ON THIS DAY IN 1796
On 16 August, 1796, Francis Crozier was born in Banbridge, Co. Down. He was a veteran polar scientist and explorer, being on five expeditions to the polar regions—north and south. He assumed command of the expedition to find the northwest passage after the death of Sir John Franklin in June, 1847. This expedition ended in disaster as the two ships, Erebus and Terror were caught in ice and abandoned. The fate and whereabouts on the crew was a mystery and much is still unknown about the ill-fated expedition.
Francis Crozier was born in 1796, at Avonmore House in Banbridge, County Down, Northern Ireland. He volunteered for the Royal Navy at age thirteen and served on several vessels before receiving his certificate as mate in 1817. In 1821, he joined Captain Perry’s unsuccessful expedition to find the northwest passage, returning to the Arctic with Perry in 1824 and again in 1827. Crozier conducted astronomical and magnetic studies on those expeditions and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1827. He also became a close friend of James Clark Ross.
In 1839, Crozier turned to the Antarctic. As second-in-command of Captain Ross’s expedition to explore the southern polar continent, Crozier captained the Terror which was accompanying the Erebus. On this four-year voyage, the expedition penetrated the pack ice of the Antarctic and mapped large areas of territory for the first time, including the Ross Sea, McMurdo Sound and the huge ice barrier known today as the Ross Ice Shelf. Crozier again conducted magnetic studies during his time south and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society on his return for his exceptional work.
In May, 1845, Crozier joined Sir John Franklin’s expedition to find the northwest passage. Crozier captained the Terror which accompanied the Erebus. When Franklin died on 11 June, 1847, Crozier took command of the expedition. The loss of the leader of the expedition only led to worse occurrences for the crew.
On 12 September, 1846, the ships were trapped in ice off King William Island and the expedition wintered on the island. After the ice failed to thaw the following year, the men were forced to wintered again on the island for 1847-48. The ships were abandoned on 22 April, 1848, and by 25 April twenty-four of the men were dead as the survivors intended to march south to the Back River.
Despite reports and artefacts from Inuit peoples and a plethora of searching expeditions of the 1850s to the 1870s, the whereabouts of most of the crew and of the expedition’s ships was a mystery. Francis Leopold McClintock had heard the stories of the Inuit and found human remains, clothing and equipment belonging to the expedition.
In September, 2014, the ‘Victoria Strait Expedition’, using sonar scans located the Erebus at the eastern portion of Queen Maud Gulf, west of O’Reilly Island. The remains of Crozier’s Terror have still to be found.
Monuments and memorials have been erected in memory of Sir John Franklin, his tragic expedition and the officers and crew that went into the polar north in 1845. In the Chapel of St Peter and St Paul at the Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich, stands a large marble memorial to Franklin and the men of the Erebus and the Terror.
In Church Square, Banbridge, Crozier’s home town, stands an imposing monument to the man himself. Its inscription begins:
To perpetuate the remembrance of talent, enterprise, and worth as combined in the character and evidenced in the life of Captain Francis Rawdon Moira Crozier R.N. F.R.S. this monument has been erected by friends, who, as they valued him in life, regret him in death.
In life as well as in death, it has been argued that Crozier and his legacy have been victims of prejudice. For the 1845 expedition, Crozier was passed over in the selection of leader—not only Irish, but Crozier was an Irish Presbyterian. Like Sir Ernest Shackleton and Tom Crean (amongst many others) after him, popular knowledge of Crozier’s manifold achievements has been vulnerable to political changes in Ireland. These men flew under the ubiquitous Union Jack and have, at times, been neglected in receiving the due recognition that they deserve.
There are many geographic features—rivers, islands, capes and channels—in both polar regions (and even a lunar crater!) named after Francis Crozier. The study of Crozier was assisted by the publication of Michael Smith’s book entitled Captain Francis Crozier: Last Man Standing?.
Nugent, F. Seek the Frozen Lands: Irish Polar Explorers 1740-1922. Cork, 2013.
Smith, M. Captain Francis Crozier: Last Man Standing? Cork, 2014.
Smith, M. Shackleton: By Endurance We Conquer. Cork, 2014.
A good place to start. Let your mouse and your curiosity keep clicking and read around.
Article by John Hagan, ‘Francis Crozier, Arctic Hero’ on Culture Northern Ireland website.
‘Bringing the Francis Crozier story back to Banbridge’, Banbridge Leader, Friday 20 March 2015.
Article by Ian Maxwell, ‘Banbridge’s Forgotten Hero’ on Culture Northern Ireland website.
Kerr, J. Crozier of Banbridge. Journal of Craigavon Historical Society Vol. 5 No. 1.
Information and details about the Crozier Monument in Banbridge, Co. Down, from the website of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council.
Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich, website with information on the Sir John Franklin Memorial.
Information, details and photographs of the Sir John Franklin Memorial in Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich, from the Victorian Web website.
Frank Nugent’s book, Seek the Frozen Lands: Irish Polar Explorers 1740-1922, at the Collins Press in Wilton, Co. Cork.
Michael Smith’s book, Captain Francis Crozier: Last Man Standing?, at the Collins Press in Wilton, Co. Cork.
Channel 4 documentary. Secret History: Hunt for the Arctic Ghost Ship (Channel 4 sign-up is required to view this documentary. Well worth it.):