To the Frozen North – Sir Edward Parry and BRLSI’s World Revealed Exhibition

Relics from Arctic expeditions featuring a board reading Mixed Pickles, sailcloth, iron nail bent into hook


Did you see Ridley Scott’s TV series The Terror all about the ill-fated Arctic expedition that took place in 1845? If so, you may want to see real relics from the true story this series was based on. In which case our World Revealed Exhibition is for you! Get an understanding about the history behind these artefacts by reading our background information on the famous explorer, Sir Edward Parry, featuring real quotes from his journals.

Sir Edward Parry paved the way for Arctic Expeditions, proving that you could survive in the Arctic! Known for his tenacity and leadership, Parry was a key figure in the discovery of the North-West Passage.

Whereas we have thought fit to appoint you to the command of an Expedition, for the purpose of endeavouring to discover a North-West Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean

Above is a direct quote from the official instructions given by the Commissioners for executing the Office of Lord High Admiral of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. In which they instructed Sir William Edward Parry to begin one of many expeditions to uncover the North-West Passage through the Arctic.

But why was going through the Arctic necessary?

Because of trade! Today, navigating navally from the east coast of North America to Asia seems fairly simple through travelling via the Panama Canal. Yet prior to its construction this was not the case; sailors needed to travel westwards around Cape Horn in Chile, or even eastwards around the Cape of Good Hope at the bottom of South Africa, two routes which were long and treacherous.

Since the late fifteenth century, due to its potential as a trade route linking Asia and Europe, the North-West Passage has been explored. Even up until the late nineteenth century, many explorers had been sent to navigate the area in order to discover a feasible route. However, beyond finding a passage on these expeditions, research was undertaken to learn more about the mystery of the Arctic, understanding its climate, the environment and the species living there. See another quote below describing the mission of the expedition:

“….although the finding a passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific is the main object of this Expedition, yet, that the ascertaining the correct position of the different points of the land on the western shores of Baffin’s Bay, and the different observations you may be enabled to make with regard to the magnetic influence in that neighbourhood, supposed to be so near the position of one of the great magnetic poles of the earth, as well as such other observations as you may have opportunities of making in Natural History, Geography, etc, in parts of the globe, etc , little known, must prove most valuable and interesting country; and we, therefore, desire you to give your unremitting attention, and to call that of all the officers under your command, to these points…”

The expedition and exploration of the Arctic was of monumental importance to the history of trade, and shown below, the discovery of the North-West passage was to be quickly communicated back to London:

Should you be so successful as to find a passage to the westward, …you are then to proceed to Kamtschatka… for the purpose of delivering to the Russian Governor, duplicates of all the Journals and other documents which the passage may have supplied, with a request that they may be forwarded over-land to St. Petersburgh, to be conveyed from thence to London….And, after having re-fitted and refreshed, you are to lose no time in returning to England, by such route as you may deem most convenient…..”

William Parry was seasoned in his Arctic expeditions, undertaking four trips into the Arctic. Not only a key figure in uncovering the North-West Passage but known also to be a great commander. Showing how with the appropriate provisions, the survival of a crew and ship in the Arctic could be successful.

However successful expeditions to the Arctic were a rare feat and just 20 years after Parry’s final exhibition, the more tragic Franklin Expedition took place. The Franklin Expedition was met with disaster. From 129 men who were on board, not one survived. It stood as a reminder of the harsh brutality of the Arctic. If you would like to read more about the Franklin expedition see this previous blog –

You can find out more about Parry and view real relics from both his and the lost Franklin Arctic expedition as part of our World Revealed Exhibition. Taken from our BRLSI collection there are many interesting artefacts and items on display. Come along and find out more about this fascinating part of history!

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