HC Deb 04 April 1854 vol 132 cc437-41

said, he rose according to notice to move for copies of any instructions which either had been issued, or hereafter might be issued, to the commanders of Her Majesty's ships now engaged in the Arctic regions in the search for Sir John Franklin's expedition. The subject was one which was of such deep anxiety to many persons, who had already for some years experienced the tender consideration and indulgence of the House, that, as the period during which that anxiety must be satisfied, if it could be satisfied at all, was now rapidly approaching, he thought it would be wrong were he, even at that late hour (twelve o'clock), to postpone the matter. He hoped he might be enabled to receive from the First Lord of the Admiralty an answer as satisfactory as that which had been given with respect to the Government operations in the right hon. Baronet's department in another part of the globe. The question he was desirous of putting to the right hon. Baronet was, whether he would inform the House what was the nature of the instructions that might have been, or were about to be, sent to the commanders of Her Majesty's ships now engaged in the Arctic regions? The House was aware that several expeditions had been sent to the Arctic seas in search of Sir John Franklin, and it was also aware that, though no one of them had been successful in the main object for which it was despatched, several had been eminently successful in exploring the coast of America, and in ascertaining that no traces of the expedition of Sir John Franklin were to be found there. Thirty years ago, when Sir Edward Parry entered upon what was called the great Arctic highway, a considerable tract was left for future investigation and discovery, and two years ago the expedition now in the Arctic seas, under the command of Sir Edward Belcher, was despatched to a quarter of those seas as yet unexplored, and which was recom- mended for investigation by a majority of the Arctic officers appointed to consider the question, who believed that Sir John Franklin had passed that way and was yet to be found alive. The principal communication from this side the Arctic seas and the expected exit of the north-west passage was through Wellington Channel; and as yet that quarter had not been entirely explored until some investigations were made a few years ago by Captains Austin and Penny. An expedition in the same channel was still on its course, and, though as yet uncompleted, it was known that it was being pursued with indefatigable industry and zeal. Up to the present moment, however, no official account had been received of the results of that expedition. It was not asked that the Government should send any new expedition, or incur, generally speaking, any additional expense; but that the instructions issued to the commanders of Her Majesty's ships engaged in the Arctic regions should not convey such a peremptory order to them to return home as to prevent them from exercising some discretion as to the expediency of their continuing their efforts in case they should think there was any hope of their being ultimately successful. He regretted the absence of the late Member for the University of Oxford (Sir Robert Harry Inglis), who had always shown himself extremely interested in this matter, and who, had he been present, would have brought it before the House in a much more efficient manner than he had been able to do.


said, it was not usual to produce instructions, or copies of instructions, of this nature; but, under the peculiar circumstances of this case, and considering the moment at which the inquiry was addressed to him, he thought he would best consult the feelings of his hon. Friend, and the feelings of the House, by offering no opposition whatever to the Motion, and by consenting to lay on the table the instructions that had been issued, as well as the instructions that were about to be issued in a few days, with reference to the search for Sir John Franklin. These instructions were about to be framed, and as soon as they were prepared they would be laid upon the table. But perhaps he would not be considered intruding upon the House if he stated the line which the Government intended to pursue with respect to this painful subject. The responsibility involved in dealing with a subject of this description was very heavy; but he was bound to say that he thought he would be neglecting his duty if he did not impose some limit on a search that had now been protracted for nearly nine years, and which had unhappily been attended with great risk and positive loss of life. The instructions that had been issued related to that portion of the search which had been conducted to the westward. It had appeared to him expedient, in the present year, to send some additional ships and to incur very considerable expense, both on the American and on the Eastern shore. A ship had previously been sent to Behring's Straits to communicate, if possible, with Sir John Franklin, and it had passed three winters in the ice. The House was aware that two ships had entered Behring's Straits under the command of Captain Collinson and Captain M'Clure. Last autumn the gratifying intelligence was received that Captain M'Clure was safe, but he grieved to add that with respect to Captain Collinson no information had yet been received, and the most serious apprehensions were entertained as to his safety. The Admiralty had thought it right, as Captain Collinson was last seen near Behring's Straits, to instruct Captain Maguire, of the Plover, to proceed in search of him, and if, happily, he should find that he was safe, then to leave the ice and return to the southward; but if Captain Collinson could not be found, then Captain Maguire had received discretionary orders to spend one further winter in an endeavour to discover some traces of him. Orders had also been given, on the other side, to Sir Edward Belcher, that if any circumstance came to his knowledge which left a lingering hope that by staying out one winter longer the search might possibly be successful, he was to have additional powers to remain out for one winter accordingly; but with that single exception, Sir Edward Belcher was to leave the ice. These were the orders given with respect to both ships; and he (Sir J. Graham) was bound to say, with regard to Sir John Franklin and his gallant band, hardly any hope remained of their safety; and with the single exception that he had stated, with reference to the prolonged stay of the exploring ships for one year more, he had not thought it consistent with his duty to authorise any further efforts to be made in the search.


