Historically Important Arctic Medal H.M.S. Investigator

This sailor was part of:

Search for the Sir John Franklin Expedition

Search for the North-West Passage

Sledging Expeditions

Ship ice-bound and sunk then found 2013


For sale at http://www.ttandm4h.com

Email – ttandm4h@outlook.com

Telephone Jonathan Godwin at 0044 (0) 7765 595662

H. M. S. Investigator – trapped in the ice of the Arctic for several winters before being abandoned to its fate of being crushed and sunk by the ice-pack.


Medal to John Ramsay.  A. B. HMS Investigator, showing the naming style, which is absolutely contemporary of the day.


Historically Important Arctic Medal 1857 to a seaman who sailed on H.M.S. Investigator and  is on the crew list for one of the most renowned voyages in Naval and Exploration history which was pre-eminent in both the search for the Sir John Franklin Expedition and the successful search for the North-West Passage.

The medal is named to John Ramsay H.M.S. Investigator in the form of engraving around the hexagonal rim of the medal.

John Ramsay was an Able Bodied Seaman, crew member of HMS Investigator, Captained by Commander R. J. Le M. McLure.r2

The medal on offer here has been proudly worn, has signs of polishing and also has the usual running repair which is frequently seen on this medal due to its inherent design weakness.r3

The following information about Ramsay comes from records, sourced from the Investigator’s Muster (ADM 38/1026), Board of Trade (BT 113/31), and Arctic Medal 1818-55 Roll (ADM 171/9):

John Ramsay was born and died in Leith, Edinburgh. He served as a merchant seaman prior to signing on to HMS Investigator when aged 31 with the rank of Able Seaman on the 9th January 1850. He signed on at Woolwich.r4

He spent three winters on the ice-bound Investigator and is named in lists of sledging parties.

He returned to the UK, arriving at Sheerness, October 7th, on the North Star with the rest of the crew of the Investigator. The crew of the Investigator were held to await court-martial. Sometime later, following the crew’s exoneration, John Ramsay would have been in receipt of his share of the reward for the discovery of the North-West Passage, which would have been £29 1 Shilling and 5 pennies along with his back-pay, which would have been a significant sum to a man of his standing.

The voyage of the Investigator under McClure is very well documented. It is subject to numerous articles on-line and is the subject of the excellent, investigative book by Glenn Stein titled –

Discovering the North-West Passage – The Four- Year Arctic Odyssey of H. M. S. Investigator and the McClure Expedition.

It may be of interest to collectors to know that a 14-page appendix of in Glenn’s book details the creation and design of the Arctic Medal 1818-55.

The book Discovering the North-West Passage by Glenn Stein, as mentioned above, does record the existence of a second medal held at the Hunterian Museum, Glasgow. This medal is recorded as being named on the reverse. The existence of a second medal is not unheard of. The naming of this museum piece is in the style of late 19th Century and states in block John Ramsay.

We would like to thank Glenn for his interest and advice during our research of this superb medal. A copy of his book will also accompany the medals.

Our research has also uncovered an Obituary of John Ramsay which also includes a sketch of the man. As a historical document this obituary is of significant social interest.

Along with this is a copy of a newspaper article reporting the presentation of a gift to the Ship’s Doctor, Armstrong, form the Officer, men and Marines at a re-union. John Ramsay features in this list.

It is also of note that the crew of the Investigator transferred to HMS Resolute prior to transferring to HMS North Star once it was understood that the Resolute was caught fast in the ice.

Whilst HMS Investigator sank after its release from the ice, the fate of HMS Resolute is equally interesting. The unmanned Resolute became free of the ice and was found some time later, adrift. Having been returned to the UK it was broken up with instructions from Queen Victoria that a desk be made from the timbers and presented to the Americans.

This desk, The Resolute Desk, now sits in the Oval Office in the White House and has been used by Presidents of the United States since.

As stated at the beginning this is a stunning and historical medal.

The Reward Poster produced by Queen Victoria’s Governmentreward_for_finding_franklin_expedition

Extract from the superb book by Glenn Stein confirming that John Ramsay took part in a sledging journey from the Investigator.


The Obituary of John Ramsay.

It is extremely rare to find the obituary to a humble AB, but as you will read, John Ramsay was certainly no ordinary individual. It is to be forgiven that there is no actual mention of his time on the Investigator. The Obituary was written by a journalist who was probably talking to distant family and local members of the public who knew him. It is fair to say that he was a gregarious chap who was obviously fond of telling a tale. At the time of his death the loss of the Investigator will have been almost unknown by the general public but HMS Resolute and HMS North Star would still have existed in folklore. That this is the obituary of John Ramsay of Leith, Edinburgh, who spent 4 years in the Arctic on HMS Investigator, later HMS Resolute and HMS North Star, there is no doubt.

There are some interesting sociological facts in the obituary, none more so than his witnessing a flogging during his time on the Investigator. This was certainly not something that was publicised at the time. Whilst not fully banned by the time of the voyage it was in the process of being banned exactly at the time of the voyage.obit-b

The Investigator was re-discovered on the  ocean floor in 2010 in July 2010. A team of Parks Canada scientists, archaeologists, and surveyors began searching for the sunken Investigator in Mercy Bay at the northern tip of Aulavik National Park. It was the first expedition to search for the ship. The team arrived on Banks Island in the Beaufort Sea on 22 July and began a sonar scan of the area three days later. The ship was detected in the scan 15 minutes later. In order to confirm the discovery, the team made more than a dozen sweeps of the area over the next hour. Its remains were discovered on the shores of the island with the deck of the ship about eight metres below the surface. According to Ifan Thomas, a superintendent with Parks Canada, the ship was found “sitting upright in silt; the three masts have been removed, probably by ice”. The cold arctic water prevented the outer deck from deteriorating quickly. There are no plans to raise the ship’s remains, although the team will send a remotely operated underwater vehicle to take photos of the underwater portion of the ship. (Wikipedia)

A team of six Parks Canada archaeologists, led by Marc-André Bernier, scheduled dives on Investigator site for 15 days beginning on 10 July 2011 to gather detailed photographic documentation and mapping of the wreck. This was the first human contact with the wreck, which lies partially buried in silt 150 metres off the north shore of Banks Island.

A truly stunning, highly evocative and historically important medal which brings to life the hardships and determination of the Victorian explorers. This is a wonderful opportunity to own a piece of that history.

visit our website at http://www.ttandm4h.com or email ttandm4h@outlook.com

or call

0044 7765 595662


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