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?