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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Arctic Explorer Robert McClure

robert-mcclureSir Robert John Le Mesurier McClure, Irish explorer of the Arctic, is born in Wexford, County Wexford on January 28, 1807.

McClure is the posthumous son of one of James Abercrombie‘s captains, first cousin of Oscar Wilde and spends his childhood under the care of his godfather, General John Le Mesurier, governor of Alderney, by whom he is educated for the army. The McClures are of Highland Scots ancestry, being a sept of Clan MacLeod of Harris. He enters the navy, however, in 1824, and twelve years later gains his first experience of Arctic exploration as mate of HMS Terror in the expedition (1836–1837) commanded by Captain George Back.

Upon his return he obtains his commission as lieutenant, and from 1838 to 1839 serves on the Canadian lakes, being subsequently attached to the North American and West Indian naval stations, where he remains until 1846. Two years later he joins John Franklin‘s search expedition (1848–1849) under James Clark Ross as first lieutenant of HMS Enterprise.

After he returns from the first Franklin search expedition, a new search expedition is launched in 1850, with Richard Collinson commanding the HMS Enterprise and McClure, as his subordinate, given the command of HMS Investigator. The two ships set out from England, sail south on the Atlantic Ocean, navigate through the Strait of Magellan to the Pacific Ocean with the assistance of steam-sloop HMS Gorgon, where they become separated and have no further contact for the rest of their respective journeys.

The HMS Investigator sails north through the Pacific and enters the Arctic Ocean by way of the Bering Strait, and sails eastward past Point Barrow, Alaska to eventually link up with another British expedition from the northwest. Although the HMS Investigator is abandoned to the pack ice in the spring of 1853, McClure and his crew are rescued by a party from the HMS Resolute, one of the ships under the command of Sir Edward Belcher that are sailing from the east, after a journey over the ice by sledge. Subsequently he completes his journey across the Northwest Passage. HMS Resolute itself does not make it out of the Arctic that year and is abandoned in ice, but later recovered. The wood from that ship becomes quite famous later.

Thus, McClure and his crew are the first both to circumnavigate the Americas, and to transit the Northwest Passage, considerable feats at that time. The HMS Enterprise, meanwhile, having arrived at Point Barrow in 1850 a fortnight later than the HMS Investigator, finds its passage blocked by winter ice and has to turn back and return the following year.

Upon his return to England, in 1854, McClure is court martialed for the loss of the HMS Investigator, which is automatic when a captain loses his ship. Following an honourable acquittal, he is knighted and promoted to post-rank, his commission being dated back four years in recognition of his special services. McClure and his crew share a great monetary reward of £10,000 awarded them by the British Parliament. He subsequently is also awarded gold medals by the English and French geographical societies. In 1855 he is elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society.

From 1856 to 1861 McClure serves in Eastern waters, commanding the division of the Naval Brigade before Canton in 1858, for which he receives a CB in the following year. His latter years are spent in a quiet country life. He attains the rank of rear admiral in 1867, and of vice admiral in 1873. He dies on October 17, 1873 and is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery, London.

McClure Strait is later named after Robert McClure, as well as the crater McClure on the Moon.

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Birth of Admiral Sir Francis Leopold McClintock

Admiral Sir Francis Leopold McClintock, Irish explorer in the British Royal Navy who is known for his discoveries in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, is born on July 8, 1819 in Dundalk, County Louth.

McClintock is the eldest son of Henry McClintock, formerly of the 3rd Dragoon Guards, by his wife Elizabeth Melesina, daughter of the Ven. George Fleury, D.D., archdeacon of Waterford. His uncle is John McClintock (1770–1855) of Drumcar House.

In 1835 McClintock becomes a member of the Royal Navy as a gentleman volunteer, and joins a series of searches for Sir John Franklin between 1848 and 1859. He masters traveling by using human hauled sleds, which remain the status quo in Royal Navy Arctic and Antarctic overland travel until the death of Captain Robert Falcon Scott RN in his bid to reach the South Pole. In 1848-49, McClintock accompanies James Clark Ross on his survey of Somerset Island. As part of Capt. Henry Kellett‘s expedition 1852 to 1854, McClintock travels 1,400 miles by sled and discovers 800 miles of previously unknown coastline.

