South Shields Local History Group

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Walker, James and Berry, Alexander, Franklin Expedition (RN)

On May 19, 1845 HMS Terror and HMS Erebus left the River Thames with 128 officers and men under the command of Sir John Franklin. 

HMS Erebus and HMS Terror

They were trying to discover the North West Passage; a route which it was hoped would reduce the time taken to sail from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

Sir John Franklin

The two ships had been specially strengthened to deal with the ice and the expedition was well equipped and planned; for the time. They entered Baffin Bay, Greenland two months after setting sail but none of the crew was ever seen by Europeans again, though local Inuit people saw several of the crew later.  The ships were trapped by ice in September 1846 and were abandoned on 22 April 1848.  The men probably died from starvation, hypothermia and scurvy.  Repeated attempts were made to find the ship and crew of “Franklin’s Lost Expedition” as it became known as and 160 years later the wreck of HMS Terror was located in September 2016.

My interest in this story was inspired when I listened to Michael Palin’s brilliant story about HMS Erebus and HMS Terror on the ill fated Franklin Expedition to find the North West Passage.  On a whim I thought were there any Geordies on the trip?  Lo and behold I first spotted a 29 year old South Shields lad James Walker Able Bodied seaman on the HMS Terror. Geordies everywhere!

In August 2023 I took a trip to London and photographed the John Franklin statue and plaque in Waterloo Place, St. James’s, London SW1Y 5ER.

Alexander Berry and James Walker

After I went researching at the National Archives at Kew.  I photographed an enormous 1845 Royal Navy pay book for HMS Terror.  Reference: ADM 27/90/92 folios 318 and 320.

James Walker, £1 and 16 shillings per month, Ann Wood, Sister
Hugh (Heugh) Street, South Shields

At the former St Andrew’s Church in Gravesend is a brass plaque dedicated to the men; rather than officers, it is located at Fourth Portal, St Andrew’s Art Centre, Gravesend, DA12 2BD.  On the 15 September 2023 an experimental event was held entitled “Remembering the John Franklin Crew”.  It was both live and in their new virtual chapel space.

Crew Plaque (Fourth Portal @ St Andrew’s Art Centre, Gravesend)

James Walker
James Walker was probably born in 1819 and baptised at St Hilda’s Church his father was called Alexander and had also been a mariner, his mother was called Mary.  In 1845 he gives his address as Hugh Street (almost certainly Heugh Street, now River Drive) South Shields.  His sister was called Ann Wood (this suggests he never married).  He signed on as an Able Bodied Seamen with the aptly named HMS Terror on May 5th 1845, two weeks before he set sail on his final voyage.My colleague David Fenton discovered the following:

“The navy kept full-service records of all petty officers and above from the time of their enlistment but not of ordinary sailors who left or didn’t get promoted.”

Officers only

“What I do know is that James and Alexander would have been regarded as exceptional sailors and of the highest character to be selected for what was going to be an arduous and hopefully history making expedition.”

“HMS TERROR was also referred to as HMSS extra ‘S’ for survey after conversion in 1836 in some accounts and she had an eventful life.”

“James was baptised at St Hilda church 1st December 1819, father Alexander (mariner), mother Mary.  No other James Walkers on list 1819/20 so it should be him.”

“He is also listed as a character in TV Drama ‘THE TERROR’, though no actor is credited with the roll, so must have been played by an extra.  Still nice to see his name on a list.”

“Allotment note and sisters name from HMS Terror records, National Archives.  He is not on the list of wills.  This suggests he was not married and his parents may have been deceased or estranged. Even in my day all crew had to sign an allotment agreement by law, to make sure their dependants were supported and they didn’t spend all their pay in a foreign port.”

“James was awarded the ‘ARCTIC MEDAL’ posthumously. The medal was instituted by Queen Victoria in 1857 and retrospectively awarded to all ranks of the Franklin expedition.  Franklin ones sell for fortune but were not engraved with recipient’s name so provenance vital.”

James Walker’s family did not apply for his medals, these were available through the London Gazette but the Shields Gazette was slightly more popular here.

Alexander Berry
Alexander Berry was born in 1813 South Ferry Fifeshire, he married Eleanor Wilson on February 19th 1839 in South Shields.  He had previously served on HMS Nimrod in 1832.  He signed on HMS Terror as an Able Bodied seaman on March 22nd 1845 and gave his address as Thames Street, South Shields. 

Eleanor Berry (nee Wilson) lived in Thames Street in the 1841 census with Daniel Wilson, probably her father, also Mary Berry probably Alexander Berry’s daughter, Alexander would be at sea.

Alexander and Eleanor probably have three children born between 1840 and 1845.

His widowed wife Eleanor Berry is likely to have received a pension but does not seem to have applied for an Arctic Medal, later known as the Polar Medal. In the 1871 census Eleanor Berry lived in Shadwell Street, she died in 1888 aged 69.

Arctic Medal (Sample)

Any further information on James Walker and Alexander Berry would be greatly appreciated.

British Newspaper Archives
David Fenton
Terry Ford
National Archives Kew

Terry Ford
Fourth Portal @ St Andrew’s Art Centre, Gravesend

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