David H. Stam's Anthologies of the Reading Experience
H.M.S. Assistance 1853 library
HMS Assistance of the Royal Navy was engaged in two voyages for the British Franklin search expedition, together with several other ships including HMS Resolute. The first was from May 1850 to Sept. 1851 (commanded by Erasmus Ommanney) when the crew wintered on Griffiths Island, Barrow Strait. There they found some traces of the Franklin expedition, and also established the British Navy tradition of man-hauling on a number of sledge journeys. The ship returned to England in Sept. 1851.
Its second expedition (commanded by Sir Edward Belcher), part of a squadron of five ships, left England in April 1852, with Assistance going through Wellington Channel to winter on northwest Devon Island. The following summer the ship was beset by ice and again wintered over, this time on Devon Island at Cape Osborn. In August 1854 the ship, along with HMS Pioneer, was again beset and Belcher ordered their abandonment at Lancaster Sound (as he already had with Resolute and Intrepid in the Barrow Strait).
The 1893 Catalogue of the Royal Geographical Society Library includes this entry: A Catalogue of the Library established on board H.M.S. “Assistance,” Capt. Sir E. Belcher, &c., Wellington Channel 1853 (p. 756). Presumably a printed version of the manuscript catalogue at the National Maritime Museum Library in Greenwich, I have been unable to examine a copy.
The ship’s library catalogue appeared aboard ship in a manuscript newspaper, “Aurora Borealis,” apparently intended for circulation to the officers and crew. It appears in two parts, the Seaman’s Library, and books “supplied by the Hydrographer’s Office for use of the officers.” The lists were evidently composed aboard ship during the second Arctic voyage. It is impossible to determine the exact edition of many of the titles listed so I have chosen the latest London edition published before the April 1852 departure. If the closest date is for an American edition, an earlier English edition is listed when possible. When no contemporary editions have been found a later edition is included if available. The manuscript, now at the Maritime Museum in Greenwich, is sometimes difficult to decipher and some titles remain unidentified.
This is essentially a short-title catalogue derived from the WorldCat, RLIN, and COPAC data bases. (Unfortunately RLIN no longer exists.) Unidentified titles, some due to illegibility and others due to their generic and non-specific nature, are so indicated. We claim no authority for any of the attributions given; the attempt has merely been to give an approximation of the books available on shipboard.