Henry (Harry) Duncan Spens Goodsir

1819 - c.1848

King William Island Commemorative Plaque
(c) Michael Tracy, 2018

King William Island Commemorative Plaque

Naturalist, medical surgeon and explorer. Born in Anstruther Easter (Fife), the son of a surgeon, his elder brother was Prof. John Goodsir (1814-67), who became Professor of Anatomy at the University of Edinburgh. Harry was trained in Edinburgh, where his lecturers included the infamous Robert Knox (1791 - 1862) and was licensed by the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh in 1840. He served as Conservator to the Museum of the Royal College from 1843 until 1845, when he was appointed assistant surgeon and naturalist to the Franklin Expedition. This sailed to the Arctic aboard two ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, under the command of Captain Sir John Franklin, in search of a North-West Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. Last seen in July 1845, the expedition was the focus of numerous searches and much speculation. His brother Robert Anstruther Goodsir (1823-95) sailed twice to the Arctic in an attempt to determine the fate of Franklin's Expedition. Through talking to the Inuit, John Rae (1813-93) was finally able to solve the mystery in 1854. The ships had become ice-bound and eventually the entire crew of 129 had starved to death.

Goodsir's name was inscribed on the Franklin Memorial at the entrance to the Chapel of the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich. Over the succeeding years, the remains of several individuals were discovered in the vicinity of King William Island in the Canadian Arctic. In 1869, the American explorer Charles Francis Hall was shown a grave by local Inuit on the island. Based largely on the clothing, the remains were identified as those of Lieutenant H. T. D. Le Vesconte and were returned to Britain to be interred beneath the Franklin Memorial at Greenwich. Further investigation in 2009, which involved facial reconstruction and isotopic analysis of the teeth, led to the conclusion these were not the remains of Le Vesconte rather they were most-likely those of Goodsir.

The Goodsir Papers, held by the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, comprise letters sent by Harry to his family before his disappearance. In 2018, a plaque was laid by family members near the spot where Goodsir died on King William Island.

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