Bellot’s Obelisk

When Sir John Franklin got lost trying to find hte North West Passage, many column inches were taken by the newspapers of the day postulating where he may have become lost – and as to whether he was still alive. Lady Franklin was, understandably, beside herself with worry. Several expeditions tried and failed to find the party, under atrocious conditions and with very little equipment.

A dashing young Frenchman, Joseph Rene Bellot, joined an expedition that Lady Franklin put together in 1851/2, whose courage and bravery was hailed as exceptional. He died in 1853, falling under some ice in Wellington Channel, and such was the public outpouring of sympathy for his feats and fate that £2,000 was raised by public subscription for a memorial. £1500 of this was sent to his sisters, and £500 spent on an obelisk designed by Philip Hardwick and placed in a sleepy, shady corner of Greenwich’s Thames path, sandwiched between the Old Royal Naval College’s railings and the river Thames, one of only two obelisks on the river (I’m not really counting the one just outside the Pepys centre – it’s not actually “on” the river) – and certainly the only memorial to a Frenchman I know of on the Thames…

It’s a fine obelisk and is overlooked by shady plane trees. There are plenty of benches under it which make it a fine place to eat your M&S sandwich whilst enjoying the river views, which, depending on tide are either accompanied by a gently lapping sound as the waters end just below the railings or adorned by a selection of shopping trolleys and old tyres on the mudflats. If it’s during term time, you will also be serenaded by a cacophony of music students practising hard in their cells, which is actually much more pleasant than it sounds.

Franklin himself, by the way, is celebrated in the Explorers section of the National Maritime Museum.


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