The Grinnell Resolute Desk

photo of the Grinnell Desk

New Bedford Whaling Museum, gift of Mrs. Peter J. Grinnell, 1983.58.1

Currently on view in the Braitmayer Gallery

The Grinnell Resolute Desk is one of three desks made from the timbers of the HMS Resolute, a British Royal Navy barque sent to the Arctic to locate and rescue the lost Franklin expedition, but abandoned after being trapped in the ice. In 1854 an American whaleman recovered the HMS Resolute, which was returned to Queen Victoria in 1856 after a prominent New Bedford businessman, Henry Grinnell, offered to buy the ship from the salvager on behalf of the US Congress. It was Grinnell who proposed that the ship be restored and returned to the Queen as a gesture of good faith. This action is widely seen as one of the first great acts of diplomacy between the two nations, which had been tense since the War of 1812.

When the HMS Resolute was retired, Queen Victoria ordered that the oak from the ship be fashioned into three beautiful desks. Presented as a gift to President Rutherford B. Hayes, the first desk has graced the Oval Office since 1880 and was used by President Obama. A second was kept for many years in Buckingham Palace, but is now on loan to the Royal Naval Museum in Portsmouth, England. The third desk was presented as a gift to Henry Grinnell’s widow and was passed down in his family for years until it was donated to the Whaling Museum in 1983. It stands as a quiet reminder of what can come from good diplomacy.

Last modified: January 17, 2017