was of opinion that every endeavour consistent with the honour of the country had been made, and all practicable means exhausted, in the search for Sir John Franklin and the enterprising officers and men who were his companions. He could only believe that the vessels forming the ill-fated expedition under his command had foundered, and that their crews had perished. He knew that this was also the impression prevalent among other professional men, who were capable of arriving at an accurate judgment in the case. As this was his firm conviction, he could not think that the country would be justified, if it exposed gallant and enduring officers and men to the risk inevitable on a continued prosecution of a vain attempt. It was uncalled for, since, beyond doubt, Sir Edward Belcher would, on his return to England from those seas, assure the country of the utter improbability of any success in the undertaking. Until that officer made his report, he (Admiral Walcott) thought that the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Admiralty would be acting with undue haste, if he removed front the Navy List the names of officers who had been sent out to the North Pole; and the more so, as he hoped that Sir Edward Belcher might be expected at a date not later than September or October next. Such tenderness and delay were due to the feelings of their friends and families, as long as the slightest hope could be entertained of their rescue. He, therefore, trusted that the right hon. Baronet would concur with this suggestion, and reconsider the determination which he had expressed.


said, he was satisfied Captain Collinson still remained somewhere in the ice, and though it might seem a somewhat bold opinion, he yet doubted whether Sir John Franklin was lost. The Franklin expedition was last seen in the vicinity of Wellington Channel, while the last accounts we had received from Sir Edward Belcher stated that there was something like what was called an open sea visible beyond that channel. Now, it might be possible that Sir John Franklin was somewhere in this sea, which he had reason to believe was vast and extensive; but, besides that, Captain M'Clure had sent home additional information which should still excite hopes of Sir John Franklin's safety. Captain M'Clure had discovered an island in the neighbourhood of this sea which in some degree furnished the means of life in birds and animals. There were Esquimaux living there too, who must certainly support themselves in some way or other in all seasons; and he, for one, thought it advisable, that during the coming summer the ships should receive orders to explore the sea surrounding that island. Captain Collinson had only been as yet three or four years in the ice, and it should not be forgotten that some six Russians lived upon the island of Spitzbergen for the space of six years without meeting with a human being.


said, that the instructions were express that if Captain Collinson was not heard of, the ships should remain in the ice during the present summer.


said, he entirely agreed that there was no ground for sending out a new expedition in search of Sir John Franklin, but he concurred in the propriety of allowing the ships now in the Arctic seas to pursue the search; he hoped, however, they would be allowed to do so according to their own judgment, and not be required to remain longer in the ice than circumstances would reasonably justify.


said, that a discretionary power was given them to pursue the search as long as they thought necessary.

Motion agreed to.

Copies orderedOf any Instructions which either have been issued, or hereafter may be issued during the present season, to the Commanders of Her Majesty's Ships now engaged in the Arctic Regions in the search for Sir John Franklin's Expedition.