Dr. John Rae, for
thirty-five years a Corresponding Member of the American Geographical
Society, died at his home in London on the 22d of July last. An attack
of influenza in April had left him in a weakened condition, though he
kept up with surprising energy and interested himself in his usual
occupations to within a few days of his death.
Dr. Rae was born at the Hall of Clestrain, Pomona, Orkney Islands,
September 30, 1813. He studied medicine at Edinburgh and took his degree
from the Royal College of Surgeons in 1833; and shortly after went out
in a Hudsonís Bay Company ship to Moose Factory, on Hudsonís Bay. There
he remained in the service of the Company till June, 1846, when he set
out, at the head of a party of ten men, in two boats, to survey the 700
miles of coast which separated Rossís explorations in Boothia from those
of Parry at Fury and Hecla Strait.
Rae started from York Factory, with four monthsí provisions but no fuel,
on the long voyage to Repulse Bay, where he wintered in N. lat. 66į 32'.
The survey was accomplished in the spring. A memorandum in Dr. Raeís
handwriting says, of this expedition and the one of 1853-4:
In both of these he carried with him only four months* provisions for
his party, and was absent fifteen months, having on return to York
Factory one and one half monthís provisions remaining. All game and fish
for food were obtained by the party; chiefly deer. We had not a bit of
fuel to warm our stone house with, and the smoke of the andromeda used
for cooking would not go out by the chimney. We had to keep the door
open all the time of cooking, as the smoke was very pungent. The
temperature usually fell 15 or more degrees when the cooking was going
on. We (had) no oil for a fire lamp in the snow hut in 1853-4.
In 1848 Dr. Rae, as second in command, accompanied Sir John Richardsonís
expedition from the Mackenzie River to the Coppermine, in search of Sir
John Franklin; and he descended the Coppermine, after Richardsonís
return to England. The next year, with two men, he made a sledge journey
along the coasts of Wollaston and Victoria Land. The daily march was
twenty-five miles, Rae pulling his own sledge and inspecting personally
every turn of the coast. The journey was continued to Winnipeg and
thence to Crow-Wing, Minnesota. In this expedition, which lasted nearly
eight months, and covered more than 5000 miles, Rae explored seven
hundred miles of coast previously unknown.
The Founderís gold medal of the Royal Geographical Society was awarded
to him in 1852, and in 1853 he took command of another expedition,
fitted out expressly for him by the Hudsonís Bay Company, for the
purpose of tracing the west coast of Boothia as far north as Bellot
Strait and uniting the surveys of Sir James Ross and Dease and Simpson.
His success was complete; he surveyed 400 miles of coast not laid down
on the map and proved that King William Land was an island.
Among the Eskimo he found and secured many relics of Sir John Franklinís
party, and the information he acquired dispelled the mystery which had
shrouded the fate of those heroic men. When Dr. Rae returned to England
Sir James Graham, the first Lord of the Admiralty, told him that ďhis
party was entitled to a reward of ,£10,000 for bringing the first
information of the fate of the Franklin expedition, and that he would
stand in his own light if he did not put in a claim for it.Ē The claim
was made and satisfied.
In 1860 Dr. Rae made surveys in the Faroe Islands, Iceland and Greenland
for a proposed line of telegraph to America; and in 1864 he began
another survey for a line from Winnipeg across the Rocky Mountains. In
the course of this latter enterprise he accomplished the descent of the
dangerous Fraser River for several hundred miles in a canoe and without
Dr. Rae published but one book, the ďNarrative of an Expedition to the
Shores of the Arctic Sea in 1846 and 1847.Ē His other expeditions are
described in brief reports addressed to the Royal Geographical Society,
and he is the author of papers on the Eskimo, on the navigation of
Hudsonís Bay, and on Polar exploration ; but his written contributions,
though they testify to his thoroughness and accuracy and to his rare
qualifications, bear no proportion to the magnitude and the solidity of
his work. He wrote with simplicity and force, but he was more concerned
to do things worthy of record than to record them. He had the gifts of
the born explorer, the habit of exact observation, courage and fertility
of resource, untiring energy, activity and strength ; and with these a
firmness and generosity of character that won the respect and the
affection of men.
A funeral service was performed in St. John the Baptistís Church,
Addison Gardens; but the body of Dr. Rae rests at Kirkwall, in the
churchyard of St. Magnus Cathedral.
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