Commemorative medal for the launch of Great Britain (1843)

A tin commemorative medal from the 1845 Northwest Passage Expedition led by Sir John Franklin. The medal has a hole bored into it near top and split ring attached through the hole. The obverse shows: The head of Prince Albert (right profile). Legend: 'PRINCE ALBERT. BORN AUGUST 26 1819.' Reverse: Starboard broadside view of the six-masted vessel Great Britain under sail. Legend: 'THE GREAT BRITAIN.' Exergue: 'LENGTH 322 FT. BREADTH 50 FT 6 IN. DEPTH 32 FT 6 IN. TOTAL WEIGHT OF IRON 1500 TONS. 1000 HORSE POWER. LAUNCHED July 19 1843 BY HRH PRINCE ALBERT.'

This item was recovered from Starvation Cove (also called Starvation Bay) at around July 1879 by a party from the US expedition under Lieutenant Frederick Schwatka between 1878-1880. It is described as 'Item 71. Medal found in a grave near Starvation Cove' in the 1881 catalogue of items that he sent back to Britain in 1881 [TNA, ADM 1/6600].

Schwatka's party had split into two. While he remained on King William Island a detached party of Inuit were sent to hunt for themselves and search the mainland following up an account by a man called Ahkgekshewah that a boat and skeletons had been found on the northern coast of the Adelaide Peninsula. The Inuit Joe Ebierbing seems to have been the main one to explore Adelaide Peninsula and Starvation Cove. Henry Klutschak recalled in 'Overland to Starvation Cove' that 'Eskimo Joe more than fulfilled his duty in this area; he had visited Starvation Cove within his first month on the island... shoes, boots, pieces of uniform and button were still lying around... he also found a small silver[sic] medal commemorating the launch of a large English steamer by HRH Prince Albert on 23 August 1843 [sic]' [Klutschak, page 110]. This was the farthest point that the main body of Franklin's expedition reached, having crossed from King William Island to the mainland.

The medal was displayed in the Royal Naval Museum, Greenwich, in 'Case 3, No. 5. 'Medal found in a grave near Starvation Cove'. It was also in Display 14 at the Royal Naval Exhibition at Chelsea in 1891.

Object Details

ID: AAA2307
Collection: Polar Equipment and Relics
Type: Medal
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Unknown
Events: Arctic Exploration: Franklin's Last Expedition, 1845-1848; Arctic Exploration: Franklin Search Expedition, Schwatka, 1878-1880
Vessels: Great Britain (1843)
Date made: 1843
People: Prince Albert, Consort of Queen Victoria; Ebierbing, Joseph
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.
Measurements: Overall: 2 x 25 mm
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