A Northwest Passage Guide to Kensal Green Cemetery

{ Kensal Green Cemetery.  Photograph by Alison Freebairn. }   

Several miles northwest from Buckingham Palace there is a Victorian cemetery of sinking graves and tilting monuments:  London's titanic Kensal Green Cemetery.  It encircles more tombs related to the Franklin Expedition and the Northwest Passage search than anywhere else on earth.

This cemetery guide was a collaboration with Alison Freebairn of finger-post.blog.  We have also created Franklin Expedition guides to London (link), Greenwich’s Polar Worlds (link), and Edinburgh (link).

Alison’s full and up-to-date version of this guide is now available at Finger-Post.blog (link), with biographical sketches and additional details added.  This original version, just “photos and a map,” is below.

Our current map:

{ Map of Northwest Passage graves in Kensal Green Cemetery. }   

* * *   


{ From the atrium of the chapel; Jane is buried beneath in the catacomb. }   

Jane, Lady Franklin by Amélie Romilly, chalk, 1816.
NPG 904 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Led ‘The Search.’  Widow of Sir John Franklin.

Note: Access to Catacomb B (where Jane is buried) has been closed for many years.  In 2024 I was able to visit with Alison Freebairn (link).


{ Sophia's cross, facing east.  The church is just off-camera to the left. }   

{ Sophia's vanishing inscription.  Photograph by Logan Zachary. }   

{ Sophia's cross, from behind. }   

Assistant to Jane Franklin for The Search.  A Franklin search ship was named after her.  Niece of Sir John Franklin.  Twice turned down marriage to Francis R.M. Crozier.

I wrote about reconstructing Sophia’s disappearing inscription (link to Illuminator).

Alison Freebairn solved the final words by finding a historic photograph of Sophia’s grave (link to Finger-Post.blog).


{ John Ross, listing to port.  Photograph by Logan Zachary. }   

Sir John Ross by unknown photographer, albumen print, before 1856.
NPG Ax27704 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Two Northwest Passage attempts, one Franklin search.  Cantankerous uncle of James Clark Ross.


{ Edward Inglefield. }   

{ Inglefield inscription. }   

Sir Edward Augustus Inglefield by Stephen Pearce, oil on canvas,
exhibited 1853. NPG 1223 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Franklin searcher who turns up in odd places, such as stealing the coffin plate of John Hartnell, or returning Hall's Goodsir skeleton from DC to London.


{ Box tombs of Robert McCormick (left) and John Barrow Jr. }   

{ John Barrow Jr, inscription detail recovered by Alison Freebairn. }   

{ Partially erased inscription to John Barrow Sr, buried elsewhere. }   
{ The lowest line names the cemetery: St. Martin's, in Camden. }   

John Barrow by Stephen Pearce (link), oil on millboard, circa 1850,
NPG 905, © National Portrait Gallery, London

Son of John Barrow (the famous 2nd Secretary); unlike his father, John Jr was beloved by everyone.

Article on Barrow Jr by Alison Freebairn (link to Finger-Post.blog).


{ Robert McCormick. }   

{ Robert McCormick, inscription detail. }   
{ This tomb rivals Back's for the most difficult inscription in KGC. }   

Robert McCormick by Stephen Pearce, oil on canvas, circa 1856.
NPG 1216 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Naturalist, Franklin searcher.


{ Robert McClure's low red granite tombstone. }   

{ Robert McClure, inscription detail. }   

{ McClure by Stephen Pearce.  Photograph by Logan Zachary. }   

Discovered a Northwest Passage during his Franklin search, though he had to abandon his ship HMS Investigator and complete it on foot across ice.


{ Clements Markham's grave, the center cross. }   

{ Clements Markham's grave. }   

{ Clements Markham, left side inscription detail. }   
{ "President of the Royal Geographical Society 1893 - 1905" }   

Sir Clements Robert Markham by Camille Silvy, albumen print,
4 July 1862. NPG Ax60038 © National Portrait Gallery, London

On HMS Assistance the day the first traces were found at Cape Riley/Beechey, as the youngest lad on the 1850-51 search.  Wrote a book about it, Franklin's Footsteps.  Later President of the RGS, and prime mover in the ‘Heroic Age.’


{ Horatio Austin. }     

{ Horatio Austin's inscription. }   

Sir Horatio Thomas Austin by Stephen Pearce, oil on canvas, 1860.
NPG 1218 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Leader of the Royal Navy's big 1850-51 Franklin search (the one that discovered the Beechey Island winter camp). 


