George Mecham collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises of material relating to the British Naval Franklin Search Expedition, 1850-1851 (leader Horatio Austin) and the British Naval Franklin Search Expedition, 1852-1854 (leader Sir Edward Belcher).

Administrative / Biographical History

George Frederick Mecham was born in 1828 at the Cove of Cork [Cobh], Ireland. He entered the Navy in 1841, serving as midshipman in the Pacific between 1846 and 1848 and attaining the rank of acting lieutenant in 1849. In 1850, he was appointed third lieutenant in HMS Assistance (Erasmus Ommanney), on the British Naval Franklin Search Expedition, 1850-1851 (leader Horatio Austin), sent by the Admiralty to search for the missing Northwest Passage expedition by way of Baffin Bay and Lancaster Sound. Sailing from London in May 1850, the expedition reached Beechey Island in Barrow Strait in August, where the first traces of Franklin's winter quarters were found. In October 1850, Mecham travelled east by sledge, laying depots for further sledge operations the following spring and came upon John Ross's and William Penny's winter station on Cornwallis Island. From April to July 1851, the expedition embarked on a major program of sledge travelling south and west of the winter quarters in Barrow Strait and Mecham conducted two of these. Setting out in April 1851, Mecham accompanied Ommanney as far south as Russell Island and the northern extremity of Prince of Wales Island before returning to Assistance in May. Later in the same month, he made a circuit of Russell Island, mapping several kilometres of new shoreline.

Mecham returned to the Arctic as first lieutenant of HMS Resolute (Henry Kellett) on the British Naval Franklin Search Expedition, 1852-1854 (leader Sir Edward Belcher), instructed by the Admiralty to search in the region of Melville Island. Sailing from London in April 1852, the expedition reached Dealy Island off the south coast of Melville Island where it wintered. Setting out in September 1852, Mecham crossed Dundas Peninsula on Melville Island to Liddon Gulf where a depot was secured. During the return trip, he stopped at Winter Harbour where he discovered a note left by Robert McClure describing the position of his ship HMS Investigator, beset in the ice in Mercy Bay since autumn 1851. As a result of Mecham's discovery, the crew of Investigator was later rescued and transferred to Resolute and HMS Intrepid in the spring of 1853. In April 1853, Mecham set out across Melville Island to Cape Russell with a sledge party accompanied by a support sledge under George Strong Nares. Separating at the south coast of Eglinton Island, Mecham continued west, exploring the southern and western coasts of Prince Patrick Island before returning across the interior of the island and tracing the north coast of Eglinton Island. By the time he reached the ships in July, Mecham had travelled over 1800km and charted some 1260km of previously unknown shoreline.

On the voyage home in August 1853, the two ships became beset in the ice in Melville Sound and were forced to spend a further winter in the Arctic. In April 1854, Mecham set out with a sledge party to search in the vicinity of Prince of Wales Strait for signs of HMS Enterprise which, had accompanied Investigator from Bering Strait. On reaching the Princess Royal Islands, he found documents deposited in 1852 indicating that the Enterprise had left the area. On the return journey, Mecham stopped at Dealy Island where he found a note informing him of the abandonment of Resolute and Intrepid and ordering him to proceed directly to the depot vessel HMS North Star at Beechey Island. By the time he reached the ship in June 1854, Mecham had completed the longest sledge journey of the Franklin search, covering a total distance of 2470km.

On his return to England, Mecham was promoted commander in October 1855, later commanding HMS Salamander stationed at Portsmouth and HMS Vixen for duty in the Pacific. He died of bronchitis at Honolulu on 17 February 1858.


The collection is split into two sub-fonds comprising of material relating to the two expeditions respectively

Access Information

By appointment.

Some materials deposited at the Institute are NOT owned by the Institute. In such cases the archivist will advise about any requirements imposed by the owner. These may include seeking permission to read, extended closure, or other specific conditions.


Anyone wishing to consult material should ensure they note the entire MS reference and the name of the originator.

The term holograph is used when the item is wholly in the handwriting of the author. The term autograph is used when the author has signed the item.

Descriptions compiled by N. Boneham, Assistant Archivist with assistance from R. Stancombe and reference to Arctic, exploration and development c500 BC to 1915, an encyclopaedia by Clive Holland Garland Publishing, London (1994) and Exploring Polar Frontiers, a historical encyclopaedia by William Mills San Diego and Oxford, 2003 and 'Mecham, George Frederick' by Jim Burant in Dictionary of Canadian Biography volume 8 edited by Francess G Halpenny, University of Toronto Press Toronto (1985) SPRI Library Shelf 92(08)[pub.1966-] and British polar exploration and research a historical and medallic record with biographies 1818-1999 by Lieutenant Colonel Neville W Poulsom and Rear Admiral John A L Myres, Savannah Publications London (2000) SPRI Library Shelf 737.2

Other Finding Aids

Clive Holland Manuscripts in the Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge, England - a catalogue, Garland Publishing New York and London (1982) ISBN 0824093941.

Additional finding aids are available at the Institute.

Conditions Governing Use

Copying material by photography, electrostat, or scanning device by readers is prohibited. The Institute may be able to provide copies of some documents on request for lodgement in publicly available repositories. This is subject to conservation requirements, copyright law, and payment of fees.

Copyright restrictions apply to most material. The copyright may lie outside the Institute and, if so, it is necessary for the reader to seek appropriate permission to consult, copy, or publish any such material. (The Institute does not seek this permission on behalf of readers). Written permission to publish material subject to the Institute's copyright must be obtained from the Director. Details of conditions and fees may be had from the Archivist.


Further accessions possible