Isabel (ship)

The Yacht 'Isabel' Lying off Deptford RMG BHC3419.jpg
Isabel Lying off Deptford, London
United Kingdom
BuilderHilary McIsaac, at St Peter's Bay, Prince Edward Island
General characteristics
Class and typeAuxiliary steamship
Tons burthen149 net register
Length86.5 ft (26.4 m)
Beam22.9 ft (7.0 m)
Depth of hold11.9 ft (3.63 m)
PropulsionSails and steam (16 nominal horse power V-twin)
Sail plan2-masted brigantine rigged

Isabel was a vessel intended to be used in four planned expeditions in search of the fate of Franklin's lost expedition between 1852 and 1856, although she only managed to reach the Arctic once, in 1852. All of these expeditions were sponsored by Lady Jane Franklin who also owned the vessel over most of this period, and expended much money for little result.

The Isabel was a nearly-new sailing vessel when Donald Beatson purchased her in 1851 for a proposed expedition to the Arctic via the Bering Straits. Lady Franklin became one of the major sponsors of the expedition, but lack of funds forced Beatson to withdraw from the project in April 1852.

Lady Franklin became the ship's owner and, it being too late to reach the Bering Straits in time for the following summer, arranged for the vessel to make a brief sortie to the coast of Greenland under Edward Inglefield, RN, with Thomas Abernethy as his ice master, later that year.

Isabel caught in the ice pack

Public subscriptions, including over £1671 from Van Diemens Land received early in 1853, allowed Lady Franklin to send the Isabel for the Bering Straits under William Kennedy, who had been commander of her previous expedition using the ketch Prince Albert in 1851. The sailing master was Robert Grate, who had been a crewman on the first Prince Albert expedition in 1850, and sailing master on the second.

However, Grate and most of the crew mutinied at Valparaiso in August 1853, on the grounds that they believed the vessel was too small and unsuitable for the mission. After two years trading on the South American coast in the hope of finding another crew for the Bering Straits, Kennedy returned the ship to England in 1855.

After preparations were begun late in 1856 to send Isabel back to the Arctic via Baffin Bay, Lady Franklin was finally convinced that the ship was unsuitable. After unsuccessful efforts were made to acquire HMS Resolute, Isabel was sold and replaced by the auxiliary steamship Fox. Isabel later became the tender to the Arctic whaler Emma.

Her engine was later removed, and Isabel was still in service as a sailing vessel, owned by G. Sinclair of Aberdeen, in the 1880s.


  • John Brown (1860). The North-West Passage and the Plans for the Search for Sir John Franklin: A Review with maps, &c., Second Edition with a Sequel Including the Voyage of the "Fox" London, E. Stanford, 1860.
  • Edward Augustus Inglefield, A summer search for Sir John Franklin; with a peep into the polar basin, Thomas-Harrison, London, 1853.
  • William Kennedy, A short narrative of the second voyage of the "Prince Albert" in search of Sir John Franklin, Dalton, London, 1853.
  • 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.
  • Lloyd's Register of Shipping, 1886 edn.

External links

Media files used on this page

The Yacht 'Isabel' Lying off Deptford RMG BHC3419.jpg
The Yacht 'Isabel' Lying off Deptford

(Updated, March 2015) This painting was presented to the Museum in 1951, with another unrelated one, and was long dated to around 1820 and attributed to George Chambers senior (who would have been only 17 in 1820). Since the brigantine-rigged steam yacht shown was only built in 1850, when Chambers senior had been dead for ten years, he cannot be the artist. On closer comparisons it is also not typical of his style but appears instead to be by his son and pupil, George William Crawford Chambers (usually called George Chambers junior, 1829-78), who did a large number of Thames views - though mainly small ones- and can be of more variable quality. This is a very good example, which is probably why it was for so long (to March 2015) taken for his father's work. Another reason for believing it by him is that NMM BHC3420 - though not a pair in size - is also by him and shows the 'Isabel' from the same angle while on Sir Edward Augustus Inglefield's 1852 search for Sir John Franklin's lost Arctic expedition. For this the yacht was privately fitted out by Lady Franklin. The present painting was probably done for Inglefield, since the donor in 1951 was his descendant Lieutenant-Commander Aubrey Inglefield: the provenance of the other is not yet clear. Here the ‘Isabel’ is shown off Deptford Dockyard, either on point of arrival or departure (though not necessarily for the expedition), or airing sails, with a view of Greenwich in the distance.

Chambers junior was a London-based marine artist, whose career has presented some problems, since while he was known to have lived into the 1870s his date of death long proved elusive. The existence of one or two paintings of South American landscape subjects signed George Chambers, and a false report that he died late in the century in Trinidad, also gave the impression that he later worked there. Apart from the landscapes mentioned, now assumed to be by another artist who shared the name, there is no evidence he crossed the Atlantic and in 2012 a newspaper death notice in 'The Standard', 17 January 1878, was found showing he died at 112 Livingstone Road, Clapham Junction (Wandsworth), on 12 January with his age given as 47:since he was baptized at St Paul's, Shadwell on 8 July 1829, he was more probably 48. The cause given in official records was 'phthysis' - long-standing tuberculosis - which was also that of his father's even younger death (at 37 in 1840).

The Yacht 'Isabel' Lying off Deptford
Civil Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg
Red Ensign, Civil Ensign of the United Kingdom
Isabel caught in the ice pack.png
HMS Isabel, Command of Edward Augustus Inglefield