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Young’s Auctions, which holds sales at West Horsley near Guildford, is offering the honour awarded posthumously to Able Seaman Henry Tait on February 17, estimated at £4000-6000.

Tait was a member of the famed 1845-48 expedition which set out from Britain under Sir John Franklin. Royal Navy captain Sir John was a national hero already after past typically British heroic failures.

The follow-up searches for Franklin, his crews and his two ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, became almost as famous as the original expedition. Sait served on the Terror.

Rumours of cannibalism among the survivors have helped to fuel the notoriety of this compelling tale.

Awarded retrospectively

This particular Arctic Medal was instituted on January 30, 1857, designed by Leonard Charles Wyon, and awarded retrospectively to all officers and men involved in polar exploration from 1818-55, including those actually hunting for Franklin.

According to the Medal Yearbook, “thus the medal was awarded to civilians, scientists, personnel of the French and US navies and employees of the Hudson’s Bay Company” who took part in those searches. Some 1106 medals, out of 1486 in total, were awarded to officers and ratings of the Royal Navy.

Chris Young, owner and auctioneer at the family-run saleroom launched in 2011, says the medal came from a house in Raynes Park, south London.

A lady who had died bequeathed her home and property to a friend, which included this medal. The house owner, a “very thorough lady”, says Young, “kept a handwritten inventory of her precious possessions, an album”. With the medal was the details of her family descent from Henry Sait.

It says Sait was her great-great grandfather and the medal passed to her great-grandfather Robert Sait and then to her uncle, William Yule Sait, and to her in 1968.

Unlike many medals, these Arctic Medals were not engraved with the name of the recipient, although some later did that privately.

Secret revealed

The 19th century searches – many inspired by his widow - never found Franklin, but recent searches have located the remarkable shipwrecks and some graves of those who died.

The Terror was found in Canadian Arctic waters in 2016 in amazingly pristine condition under about 24m of water, two years after the Erebus was also found.

Along with those ship discoveries, coffins exhumed from the graves of three crew members who died early on, in 1846, and were buried by their comrades, revealed eerily well-preserved bodies, mummified in the freezing conditions.