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Book Review, NRJ 61.1

February 15, 2016 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

Discovering the North-West Passage: The Four-Year Arctic Odyssey of H.M.S. Investigator and the McClure Expedition

Glenn M. Stein

During the first half of the nineteenth century the Royal Navy dispatched a series of significant expeditions to explore the Arctic, both from a purely scientific perspective and, more importantly, in an effort to find a North-West passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, thus bypassing the lengthy and often perilous voyage around Cape Horn. The most well-known of these, by far, was that led by Sir John Franklin, which departed England in May 1845 and was last encountered two months later.

The expedition was presumed lost when no further word was received for two years (the ships had become trapped in ice and the crews attempted to march overland to return), the British government launched a series of efforts to locate and rescue it. After an overland expedition failed, the Royal Navy sent two groups to u8ndertajke the search, one from the Atlantic end of the presumed passage and the other from the Pacific. The latter, led by Commander Robert McClure (a veteran of Arctic exploration) is the subject of Glenn M. Stein’s excellent book.

The McClure Expedition is noteworthy, not for locating the Franklin Expedition survivors (it did not) but for the extent of the surviving documentation pertaining to its efforts, the existence of a remarkable collection of images by Lieutenant Samuel Cresswell of its activities, and the drive of Commander McClure that resulted in he and his men succeeding in traversing the Arctic from the Pacific to the Atlantic in the course of a monumental four-year journey, in large part on foot after their ship, HMS Investigator, became trapped in the ice.

Stein fully exploits the trove of material relating to this expedition to present a gripping story of ordinary men accomplishing extraordinary things. His book is a tale of high adventure, but it also is 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.

  • Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2015
  • 7” x 10”, softcover, x + 376 pages
  • Illustrations, maps, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. $39.95
  • ISBN: 9780786477081

Reviewed by Kevin O’Mara, San Francisco, California

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