19. Back, George, Sir (1796-1878)  

Narrative of an Expedition in H.M.S. Terror, Undertaken with a View to Geographical Discovery on the Arctic Shores, in the Years 1836-7.  London: John Murray, 1838. 


Taking a sextant reading near the beset Terror, from George Back, Narrative of an Expedition in H.M.S. Terror, 1838.


The Terror beset in ice, George Back, Narrative of an Expedition in H.M.S. Terror, 1838.

In 1836, George Back, veteran of three overland expeditions to the Arctic coastline (two with Franklin and one on his own; see items 6, 12, and 18), was given command of HMS Terror, with orders to look for a Northwest Passage through Repulse Bay in the Foxe Basin, where Parry had spent two winters in 1822-24. 

Back’s expedition was a resounding failure, as the Terror was beset near the Frozen Strait and was lucky to survive the continual assault of ice.  However, the narrative was a great success, with wonderful illustrations by both Back and William Smyth, who had done some of the illustrations for the Beechey narrative (see item 13).

One plate shows them unloading all the provisions when they thought the Terror was lost; the moonlit scene is one of the great images of all arctic art (see the introduction to Section II).  Another, of which we show only a detail, shows two men taking a sextant reading, while the shrouded-in Terror looms behind them. 

On all the arctic voyages, science was a priority, and every day, no matter what the weather, readings were taking of the sun’s altitude, the temperature and pressure, and the dip and variation of the compass.



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