Can you help?

21 July 2020

A request from the John Rae Society: Can any of you help us find anything out about this person?

Dashing Young Frenchman in 1851

A French couple, who are members of the John Rae Society, have written to us to enquire if there are any stories handed down of a young French sailor visiting Stromness at the end of May and beginning of June 1851.

Joseph René Bellot (then aged 25) had volunteered to join in the search in the Arctic for Sir John Franklin and sailed in the Prince Albert, commissioned by Lady Franklin, on 3rd June 1851. He describes visiting several houses in Orkney and specifically mentions Mr Steinger (sic), a builder in Stromness, a Dr Wolff, a Mr Beckie and a Mr Robertson, County Sheriff’s lieutenant. He reports that everyone spoke French! He also refers to dancing the ‘scottische’ with some very attractive ladies —Miss H, ‘the white lily’, Miss W, ‘the bright rose’ and Miss D.L.

The French couple, who have written a biography of Bellot, hope to come to Orkney in September and will be visiting the Hall of Clestrain, Clestrain Farm and meeting members of the John Rae Society. We would very much like to pass on to them any information given to us.

Tragically Bellot died in the Arctic in 1853: while crossing the ice, he appears to have slipped off a floe which had broken off from the shore, and vanished without trace.If anyone has any stories they can contribute, please contact via Facebook or email us at

Fiona Gould
John Rae Society