An Evangelical Christian on Franklin’s Last Expedition: Lieutenant John Irving of HMS Terror,

Irving, an officer on Franklin’s Terror, died on King William Island, and his bones were found by Lt. Frederick Schwatka in June 1879 between Victory Point and Cape Jane Franklin. His remains were returned to Scotland and he was reburied in Edinburgh in 1881.

p. 328: With its emphasis on the individual’s personal responsibility for his own soul… [Evangelicalism] spawned an enormous literature of greatly varying quality. These writings were eagerly consumed by Irving and like-minded men and women, and they constituted a significant proportion of the books that accompanied naval expeditions to the Arctic.

p. 329: Earlier, aboard HMS Edinburgh in the 1830s, we know that Irving’s reading include Euclid (for practical geometry), John Sargent’s Memoir of Rev. Henry Martyn (1819), the sermons of Thomas Arnold, the Rev. John Newton’s Cardiphonia, or the utterance of the heart (1819), and the anonymous Advice to a young Christian, or the importance of aiming at an elevated standard of piety (1835). Newton was the son of an HBC factor at York Factory who later became famous in London for his hymns ‘How sweet the name of Jesus sounds,’ and ‘Amazing grace.’

p. 330: in Nov. 1836 Irving wrote to his friend William Malcolm, a former midshipman, from Malta, and the person thought to be responsible for Irving’s conversion: “MY DEAR MALCOLM.—You make enquiries concerning my books and companions, etc. As to books—I have been three years in this ship. I have long ago read all on board, the stock never having been great. But the truth is, that for a long time past I have been very idle. In our mess [HMS Edinburgh] we get all the magazines, Blackwood’s, etc. the reviews, and three or four dozen of newspapers every month, and I must confess with shame that I have read little else for many months past…. I smoke nearly all the evenings…. I have spent all this last year in a most unprofitable manner. [This sounds quite dissolute for an evangelical.]

p. 331: It should be apparent that Irving’s introspective evangelism was extreme even by the standards of his own time…. It would be unfair not to mention that, along with Cardiphonia and Advice to a young Christian, he also possessed, for example, the works of Milton, the Scottish poet Thomas Campbell, and Dr. Johnson’s Dictionary.