds & Son, which may well not have been fictional as such a London firm are known in the mid-19th century, but it was 'convenient', as it meant only changing the first "Ar" and adding the rest, to provide the new name, which seems quite a coincidence for a legitimate company altering an object which is (whether they knew it or not) stolen property. I think in fact the conversion to carriage clock probably occurred around 1900 and was not part of any cover-up."
There's much to think on here -- I am deeply grateful to Mr. Betts for sharing this information with us.

So what more can we contribute? If anyone reading this has access to reliable information as to which chronometers went aboard "Erebus" with JC Ross, that would be one helpful point we might address.


  1. Following up on Mr. Bett's information -- the confusion in #5 was over a different chronometer -- Arnold & Dent #1212 -- which was part of Christie's Polar Sale in September of 2006. This was one of the chronometers with Ross on his final Antarctic expedition with "Erebus" and "Terror," but it did not remain aboard either ship; in 1866 it was listed aboard HMS Trafalgar, and six subsequent British naval vessels before being sold to the US Naval Board in 1920. It fetched £36,000.

    I have also found, in the New South Wales archive, a fascinating letter from JC Ross, indexed as "Probably to Admiral Sir Charles John Napier," which opens as follows:

17 Feby, 1845
    Dear Sir,

    I received your note of the 11 Inst. on my return from Yorkshire on Saturday.

    Immediately on the return of the Expedition, I wrote to Sir Edwd. Parry to enquire your address that I might return your Chronometer & express my thanks to you for kindly giving me the use of it during the voyage. Sir Edward replied that he believed you were abroad & agreed with me that it would be better to sent it to the the maker and undertook to communicate with you about it so as to release me from all further responsibility he at the same time enquired about its performance for your information.

    I regret to say it did not go so well as most of the Chronometers belonging to the Expedition (in all about 30) but amongst them we had many of the best Chronometers I have ever had under my care.

    The Chronometer 10,901 was represented to be yours by Mr Barwon who brought them down to the docks himself & delivered them into the charge of Mr Tucker the Master. It was an Eight day Chronometer of the older style.

    I was not on board when they came & never heard anything of the valuable case you speak of & suppose the Maker must have taken it away with him as I found them placed with the rest of the Chronometers without any external case beyond the usual one.

    Mr Tucker who received them is now serving in the Pacific but I will write to him on the subject if you wish it - & if you desire any particulars of the going of the Chronometer, I will gladly give you them whenever I can look in the registers.

    I remain

    Dear Sir

    Yours very truly

    Jas. C. Ross"

    So, out of 30 chronometers, we have accounted for at least two -- only 28 more to go!

  2. Having slept on the question: it seems to me that we may have been looking at this matter inside out: the mystery may not be how the chronometer ended up back in Greenwich, but rather this: Why, on 26 June, 1886, did someone add a note stating that this chronometer was lost with the "Erebus" in the Arctic? We have, it seems, no other evidence that Arnold 294 was ever placed aboard the Erebus, either by Ross or Franklin. Why did the staff at the Observatory believe it had been? And if they did, why did they wait until 1886 to make a note of it?

    All this makes me think that, assuming something irregular happened, it may well have happened in 1886, not 1845.

  3. A small part of the mystery solved:

    Mr. Betts notes that "The last entry for Arnold 294 on its ledger page before the "Lost..." entry, was it being sent with Commander Wickham on Beagle in June 1837," and goes on to say that the Beagle was being used as a packet ship at this time.

    Well, it had been being so used earlier that year, but in June of 1837 the Beagle sailed under (John Clements) Wickham on a surveying expedition to Australia. She did not return until 1843.

    I strongly suspect that Arnold 294 went with her; the phrase "Arnold 294" produces a Google Books match with a volume "Mariners are warned!: John Lort Stokes and H.M.S. Beagle in Australia, 1837-1843," by Marsden C. Hordern, and if that chronometer was issued to that vessel in June, I should think it would have remained there.

    So, if indeed Arnold 294 was issued to "Erebus," it would have had to have been done in 1845, as the chronometer was not with JC Ross.

  4. Eureka -- in reading the J. Lort Stokes's account of the voyage of HMS Beagle in 1837-43, I found that among her officers was Lieutenant Graham Gore! This is a curious fact, and surprisingly goes unmentioned by Cyriax in his biographies of the junior officers. Stokes and Gore became fast friends on this voyage (Wickham had fallen ill and resigned his command to Stokes), and Stokes recommended Gore for a promotion. At the end of the narrative, describing their return to London, Stokes expressed his disappointment that Gore did not receive the promotion, "but was compelled to seek it by a second voyage to the North Pole."

    So I think it a highly likely conjecture that it must have been Gore who brought Arnold 294 from the "Beagle" to the "Erebus." The only mystery remaining is how it ever came back!

  5. Further developments in the case make it increasingly clear that Graham Gore may well be at the centre of this mystery. Gore, who as lieutenant aboard "Beagle" would have been in charge of the chronometers, apparently formed a high opinion of several of them, for as it turns out, the box lid for a chronometer recovered by Charles Francis Hall -- French #4214 -- was for yet another instrument which had been used on the Beagle during Gore's period of service. Not only that, but a *third* chronometer, a pocket model also by French, had also been among those on the Beagle; this instrument, badly corroded, was recovered and is among the Franklin relics at the NMM.

    One question, of course, is where were these instruments between the return of the "Beagle" in 1843 and the sailing of "Erebus" in 1845? Mr Betts tells me the French chronometer (the larger, ship's one) spent fifteen months back with its manufacturer; this movement was logged at the Observatory. Such returns for cleaning & adjustment were not at all uncommon, but no record of such a transfer exists for Arnold 294. It would have been highly irregular for Gore to have retained the other two chronometers during this period, but it seems fairly clear that he was the reason for all three being among the ten aboard "Erebus."

  6. Very interesting, this. It illustrates how much we can learn when we tie 'archaeological' research, by which I mean analysis of finds, with research into contemporary records.

    I think Gore must have been an important man on the Expedition. He was one of the most experienced Arctic officers after Crozier, having been with Back on HMS Terror, and although ranked lower than Fitzjames had been in the Royal Navy for longer. My hunch is that the first winter at Beechey Island it was perhaps Fitzjames and Gore who led sledging parties out from the ships to seek out potential seaways. If (second hunch) Franklin was ailing by summer 1846 - winter 1847, then Fitzjames would no longer be able to do this as he'd presumably have to stay on board Erebus as de facto Captain, which would make Gore the most senior officer to go exploring. Hence his leadership of the group who left the two position reports on King William Island.

    His promotion to 'Commander', as in 'the late Commander Gore', seems to point both to him making it back to the ships after the trip on which they left the notes, and also to his untimely death at some time between (say) June 1847 and April 1848. Perhaps his death was simply caused by disease or diet, or perhaps it formed part of some greater tragedy. Either way I can't help feeling that his loss muct have been keenly felt once the ships were abandoned.