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Northwest Passage : The Admiralty takes over

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Image of arctic explorer's signatures in Barrow's book   Image of polar bear jumping from an iceberg, drawn by Ross
1. A chronological history of voyages into the Arctic Regions / John Barrow. London: John Murray, 1818. 379p
BL: C.60.i.16. Copyright © The British Library Board
  2. A voyage of discovery, made under the orders of the Admiralty, in his Majesty's ships Isabella and Alexander, for the purpose of exploring Baffin's Bay, and enquiring into the possibility of a North-West Passage / John Ross. London: John Murray, 1819.
BL:G.7399 . Copyright © The British Library Board
     
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Image of John Franklin portrait   Image of Parry's ships in the ice with sailors playing cricket
3. Narrative of a journey to the shores of the Polar Sea, in the years 1819, 20, 21 and 22 / John Franklin. London: John Murray, 1823.
BL: G.7397. Copyright © The British Library Board
  4. Journal of a second voyage for the discovery of a North-West Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific; performed in the years 1821-22-23, in His Majesty's Ships Fury and Hecla, under the orders of Captain William / Edward Parry. London: John Murray, 1824.
BL: G.7394. Copyright © The British Library Board
     
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Image of John Ross, the Inuit and their igloos   Image of George Back portaging boats across rapids
5. Narrative of a second voyage in search of a North-West Passage / Sir John Ross. London: A. W. Webster, 1835.
BL: G.7244. Copyright © The British Library Board
  6. Narrative of the Arctic Land Expedition to the mouth of the Great Fish River, and along the shores of the Arctic Ocean, in the years 1833, 1834, and 1835 / George Back. London: John Murray, 1836.
BL: 792.e.4. Copyright © The British Library Board

1. Signatures of Arctic explorers

From the unique copy of Barrow's history of Arctic exploration presented to the British Museum Library on the death of his son John. His father's book was published in the year that, as Second Secretary for the Admiralty, he began sending ships to the Arctic to search for the Northwest Passage. The signatures were collected by John Barrow, Jr., and among the autographs are those of McClintock, Franklin, Parry, Back, Penny, Ross, McClure, Rae, and Young. Fitzjames is Commander James Fitzjames of the Erebus, who disappeared with Franklin on the ill-fated 1845 expedition. John Barrow Jr., was an important promoter in the search for Franklin. He died in 1898.

2. A polar bear escapes from John Ross

Captain (later Sir) John Ross made this voyage (and drew this illustration), with William Edward Parry as second in command, in 1818. It was the first of several Northwest Passage expeditions to be promoted by John Barrow of the Admiralty and resumed the work of scientific exploration suspended during the Napoleonic Wars. During the expedition Ross surveyed Baffin Bay and examined Smith, Jones, and Lancaster Sounds. He decided that Smith Sound offered no opportunity of a passage, and believed that Jones and Lancaster Sounds were both enclosed by mountains. In this Ross was mistaken, and undeservedly (such mistakes are all too easy to make in the Arctic) suffered ridicule when his error became known.

3. The man who ate his boots

Franklin is aged 38 in this portrait. It is taken from his account of his expedition on behalf of the Admiralty to explore the north coast of America from the mouth of the Coppermine River to Hudson Bay. Franklin and his men built Fort Enterprise (in the background of the illustration) at Winter Lake on the Yellowknife River in 1820. During a round trip of 5500 miles Franklin surveyed many miles of ice-infested shoreline, but amid appalling suffering he lost about 10 men through cold and starvation on the overland homeward trek. It was as a result of this expedition that Franklin became known as "the man who ate his boots".

4. Cricket at Igloolik

In 1818 Parry had travelled with John Ross by way of Baffin Bay to search for a passage, but they disagreed about the prospect of finding one through Lancaster Sound. The Admiralty sent Parry to explore the sound again in 1819-20. On that voyage he penetrated the sound and wintered at Melville Island. In the voyage described in this journal he was sent in the Fury and Hecla to find a passage along the west coast of Foxe Basin, northward from Repulse Bay. He was unable however to penetrate Fury and Hecla Strait. He wintered on this expedition at Igloolik and there his crew was able to play cricket as in this illustration by George Lyon, who was commander of the Hecla.

5. Ross greets Boothian Inuit at North Hendon

After his expedition for the Admiralty in 1818, John Ross reported that both Smith Sound and Lancaster Sound were enclosed by mountains, a mistake for which he was severely criticised. For his next expedition (1829-33) which was privately sponsored by gin merchant Sir Felix Booth because the Admiralty had rejected his plan, Ross proposed to use a steamship to explore through Prince Regent Inlet. With his nephew James Clark Ross as second-in-command, Ross crossed Boothia Isthmus and reached the magnetic pole but was forced to abandon ship because of scurvy and because the ship was beset by ice. The Rosses and their crew would spend four winters in the Arctic before the whaler Isabella eventually picked them up in Lancaster Sound. Ross drew this illustration of the Inuit and their igloos at North Hendon on Boothia Peninsula, which he had discovered in 1829.

6. George Back struggles to reach the Arctic Sea

This expedition was a private venture that was sent to search for John Ross's missing Northwest Passage voyage of 1829-33. Back had earlier been a midshipman on Franklin's land expedition of 1819-1822 and lieutenant on Franklin's expedition of 1825-27. In 1833-35 Back went overland from Norway House north of Lake Winnipeg, wintered on Great Slave Lake, and descended the Great Fish (now Back) River to the Arctic Ocean. The illustration shows Hoarfrost River, which, with its difficult cascades and rapids, runs from the north into Great Slave Lake. Back was a talented artist and this illustration is one of several hundred by him that contribute greatly to knowledge of northern Canada in the early 19th century.

How to order Reproductions

The Northwest passage The Northwest passage
Early approaches Early approaches
Voyages of delusion Voyages of delusion
The Admiralty takes over
The search for Franklin and the discovery of the Passage The search for Franklin and the discovery of the passage
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The Northwest passage The Northwest passage
Early approaches Early approaches
Voyages of delusion Voyages of delusion
The Admiralty takes over
The search for Franklin and the discovery of the Passage The search for Franklin and the discovery of the passage
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