In 1854 the explorer John Rae travels west from Repulse Bay, Nunavut and learns from the Inuit that a ship has been abandoned somewhere to the west. Previous expeditions have not searched the area because they believe it to be ice-blocked. In April 1857 McClintock agrees to take command of the Fox, which belongs to Lady Franklin, and searches for her husband in the area west of Repulse Bay. At Disko Bay he hires thirty sled dogs and an Inuit driver. It is a bad year for ice and from September he is frozen in for eight months. The following year, 1858, is another bad year and he does not reach Beechey Island until August. He enters Peel Sound, finds it blocked by ice, backs up, enters Prince Regent Inlet in the hope of passing Bellot Strait. He is glad to extricate himself from this narrow passage and finds winter quarters near its entrance.

In February 1859, when sledging becomes practical, he goes south to the North Magnetic Pole which had been found by James Clark Ross in 1831. Here he meets some Inuit who tell him that a ship has been crushed by ice off King William Island, the crew has landed safely and that some white people have starved to death on an island. In April he goes south again and on the east coast of King William Island meets other Inuit who sell him artifacts from Franklin’s expedition. William Hobson, who has separated from him, finds the only written record left by Franklin on the northwest corner of the island. They also find a skeleton with European clothes and a ships boat on runners containing two corpses. They get as far south as Montreal Island and the mouth of the Back River.

McClintock returns to England in September 1859 and is knighted. The officers and men of the Fox share a £5,000 parliamentary reward. The tale is published in The Voyage of the ‘Fox’ in the Arctic Seas: A Narrative of the Discovery of the Fate of Sir John Franklin and His Companions. London, 1859.

In 1872–1877 McClintock is Admiral-Superintendent of Portsmouth Dockyard. In 1879 he is appointed Commander-in-Chief, North America and West Indies Station with the flagship HMS Northampton. McClintock leaves the Royal Navy in 1884 as a Rear Admiral. He dies on November 17, 1907. He is buried in Kensington Cemetery, Hanwell, Middlesex.

On October 29, 2009 a special service of thanksgiving is held in the chapel at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, to accompany the rededication of the national monument to Sir John Franklin there. It also marks the 150th anniversary of Sir Francis Leopold McClintock’s voyage aboard the yacht Fox.

Admiral Sir Frances Leopold McClintock has several portraits in the National Portrait Gallery, London.


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Heroic Act of Charles Davis Lucas Earns First Victoria Cross

Charles Davis Lucas, a 20-year-old mate on the HMS Hecla in the Royal Navy, hurls a Russian shell, its fuse still burning, from the deck of his ship on June 21, 1854 during the Crimean War. For this action, he becomes the first recipient of the Victoria Cross in 1857.

Lucas is born in Druminargal House, Poyntzpass, County Armagh, on February 19, 1834. He enlists in the Royal Navy in 1848 at the age of 13, serves aboard HMS Vengeance, and sees action in the Second Anglo-Burmese War of 1852–53 aboard the frigate HMS Fox at Rangoon, Pegu, and Dalla. By age 20, he has become a mate.

On June 21, 1854 in the Baltic Sea, HMS Hecla, along with two other ships, is bombarding Bomarsund, a fort in the Åland Islands off Finland. The fire is returned from the fort and, at the height of the action, a live shell lands on HMS Hecla‘s upper deck with its fuse still hissing. All hands are ordered to fling themselves flat on the deck, but Lucas with great presence of mind runs forward and hurls the shell into the sea where it explodes with a tremendous roar before it hits the water. Thanks to Lucas’s action no one on board is killed or seriously wounded by the shell and, accordingly, he is immediately promoted to lieutenant by his commanding officer. His act of bravery is the first to be rewarded with the Victoria Cross.

His later career includes service on HMS Calcutta, HMS Powerful, HMS Cressy, HMS Edinburgh, HMS Liffey and HMS Indus. He is promoted to commander in 1862 and commands the experimental armoured gunboat HMS Vixen in 1867. He is promoted to captain in 1867, before retiring on October 1, 1873. He is later promoted to rear admiral on the retired list in 1885. During his career he receives the India General Service Medal with the bar Pegu 1852, the Baltic Medal 1854–55, and the Royal Humane Society Lifesaving Medal.

In 1879 he marries Frances Russell Hall, daughter of Admiral William Hutcheon Hall, who had been captain of HMS Hecla in 1854. The couple has three daughters together. Lucas serves for a time as Justice of the Peace for both Kent and Argyllshire, and dies in Great Culverden, Kent on August 7, 1914. He is buried at St. Lawrence Church, Mereworth, Maidstone, Kent.

Lucas’s campaign medals, including his Victoria Cross, are displayed at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London. They are not the original medals, which were left on a train and never recovered. Replacement copies were made, though the reverse of the Victoria Cross copy is uninscribed.