Crozier of Banbridge

Vol. 5 No. 1 - 1984

Crozier of Banbridge

by John Kerr

Crozier Monument

Many people are aware of the picturesque monument erected in memory of Crozier, and overlooked by the house where he was born. Few of us in Ulster know when the man lived, where he died, or what he accomplished. The inscriptions on his monument give us brief answers to the questions - When did he live, where did he die, what did he do, what sort of a man was he? They read:

To perpetuate the remembrance of talent, enterprise, and worth as combined in the character and evidenced in the life of Captain Francis Rawdon Moira Crozier R.N. F.R.S. this monument has been erected by friends, who, as they valued him in life,regret him in death. He was second in command with Captain Sir John Franklin R.N. F.R.S., and captain of H.M. ship Terror, in the polar expedition which left England on the 22 May 1845. Although there remained no survivors of the expedition, enough has been ascertained to show that, to it, is justly due the honour of the discovery of the long sought for North West Passage, and that Captain Crozier, having survived his chief, perished with the remainder of the party after he had bravely led them to the coast of America. He was born at Banbridge, the - September 1796, but of the place or time of his death no man knoweth unto this day."

Francis Rawdon Moira Crozier was born at Banbridge in September, 1796, being the fifth son of George Crozier, a solicitor and a man of property. The family were friends of the Marquis of Downshire and the Earl of Moira. It was from this Earl of Moira - "the best known public character in the three kingdoms" - that Crozier derived one of his christian names.

At the age of thirteen he became, on the 12 June, 1810 a first class volunteer in the Royal Navy, firstly on H.M. ship "Hamadryad," followed by the guardships "Meander" in the Thames, and "Queen Charlotte" at Portsmouth. Two years later he was appointed Midshipman of' the "Briton" under Commander Sir Thomas Staines.

They sailed to the Pacific, where, on the 17 September, 1814, they found the hitherto uncharted Pitcairn Island, with forty English speaking descendants of the Bounty mutineers. On his return home from his voyage Crozier passed the examinations for his Master's ticket in 1817, thus determining that his was to be a naval career, showing a very great deal of both academic and practical ability when scarcely twenty-one, and having spent his years from thirteen in the navy.

His next voyage in 1818, to the Cape station was as mate of the sloop Dottrell, and his commission over, he returned in 1820, and met Captain (later Sir) Edward Parry, who was about to start his second attempt to find the North West Passage, the legendary route north of Canada to the Pacific.

Crozier, as a Midshipman, joined this expedition in Parry's own ship, the Fury, which sailed on the 8 May, 1821. Also on board as a Midshipman was James Ross, and he and Crozier became firm friends. Ross later became Admiral Sir James Ross, and was known to his friends as "Sabine." Crozier was best man at his wedding.

The voyage lasted two and a half years during which time Crozier carried out scientific observations. Various recreations were devised to keep up morale during this long voyage, and these included the formation of the "Royal Arctic Theatre!" In one production, Sheridan's "the Rivals," Crozier played the part of Sir Francis O'Trigger.

In November, 1823, they were back in England for a rest and a refit of the ships. Parry was determined on a third attempt, and they set out on the 19 May, 1824, in the "Hecla" with the "Fury" as consort. In July, 1825, the "Fury" became waterlogged and had to be abandoned, as was the voyage. Both crews returned on the "Hecla" to Peterhead on the 12 October, 1825. For his naval services Crozier was gazetted Lieutenant on the 2 March, 1826, and was also elected a Fellow of the Royal Society for his scientific work.

Parry had now given up his search for the North West Passage, but determined instead to reach the North Pole. On the 27 March, 1827, with Lieutenants Crozier and Ross, he sailed in the "Hecla" from Deptford and arrived at Spitzbergen on the 12 May. They then anchored in Treurenbery Bay. Perry and a party of men set off with sleds over the ice, leaving Crozier in command of the ship. For the next 35 days Crozier made magnetic and astronomical observations, and was then rejoined by Parry and his party who had discovered that the ice floe they had been on was drifting faster to the south than they could travel north! They sailed for home, arriving on the 6 October, 1827.

After a spell of shore duty. Crozier was appointed 1st Lieutenant of the frigate "Stag" in 1832 and served off the coast of Spain and Portugal until 1835. He was then able to return to Banbridge for a holiday - and a local crisis. The present parish church had just been completed and was opened that year. There was unfortunately, some bickering over the allotment of pews. Crozier helped to smooth over the friction by taking a pew at the extreme end, remarking that "one was as good as another."

