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Proof State of Rare Map of the Polar Regions Showing Search for the Lost Franklin Expedition

Scarce map of the Canadian Arctic, prepared to illustrate the discoveries made by various British expeditions up to, and including, those sent to search for Captain John Franklin. Ironically, while searching for Franklin, many of these follow-up voyages charted most of the Arctic waterways and one even discovered the long-sought Northwest Passage.

This is one of only two known examples of the proof state. Arrowsmith worked closely with the Admiralty and most likely accessed their latest information in making this map.

The map shows the far north of what is today Canada, from northern Hudson Bay in the east to the Great Bear Lake in the west, and from Rowe’s Welcome in the southeast to the McClure Strait in the northwest. Still unknown shores are marked with a dotted line, but the majority are boldly marked.

The map is littered with notes and text blocks with information about polar exploration. Most of the notes discuss which expedition was the first to sight which islands and coasts. The text blocks refer to the search for Sir John Franklin, a cause célèbre of the nineteenth century. While Franklin’s precise fate remains a mystery, enough clues were found by the tens of expeditions that searched for him to ascertain that both his ships and all his men were lost. These expeditions also gathered much new geographic knowledge, especially that of McClintock in the Fox.

At the bottom center, for example, the map includes a note entitled "Record of the Franklin Expedition found at Victory Point by Captn. McClintock, 1859." This was the most significant find in the search for Franklin, although many other relics were located at several sites, as the legend in the lower left corner indicates.

In the northeast, in Baffin Bay, an inset shows a “Sketch of Bellot Strait by Captn. Allen Young.” Nearby, another inset shows Beechey Island, where Franklin wintered in 1845-6. Bellot Strait is the base from where McClintock’s men, including Young, searched for Franklin.

Previous expeditions and Franklin’s overland expeditions

In addition to the search for Franklin, which was one of the stories of the century, this map provides a broad overview of exploration in the region up to 1859. The Admiralty and privately-funded voyages had sought a northerly maritime route to the markets of Asia for centuries.

One of these voyages was that of Christopher Middleton. Middleton had served as a captain in the Hudson’s Bay Company; he was commissioned by the Royal Navy to seek a Northwest Passage in 1740. He sailed in 1741 and charted new straits near Rowe’s Welcome. Both the Wager River and Frozen Strait, as marked on this map, were Middleton discoveries. However, they were also his undoing. Subsequent bickering with Arthur Dobbs, Irish MP and Northwest Passage schemer, over the nature of the Frozen Strait and whether or not the Wager River was a river or a passage led to Middleton’s financial ruin and the end of his command career.

The 1818 in the title of this map refers to the voyage of John Ross, who made it to Baffin Bay and Lancaster Sound. Ross thought the Sound only an inlet, and went no further. He was followed by a voyage led by Edward Parry, who had been with Ross, in 1819. Parry wintered at Melville Island, gaining him an Admiralty prize for passing the 110th meridian west. On his second voyage, 1821-23, he probed the far north reaches of Hudson Bay. One his third voyage, of 1824-25, he searched for the Northwest Passage in the Prince Regent Inlet. Ross also returned to the Arctic, but neither man located the passage.

In the southwest of this map, many mentions of Franklin are made, but with dates in the 1820s. These refer to his overland expeditions of 1819-1822 and 1825-27. While the first voyage was marked by privation, the second saw Franklin and his men chart over 1,000 miles of Arctic coastline. Other overland expeditions also made contributions, such as those of George Back (1833-35) and Peter Dease and Thomas Simpson (1837-9).

The search for the Franklin Expedition

The blue track snaking through Wellington Channel, Barrow Strait, and Franklin Channel is that of Sir John Franklin in the Terror and the Erebus. This voyage was intended as a culminations of Franklin’s previous overland journeys, as well as those of Parry, Ross, Back, and Dease and Simpson. Using all the combined geographic knowledge of these expeditions, it was decided to search for the Northwest Passage on the south side of the Barrow Strait.

Franklin’s voyage, crewed by 127 officers and men, set sail on May 19, 1845. They proceeded to Baffin Bay, where they were sighted in July 1845 by two whalers. After that contact, both ships and all the men were never seen by Europeans again.

Arctic voyages typically lasted multiple years, so initially there was no alarm when Franklin and his ships did not return. By 1847, however, Lady Jane Franklin began to worry at the expedition’s absence and lobbied the Admiralty to plan rescue voyages to search for the Terror and Erebus. Charles Dickens, the famous author, was one of Lady Jane’s supporters.

Over course of the following decade, nearly 40 international expeditions, public and private, would set out in search of Franklin. These included those of John Clark Ross, John Ross’ nephew; Horatio Austin, Henry Kellet, John Richardson, Edward Inglefield, and Edward Belcher; several of these men’s names are mentioned on this map.

One of these voyages was that of the Investigator, commanded by Robert McClure (1850-4), and honored here with the McClure Strait.  Separated from his accompanying vessel, McClure passed through the Barrow Strait. He then discovered the Prince of Wales Strait, beyond Parry Sound, where his ship was frozen in the ice. While his ship was stuck fast, McClure continued with sledges overland. He crested a hill and saw land and a body of water previously discovered by Parry—McClure had found the passage at last.

