Discovering the North-West Passage

The Four-Year Arctic Odyssey of H.M.S. Investigator and the McClure Expedition


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About the Book

From 1850 to 1854, the ambitious Commander Robert McClure captained the HMS Investigator on a voyage in search of the missing Franklin Expedition, which sailed from England into the Arctic in 1845 to map the last uncharted section of the North-West Passage. The Investigator and her consort the Enterprise were to pass through the Bering Strait from the west but a Pacific storm separated them, never to meet again. Obsessed with traversing the passage, McClure pressed on and HMS Investigator spent three years trapped in pack ice in Mercy Bay before the crew abandoned ship on foot.
This book chronicles the voyage in detail. McClure and his relationships with his officers are at the heart of the story of the arduous journey, vividly illustrated by the paintings of Lt. Samuel Cresswell.

About the Author(s)

Glenn M. Stein has researched maritime and polar history since 1975, and regularly publishes in journals and magazines. He is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, life member of the American Polar Society and a member of the Orders and Medals Research Society and the Life Saving Awards Research Society. He lives in Apopka, Florida.

Bibliographic Details

Glenn M. Stein
Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 388
Bibliographic Info: 65 maps & photos, appendices, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2015
pISBN: 978-0-7864-7708-1
eISBN: 978-1-4766-2203-3
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments   viii

Preface   1

1. The Frozen Grail, up to 1845   3

2. Into the Fray, 1846–50   14

3. The Pacific, 1850   33

4. Western Arctic Gateway, 1850   54

5. The Wily Arctic, 1850   66

6. The Coldest Crucible, 1850   82

7. Decisions, 1850   100

8. Jack Frost, 1850–51   120

9. The Grand Sledding Chorus, 1851   136

10. The Trap Is Sprung! 1851   154

11. “The fatal error of our voyage,” 1851–52   170

12. Starvation, Madness—and Mutiny, 1852   188

13. Infinity’s Brink, 1853–54   209

14. Scattered Bones and Frozen Memories, 1853 Onward   226

Epilogue. Found Beneath the Ice, 2010–11   249

Appendix 1. Weights and Measurements   253

Appendix 2. Notes on Sources   254

Appendix 3. HMS Investigator Crew List   265

Appendix 4. Extracts from Admiralty Orders to Captain

Richard Collinson, CB, RN   279

Appendix 5. Notable Sled Parties of the Investigators   282

Appendix 6. Notes on Map Features   289

Appendix 7. Polar Crumbs: Creation of the Arctic Medal 1818–55   292

Chapter Notes   307

Bibliography   351

Index   367

Book Reviews & Awards

John Lyman Book Award, Canadian Naval and Maritime History. Honorable Mention, Best Book 2016—Keith Matthews Award, Canadian Nautical Research Society
“provides new insights into how geographical discovery received the recognition of a grateful nation. Recommended”—Choice; “excellent…fully documented to the highest academic standards. Perhaps the author’s greatest accomplishment is that he demonstrates conclusively that careful attention to scholarly apparatus need not be any impediment to producing an exciting and absorbing adventure story”—Nautical Research Journal; “valuable…an enjoyable and informative story of the Royal Navy’s mid-nineteenth century Artic explorations”—Ocean Challenge; “his book is the product of extensive research, finding diaries and letters in many local repositories—Canadian Nautical Research Society; “research is extensive…comprehensive…excellent”—Ocean Challenge; “the author is well versed in the traditions of nineteenth-century sailing ships, the equipping of them and the society of the sailors aboard them…well-researched and has such great detail that, even though it is quite readable, it doubles as a reference work for Arctic exploration”—The Journal of the Society for Nautical Research; “deserves credit for bringing the story of the McClure expedition to center stage…readable account of the complex history…high scholarly quality…high technical quality…a most welcome addition to the literature about early polar exploration…Stein provides a most welcome and enjoyable historical background story…recommended”—Navy History; “the definitive account of the last voyage of HMS Investigator…. Stein’s exhaustive research turns up a multitude of little-known nuggets”—Arctic Journal; “a lively, readable account…as an example of thorough historical research, Stein’s work has few equals…extremely valuable…recommended highly”—Polar Record; “deep research. A volume of very considerable scholarship which deserves to be on the bookshelves of everyone interested in naval life in the 19th century, and in the search for the North-West Passage.”—The Journal of Orders and Medals Research Society; “a stirring account…compelling…meticulously assembled”—Geographical Magazine; “this is the human story of this historic expedition, and includes a wealth of unpublished information within a thoroughly readable text”—Heritage Florida Jewish News; “Glenn M. Stein’s Discovering the North-West Passage gives a stirring account of the perilous journey of Robert McClure and his men, the first ever to pass through the Arctic from the Pacific to the Atlantic. In Stein’s words, McClure and his men are fully brought to life in a way no previous account of nineteenth-century exploration has managed.”—Russell Potter, author of Arctic Spectacles: The Frozen North in Visual Culture.