In the tradition of Arthur Herman’s How the Scots Invented the Modern World comes a narrative that charts the remarkable—yet often overlooked or misidentified—Scottish contribution to Arctic exploration
The search for the Northwest Passage is filled with stories of tragedy, adventure, courage, and endurance. It was one of the great maritime challenges of the era. It was not until the 1850’s that the first one-way partial transit of the passage was made. Previous attempts had all failed, and some, like the ill-fated attempted by Sir John Franklin in 1845 ended in tragedy with the loss of the entire expedition, which was comprised of two ships and 129 men.
Northern Lights reveals Scotland’s previously unsung role in the remarkable history of Arctic exploration. There was the intrepid John Ross, an eccentric hell-raiser from Stranraer and a veteran of three Arctic expeditions; his nephew, James Clark Ross, the most experienced explorer of his generation and discoverer of the Magnetic North Pole; Dr. John Richardson of Dumfries, who became an accidental cannibal and deliberate executionaer of a murderer as well as an engaging natural historian; and Orcadian John Rae, the man who first discovered evidence of Sir John Franklin and his crew’s demise.
Northern Lights also pays tribute and reveals other overlooked stories in this fascinating era of history: the Scotch Irish, the whalers, and especially the Inuit, whose unparalleled knowledge of the Arctic environment was often indispensible.
For anyone fascinated by Scottish history or hungry for tales of Arctic adventure, Northern Lights is a vivid new addition to the rich tradition of polar narratives.
Edward Cowan is an Honorary Research Fellow in the School of Interdisciplinary Studies in Dumfries. Until 2009 he was Professor of Scottish History and Director of the Crichton Campus. He has written widely on the history of Viking Scotland, early modern Scottish political thought, Scottish popular culture and Scottish emigration history. He lives in Glasgow.