Lt. William Hulme Hooper (1827-1854)
Naval officer, Arctic explorer and writer who lies in an unmarked grave.
Naval officer, Arctic explorer and writer Lieutenant William Hulme Hooper was buried in an unmarked common grave in Brompton Cemetery in 1854.
William had lived a short but extraordinary life. He was born in the city of Portsmouth, and joined the navy in his teens. By the time he was 20, he was mate of the ship The Plover, under Commander Thomas E. L. Moore. It was one of the first vessels sent to look for Sir John Franklin’s lost expedition to the fabled North West Passage, a shipping route that would link the Pacific and Atlantic via the Arctic.
William spent three years in the Arctic, searching the region for Franklin. His first winter was with the native people of the Chukchi Peninsula, beside the Bering Sea, where he learnt their language and customs. He was later lost for three days in a snowstorm, then survived the second two winters away from the ship with a few crewmembers, living in log huts and eating scraps of fish. The expedition did not find Franklin, and William eventually returned to England in 1851.
The privations of the Arctic winters had damaged William’s health irreparably. Too ill to work, he wrote about his experiences in his book Ten Months among the Tents of the Tuski, which was published in 1853. He died the following year, aged just 27.
Both William’s parents died soon after, and his descendants did not know where he was buried. William’s great-niece, Hilda Hooper, mistress of the City of London School for Girls, finally discovered his unmarked grave in 1935. She felt this to be ‘a great reproach’ for such an notable figure, and asked the cemetery if she could buy the plot and put a memorial stone upon it.
It seems Hilda succeeded in buying the plot – the cemetery’s burial book notes the change from ‘common grave’ to ‘private’ – but there is still no stone on William’s grave.