Monday, August 1, 2011

Library of the Erebus and Terror II

I've written here before about the mystery surrounding the library of books taken aboard HMS "Terror" and "Erebus" on the Franklin expedition. As to the exact number of books, sources vary, and there are few precise descriptions. A copy of the Book of Common Prayer for each seaman was donated to the Expedition, and documents also mention the inclusion of a standard "Seaman's Library," though exactly what that meant in 1845 is not entirely clear. A number of the officers, particularly Fairholme and Fitzjames, mentioned their reading in their letters sent home from Greenland; Fitzjames mentions making a catalog of their books, but this, alas, is lost. Our other evidence comes from books recovered by Franklin searchers, most of which are held at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich; here the proof would seem to be definitive, but a number of these books are in such a fragmentary or mutilated condition that positive identification is difficult.

Nevertheless, it may well be possible that this library could, at least to some extent, be reconstructed. Copies of the official narratives of previous polar expeditions would certainly have been included; a standard nautical ephemeris and other reference works surely have been provided. Evidence may be lurking in all kinds of places, and Google Books and WorldCat could help us track down specific editions.

And now there is a perfect venue for such a collective undertaking: the LibraryThing Legacy Libraries project. They already have a catalog of the books aboard HMS Beagle, as well as several other vessels, and I've now created a catalog page for the lost library of Franklin's ships. It's fairly easy to add books -- the system will even look them up in the British Library or other catalogs and automatically fetch details. The criteria for inclusion should be (1) Books mentioned as being aboard by crewmembers or visitors to the ships at any time from their outfitting to the point at which the last letters were sent home from Greenland; (2) Books actually recovered by McClintock and other Franklin searchers; and lastly (3) Books which it can be reasonably inferred were aboard based on period evidence -- e.g. the statement that they had aboard all the previous printed narratives of British polar explorers. You can see that I've started to tag the books.

If anyone is interested in contributing, just drop me a note and I will send you the details so that you can log on, edit, add, and contribute.


  1. Answering my own question, I have found of what a "Seaman's Library" consisted, at least in 1836: it was almost entirely religious tracts and manuals of good behavior.

    Here is the initial list approved in an Admiralty report of 4 June 1836:

    20 Book of Common Prayer, 24mo, demy, nonpareil, without Version of Psalms
    13 Great Importance of a Religious Life
    6 Bishop Wilson's Knowledge and Practice of Christianity Made Easy, Is. 6d.
    3 Bishop Watson's Apology for the Bible, 1 s. 6d.
    4 Nelson's Life, abridged from Sonthey, 3s. 3d.
    48 Directions for a Decent Behaviour in Public Worship,
    48 Jesus Christ a Pattern of Religion and Virtue,
    48 Bishop Gibson's Advice to Persons Recovered from sickness
    48 Stonehouse's Admonitions against Drunkenness
    48 Woodward's Kind Caution to Profane Swearers
    34 Rev. B. B. Woodd's Elementary Questions on the Church Catechism
    34 National Society's School Books
    34 Trimmer's Charity-School Spelling-Book, with Stories of Good and Bad Boys.
    34 Asheton on Death-bed Repentance,
    34 Christian Monitor
    34 Old Chaplain's Farewell Letter to Seamen
    34 National School Society's Book, No. 1

  2. I also note that RJ Cyriax mentions some fiction being aboard E&T -- specifically the Pikcwick Papers and Nicholas Nickleby -- along with some bound early volumes of "Punch" -- but he does not give a source. Does anyone know where this might come from?

  3. Russell, Another small mystery: RHG Thomas in "London's first railway - the London & Greenwich" says "Each ship carried an engineer, three stokers and a copy of Gregory's book of locomotives" which would seem to mean CH Gregory's "Practical Rules for the Management of a Locomotive Engine" 1841. Thomas cites Cyriax who only mentions "technical treatises on the management of steam engines". Thomas reported he had discussions with Cyriax so perhaps Cyriax did provide this information but didn't provide a reference in his book. Perhaps the records of the Victualling Department would repay a closer look.

  4. Peter, many thanks for this. I have added Gregory's book to the library. I may try checking with EC Coleman, who used to work with AGE Jones who himself worked with Cyriax -- I have a feeling there's material out there which was assembled well beyond what was ever published!

  5. I'm moving house and don't have access to my files, or even to my main computer, at the moment. However, I can confirm that the reference to the Gregory book is in the Index to the Admiralty's ADM files now held in the National Archive in Kew. I found this reference myself - it's in the sequence of letters recorded related to the fitting of Erebus and Terror with steam engines. Somewhere it says something like 'request Gregory's work on engines' for each ship.

    I know of at least two other books which were taken. One is a work on Polish geography written by a Polish Count who was a friend of Franklin's. Another was Franklin's own account of his time as Governor of Van Diemen's Land. I'm not sure if this was ever published, but in his letters sent back from the ship Fitzjames says that Franklin showed him 'sheets', presumably proof copies. It must have been a riveting read!

    I will be able to put the full references to these in once I have completed the recovery of my own Franklin archive (currently located in a tallow-filled box somewhere in Hertfordshire) and I may also find a few more references to books.

    Thanks for an interesting idea, Russell.

  6. Hi William, and thanks for your post. Yes, the Gregory citation in Cyriax must lead to the account from the Victualling Department concerning the return of surplus religious texts. But Cyriax, frustratingly, gives no source for his claims of Punch and the Pickwick Papers being on board! Thanks also for the tip on the Polish geography book. Franklin's "little book" was indeed aboard, and was (privately) published;there has since been, I believe, a reprint in Australia.

  7. p.s the book by the Polish count was actually a geography of New South Wales: Physical description of New South Wales and Van Diemen's land, by Sir Paul Edmund de STRZELECKI -- who had visited Sir John and Lady Jane in Tasmania, and formed a friendship with the former.

  8. Should we not also assume several volumes of the Naval Chronicles (my knowledge is more 18th century - or the 19th century equivalent)?

    What a fantastic idea this is by the way, and thanks for introducing me to a wonderful site I had not known before, wonderful stuff as always.