3. Fisher, Alexander

Journal of a Voyage of Discovery, to the Arctic Regions, Performed between the 4th of April and the 18th of November, 1818, in His Majesty's Ship Alexander, Wm. Edw. Parry, Esq., Lieut. And Commander.  London: Printed for Richard Phillips by G. Sidney, [1819].


Detail of a map of the Arctic, with Lancaster Sound just above center, in Alexander Fisher, Journal of a Voyage, 1819.

Alexander Fisher was surgeon on board HMS Alexander, commanded by Edward Parry, which accompanied the Isabella, commanded by John Ross, in the first modern British search for the Northwest Passage in 1818.  Fisher was an astute naturalist; he kept a baby bearded seal on board ship for many weeks and provided the reader with a detailed account of its behavior.  Fisher was one of the first to observe that arctic seals are very hard to catch, since even when basking on a large floe, they always have a hole close by that they can disappear into at the least disturbance.

As for Ross’s observed barrier in Lancaster Sound, Fisher rather dryly discussed how promising the sound appeared, with its deep water and strong current, as a possible aperture to the Northwest Passage, and how the men of the Alexander were stunned when the Isabella suddenly turned around and retreated, turned back by mountains that no one on the Alexander could see.  He nowhere explicitly contradicts Captain Ross, but it is interesting that on his map, Lancaster Sound is open to the west, and not hemmed in by the supposed Croker Mountains.

The entire Fisher map shows how little known the region was above Hudson Bay and west of Baffin Bay.  There is only a tiny strip of North American coastline shown, where Samuel Hearne ascended the Coppermine River and reached Coronation Gulf in 1771.  The rest of the area is just a blank.

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