{ George Back, the sunlit white tomb.  Photograph by Logan Zachary. }  

{ George Back.  Photograph: Alison's collection. }   

Ate boots with Franklin.  Nearly wrecked HMS Terror in Hudson Bay.  The namesake of “Back’s Fish River” from the final words of the Victory Point Record.

"Admiral Sir George Back".  This line of his inscription is perfectly impossible to read without either sunlight or a flashlight at just the right angle.  The lower lines are worse.

George Back, detail.

George Back, inscription detail.  Here is where the tinfoil recommendation from Cathy Gibson Whitcombe really shone, as this lower line of letters defied all attempts to see them with the flashlight.  In the video above you can make out, "BORN AT STO..." – George Back, I have since learned, was born at Stockton.  The "S" is quite faded but the "T" and especially the "O" are distinct.  Pressing the tinfoil in to these letters, you feel the ridge that your eyes told you wasn't there.  It's a slightly unnerving experience; I may as well have hunted for letters with my eyes closed.

   [Link to Back's grave location on Google Maps.]


{ Forsyth's buried tomb.  "Charles Codrington... Post Captain..." }   
{ Photograph by Alison Freebairn. }   

Captain of Jane Franklin's 1st search ship (the Prince Albert) on the 1850-51 search.  Ran home early just to break the news about Cape Riley.


{ Grave believed to be Bedford Pim, located in November 2019. }   

{ Bedford Pim.  Photograph: Alison's collection. }   

Rescued Robert McClure's HMS Investigator crew at Mercy Bay.

I wrote about finding Pim's possible grave with Alison Freebairn (link to Illuminator).


{ John Lander (and Sylvester is across the road to the left). }   

John Lander by William Brockedon, black and red chalk, 1834.
NPG 2515(64) © National Portrait Gallery, London

A 'Barrow's Boy.'  Sent to explore Africa with his brother.


{ John Sylvester, approximate location, across road from John Lander. }   

Designed the stove systems that heated the Royal Navy's overwintering Northwest Passage ships.

Alison Freebairn wrote about Sylvester's buried grave (link to Finger-Post.blog).

* * *   


Wilkie Collins.

Author of Frozen Deep with Charles Dickens.  His grave is behind Jane's chapel, not far from McClure.

George Cruikshank.

Illustrator.  His grave is near George Back's.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

Designed SS Great Britain, the ship whose launch was commemorated on the medal found by Joe Ebierbing during the Schwatka expedition (AAA2307 at Greenwich).  His grave is near Pim, Lander, and Sylvester.

* * *   


The photographs on this page were taken on a research trip to London with Alison Freebairn in the winter of 2019-20.  

We were not the first Franklinists to search Kensal Green Cemetery for Northwest Passage graves.  The graves and locations of Jane Franklin, Sophia Cracroft, John Ross, and Edward Inglefield had been written about in the decade before we arrived. 

To this list, our searches added the graves of George Back, Robert McCormick, John Barrow Jr, John Lander, Horatio Austin, and possibly John Sylvester and Bedford Pim.  Alison has since found Charles Codrington Forsyth.

Seeing that we were furthering the map of Arctic graves, Andrés Paredes (of Kabloonas blog) –  mapmaker of the Arctic Graveyard and other Franklin maps – helped us locate another in Kensal Green:  Clements Markham.

The first time someone wrote about Kensal Green Cemetery specifically regarding Northwest Passage graves seems to have been Kenn Harper (link) and Russell Potter (link) in 2009.  Their visit on October 30, 2009 occurred one day after the rededication of the Franklin Expedition sailor's remains at Greenwich Chapel.  After the discovery of HMS Investigator in 2010, Russell wrote further about finding McClure's grave that day (link).  

Mechtild and Wolfgang Opel (of the Trimaris blog) visited in 2012 (link).  Wolfgang got photos of Jane's grave in the catacombs.

Regina Koellner (of Captain of Terror blog) visited in 2016 (link) and 2019 (link).

We are also indebted to Cathy Gibson Whitcombe (at the Franklin history club RtFE) for advising us to use tinfoil to illuminate hard-to-read gravestones.  This trick in particular worked to reveal George Back's seemingly melted-letters inscription.

* * *   

– LZ, Nov 2019 – May 2021

   Updated:  May 20, 2020.  Added inscription detail photo for John Ross.

   Updated:  June 3, 2021.  Added new photographs, portraits, GPS links to Google Maps, and an entry for Charles Codrington Forsyth.  Rewrote the intro, added an appendix, and redesigned the map.  This was done as part of an upgrade to the guide, with the main guide now being hosted at Alison's site (finger-post.blog).