Tag Archives: SirRobert McClure

George Strong NARES 1831-1915

13 Jul George Strong Nares

The courage and fortitude of eighteenth and nineteenth century naval Officers and Boys I read about never fails to impress. How did they keep going when the odds were stacked against them?  The answer of course is twofold.- the excitement, the interest, the adventure of the life was persuasive,  but also there were few alternatives: the army, the church, or possibly medicine. Since families were commonly large, employment was a must.

George Nares  was one of these men. His future was preordained. As sixth child of a naval officer, the sea beckoned. His father, William Henry Nares, who was promoted Commander in 1814, had taken part in the capture of French ships and defended Italy, Sicily and Cadiz against the French.. The sea and sea stories would have been in George’s background.

Photo Portrait of George Strong Nares
George Strong Nares

George Nares was born on the 24th April 1831 in Llansenseld, near Abergavenny in Monmouthshire, South Wales.  He was the third son and the sixth child.  He was educated in the Royal Naval School in Camberwell, London, (now closed), this was a charitable institution for the ‘Sons of Officers of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines’. He then joined the Royal Navy in 1845 at the age of fourteen – fourteen was the mandatory age for Cadets to join. His naval training began on HMS Canopus,  an old battleship, captured by the English in Horatio Nelson’s time and, by this time a hulk (afloat but not seaworthy). Here he would have received some academic education,  as did all  the naval cadets. Teaching took place for several hours each morning.

HMS Canopus

Training and experience followed. He was posted in 1848, to the Australia/New Zealand Station on HMS Havannah. At this time he passed his midshipman examination. This was followed, in 1852, by a successful  attempt at the examinations to become a Lieutenant – he came second in his group.

The vicissitudes of a naval career are many. I am going to concentrate on three important expeditions which involved Nares. These are:

  1. The search for Sir John Franklin
  2. The Challenger Expedition
  3. The British Arctic Expedition of 1875–76



Sir John Franklin

While Nares returned to England on Havannah in 1851, it was suggested  that he should apply for a place on  Sir Edward Belcher’s expedition which was to sail to the Arctic in search of definite evidence of the fate of Sir John Franklin’s expedition of 1845.  Sir John had disappeared in the Arctic, along with his ships Erebus and Terror and his entire crew, in his attempt to find a way through the North West Passage. The North West Passage is the waterway north of Canada between the Atlantic and the Pacific – there was no Panama Canal at that time, this route was considerably shorter than the usual route between the two oceans and therefore commercially attractive.

Sir Edward’s expedition followed closely after that of Captain Horatio Austen’s in 1850-52. Austen had set out on the same mission, but had searched in vain for evidence relating to the Franklin expedition’s fate. In 1852, Sir Edward, in command of five ships. was briefed  again with the goal of finding Franklin (or at least some evidence of his fate). On this expedition the search was to be broadened towards the Eastern Canadian Arctic.  The five ships set out with great hopes of success.

George Nares was accepted as Second Mate on HMS Resolute  on this almost impossible task. This 1852 expedition under Sir Edward’s overall command, was to instill in Nares a profound sense of the mystique  of the Arctic, plus a knowledge of  the scientific approach to Arctic exploration, as well as an understanding of the dangers and challenges of the region.

Model of HMS Resolute

When the expedition finally penetrated the Arctic and reached Beechey Island, Sir Edward sent his ships in different directions.  The channels and islands of the Arctic are a maze to the uninitiated, but in summary, after leaving Beechey Island, Resolute, captained by Henry Kellett, and with Nares on board, accompanied by the tender (supply ship), HMS Intrepid, went west in the search of Franklin. (see map)

Resolute and Intrepid sailed to Dealy Island, (see second map), which is near the shore of Melville Island. Before winter set in, and whilst activities remained possible the crews of both ships searched continuously for clues of the Franklin expedition’s fate. They found none

HMS Resolute & Steamship, 1853, in sea ice off Dealy Island
 Recorded by George Frederick McDougal, Sailing Master on HMS Resolute

A winter camp (1852-53) and a temporary ‘dock’ on land ice near Dealy Island   was organized. Activities and education were also organized. Nares took part in evening school to teach reading, writing and arithmetic as needed by crew members.  Organised activities were very important for morale -the winter- dark, cold, monotonous, could be a time of discontent.about:blankImageUpload an image file, pick one from your media library, or add one with a URL.UploadSelect ImageInsert from URLabout:blankImageUpload an image file, pick one from your media library, or add one with a URL.UploadSelect ImageInsert from URL

During the spring and summer time of 1853 the crews of Resolute and Intrepid continued sledging far and wide, searching unsuccessfully for clues relating to Franklin.

