Brisk recounting of the harrowing sojourn that led naval commander Ross to conclude that searching for the Northwest Passage was an utter waste of time.
Returning in 1819 from an Arctic expedition that produced no new discoveries or information, Scottish-born John Ross, who went to sea originally as a boy of nine, incurred the rancor of a key superior and as a result did not get another ship for ten years. In frustration, he turned to a private sponsor to fund an 1829 voyage aimed at either finding the fabled Arctic water route from the Atlantic to the Pacific, or putting the idea of its existence to rest. The plan was to winter over for a year, but impenetrable ice near the Arctic Circle trapped Ross and his crew for four years before they finally escaped in open whaleboats to find rescue in Baffin Bay. In the interim, junior officer James Ross, the captain’s nephew, had ventured miles on foot, aided by Inuit natives to pinpoint the location of the magnetic North Pole. Edinger, who has written frequently about polar exploration for Mercator’s World, debuts with a nonintrusive, if not particularly stylish, narrative that ably reveals the stubborn Captain Ross as the key to survival against the odds. Without the Scot’s ability to establish an ongoing symbiosis with the Inuit, the brutal hammer of Arctic winter, along with scurvy and depression, would certainly have claimed him and all his crew. “[The Inuit’s] adaptation is perfect,” Ross wrote in his log, “but we are here out of our element as much in the philosophy of life as in the geography of it.” Mind you, this was written by a man in his early 50s who could find “agreeable” a morning walk in temperatures of 25 degrees below zero.
A revealing portrait of one of England’s most vilified, but ultimately vindicated, adventurers.