21.  Barrow, John, Sir (1764-1848)

Voyages of Discovery and Research within the Arctic Regions, From the Year 1818 to the Present Time.  London: John Murray, 1846.


Map showing the state of knowledge of the Arctic in 1846, from John Barrow, Voyages of Discovery, 1846.

John Barrow was the man who launched the Northwest Passage crusade in 1818, and in 1846 he thought it would be fitting to offer up a summary of activity, especially since, as he put it, the official narratives, with their expensive illustrations and detailed appendices, were out of reach of the ordinary citizen.  So here he summarizes each of the voyages, and their successes or failure.  There are no illustrations except a frontispiece portrait of Barrow.  Interestingly, although he discusses Parry, Lyon, Franklin, and Back, he omits entirely any discussion of Beechey’s voyage in the Blossom.  Even more interestingly, he devotes an entire opening chapter to Captain John Ross, whom he rips from stem to stern as arrogant, incompetent, and unsuitable for service.  He continues the onslaught in a concluding chapter on Ross’s private venture in the Victory, in which he disputes every claim Ross made as to the probable location of a Northwest Passage.

Barrow could not know, because the Erebus and Terror under Franklin had just departed and were not yet “lost”, that the greatest wave of Arctic exploration lay just ahead.  The map at the end, which shows the state of geographic knowledge of the Arctic in 1846, still contains a great deal of empty space, and it will be mostly filled in during the next ten years.

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