Two polar bear claws

These two polar bear claws, with hair attached, are probably from 1845 Northwest Passage Expedition led by Sir John Franklin.

Their provenance has been lost, although the Museum received them from the RUSI Museum in the 1963. An article and sketch in US newspaper 'The Atalanta Constitution' relating to the donation of a number of Franklin relics to the RUSI Museum shows two polar bear claws with long tufts of hair and the other material offered. These claws look very similar to AAA3952.1 and AAA3952.2. The polar bear claws, sometimes referred to as skin or claws in other newspapers, were donated by Lady Ommanney on the death of her husband, Sir Erasmus Ommanney, who had commanded HMS Assistance during the 1850-51 search for Franklin.

The claws was found with other relics by Captain Erasmus Ommanney and his party when he landed at Cape Riley, Devon Island, from HMS Assistance on 23 August 1850. These were the first traces of the Franklin Expedition to be found. The note he left in a cairn at the site stated he found 'traces of an encampment, and collected the remains of materials which evidently prove that some party belonging to her Majesty's ships have been detailed at this spot.' Sherard Osborn recalled: 'numerous traces of English seamen having visited the spot were discovered in sundry pieces of rag, rope, broken bottles and a long-handled instrument intended to rake up things from the bottom of the sea; marks of a tent-place were likewise visible...' [Osborn, Stray Leaves, p.82]. On 24 August he sent Lt. McClintock back to Cape Riley, who retrieved further relics. Ommanney kept some of these items and after his death his widow presented them to the Royal United Services Institution museum in 1905. These included, according to the Portsmouth Evening News (7 September 1905), 'a cutty pipe, with some tobacco still in the bowl (AAA2028), a bit of broken blue crockery, two Polar bear's claws (AAA3952), and a small tray of Gien ware with a wyvern painted on it in colour (AAA2027)'.

Object Details

ID: AAA3952
Collection: Polar Equipment and Relics
Type: Polar bear claws
Display location: Not on display
Date made: 1845
People: Royal United Service Institution
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Royal United Service Institution Collection
Measurements: Overall: 25 x 60 x 80 mm
Parts: Two polar bear claws

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