The early months of 1853, brought no expected seasonal change – no spring and summer thaw.  This meant that the ships remained trapped in the heavy ice (see map above). In April 1853, Sir Edward ordered that the tender Intrepid should be abandoned in the ice. The Intrepid crew transferred to Resolute.

By August, the cold front still completely encased Resolute in ice and she was carried slowly eastwards with the ice flow, at about 1.7 miles per day.  As winter (1853-54) drew in, the temperature dropped further, at one point to fifty-nine degrees below zero –  it averaged minus thirty degrees between November 1853 and March 1854.  The crews endured long periods of confinement and inactivity – they were in the dark, there was no exploration, charting, searching or hunting. Also they were on reduced rations. There was no fresh food, all the ships compliment ate tinned food, this brought the ever present danger of scurvy, the dread of all long expeditions.

But even these experiences did not deter Nares from his fascination in the Arctic and for its possibilities of advancement in knowledge.

One important positive outcome of the expedition concerned the 1853 rescue of men from the abandoned ship HMS Investigator  (shown in Map 2) Investigator   which had, set off three years earlier,  was one of the ships who took part in the search for Franklin expedition. She was captained by Robert McClure who, in addition to this search, had made the first journey along the Canadian Arctic from the Pacific to the Atlantic using a combination of sea travel and sledging (thus traversing the North West Passage). Investigator was locked in ice for four

winters, her crew started walking for help and were found by one of Resolute’s crew, Lieutenant Bedford Pim, who guided the men from Investigator  over the 80 miles to safety on Resolute

By April 1854, when Resolute had been encased in ice for over a year, Sir Edward  ordered that she should be abandoned. Her Captain, Henry Kellett was adamantly against this, but naval orders could not be challenged – to disobey would have resulted in court marshal and Kellett had no choice but to obey his commander’s instructions.  So the ships were abandoned to the ice [1]and the crews, including  Nares,  faced a hard march across ice to reach the expedition ships at Beechey Island. They were transported home on transport ships in 1854

Resolute had a remarkable story: The British Government announced in The London Gazette that Resolute was Her Majesty’s property, but no salvage was attempted. In 1855, she was found adrift by the American whaler George Henry, in an ice flow off Baffin Island, over 10,0000 miles from where she had been abandoned. She was taken to New London Connecticut, restored with US government assistance and presented to Queen Victoria.

The importance of recording Nares early Arctic experience is that he gained experience in Arctic geography,  its wildlife, and climate. During the expedition  many geographical locations were explored and named (for example: Northumberland Sound, Prince Edward’s Cape, Prince Albert’s Island, Cape Disraeli) and experiments were undertaken on the freezing of liquids,  the depth of the ice, and the effects of the extreme cold on instruments, as well as details and patterns of Arctic ice floes. His experience had  made him a knowledgeable expert on Arctic matters and this made him an ideal choice for further hazardous expeditions.  He had been fascinated by the Arctic and wanted to return but – to his frustration, no further Arctic expedition undertaken for the next twenty years. 


  1. Command of surveying ship on Australian station
  2. In 1854 Nares specialized as a gunnery officer. He joined the new battleship Conqueror in 1854, which included service in the Mediterranean during the Crimean War.
  3. Nares commanded HMS Newport in the Mediterranean—this posting includes the wonderful story that, at the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, when British ships were lying second in the approach to the canal, Nares manoeuvred Newport through the flotilla to a position in front of the French yacht L’Agile. Newport was therefore the first vessel to sail through the canal. Nares received an official reprimand bur there must have been secret enjoyment amongst those superiors giving the rebuke.
  4. In 1859 Nares wrote a best selling book The Naval Cadets Guide republished as Seamanship.
  5. He was promoted to commander in 1862 and took command of the training ship Boscawen in September 1863 when he was aged 32.

His was to be a successful career