John Rae (explorer)

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Montreal Natural History Society
Hamilton Association for the Advancement of Literature, Science and Art (1857)
Fellow of the Royal Society (1880)

Narrative of an Expedition to the Shores of the Arctic Sea in 1846 and 1847 (1850 ).
John Rae’s Correspondence with The Hudson’s Bay Company on Arctic Exploration, 1844–1855 (1953 ).

Royal Geographical Society Founder's Gold Medal (1852)

John Rae (Inuktitut: Aglooka  ᐊᒡᓘᑲEnglish: “He who takes long strides”; 30 September 1813 – 22 July 1893) was a Scottish doctor who explored Northern Canada, surveyed parts of the Northwest Passage and reported the fate of the Franklin Expedition.


Early life and career

Rae was born at the Hall of Clestrain in the parish of Orphir in Orkney. After studying medicine at Edinburgh he went to work for the Hudson's Bay Company as a doctor, accepting a post as surgeon at Moose Factory, Ontario, where he remained for ten years.

Whilst working for the company, treating both European and indigenous employees of the company, Rae became known for his prodigious stamina and skilled use of snow shoes. He learned to live off the land like the Inuit and working with the local craftsmen, designed his own snow shoes. This knowledge allowed him to travel great distances with little equipment and few followers, unlike many other explorers of the Victorian Age.[2]

In 1844–45, wanting to learn how to survey, Rae walked 1200 miles over two months in the winter forest, a feat that earned him the Inuit nickname Aglooka, "he who takes long strides." In 1846 Rae went on his first expedition and in 1848 joined Sir John Richardson in searching for the Northwest Passage.

Search for Franklin's expedition

By 1849 Rae was in charge of the Mackenzie River district at Fort Simpson. He was soon called upon to head north again, this time in search of two missing ships from the Franklin Expedition.[3] While exploring the Boothia Peninsula in 1854 Rae made contact with local Inuit, from whom he obtained much information about the fate of the lost naval expedition.[4][5] His report to the British Admiralty carried shocking and unwelcome evidence that cannibalism had been a last resort for some of the survivors. When it was leaked to the Press, Franklin's widow Lady Jane Franklin was outraged and recruited many important supporters, among them Charles Dickens who wrote several pamphlets condemning Rae for daring to suggest British Naval sailors would have resorted to cannibalism.

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