The expedition was a near disaster – Nares found only a wasteland of ice and his men were ill-prepared for the conditions – but a sledging party did set a new ‘farthest north’ record and large amounts of scientific data were collected before the sensible decision was taken to retreat home in summer 1876.
The geography of northern Canada and Greenland is today dotted with the names of those connected with the expedition.
Nares himself was given the Order of the Bath and received gold medals from the Royal Geographical Society and the Société de Géographie.
His men were given Arctic Medals, an award instituted in 1857 and later known as Polar Medals.
A total of 58 were given to the crew of the converted whaler HMS Discovery and others to the crew of the Cruizer class sloop HMS Alert.
It marked only the second time such honours were awarded (among the first were those given to the parties searching for Sir John Franklin).
One of the Discovery medals came up for auction at Northamptonshire saleroom Humbert & Ellis (19.5% buyer’s premium) on March 19. Estimated at £2000-3000, it was inscribed on the edge to J Cooper Pv Offr HMS Discovery and sold for £5200.
A handful have previously appeared for sale in recent memory.
That awarded to Lieutenant Reginald Baldwin Fulford made £9000 at Forum Auctions in September 2019, while in 2008 one given to William Dougall took £3000 at Dix Noonan Webb and another named for David Taws sold for £5500 at Bonhams.
Taws was one of three ‘ice quartermasters’ on the Discovery, all described as ‘great characters’, despite being ‘dour Scots from whalers and hailing from Dundee and Peterhead’.