Edward E. Hale’s ‘The Last Voyage of the Resolute’

A stirring story of adventure based on an actual Arctic expedition.
Edward E. Hale’s ‘The Last Voyage of the Resolute’
Adventure lay ahead for a British barque in Edward E. Hale's, ‘The Last Voyage of the Resolute." (Ruslan Eliseev/Shutterstock)

Remember when you were younger and the first snow fell? Powdered magic floated down from the sky and created an immaculate canvas for you. Stepping outside into this foreign world, you let wonder and joy take you anywhere. By the time you came back inside, everything was numb. But what an adventure!

This wonderful sense of adventure drives Edward E. Hale’s short story “The Last Voyage of the Resolute,” as he details the Arctic journey of the British ship Resolute. With the aid of his imagination, he paints a picture of this ship, filling in the gaps where historical accounts end. Despite being abandoned in the Arctic, the Resolute and its crew persevere, and they survive as a symbol of ultimate adventure.

Dare to Go

The Resolute was a 19th-century barque-rigged ship made of durable teak wood, which could withstand Arctic extremes. Originally named the Ptarmigan, the British bought this ship and, fitting it for their Arctic adventures, rechristened it the Resolute.

On April 21, 1852, the Resolute set sail from the Thames River in London, bound for the Arctic to look for the British explorer Sir John Franklin. Fearing for Franklin, who had gone missing for several years, the British amassed a squadron to scour the Arctic for him, his crew, and the ship.

The Resolute, commanded by Capt. Henry Kellett, sailed to the Arctic and, on Aug. 10, 1852, anchored at Beechey Island, where it remained for five days. Then, on the 15th, Kellett left Beechey Island to conduct his own independent adventures.

Kellett took the Resolute along snowy landscapes and icy waters, searching for survivors of previous wrecks and any new scientific discoveries. After anchoring the Resolute off Dealy Island (in modern-day Canada), Kellett sent out 30 to 40 search parties on different expeditions. One expedition, led by Lt. Pim, discovered the ship investigator and saved Cmdr. Robert McClure (a fellow British explorer) and his men, for whom “it had been nearly three years since they had seen any civilized man but themselves.”

Kellett and his men dared to go and endure the horrid winds and temperatures of 51 degrees below zero. And yet, despite such dreadful conditions, they conducted lectures and theatricals and created schools on the Resolute to pass the time. And Hale wrote of their experience during that time: “Such merry winters, such a lightsome summer! So much fun, so much nonsense! So much science and wisdom.”

Dare to Endure

How sad it was on May 15, 1854, when the leader of the entire British squadron, Sir Edward Belcher, ordered Kellett to save his men and leave the Resolute, stuck in Arctic ice. As he and his men left and journeyed to Beechey Island, all laughter and warmth left the Resolute.
HMS Resolute and HMS Intrepid winter quarters, at Melville Island, 1852–53, by George Frederick McDougall, sailing master on Resolute. (Public Domain)
HMS Resolute and HMS Intrepid winter quarters, at Melville Island, 1852–53, by George Frederick McDougall, sailing master on Resolute. (Public Domain)

Yet Hale points out what a fitting name this ship possessed: Resolute. Indeed, it was resolute in the perseverance, adventure, wonder, and fun it held. It endured the Arctic and survived.

On Sept. 19, 1855, after spotting it from his whaling vessel, the George Henry, American Capt. James Buddington boarded the Resolute, which had now been abandoned for 15 or more months. By Oct. 21, 1855, Buddington and his crew had freed the Resolute completely from the ice, and, after fixing it as best they could, he and 10 of his men set sail. On Dec. 24, 1855, they sailed the Resolute safely into a New England port.

What adventures and stories the Resolute held in every dismantled and weather-beaten yard, sheet, plank, and rope. Here was a vessel that, like Herman Melville in “Moby Dick,” exclaimed, “I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts.”

With new terrains and experiences before us, Hale encourages us to grab hold of adventure, wonder, and fun in our lives so that we can see the ship in the snow. Fill our souls with the spirit of the Resolute and dare to go and endure!

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Kate Vidimos is a 2020 graduate from the liberal arts college at the University of Dallas, where she received her bachelor’s degree in English. She plans on pursuing all forms of storytelling (specifically film) and is currently working on finishing and illustrating a children’s book.