Dr. John Rae, 1813-1893

Dr. John Rae, Hudson's Bay Company doctor, ca. 1830s. Source: Glenbow Museum

Tracking the Franklin Expedition

One of the first explorers of northwestern Canada was a physician, Dr. John Rae. He made four northern searches to find out what had happened to the ill fated Franklin Expedition.

Dr. Rae sailed to York Factory from Britain as a Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) surgeon in 1833. During his 11-year contract with the HBC, Dr. Rae worked both as a physician and Factor at forts around James Bay.

In 1845, the Franklin Expedition, led by the famous explorer Sir John Franklin, sailed from England aiming to cross North America by boat through the Northwest Passage. Last seen in July 1845, the expedition was ice bound near Baffin Bay and out of touch with the rest of the world for the next three years.

Dr. Rae had a long-standing interest in exploring and surveying, which led to his co-leading one of the first Franklin search parties in 1846 and 1847. His search party went north of Hudson’s Bay, where Dr. Rae mapped about 965 km of the Boothia Peninsula along the way. Without knowing it, he came within 400 km of the Franklin ships stuck in the ice.

By 1848, Franklin’s men were suffering from scurvy and malnutrition, and the surviving expedition members unsuccessfully tried to walk south. By the end of that year, Franklin and all 134 of his men had died.

On his fourth and last expedition in 1853, Dr. Rae met Inuit on the Boothia Peninsula who described the final attempt of the last 40 seamen to walk south to the mainland — finally solving the mystery of what had happened to Franklin and his men.

During his time in Canada, Dr. Rae traveled over 37,000 km and mapped over 2,500 km of northern coastline.

Get the whole story!

Read the full profile of Dr. Rae in Dr. Robert Lampard's "Alberta's Medical History"
Dr. John Rae >> 

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