They Asked For A Paper–Letter Fragment from the Captain of the HMS Terror

Borrowing its title from a collection of essays by C. S. Lewis, this series, They Asked For A Paper,”  highlights interesting items from the Armstrong Browning Library’s collection and suggests topics for further research.

By Melinda Creech
Manuscripts Specialist, Armstrong Browning Library

Francis Rawdon Moira Crozier (16 August 1796 – after 1848?)

On September 12, 2016 the wreck of the HMS Terror was discovered in Terror Bay, King William Island, in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.

The HMS Terror had began her career as a bomb vessel, engaged in the War of 1812. In fact, it was the vision of the HMS Terror bombarding Fort McHenry that inspired Francis Scott Key to write “The Star Spangled Banner.” In 1836, the ship was refurbished for exploration, making trips to the Arctic (1836) and to the Antarctic (1839). After her trip to the Antarctic, she was again refurbished at Woolwich for a trip to the Arctic through the Northwest Passage.

HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, the two ships used by Sir John Franklin on his 1845 ill-fated search for the Northwest Passage. The ships became trapped in ice at King William Sound (Victoria Strait) for three years, leading to the deaths of all 135 men.

She set sail on May 19, 1845, but never returned. A message, dated April 22, 1848, and signed by Captains Crozier and Fitzjames, was found at point Victory stating that they were abandoning both the Terror and the Erebus. Mystery enveloped the fate of the ship and her crew until the discovery last year. Visit the Royal Museum Greenwich to find out more about the discovery of the HMS Terror.

Letter from Captain F. R. M. Crozier to Sir Thomas, 28 March [1842]. Page 1

Letter from Captain F. R. M. Crozier to Sir Thomas, 28 March [1842]. Page 2.

We at the Armstrong Browning Library have also re-discovered in our collection a fragment of a letter probably written in 1842, shortly before Captain Crozier began his fateful voyage. The letter states:

My dear Sir Thomas,

Thanks for yours of 26th which I received this day on my return from Ireland. I was before perfectly satisfied, and believe me my confidence has not been in the least shaken by Commander Beadons test, and very strange…


…write him so soon as I get a little of my bustle over.

It is possible that Sir Thomas was Sir Thomas Hamilton, 9th Earl of Haddington, who was the First Lord of the Admiralty at the time. Commander Beadon was conducting tests of lifebuoy in February and March of 1842 (Transactions of the Society, Instituted at London, for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce Royal Society of Arts Great Britain, Vol 54 (1843), 121). However, part of the letter is missing.

There is another interesting inscription in pencil at the bottom of the page:

Capt. Crozier —who commanded the same ship as Sir John Franklin’s expedition & was lost with him in 1843-6 . My brother was lost with him.

This letter was found with other letters removed  from an album of letters and autographs collected by Mr. Lewis R. Lucas. However, no one with the surname Lucas was found among the crew lists of either the Terror or the Erebus.

Mystery still shrouds the letter fragment. Who was Sir Thomas? Can we date the letter by Commander Beadon’s lifebuoy tests? What was very strange? What was Captain Crozier’s bustle? Who has the rest of the letter? Whose brother was lost in the expedition of the Terror?


2 thoughts on “They Asked For A Paper–Letter Fragment from the Captain of the HMS Terror

  1. Dear Melinda!

    What a lovely surprise. I have been looking for letters by Francis Crozier in several archives for a little over two years now in order to transcribe and build my research on them. Therefore I’m very delighted to unexpectedly find another – albeit incomplete – piece of the jigsaw puzzle. I think I can help you a bit with dating the letter and why he was in such a hurry.

    Crozier was captain of HMS Terror two times: during the Antarctic Expedition 1839 – 1843 with James Clark Ross and the Franklin Expedition that sailed in May 1845, not 1843 as noted on the letter.

    In 1839 Terror was not commissioned until April (J. C. Ross A Voyage of Discovery and Research in the Southern and Antarctic Region, London 1847) and the ships were fitted out in Chatham, so the letter can’t have been written before the Antarctic expedition.

    On March 28 1842 Erebus and Terror were en route from Antarctica to the Falkland Islands (Ross, Voyage). So the letter can under no circumstances be from 1842.

    The only possible year in which this letter could have been written is 1845. The ships were commissioned on March 4th (Richard Cyriax, Sir John Franklin’s last Expedition) and went to Woolwich to get their steam engines fitted (at that time Woolwich was the steam yard of the Navy). Francis Crozier learned of the final decision to appoint him as Captain of the Terror in Mid-February 1845 while he was in Florence, Italy. The ships sailed on May 19th, and as we learn from the letter in your archive, Crozier did not only have to travel from Florence to London, he also must have been in Ireland for a short time. I think that and the fact that he arrived after the work on the ships had already begun explains his enormous “bustle”.

    Commander Beadon is also a very interesting topic. If we assume that the letter is from 1845, it is interesting to note that in the same year he was granted a patent for a couple of pretty unusual looking screw-propellers. (The Mechanics’ Magazine, Museum, Register, Journal, and Gazette, Vol. 44). It is unfortunate that the rest of the letter is missing, but I can imagine very well that Lord Haddington’s question could have had something to do with those screws and that Crozier might have found them “strange”. Of course that can only be speculation until more is known about that particular correspondence.

    Unfortunately I have no idea whose brother perished with Franklin and Crozier. The note in pencil does not necessarily have to be by the autograph collector. It is very intriguing to speculate about the fact that a letter to Lord Haddington should end up with a relative of one of Franklin’s men. The fact that one half of the letter is missing could indicate that it was kept for the autograph only, or that something of personal matter was removed. The error in the date could mean that it was obtained a considerable time after the expedition sailed, but that, too, is pure speculation.

    Thank you very much for blogging about that fascinating piece of history. I hope I could help a little.


  2. One more thought that just occurred to me: I think that if the recipient of the letter was indeed the Earl of Haddington, the salutation should read “My dear Lord”, not “My dear Sir Thomas”.

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