That winter, he volunteered to serve as 1st Lieutenant under his friend Ross, now Captain. They sailed in the "Cova" to Davis Strait where several whalers were frozen in the ice, and managed to rescue them.

On his return Crozier gained the rank of Commander on the 10 January, 1837, because of his reputation for "Science, Seamanship and fertility of resource."

In 1839 the government, under pressure from the Royal Society and the British Academy, decided to send an expedition to the Antarctic for Scientific and Geographical research. Two ships, the "Terror" and the "Erebus," with Crozier as Captain of the former and Ross in overall command on the latter, left Moorgate Road on the 30 September, 1839 and sailed South, landing at Hobart Town, where they were hospitably received by Sir John Franklin, Lt. Governor of Tasmania.

Thus began the friendship between Crozier and Franklin which was to have a tragic end. Thus also began and ended the only love affair in Crozier's life. He was much taken by Lady Franklin's niece, Miss Sophia Cracroft, but she dismissed him as being already totally married to the navy. They did correspond for the remainder of Crozier's life, and, when she died, she left a collection of his letters dating from 1828-45. These were later donated to the Scott Institute.

the Cut Banbridge
The Cut, Banbridge

The ships continued South and discovered "Possession Island" and the mainland named "Queen Victoria Land." The British flag was raised on the site of the South magnetic pole. The polar ice barrier was reached on the 2 February, 1841. A mountain peak was named Mount Robinson after Romney Robinson, the former Belfast boy poet who had become the chief astronomer at Armagh. The eastern cape at the foot of "Mount Terror" was named Cape Crozier, and, at Crozier's request another cape was named Cape Downshire in memory of his friend, the late Marquis. (On his return home, Crozier gave a unique collection of South Sea Islanders' native weapons to the new Marquis).

The expedition returned, anchoring at Folkestone on the 4 September, 1843, without having had a single case of sickness. Ross published "A Voyage of Discovery, 1843" in two volumes, giving great praise to his "trust and tried friend and messmate, Crozier," and Crozier himself found that he had been gazetted "Post Captain" over two years earlier on the 16 August, 1841.

The learned societies and public bodies were now urging the government of the national importance of really finding the North West Passage. In the spring of 1845 Lord Haddington, first Lord of the Admiralty, offered Captain Crozier the chief command, but, for personal reasons, he declined the offer. Sir John Franklin, his old friend, had been dismissed from his post in Tasmania, apparently because of a whispering campaign against him. He was known to hope that he would be offered the command. When it was offered to, and accepted by him, Crozier willingly agreed to accept the second command. It was the act of a gentleman.

The "Terror" and the "Erebus" had both been refitted and were the strongest ships available. Provisions, including canned foods, sufficient for three years were taken aboard. The canned food was to be of little use, because the contents were cooked separately and were then sealed in the cans, most of which were not sterile. Nevertheless, this was a minor matter to the expedition. The crews, totalling 119 men, were hand-picked. They were, in fact, carefully selected from those of the nobility and gentry who were specially qualified in naval or similar services. No ordinary expedition!

Crozier, in the "Terror" and Franklin in the "Erebus" sailed from the Thames on the 22 May, 1845, and reached Whalefish Island, Greenland, on the 4 July. The last letters received from Crozier and Franklin were dated the 10 July. Franklin's letter spoke of Crozier as "an excellent instructor and fellow-worker."

On the 26 July both ships were sighted in Baffin Bay by a whaler, and the message "All well" was signalled. The expedition then disappeared west bound into Lancaster Sound. There was no news in 1846, or, when really expected, in 1847. In 1848 there was great worry, and in March, 1850, the government offered a reward of £20,000 to anyone rendering them aid and £10,000 for authentic intelligence of their fate.

A total of 21 expeditions set out from different countries, including 2 from Britain. One of the latter went overland, led by Dr. John Richardson (lieutenant on two earlier Franklin expeditions) and Dr. John Rae of the Hudson Bay Company. They found a few graves of Franklin's party on Beechie Island. Richardson returned home and left Rae to continue. In 1853 Rae met a party of Esquimaux who had some belongings of the last expedition, including a silver table-spoon with Crozier's crest and the initials F.R.M.C. scratched on - not engraved. He was told that four winters earlier they had met white men dragging sledges, and four months later found their bodies.

In 1854 at the north coast, Rae established that both ships had been frozen in, between Victoria and King William islands, and the remnant of the expedition had left Beechie island in the summer of 1846. Scurvy developed and men began to die - a few in 1846, more in 1847, including Franklin who is thought to have died of heart disease. Crozier assumed command.

