Beechey Frederick

Frederick Beechey's entry into the Royal Navy was sponsored by Lord St Vincent, and although Beechey saw little action during the Napoleonic Wars, family connections, combined with his skill with pen and brush, secured his appointment to David Buchan's 1818 Arctic expedition as second-in-command and chief draftsman to Sir John Franklin aboard HMS Trent. Beechey's capable performance and Franklin's recommendation led to an appointment in 1819 as second-in-command of the Hecla on Sir William Edward Parry's first Arctic expedition, and to command of his own expedition in 1825. Such expeditions offered naval officers opportunities for peacetime adventure and promotion. For the Royal Navy, sponsoring expeditions of geographical exploration and scientific discovery was partly motivated by the availability of idle ships, officers, and crews, but primarily by Britain's strategic and commercial interests. In 1818, concern over Russia's Arctic exploration and expansion across the Pacific, as well as whaling captains' reports of favorable ice conditions, prompted the Admiralty to sponsor a search for the North West Passage.

While Sir John Ross's expedition was to probe for the westward passage, Buchan's two ships left London on April 25, 1818, sailed north from the Shetlands to seek a more direct polar route, and approached Bear Island (Bj0rn0ya) on May 24. Despite employing seasoned whalers as pilots, Buchan's expedition only reached 80°34' N, no more than Constantine Phipps had achieved 45 years earlier. Damage from the icepack forced the ships to return home, but the voyage yielded useful surveys of the coast of Spitsbergen, as well as valuable experience for Lieutenants Franklin and Beechey, who afterwards proposed an assault upon the Pole over the icecap.

In May 1819, Parry's expedition set out for Lancaster Sound. By August Beechey was exploring ashore as Hecla and Griper sailed south through Prince Regent Inlet, before turning back at 71°53'30" N, to resume their westward passage through Lancaster Sound, Barrow Strait, and Melville Sound. On September 6, they crossed 110° W, and thus won the Board of Longitude's £5000 prize as the first expedition to do so above the Arctic Circle. On September 26, they laid up at Winter Harbour on Melville Island, where Parry, Beechey, and their shipmates, including Edward Sabine and Sir James Ross, passed the winter recording meteorological and magnetic readings, sketching, producing amateur theatricals, and publishing newspapers aboard ship. The expedition weighed anchor on August 1, 1820, and on August 7 Beechey sighted land (Banks Island) lying southwest of Melville Island, at almost 114° W; however, impenetrable ice barred further westward progress beyond 113°48' W.

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