George Lyon, an officer in the British Royal Navy, died Oct. 8, 1832, at the age of about 37. In 1821, Lyon accompanied Edward Parry on his second voyage in search of a Northwest Passage. Parry’s first voyage was so successful–they got over half-way across the Arctic archipelago–that Lyon must have had high hopes for this second expedition. Lyon was in command of the Hecla, while Parry commanded the Fury, but most of this voyage consisted of being frozen in place at the north end of Hudson Bay–they never did get any further. However, being at a fixed location for two years gave them the opportunity to get to know the local Inuit, and Lyon, who was a gifted artist, contributed many drawings of the Inuit lifestyle to Parry’s Narrative, showing their igloo cities and their engagement in walrus hunting, ice-fishing or riding on dog-sleds. Lyon also wrote and published his own Journal of this expedition, contributing more images to the visual record of the far North.
The year after their return, 1824, Lyon was given his own ship, the Griper, and ordered to return to Hudson Bay to search for an outlet through Repulse Bay to the north. He got nowhere, and his ship was so unseaworthy that he returned home that same year, before winter set in. The Admiralty did not approve of his early bail-out, and he never got another command, but Lyon did publish an account of his adventure, with the admirably frank title: A Brief Narrative of an Unsuccessful Attempt to reach Repulse Bay (1825).
The images above are from Lyon’s two books, and depict, in order: the beginning of the long Arctic night, with the Hecla frozen into the ice; an Inuit igloo village; the Griper in high seas; a native on a sealskin-bladder raft; and a polar bear riding an ice floe. We displayed these two works in our 2008 exhibition, Ice: A Victorian Romance, and in the online version, you can see details of several of the images above, for both the Hecla expedition and the Griper voyage. We also displayed Parry’s account of his second voyage, with wonderful illustrations drawn by Lyon, which you can see here.
Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City. Comments or corrections are welcome; please direct to firstname.lastname@example.org.