Friday, February 14, 2020

The US President's desk made from a tall ship?

Yes, it's true!  The ship was the HMS Resolute that sailed  from Britain in April 1852 as part of a 5-ship squadron. Their mission? To find the fabled Northwest passage through the Canadian Arctic and search for a missing expedition that had left 7 years earlier.  The HMS Resolute, under Captain Kellett's command sailed west and spent the fall of 1852 through the summer of 1853 sledging across the Arctic in search of the missing ships. Though they never found any trace of the ships, they did find and rescue the crew of the HMS  Investigator, a ship sent out two years before. Afterward, Resolute along with another ship sailed east but got stuck in pack ice all winter. In fact 4 of the 5 ships in the squadron also became frozen in ice. Consequently, the commander of the squadron ordered the ships abandoned and their men to gather on Beechey Island.  Under severe protest, Captain Kellett left the HMS Resolute locked in the slowly moving floe ice, and led his men in a hard march to reach the other ships of the expedition at Beechy Island. From there they returned to England on rescue ships.

Upon returning to England, Belcher, the commander of the squadron, along with Captain Kellett and the other captains of the ships were tried by court martial for abandoning four worthy sea vessels.  All were acquitted but Belcher never received another commission.

Meanwhile Resolute had moved 1200 miles in the pack ice from where she had been abandoned, and
in September 1855, an American Whaler found the ship, split up his crew, and sailed her to his home in New London Connecticut. At the time tensions were quite high between the United States and Great Britain and some people were predicting a third war. So when a senator proposed a bill to buy the Resolute, refurbish her and return her to Britain as a gift, President Franklin Pierce agreed.  The Resolute was sent to Brooklyn Navy yard where she received a complete refitting, and Commander Henry Hartstene USN, sailed her back to Britain, arriving at Spithead on December 12, 1856 where the ship was presented to Queen Victoria as a gesture of good will and peace.  Talk of war soon ceased and the return of the Resolute soon became hailed as an instrument of peace between the countries.

The British sailed the ship for several more years until she was laid to rest at Chatham dockyard in 1879. After the ship was dismantled, Queen Victoria commissioned that four desks be built from it's timbers. One she gave as a gift to President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880. Another smaller lady's desk was presented to the widow of Henry Grinnell. Two more the queen kept herself, one of which is the exact replica of the one presented to Rutherford, which currently resides in Windsor Castle.

The plate on the front of the desk presented to President Hayes reads:

H.M.S. RESOLUTE forming part of the expedition sent in search of SIR JOHN FRANKLIN IN 1852, was abandoned  (74°N 101.367°W) in latitude 74 degrees 41 minutes N longitude 101 degrees 22 minutes W on 15th May 1854. She was discovered and extricated in September 1855 in latitude 67 degrees N (67°N 58.7°W) by Captain Buddington of the United States Whaler GEORGE HENRY.

The ship was purchased, fitted out and sent to England as a gift to HER MAJESTY QUEEN VICTORIA by the PRESIDENT AND PEOPLE of the UNITED STATES as a token of goodwill & friendship. This table was made from her timbers when she was broken up, and is presented by the QUEEN OF GREAT BRITAIN to the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES as a memorial of the courtesy and loving kindness which dictated the offer of the gift of the RESOLUTE.

Pretty awesome, huh? 

I have a new book, She Walks in Majesty that just released today! Happy Valentine's day!. 


  1. That story of the ship-turned-desks is pretty remarkable. Thanks for posting,and congrats on your book birthday!

  2. Loved the story on the boat frozen and floating away. Great story line and I could see you writing a great book on this. I miss your tall ships and handsome Captains snd beautiful long haired beauty just lost at sea and rescued by the handsome Captain !!