The repaired Arctic exploration ship HMS Resolute enters Portsmouth Harbour in 1857 (Picture: Alamy).
Naval History

HMS Resolute: From Arctic Abandonment To Oval Office

The 19th-century Royal Navy vessel was abandoned in the icy landscape on an expedition before being discovered by American sailors.

The repaired Arctic exploration ship HMS Resolute enters Portsmouth Harbour in 1857 (Picture: Alamy).

HMS Resolute (1850) was a mid-19th-century Royal Navy ship with an unusual life story.

Originally a British merchant vessel named Ptarmigan, she was specially fitted to explore the cold expanses of the Arctic.

After setting out on an expedition in the early 1850s to look for a lost expedition led by Sir John Franklin, HMS Resolute got stuck in the ice in 1854.

Franklin's expedition had gone missing, in search of a northern route to Asia – the Northwest Passage. Resolute never found Franklin.

Resolute's skipper, Vice Admiral Sir Henry Kellett, was ordered to abandon the ship and head back to England.

Having been left behind, Resolute drifted a distance of nearly 1,200 miles by herself.

The Resolute desk in the White House Oval Office (Picture: Alamy).

More than a year later, a US whaling ship came across HMS Resolute adrift in the Davis Strait.

After the Americans rescued and repaired the ship, they returned her to the United Kingdom in 1856 as a symbol of peace, before she was retired in 1879.

A desk weighing 1,000lbs was made from parts of the ship's oak structure and Queen Victoria presented it to then-American President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880 as a gesture of gratitude for the ship's rescue and return.

The desk has supported the work of most US Presidents since, in the White House Oval Office.

Resolute, in the Canadian Territory of Nunavut, takes its name from the ship and is among the most northerly communities in Canada.

It has also been used as a staging point for Arctic expeditions as well as a research station.

Cover image: The repaired Arctic exploration ship HMS Resolute enters Portsmouth Harbour in 1857 (Picture: Alamy).