47. Rae, John (1813-1893)

“Arctic exploration, with information respecting Sir John Franklin’s missing party.”  Journal of the Royal Geographical Society, 1855, vol. 25, pp. 246-256.


Map of the area around King William Island, where Rae found evidence of the fate of the Franklin expedition, from John Rae, “Arctic exploration,” 1855.

John Rae was one of the great Arctic overland explorers.  He made four treks to the Arctic coastline between 1846 and 1854, sponsored either by the Hudson’s Bay Company, or by the Admiralty.  This fourth trip was the one that discovered the fate of the Franklin expedition.  He sledged across the Melville Peninsula to the Boothia Isthmus, and he encountered native Inuit at Pelly Bay who told of ships frozen in the ice, and of men who had tried to trek south to the Back River.  They had artifacts that could only have come from Franklin’s crew.  Most disturbingly, they told of evidence of possible cannibalism during the last days.  Rae carried all this news back to England in 1854, although the insinuation of cannibalism was not at all well received.  Nevertheless, in 1856 Rae received the £10,000 reward that had been offered to whomever discovered Franklin’s fate.

It is also worth noting that, on this fourth exploring expedition, Rae managed to survey the coastline between the furthest point east reached by Dease and Simpson (see item 20), and the furthest point west attained by James Clark Ross (see item 15).  Within the short span of thirty-five years, the entire North American Arctic coastline had now been mapped.

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