Remnants of Northumberland House

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reblogged vom Dezember 2012

The wretched remnants of a hut on the remote Arctic Beechey Island bear a proud name: Northumberland House. Since the beginning of the 17th century, this name had stood for the London home of the Percy family, Earls of Northumberland, until it was demolished in 1874.
In Northumberland Avenue which was later created in this area, the Victoria Hotel was one of the largest buildings; today, it is called Northumberland House and serves as a student home for the prestigious London School of Economics. During the summer holidays, it is used as a tourist hotel. This Northumberland House has its own Facebook page with 85 fans. It is located in the heart of London: Trafalgar Square is only 3 minutes away, and Waterloo Place is also within walking distance – the place of the monument of Sir John Franklin, who got lost in the Arctic while searching for the Northwest passage.

Place of the Northumberland House in 18th's century London
Place of the Northumberland House in 18th’s century London

After John Franklin had departed from England to the Arctic with his ships Erebus and Terror in 1845, he spent the first winter in a protected bay near Beechey Island.
This rocky island is situated high in the North of the Arctic archipelago of present-day Canada – beyond the 74th latitude, west of Lancaster Sound, at the Wellington channel in front of Devon Island. From here, Franklin started his last journey in the summer of 1846 – a journey with no return.

On the beach of Beechey Island
On the beach of Beechey Island

During the search expedition six years later, in 1851, the graves of John Torrington, William Braine and John Hartnell were found on Beechey Island: three dead men of Franklin’s unfortunate expedition. Three years later, in 1854, the men of the “HMS Investigator” which had to be abandoned frozen in the ice in the Western Arctic, arrived on Beechey Island after a long walk across the Arctic ice. Here, they spent the summer before they could return to Europe by ship in the Fall. Among them was Johann August Miertsching, who had accompanied the expedition as an interpreter for Inuktitut. On May 4, 1854, Miertsching wrote in his diary:

… There are also three graves, each of them with a black-coated board made of oak timber, with the following inscriptions:
I. „Sacred to the memory of W. Braine, R.M., H.M.S. ‚Erebus‘. Died April 3rd 1846, aged 32 years.“ „Choose ye this day whom you will serve“
II. „Sacred to the memory of Jno. Hartwell, A.B. H.M.S ‚Erebus‘ aged 23 years. – Thus saith the lord of hosts, consider your ways.“
III. „Sacred to the memory of Jno. Torrington, who departed this life Jan 1st, A.D.1846, on board Her Majesty’s Ship ‚Terror‘ aged 20“.

Graves on Beechey Island
Graves on Beechey Island

And right here, on this remote, secluded Island, another “Northumberland House” was now erected – this time not a magnificent stone building, but rather a simple wooden cottage – if even.
In June 1854, Johann August Miertsching wrote in his diary:

… the carpenters are eagerly busy this time, constructing a wooden house at Beechey Island, which should serve as a comfortable home for 60 men and will be filled with food and other necessary things, in the case of Franklin himself or Collinson should stray here by chance. –
But only a short time after that, on July 20, the House got another temporary dweller. As Miertsching wrote, the Commander of the rescue expedition, Captain Sir Edward Belcher, took possession of the house: “At the opening, the house was christened “Northumberland House” by Sir E.. But he sent the accompanying crew back to his lost ships, only keeping 6 men with him who are his bodyguards or sentinels and live with him in the house”.

Remnants of Northumberland House
Remnants of Northumberland House, 2012

One can ponder about whether this naming of the wooden house testifies Sir Edward Belcher’s strange sense of humor or if he rather wanted to recall his high position and to demand respect and submission with that. Or maybe just to label a rather uncomfortable place with a familiar name to make it a bit more “homey”?
Not much is left today of the Northumberland House on Beechey Island. Only a few of the boards and beams are still at their original position and a half-height dry stone wall of unknown purpose is standing in front of the remnants of a coal pile.

About Miertsching see also: A Sorb in the Arctic

Zur deutschen Version hier.

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