This Week in History


John Ross Explores the Arctic

For the week of Monday June 24, 2002

John Ross was born on June 24, 1777, in Scotland. His travels and his survival experiences in the Arctic helped Europeans gather valuable information on this little-known area.

Captain John Ross

Captain John Ross
© LAC / 1984-118-1

The search for the Northwest Passage in the Arctic resumed at the start of the 19 th century after many years of interruption due to European wars. The reasons for exploring this cold and inhospitable area were mostly scientific. In 1818, the British Admiralty entrusted John Ross with the mission of exploring the Davis Strait to find a passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Although Ross never found this passage, his expedition provided the opportunity to study glacier ice, sea currents and Arctic wildlife. Unfortunately, his credibility was questioned when he turned back in Lancaster Sound after seeing a mirage of mountains on the horizon.

In 1829, Felix Booth, a rich friend of Ross's, financed his second expedition. On board the Victory, the first steamship to sail the Arctic, Ross ventured into Prince Regent Inlet where the ship became icebound. With the help of the Inuit, the crew survived and took advantage of its forced stay to explore the Arctic territory. During an excursion, James Clark Ross, Ross's nephew, located the North Magnetic Pole.

In the spring of 1832, after three winters on Boothia Peninsula, Ross set out to meet the whalers who hunted in Baffin Bay at the time. The men reached Fury Beach on foot, where they recovered ships from a wreck. Unable to cross Lancaster Sound, they were forced to winter there again. On August 26, 1833, having made their way through the ice, they finally caught sight of a sailing vessel. Incredibly, it was the Isabella, the ship Ross had commanded in 1818.

'A Remarkable Iceberg' by John Ross<br>Latitude 70, 45 N, June 19, 1818

"A Remarkable Iceberg" by John Ross
Latitude 70, 45 N, June 19, 1818

© LAC / 1973-9-5

Ross, long believed dead, received a hero's welcome back in England. Apart from the deaths of three sailors, significant scientific, ethnological and geographical observations were made. The success of this second expedition was largely due to the Inuit, who taught the Europeans how to find food, dress and travel in the Far North. Ross also drew upon their knowledge of geography to chart unexplored territory.

In 1850, John Ross made one last voyage to the Arctic in search of explorer John Franklin. Ross died in 1856. Sir John Ross and Sir James Clark Ross have been designated as persons of national historic significance.

For more information about John Ross and Arctic exploration consult the story about Sir John Franklin from the This Week in History archives: Lost in the Arctic

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