Friday, March 09, 2007

From The Arctic to The Oval Office

Sometimes one will come across a tale that is frankly amazing, both in terms of events and outcomes. The tale of the ship H. M. S. Resolute is one such tale. Now, you might ask why a story about an old ship should interest a philosopher, if you read on, you should see why.

The H. M. S. Resolute was very much a ship of it's time. It was a large ship for the day, weighing 424 tons. It was 115 feet long and had a beam of twenty-eight and a half feet. The Resolute was specifically built and fitted out for work in Arctic waters. It was one of the flotilla of ships that joined the many expeditions launched in the year 1850 to hunt for survivors from the ill-fated Franklin expedition. It was initially commanded by Horatio Austin, when it formed part of a four ship search party. This party met with little success.

The Resolute was back in the Arctic in 1852, as part of a five ship expedition headed by Edward Belcher, again searching for signs of Franklin and his crew. This expedition was funded by the British Admiralty. In 1853, the men from the ship, led by Bedford Pim, helped rescue Robert McClure and his crew, when their ship the Investigator got into troubles.

Some time later in 1854, the Resolute and her sister ship the Intrepid became iced in. Much to the chagrin of the crews of these ships, Belcher, the expedition leader ordered that both ships be abandoned. The crews sailed back to England on the ship The North Star.

It is at this point that the story begins to take an interesting twist. In the following year, 1855, the Resolute was discovered by the Connecticut whaler James Buddington, who was captain of the George Henry in the Davis Strait. The ship appeared to have drifted 1,200 miles without a crew! Just eight members of the crew of the George Henry manage to sail the Resolute, including going through a hurricane, back to New London, Connecticut.

In 1856, the US Government bought the Resolute, completely refited her and presented her as a gift to Queen Victoria. The Queen was completely delighted, as the ship was now very well-known.

In 1879, the Resolute was ordered decommissioned. However, Queen Victoria also ordered that the very best timbers from the ship be saved and fashioned into an elaborate desk. In 1890, the Resolute desk was presented to the then US President, Rutherford B. Hayes. Attached to the front of the desk was a brass plaque, which read,

"H. M. S. Resolute--forming part of the expedition sent in search of Sir John Franklin in 1852, was abandoned in Latitude 74" 41' N, Longitude 101" 22' W on the 15th May, 1854. She was discovered and extricated in September 1855 in Latitude 67" N by Captain Buddington of the United States Whaler "George Henry." The ship was purchased, fitted out and sent to England as a gift to Her Majesty Queen Victoria by the President and people of the United States as a token of goodwill and friendship. This table was made from her timbers when she was broken up, and is presented by the Queen of Great Britain and Ireland, to the President of the United States, as a memorial of the courtesy and loving kindness which dictated the offer of the gift of the "Resolute.""

After having occupied various locations in the Whitehouse, including the Oval office and the Broadcast room, in 1993 the desk was returned to the Oval office by President William J. Clinton. It remains there to this day.

Now, if that is not an amazing story, then I do not know what is!

The CP

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