The Royal Naval Exhibition (RNE) of 1891 offers an important entry point for the study of naval mythmaking. Scrutinising one part of the RNE showcase, ‘The Franklin Gallery,’ highlights the imaginative potential of the polar regions as a resource for imperial visions. This paper provides a review of the RNE and, more closely, considers the ideology of polar exploration in the context of political debate and naval reforms. The utility of images of the Arctic presented at the RNE is discussed, in particular, its role in displaying the ‘heroic martyrdom’ of Sir John Franklin (1786–1847). The paper draws upon an extensive study of late nineteenth-century newspapers, illustrated weeklies, periodical reviews, popular adult and juvenile literature, art, poetry, pamphlets, exhibition catalogues and handbooks, and associated ephemera. It argues that the RNE played a central part in the construction and enshrining of narratives of naval and national achievement in the late-Victorian period and in reviving a British commitment to the exploration of the polar regions.