In 1818, the British began an infatuation with the Arctic. It started innocently enough, with the Admiralty trying to find an outlet for naval officers and seamen who had been idled by the end of the Napoleonic wars.

When a whaling captain pointed out in 1817 that the Greenland ice was very sparse that year, it occurred to the Admiralty that this might be a good time to renew that centuries-old search for a Northwest Passage to the Orient. So the Navy sent off two small expeditions, neither of which was particularly fruitful. But the idea was a great success.

More ships followed the first, and other expeditions were dispatched overland. Some achieved partial success, others were near disasters or total failures, but for each expedition, a narrative was published. Many of the naval officers were accomplished artists, and so the narratives tended to be well illustrated, often with color plates, and readers were treated to glorious images of icebergs, Inuit seal-hunters, ships beset by floes or frozen into winter harbors, snow houses, walruses, and maps—maps that started out empty, and slowly filled in as the narratives piled up and the decades went by. Read More | Table of Contents


Enter the Exhibition

Ice: A Victorian Romance is held in copyright by the Linda Hall Library, and any reproduction of text or images requires permission. » Go to Section 1

About The Exhibit

Ice: A Victorian Romance, is an exhibition of fifty-five rare books and journals, which were originally displayed at the Linda Hall Library, May 1-September 13, 2008. » More

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