Fox (ship)

SS Fox (1854).jpg
Merchant Navy EnsignUnited Kingdom
BuilderAlexander Hall and Sons, Aberdeen
FateWrecked 1912
General characteristics
TypeAuxiliary steamship
Tons burthen320 BM
  • 132 ft (40.2 m) (hull overall)
  • 120 ft 6 in (36.7 m)
Beam24 ft 4 in (7.4 m)
Depth of hold11 ft 6 in (3.51 m)
PropulsionSails and steam (16 nominal horse power)
Sail plan3-masted schooner rigged

The Fox was an 1854 steam yacht commanded by Leopold McClintock on a privately funded 1857–1859 expedition to the North American Arctic Archipelago to search for clues about the fate of Franklin's lost expedition.


Early service

Fox was a built as a yacht for Sir Richard Sutton, 2nd Baronet at a cost of about £5000. The ship's hull was diagonally planked with Scotch larch on the inside and East India teak on the outside, and the two-cylinder auxiliary steam engine of 16 n.h.p. gave a speed of about seven knots.

Fox had made just one cruise to Norway before Sutton's death. After a period of use in the Baltic during the Crimean War, the vessel was laid up in a partly dismantled state at the builders' yards. The executors of Sutton's will sold the ship for £2000 to Lady Jane Franklin, for use in attempting to find her husband, Sir John Franklin, and his expedition.

Expedition of 1857–1859

Fox steaming through Arctic waters

Land-based expeditions in 1854 and 1855 under John Rae and James Anderson had discovered relics from the missing expedition north of Back River, south-west of the Boothia Peninsula. Lady Franklin had previously sent three expeditions to search this area, but all had failed to reach it.

She purchased Fox in April 1857, after finally accepting advice that the 159-ton auxiliary schooner Isabel that she had owned since 1852 was too small for the job, and the government had denied her requests to use HMS Resolute. Sailing Master Allen Young donated £500 towards the subscriptions raised for the expedition. Fox's second-in-command was Lieutenant William Hobson.

Fox in a hurricane

Fox left Aberdeen on 1 July 1857, and managed to pass through the Bellot Strait briefly before finding a secure winter anchorage to the east of the Strait off the Boothia Peninsula. Over the next two years extensive expeditions were made by sled to the west of the Boothia Peninsula.

On 6 May 1859, Hobson discovered the only written messages from the missing expedition ever found, in cairns on King William Island. The overland parties returned to the ship, which then left for Plymouth, arriving on 20 September. Three of the ship's crew died during the expedition: the engineer from natural causes, his assistant by a shipboard accident, and the steward from scurvy.

Later service

Still under Allen Young's command, Fox was engaged in survey work between the Faroe Islands and Greenland in conjunction with laying a North Atlantic telegraph cable in 1860–1861, before being sold to the Danish Royal Greenland Company. By the late 1880s, Fox was owned by Akties Kryolith Mine-og Handels Selskabet of Copenhagen, and was refitted with a 17 nhp compound steam engine made by Burmeister & Wain. After a long and useful career, Fox was wrecked on the coast of Greenland in 1912.




  • Francis Leopold McClintock, The Voyage of the Fox in the Arctic Seas: A Narrative of the Discovery of the Fate of Sir John Franklin and his Companions, John Murray, London, 1859.
  • Francis Leopold McClintock, Die Reise der Fox im Arktischen Eismeer. Ein Bericht von der Expedition zur Aufklärung des Schicksals von Sir John Franklin und seiner Gefährten (1857–1859), ed. E. Berkenbusch, St. C. Saar, Wiesbaden 2010
  • Roderic Owen, The Fate of Franklin: The Life and Mysterious Death of the Most Heroic of Arctic Explorers, Hutchinson Group (Australia) Pty. Ltd., Richmond South, Victoria, 1978.
  • [Christian Frederik] Theodor Zeilau, Fox-Expeditionen i Aaret 1860 over Færøerne, Island og Grønland, med Oplysninger om Muligheden af et nordatlantisk Telegraf-Anlæg, Fr. Wøldikes Forlagsboghandel, Copenhagen, 1861.
  • The Times newspaper (London), 16 April 1857, 16 May 1857, 3 June 1857, 6 August 1912.
  • Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of London, 11 February 1861 (RGS, London).
  • Lloyd's Register of Shipping, 1900 edn.
  • Carl Petersen, "Den sidste Franklin-expedition med "Fox", Capt. M'Clintock", Fr. Wøldikes Forlagsboghandel, Copenhagen, 1860.

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SS Fox (1854).jpg
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Fox-Expeditionen i Aaret 1860 over Færøerne, Island og Grønland - no-nb digibok 2009062303023-149.jpg
Illustrasjon hentet fra boken "Fox-Expeditionen i Aaret 1860 over Færøerne, Island og Grønland" av Zeilau, Th. og utgitt av Wøldike (Kjøbenhavn, 1861)
The yacht 'Fox' RMG BHC3351.jpg
The yacht 'Fox'

A portrait of the steam yacht ‘Fox’ which was bought by Lady Franklin in 1857 for an expedition to the Arctic. The ‘Fox’ was strengthened to resist polar ice before setting out on the privately funded expedition in search of Lady Franklin’s husband Sir John Franklin. He had been missing for twelve years during his attempt to discover a sea route north of the American mainland. Following reports that the Inuit had seen Europeans on King William Island and the nearby mainland, the expedition aimed to rescue any survivors, retrieve relics, and establish if Sir John’s expedition had achieved its mission.

Lady Franklin appointed Francis Leopold McClintock to command the ‘Fox’. She crossed the Atlantic and entered the Arctic Archipelago from Baffin Bay. Finding Peel Sound blocked by ice, she sailed down Prince Regent Inlet and wintered at the eastern end of the Bellot Strait. In March 1858, a small sledge party led by McClintock and Allen Young met a party of Inuit near the North Magnetic Pole on the Boothia Peninsula. McClintock purchased a number of items which had belonged to the missing expedition. A larger sledge party also set out and found traces of the missing expedition at Cape Felix. Further south they came across the place where the expedition had reached the shore after abandoning ship. Nearby were found two records, each deposited in a cairn, that provide the only written evidence of Franklin and Crozier’s decisions and the expedition’s route. Further down the coast at Erebus Bay, Hobson found a boat containing a large quantity of equipment and facing in the direction of the abandoned ships. He also found the remains of two men who had been armed with a couple of loaded shotguns at this site. When they crossed to King William Island they found a skeleton in the remains of steward’s uniform. The ‘Fox’ returned to London on 23 September 1859. Of all the voyages sent in search of Franklin, McClintock’s men provided the most information about the fate of the missing expedition.

This ship’s portrait shows the steam yacht ploughing through Arctic waters surrounded by icebergs and large blocks of floating ice. Figures are visible on deck, keeping a look-out, smoke from the stack is shown trailing behind the yacht.

The painting appears at one stage to have been framed as an oval in the manner of topographical works for printed publication.

The yacht 'Fox'