A Silhouette in the 1891 Franklin Gallery

This article is an annex to “‘These Sad Relics’: A Franklin Expedition Guide to the 1891 Royal Naval Exhibition” (link).

{ The 1891 Franklin Gallery, courtesy Douglas Wamsley. }   

In the parent article to this piece, the above museum exhibit is identified as the location of the Franklin relics inside the Royal Naval Exhibition’s “Franklin Gallery.”  It consists of a table with glass display cabinets, one of which is quite tall.

There are several unidentified objects seen in silhouette beneath the exhibit.  This article will focus on the upright shape second from the right.

{ Detail from above photograph. }   

Initially I had dismissed this area as storage, given that these items are under the table.  However one detail contradicts this assessment:  the light on the floor just beyond the table’s own shadow.  These silhouetted objects are not buried deep enough to avoid being seen.  They are, in fact, nearly touching that light in back, which is to say: they are on display.  For someone observing this table from the other direction, those objects would appear as flush with that back edge of the table, and perfectly visible.

That position means that they should be evaluated as part of the Franklin relics display.  What are they then?  Given their size, the list of Franklin relics they could be is relatively short.

Once the question is posed, it is evident that the large upright shape could be one of the stoves recovered by Schwatka’s search from Victory Point.  One of those stoves was recently identified by Douglas Stenton and Robert Park as an artifact lacking provenance held by Greenwich’s National Maritime Museum (artifact #AAA4275).  The size and the overall shape of this silhouette beneath the table is significantly closer to that surviving Victory Point stove than to, say, the Beechey Island anvil.

{ Greenwich’s Stove #AAA4275. }   

If its shape is roughly accurate, what can we say about the silhouetted object’s size?  How can we measure an object deep underneath a table in a photograph?

The central glass case at the front of the table is framed by a sign, held aloft with two narwhal tusks.  In the parent article to this annex, Alison Freebairn (Finger-Post.blog) connects that sign to an artifact previously lacking provenance at Greenwich’s National Maritime Museum (artifact #AAB0506).  The museum lists the dimensions for that sign as “622 x 1003 x 45 mm.”  Thus we have a measurement for one object in this photograph.

Using that measurement, if we create two rulers at right angles and overlay them onto the image, we can measure out “622 x 1003” units and adjust their size to agree with the sign — thereby entering a ruler into the photograph.

{ The ‘These Sad Relics’ sign, measured to 622 x 1003 mm. }   

Moving that same ruler over to the silhouette gives us the following rough measurements:

{ Measuring the silhouette: “shoulders,” “waist,” & height. }   

Greenwich offers measurements for their Victory Point stove #AAA4275:

520 mm x 350 mm x 510 mm x 29 kg.

The comparison below uses a graphic (left) of Greenwich’s stove adapted from a photograph in Stenton & Park’s paper.  As the camera’s angle was head-on, it allows us to estimate how much of the 520 mm height of Greenwich’s stove belongs to the short “chimney” in back.  I have roughly estimated it here to be 11% of its height.

{ Height and width comparisons. }   

What we see by this comparison is that the silhouette’s measurements appear to be too small.  And so they should be:  the silhouetted object sits at the far end of the display table, while the ruler measuring the sign is at its very front.

How could we measure that depth?  We do not yet have a measurement for any object at the back of the table.  Perhaps a sophisticated computer analysis could analyze all the angles in the photograph, and so determine the table’s dimensions.  Or we could analyze the ratios of the measurements and see if they are roughly similar.

But a simple tool for measuring depth is already present in the photograph:  the table’s legs.

There are four legs along the right side of the table, appearing “next to” each other in the photograph, each decreasing in size as they travel significantly further back along the table’s edge.

{ The table’s legs. }   

As mentioned at the outset of this article: the silhouetted object appears to touch the shadow at the back edge of the table.  Similarly, we know the narwhal tusks holding up the ‘These Sad Relics’ sign are flush with the front edge of the table.

Therefore, we need only measure the back table leg, then measure the front table leg, and determine how much the height has “grown” as the legs marched towards us.

{ Back and front leg height comparison. }   

In the above image, the ruler is artificially set to measure the back leg as 1 “units” tall.  Copying an identical ruler forward, the front table leg then seems to have grown to 1.24 units — a false increase of 24%, caused by moving from the back to the front of the table.

Therefore, we should increase the potential ‘stove’ silhouette measurements by 24% to adjust for depth.

{ Revised height and width comparisons. }   

This would seem to create a significant match.  While allowing for the necessarily rough nature of these measurements and adjustments, we can now say that the silhouette in the 1891 photograph is roughly the same size as the Victory Point stove held today by Greenwich.

