Loomings Illustration

Capt. William Parry’s early search for the Northwest Passage was perhaps the most successful British attempt—nobody died and he almost made it through, a feat which would not be accomplished until 1905 by the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen aboard the sloop Gjøa. Parry’s two ships, HMS Griper and the distinctly named HMS Hecla, were forced to winter over in 1819/1820, and to amuse themselves the officers produced a weekly newspaper called The North Georgia Gazette and Winter Chronicle that subsequently was published in England. Their motto, which I borrow in my novel, Per Freta Hactenus Negata, appears in the banner below and approximately translates, “To reach a place whose existence had been denied and to keep going.”

The early 20th century Arctic explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson believed, “A land may be said to be discovered the first time a European, preferably an Englishman, sets foot on it.”

Ellesmere, known by Inuit as Nunangata Ungata, “Land beyond the land of people,” and Umingmak Nuna, “Land of muskoxen” and probably by other names, had been visited by Greenland Norse for centuries before being “first” sighted by William Baffin aboard aptly named HMS Discovery in 1616. The English explorer and navigator had hoped to find a Northwest Passage but concluded one did not exist.

By the 19th century Ellesmere was uninhabited except for Inuit hunting parties, but the existence of a Northwest Passage was well known when Sir John Franklin set out to navigate it in 1845 aboard prophetically named HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. There were no survivors of his expedition, but in1852, Sir Edward Inglefield aboard Lady Franklin’s private steamer Isabel was searching for its remains when he named Ellesmere in honor of Francis Egerton, 1st Earl of Ellesmere. By 1912, enough European—and American—explorers had perished on Ellesmere for the Canadian poet Robert Service to call the North, “That land that measures each man at his worth.”

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