George Francis Lyon

George Francis Lyon

George Francis Lyon (1795-1832) was a rare combination of Arctic and African explorer. By all accounts a fun loving extrovert, he also managed to be a competent British Naval Officer, Commander, explorer, artist and socialite. While not having a particularly distinguished career, he is remembered for the entertaining journals he kept and for the watercolour paintings he completed in the Arctic.


He was, in 1818, sent with Joseph Ritchie by Sir John Barrow to find the course of the Niger River and the location of Timbuktu. The expedition was underfunded, lacked support and because the ideas of John Barrow departed from Tripoli and thus had to cross the Sahara as part of their journeyClarifyme|date=March 2008. A year later, due to much officialdom they had only got as far as Murzouk where they both fell ill. Ritchie never recovered and died there, but Lyon survived and travelled a little further around the region. Exactly a year to the day he left, he arrived back in Tripoli, the expedition being a complete failure.

Having been promised a promotion on his return, he now set about trying to pester the Admiralty into fulfilling their promise. He irritated enough people that his reward was, in 1821, to be given the command of "HMS Hecla" under William Edward Parry on his second attempt at the Northwest Passage. The lieutenants included Francis Crozier, James Clark Ross, and Henry Parkyns Hoppner. [cite web |url= |title=Sir William Edward Parry |accessdate=2008-10-03 |last=Brown |first=R. | |pages=p. 104]

An aspect of his personality rare at the time was his genuine interest in the "Natives" of the countries he visited. Wearing Arab/Muslim dress and learning fluent Arabic he managed to blend in with the inhabitants of North Africa; he was tattooed by the Inuit in the Arctic, using needle and sooty thread, and ate raw caribou and seal meat with them. The expedition achieved little, spending two years in the Arctic and getting only as far the Fury and Hecla Strait before being stopped by ice.

Lyon received his promotion to Captain on his return, and in 1824 was given sole command of "HMS Griper" for another voyage to the Arctic. Unfortunately the Griper was badly built and Lyon also met with some of the worst weather yet seen in the Arctic. The expedition was a disaster, Lyon limping home after only 5 months.

While he was well known in society, this last failure effectively saw him blacklisted in the Royal Navy. He never had another command.

He died on October 8 1832, [Marquis of Ruvigny and Raineval, Melville Henry Massue. "The Plantagenet Roll of the Blood Royal Being A Complete Table of All the Descendents Now Living of Edward III, King of England". London, England: T.C. & E. C. Jack, 1905-1911. Page 475.] en-route from South America to Britain to be treated for eye problems.

Personal life

Lyon had at least one child, a daughter, Isabella Alice Lyon. [cite web |url= |title=Person Page - 23454 |accessdate=2008-10-04 |last=Lundy |first=Darryl |coauthors= |date=2008-10-01 |work= |]


He published at least three books about his adventures:
* "A Narrative of Travels in Northern Africa in the Years 1818, 19, and 20...", London (1821)
* "The Private Journal of Captain G.F. Lyon, of" H.M.S. Hecla, "During the Recent Voyage of Discovery under Captain Parry" (1824)
* "A Brief Narrative Of An Unsuccessful Attempt To Reach Repulse Bay In" His Majesty's Ship Griper, "In The Year MDCCCXXIV", London (1825)


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