Besides the match of the overall shape, and besides these similar measurements, there is a third reason to believe that this silhouette is a Victory Point stove:  it seems to exhibit not one but two features of the stove’s exterior.

{ Feature comparisons. }   

The silhouette seems to show both the bolted framing “belt” at the top of the stove as well as the metal ring handle on one side.  Remarkably the “belt” in the silhouette even appears to flare outwards as it goes higher, just as we see in the Victory Point stove.

Two such stoves were apparently returned by Schwatka from Victory Point to Britain (Stenton & Park 2020).  Of the two, if this silhouette is the Victory Point stove at Greenwich today, then the outward bulge of the ring handle also reveals to us which way the silhouetted stove is orientated.  This is because only one ring handle survives on Greenwich’s Victory Point stove; the other is missing.  Therefore, for this silhouette to be the same stove, it must be facing backwards and away from us — just as we would expect if it were “on display” at the back edge of the table.

{ Graphic of Stove AAA4275 set next to the RNE silhouette. }   

For all of these reasons, we can be reasonably confident that the silhouette at the far end of the central table in the 1891 Franklin Gallery is indeed a Victory Point stove, with a 50% chance of it being the same artifact #AAA4275 at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich today.

{ Schwatka’s relics, 1881.  Scribner Magazine, Vol. 22, page 88. }   

In closing, it’s worth remarking how interesting this proposed identification would have been had it come but a few years earlier.  Stenton & Park identified Greenwich’s artifact #AAA4275 as one of Schwatka’s stoves in March of 2020 — just two and a half years ago.  The stove had previously been described as “possibly a relic of an Arctic expedition.”  Then in April of 2020, I believed I had identified #AAA4275 as a Schwatka stove from an 1881 relics sketch I’d found (above), only to be informed that Stenton & Park had published the same conclusion one month earlier.

Stenton & Park’s paper had commented that future research was yet needed to “verify our inference that it [AAA4275] might be one of the stoves collected by the Schwatka expedition.”  The 1881 Scribner’s Monthly sketch seems to provide this, showing details as fine as square bolt heads resting at the same tilted orientation as seen on Greenwich’s #AAA4275.  In retrospect, it would have been interesting to instead have tried to reinforce Stenton & Park’s conclusion with only this silhouette from the 1891 Franklin Gallery — or, before 2020, to have identified #AAA4275 with nothing but this silhouette.  As this article arrives a few years afterwards, it can only be added as a complement to the original identification by Stenton & Park and the identification from the 1881 relics sketch.

The End.
 – L.Z.  November 20, 2022.

Appendix 1:  Miscellaneous notes.

There is something wrong with the museum’s measurements for Stove AAA4275.  As listed they are “520 mm x 350 mm x 510 mm.”  However, the overhead top-down photographs in Stenton & Park’s paper shows the stove’s width and depth to create nearly a perfect square.  In short: one of those 500 mm numbers ought to be in the 300s.  As only the depth measurement is likely to be incorrect, I have ignored this issue in the main article.  Had Greenwich’s AAA4275 not yet been identified, it would have been considerably more important to obtain updated measurements.

The RNE Catalogue’s entry isn’t very illuminating regarding Schwatka’s stove:

Found at Irving Bay—Tin Cover.  Stove and Kettle.  Cooking Stoves and Kettles.

Presumably the first (and notably singular not plural) entry for “Stove and Kettle” is the Victory Point stove silhouette, as we are only seeing one such shape in the Franklin Gallery photograph.


Gilder, William H.
    1881.  Among the Esquimaux with Schwatka.  Scribner’s Monthly, Volume 22, (May 1881 to Oct 1881), pages 76–88.

Source of the 1881 relics sketch showing the Victory Point stove.

Stenton, Douglas R. and Park, Robert W.
    2020.  The “Cast Iron Site” — A Tale of Four Stoves from the 1845 Franklin Northwest Passage Expedition.  Arctic, Vol. 73, No. 1 (March 2020), p. 1–12 (link).

Zachary, Logan.
    2020.  Relic identifications inside a rare sketch of Schwatka relics.  illuminator dot blog, 29 April 2020 (link).

Zachary, Logan.
    2022.  ‘These Sad Relics’: A Franklin Expedition Guide to the 1891 Royal Naval Exhibition.  illuminator dot blog, X September 2022 (link).

The parent article to which this annex belongs.  For information on the RNE Catalogue and its editions, see Appendix 2 in this article.

Links to National Maritime Museum artifact pages on Greenwich’s public website:

The Victory Point stove:  AAA4275 (link).
‘These Sad Relics’ sign:  AAB0506 (link).

– L.Z.  November 20, 2022.