Searching for relic photos at the RUSI in London

By Logan Zachary.  November 25, 2019.

Image details @RUSI_Library on Twitter

In October of 2019, I came upon the RUSI Librarian tweeting historical images of the old RUSI Museum.  Visions of the North readers of the 2018 Beechey Anvil discovery will remember that this London museum once held a large collection of Franklin relics.

In the background of one photo appeared to be the Drummond portrait of Captain Parry.  I sent the identification to the RUSI Librarian, and she – Jacqui Grainger – found and sent back the exact card catalogue entry for it, within a few hours.

This speed is impressive as the cards are not yet digitized.  Jacqui the Librarian is doing a research project on the RUSI “lost museum,” in collaboration with the University of Westminster and funded by Techne AHRC; she hopes to get all the entries sorted and online in the coming years.

Image details @RUSI_Library on Twitter

A month later, I went to the RUSI Library myself, to meet Jacqui Grainger.  In another photo she had posted, I said that it looked like the Beechey Island Finger Post relic may be visible.  The size and height looked about right, and notably it was behind a sledge.  Jacqui gave me a stack of card books, and advised me where to look for the entry.  After a half dozen books, the entry appeared: “Finger Post found on Beechy Island.”  The dated entry of the card was 1957.

But the photograph (from 1927/8) had been quite grainy; this card alone wasn't proof that the object in the photograph was the Finger Post relic.  So Jacqui pointed me to where I might find more photos of the RUSI Museum: in the RUSI Journal.  For about 6 hours, I went through the RUSI Journals in the library.  I found many photos of the Lost Museum, but I never came across more Franklin relics. Nor even the same room that the possible Finger Post was located in (“The Crypt,” Jacqui had explained to me, beneath the main hall of Banqueting House).

I threw in the towel, Jacqui posted the Finger Post to twitter, and I said goodbye.  I walked over to the Banqueting Hall, and went down into the Crypt where the possible Finger Post had stood.  I found the exact spot, and tried to see if there was a notch in the wall 7 feet up.  There was none.

I rode the Underground home, and – after weeks of staring at it – I finally noticed that there is another, a 2nd Franklin relic, in that same photo.  It's even another Beechey Island relic.  And notably: it is placed very close to the potential Finger Post.  That proximity is a significant corroboration that the mystery post was indeed the Beechey Island Finger Post.

When I wrote this up, I challenged the Franklin history club on Facebook (RtFE) to find the 2nd relic; Regina Koellner spotted it in a matter of minutes, the same Franklin researcher who had identified the same relic in an 1878 sketch (link to article)

I believe this means the discovery of by far the oldest known photograph – 1927 – of these two iconic Franklin relics.

I haven't named the 2nd relic here in case you the reader wish to hunt for it.  If you give up looking, you can follow the link to Regina Koellner's discovery above.  Be advised that: there may be additional Franklin relics still unidentified in this old lost museum photograph.

The End. 
 – L.Z.  November 25, 2019.

Visions of the North article on the 2018 Anvil discovery:

Originally posted November 25, 2019 (link to private group):

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The ship at the front of the line appears to be a model of HMS Rodney (1884).

– L.Z.  November 25, 2019.

Updated June 2nd, 2020.  Appendix added: HMS Rodney.

Updated May 2, 2021.  Lightly reworded almost every paragraph.