Rae, John

Rae, John, 1813–93, Scottish arctic explorer, b. Orkney Islands. A physician in the employ of the Hudson's Bay Company in N Canada, Rae made (1846–47) a journey of exploration from Fort Churchill to the Gulf of Boothia, which he described in his Narrative of an Expedition to the Shores of the Arctic Sea (1850). In 1847 he joined Sir John Richardson's expedition in search of the lost party of Sir John Franklin, the British explorer; later (1851) he commanded a search party that crossed the tundra and explored part of Victoria Island. It was not until his expedition of 1853–54, however, that he found evidence of Franklin's fate. Rae was an important innovator in arctic travel, coping with the unforgiving environment by adapting techniques developed by indigenous peoples, e.g., snowshoes, fur clothing, igloos, and dog sleds. However, he fell into disfavor and subsequent obscurity in Great Britain after he revealed that members of the starving Franklin party had resorted to cannibalism.

See K. McGoogan, Fatal Passage: The Story of John Rae, the Arctic Hero Time Forgot (2002).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2024, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: Geography: Biographies