Henry Kellett was born in Ireland in November 1806, and entered the Royal Navy just over fifteen years later. His career spanned nearly fifty years, retiring in 1871 and dying just four years later. He was honoured with the title of Knight Commander of Bath, a high order of knighthood.
Kellett is most famous for his involvement in the search for the missing Franklin expedition, which sought to find the Northwest Passage. Part of his search, which began in 1852, involved the rescue of Captain Robert McClure of the Investigator. Searching for Franklin and his crew as well, McClure went missing himself for three years in the Arctic. Luckily, one of Kellett’s crew eventually found McClure’s Journal of Proceedings which hinted at the whereabouts of the Investigator. McClure and his crew were found and ordered to join Kellett’s ship, which was the Resolute at that time. Shortly thereafter, Kellett was forced to abandon his own ice-locked ship by order of Sir Edward Belcher, and was duly acquitted of the consequences after returning home.
Though Kellett was eligible for part of a £10,000 grant promised to those who discovered the Northwest Passage, he was denied his share after it was determined that dues properly belonged to only the officers of the Investigator (McClure had explained that he and his crew would have made their way out on their own if Kellett’s crew had not interfered, despite other claims from his passengers). Instead, Kellett went on to command the British squadron on the China station, winning praise from even the hardest of critics.
Kellett has many geographical features attributed to him, including Kellett River in the Northwest Territories and Herald Rock.