More on Arctic voyager Thomas Blanky…

By Katherine Bullimore, Record Assistant

Our previous two posts on Thomas Blanky, or Blenky, of Whitby, who was the ice master on HMS Terror during the ill fated Franklin expedition, have been popular.  As our upcoming Archives at Dusk evening on Thursday 25th May 2023 will include Thomas Blanky, I’m taking the opportunity to add a little more on what Archive records we have for this veteran seafarer.

The men of the 1829 Ross Expedition being rescued by the Hull whaling ship Isabella. Steel engraving from the National Maritime Museum collection, via Wikimedia. Public domain.

We have been asked if we have any records of Thomas Blanky running a pub in Whitby, a claim which appears in Michael Palin’s book Erebus. Unfortunately, we do not hold any pub licensing records covering Whitby for the period 1830-1872. We do have some records for 1822 to 1829, and these show a man called James Wilson held a licence for a Whitby pub called the Lord Nelson from 1825 onwards. This is relevant because Thomas Blanky’s wife, Esther, had previously been married to a James Wilson who died in 1832. This James Wilson was a sailor, but he could have run a pub as a second source of income, with Esther perhaps managing the day to day handling of the business while her husband was at sea. 

Whitby Civic Society has done some further research into this, and found that Esther Wilson was listed as trading from the Lord Nelson pub in 1834 (the information had probably been collected several months before being published which explains why she was still listed as Esther Wilson, despite marring Thomas Blanky in January 1834) and that in 1837 a Thomas Blenkhorn was listed as landlord of the Lifeboat Tavern. The owner was a Mrs Archer. The names Blenkhorn and Blenk(e)y were used interchangeably in Whitby and Thomas the explorer is known to have used both spellings, although he has gone down in history as Thomas Blanky.

There is one other document in our archive that may shed some light. At Michaelmas Quarter Sessions 1836, Eleanor Robinson ‘late of the House of Correction at Northallerton’ was indicted on an accusation of stealing goods from Thomas Blenkhorn in the parish of Whitby on 1st July 1836. The witness list includes Thomas Blenkhorn (although his name was crossed out for an unknown reason) and Esther Blenkhorn.  The goods Eleanor Robinson was accused of stealing were two gold coins called sovereigns value 40s, ‘one gallon of brandy value 10s, one gallon of rum value 10s, one gallon of gin value 10s, and one glass bottle value 1s’. Which certainly sounds like theft from a pub!  Unfortunately no address is given.

Q/SB/1836-Q4/6/14 Bill for the Indictment of Eleanor Robinson

Thomas Blanky was not the only survivor of the 1829 Ross Expedition to come from Whitby. Anthony Buck, an able seaman, was also listed as being from Whitby and is stated to have returned there after the men reached England. Buck, according to John Ross, was born in 1807, the son of a merchant seaman, and had made seven whaling voyages before joining the expedition. He is described as five feet seven and three-eighths inches tall, with slender build, strong features, and dark hair, eyes and complexion.   

Buck had a very difficult time during the expedition’s four years away. He became seriously ill during the summer of 1831, and by the time the men were picked up by a whaling ship in August 1833 he had almost completely lost his sight, although he recovered at least some of his some vision later. 

No baptism of an Anthony Buck has been found in the Whitby parish records, but the marriage of Anthony Buck, sailor, to Margaret Miller is recorded on 16th December 1834. By the 1841 census Buck had left the sea and become a ‘fruiterer’, a trader in fruit.  In 1851 he was listed on the census as an ‘annuitant’, meaning he was living off an annuity, in this case probably the equivalent of a private pension fund.  He died in 1860 and was buried in St Mary’s Churchyard, Whitby, on October 7th

That this was the same Anthony Buck who survived four years in the Arctic and a very tough overland trek to whaling grounds is shown by the first witness at Buck’s wedding being none other than his old shipmate Thomas Blanky.

PR/WH 1/30 Marriage of Anthony Buck to Margaret Miller, with witness signature of Thomas Blenky, 16 December 1834

Our Archives at Dusk evening on 25th of May from 6pm to 8.30pm, is focused on maps, plans, travel and adventure. It will include a chance to ‘meet’ Thomas Blanky as he looks back over his life, to see facsimiles and some originals of our documents which mention him, and also to see other material on the theme of Whitby and the Arctic. It’s free of charge, and all are welcome. For further details of the event, please see our exhibitions page.

If you can’t make it to the evening, look out for our special Archives at Dusk blog section, which will be coming soon.

Further Reading:

Our holdings of parish registers can be consulted by appointment in our Northallerton searchroom, or via the subscription websites Ancestry and Find my Past, which can also be accessed via computers in most North Yorkshire Libraries.

More from Whitby Civic Society about whether Thomas Blanky ran a pub can be found via this link

With thanks to former colleague Elena Leyshon for looking into Whitby pub licences. 

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