In spring, 1848, the remnant tried to move South towards a Hudson Bay company post, dragging boats containing food - mostly inedible - on sledges. They did buy some fresh meat from Eskimaux, but, although armed, they appear never to have shot big game - this meat could have helped counter scurvy. Some who died were buried, some were left where they fell along the west coast of King William Island.

Crozier's letters to his family

Lady Franklin sold almost all her possessions and sent Captain (later Admiral Sir Leopold) McClintock of Dundalk in the steam yacht "Fox" in 1857 to search for her husband. In May, 1859, a sledge party from the Fox discovered, under a cairn in the extreme North West of King William Island, a document dated the 25 April, 1848, ending "Sir John Franklin died on the 11 June, 1847, and the total loss by deaths in the expedition has been to this date nine officers, and fifteen men. F.R.M. Crozier, captain and senior officer. Start on tomorrow for the Backs Fish River."

Rae discovered that some reached this river (the Fish River) on the mainland, where all finally perished, with cannibalism at the last.

When this news reached Britain, the unrelieved tragedy of the expedition, especially the thought that "men of the best families had eaten each other" so shocked all concerned that the search for the North West Passage, which had gone on for three and a half centuries was ended for ever, and Crozier has remained a local, rather than a national figure. To this day it is a fact that not many people can give a plain "Yes" or "No" to the question - "Is it morally right to eat the body of a dead fellow human to preserve life?" The question is an embarrassment. Still, should we not praise famous men... ?

Appendix: The Rev. J. C. Crozier, formerly of Elmwood Church, Belfast, has in his possession the last two letters from Crozier to his family. They are copied here. The first was written from England about three months before the expedition set out, and the last, on board ship, some six weeks before its last sighting.

February 19, 1843

My Dear Charlotte,

I knew not for the last two months what my movements were likely to be, for if a North-West expedition went out it was not my place to become one of the party to be left at home. The thing has now been decided and I this day heard from my old and kind friend, Sir. John Franklin that Lord Haddington had told him that I am to be his second and command the "Terror. " Sir John, with captain Fitzjames, commands the Erebuse. "

Now, of course, you and my dear sister will congratulate me on my appointment, well knowing that idleness on shore would not suit me. I did not wish to write to you on the subject so long as there was any doubt of my going, well knowing what your kindly feelings are. But I assure you, I often felt I ought to give you a line but would not, and indeed could not, write fully and freely. Of course you are aware that it is a service more congenial to my feelings than any other and we all know that the same God rules in all places. Whether on sea or shore, he is ever with us. God love you both, and believe me, my dear sister.

Yours ever,
F.R.M. Crozier.
"The Terror"

June 3, 1845

Once more are we in the broad Atlantic with a favourable breeze for Davis Straits. I wrote to you a few hurried lines from Scotch coast to say how slowly we have been getting on. Now all is prosperous; therefore all in high spirits. I like the officers very much; the first lieutenant is really a very superior fellow and the doctor - our only married man - again is a very nice proper man. Although perhaps, we shall never be the same intimate friends as I was with Robertson, still I would not wish a better.

Kind Lady Franklin gave me such a splendid Scotch muffling shawl or plaid, she is a dear good woman. Sir John amused some of us the other day by reading from her note - "my love to Captain Crozier and my kind remembrances to the rest of the officers!" I regret to find from Sabine's* note that dearly Lady Ross has been poorly and that he is rather uneasy about her, but when I last saw him he was not concerned, though I was, as I did not like her appearance. I had a kind affectionate note from her before I left.

I must say adieu, I will write by transport - she will be here some time early in August. With kind love to all - Believe me, my dear sisters.

Yours ever,

F.R.M. Crozier

* Note from the Rev. J. C. Crozier: Sabine was a pet name for Sir James Ross, the Antarctic explorer, Captain Crozier was best man at his wedding.

  • The Linenhall Library
  • Dr. J. S. Crone's notes on Crozier
  • The Rev. J. C. Crozier who supplied typed copies of Crozier's last two family letters to the Linenhall Library
  • J. Brown's "North West Passage and the Search for Franklin"
  • T. Rundall's "North West Passage. Narratives of voyage towards the North West in search of a passage to Cathay and India"
  • V. Stefansson's "North West Passage."

Erratum: Miss Cracroft was never in Tasmania. She met Crozier in England in 1828.