From the times of Queen Elizabeth 1 until Queen Victoria's reign, the British were great explorers. Every school child knows the story of Sir Walter Raleigh, the British aristocrat, historian, Renaissance poet and explorer, and his journeys to the "New World". Most of us know, as well, the story of the Franklin Expedition which took place more than 200 years later. Sir John Franklin made four journeys to the Arctic in search of the Northwest Passage. His first three journeys were unsuccessful in finding the passage, but he was successful in mapping much of the Arctic shoreline. In May 1845, Franklin set out on his fourth attempt, in two state-of-the art ships, the "Terror" and the "Erebus".
The "Terror" and "Erebus" had cabins that were heated by hot water piped through the floor. The ships' bows were reinforced with iron planks to help them break through ice, and each ship was equipped with a specially designed propeller. They took plenty of provisions with them, including canned goods, and were well prepared for the expedition, having been there three times before. But sometime between 1845 and 1847, Franklin's expedition disappeared. In 1850, Inuit hunters discovered the bodies of 30 men and several graves. Some of the bodies were mutilated and it was believed that, because of starvation, Franklin's men had resorted to cannabilism.
In 1848 the British government began sending ships to look for the Franklin Expedition. One of the ships commissioned for the search was the "HMS Resolute". The ship was fitted for Arctic service with especially strong timbers, an internal heating system, and a polar bear as a figurehead. Together with "HMS Assistance", "Pioneer", "Intrepid", "Investigator" and "Enterprise", they searched the Arctic for Sir John Franklin. Beset by ice, the men abandoned their ships and were rescued by "HMS North Star". In 1855 "HMS Resolute" was discovered off Baffin Island by an American whaling ship, the "George Henry". The ship was refitted and sailed back to New England, and the American government returned "HMS Resolute" to Britain. The ship served in the British Royal Navy, and in 1879 was finally broken up.
In 1880 Queen Victoria donated a desk made out of the timbers of the ship to the President of the United States, as a gesture of thanks for the rescue and return of "HMS Resolute". Since then, the desk has been used by almost every American President, with the exception of Eisenhower, Johnson, Nixon and Ford. Given the history and sanctity of the ship and its connection to the Franklin Expedition, I would hope that anyone would have enough respect for all the men who served on these ships and gave their lives on these ships, not to put his feet on the desk. It belongs to a far greater history, and anyone sitting there is only borrowing the desk.
As Queen Victoria would say, "We are not amused..."