McClure eventually spent four consecutive winters in the Arctic. He transferred to the Resolute after the Investigator was abandoned in the ice. However, the Resolute also got stuck and McClure eventually traveled by sledge and another ship back to England in April 1854.

While several voyages found relics and hints as to Franklin’s fate, it was John Rae on his 1853-4 voyage who discovered what had become of the lost voyage. Thank to Inuit informants, Rae learned that Franklin and all of his men had perished; he also recovered many artifacts that originated on the two ships. Rae was awarded 10,000 pounds, although Lady Franklin thought that further voyages were merited.

Eager for more evidence, such further voyages did sail. Leopold McClintock commanded one such trip from 1857 to 1859. His men discovered the Victory Point letter, which had updates by Franklin and several of his officers as to the fate of the expedition. This letter included the date of Franklin’s death, June 11, 1847, and the date the ships were abandoned to the ice, April 22, 1848. The survivors had set out to the south in an attempt to return overland via the Back River.

The story of the search for Franklin continues to the present day. The wreck of the Erebus was only discovered in 2014. The Terror was finally found in 2016. The location of the ships, farther south of where they were thought to be abandoned, has led to a re-evaluation of the accepted narrative of the final days of Franklin’s men.

States of the map and rarity

The present example is dated January 17, 1859 and would appear to be a proof state. We find only one other single example of this state at the James Ford Bell Library, with a presentation inscription from John Arrowsmith to Lieutenant Theodor von Zeilau, who wrote one of the earliest accounts of the McClintock Expedition.

We note two surviving examples of the second state of the map, dated January 17, 1860: British Library and National Maritime Museum.

Then, the map title changed to:

Sir John Franklin's Arctic discoveries, between Baffin Bay & Cape Bathurst, combined with those of Sir Edward Parry in 1819, and the several searching expeditions, concluding with that of Sir Francis L. McClintock in 1859.  Constructed by John Arrowsmith  

We note three institutional examples of the edition with the new title shown above:  American Geographical Society (UWM), Boston Athenaeum, and an example in a Czech Library.  

We note that the map has appeared on the market twice:  Harmsworth collection 1948 (with a note of Sir R. Leicester Harmsworth stating that the map belonged to Sir J. Richardson, the Arctic explorer, and was marked by him) and a copy offered by Waterloo Fine Arts in 1989 (Spring & Summer Catalog entry 8166).

The map was also modified and featured in fragmented form in McClintock’s The Voyage of the Fox in Arctic Seas. a Narrative of the Discovery of the Fate of Sir John Franklin and His Companions (London: 1859).  

Condition Description
Minor soiling at upper right corner.  Upper right corner reinforced with old paper for support.
Adriana Craciun, Writing Arctic Disaster: Authorship and Exploration (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016); Glyndwr Williams, Voyages of Delusion: The Quest for the Northwest Passage (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003). KAP
John Arrowsmith Biography

The Arrowsmiths were a cartographic dynasty which operated from the late-eighteenth century to the mid-nineteenth. The family business was founded by Aaron Arrowsmith (1750-1823), who was renowned for carefully prepared and meticulously updated maps, globes, and charts. He created many maps that covered multiple sheets and which were massive in total size. His spare yet exacting style was recognized around the world and mapmakers from other countries, especially the young country of the United States, sought his maps and charts as exemplars for their own work.

Aaron Arrowsmith was born in County Durham in 1750. He came to London for work around 1770, where he found employment as a surveyor for the city’s mapmakers. By 1790, he had set up his own shop which specialized in general charts. Arrowsmith had five premises in his career, most of which were located on or near Soho Square, a neighborhood the led him to rub shoulders with the likes of Joseph Banks, the naturalist, and Matthew Flinders, the hydrographer.

Through his business ties and employment at the Hydrographic Office, Arrowsmith made other important relationships with Alexander Dalrymple, the Hudson’s Bay Company, and others entities. In 1810 he became Hydrographer to the Prince of Wales and, in 1820, Hydrographer to the King.

Aaron Arrowsmith died in 1823, whereby the business and title of Hydrographer to the King passed to his sons, Aaron and Samuel, and, later, his nephew, John. Aaron Jr. (1802-1854) was a founder member of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) and left the family business in 1832; instead, he enrolled at Oxford to study to become a minister. Samuel (1805-1839) joined Aaron as a partner in the business and they traded together until Aaron left for the ministry. Samuel died at age 34 in 1839; his brother presided over his funeral. The remaining stock and copper plates were bought at auction by John Arrowsmith, their cousin.

John (1790-1873) operated his own independent business after his uncle, Aaron Arrowsmith Sr., died. After 1839, John moved into the Soho premises of his uncle and cousins. John enjoyed considerable recognition in the geography and exploration community. Like Aaron Jr., John was a founder member of the RGS and would serve as its unofficial cartographer for 43 years. Several geographical features in Australia and Canada are named after him. He carried the title Hydrographer to Queen Victoria. He died in 1873 and the majority of his stock was eventually bought by Edward Stanford, who co-founded Stanford’s map shop, which is still open in Covent Garden, London today.