The Arctic Quest 1832 team standing in a row beside their discovery: rusted engine parts from The Victory

Arctic Quest 1832: Return to the high arctic

After the final leg of his solo Arctic Quest 1831 expedition was blocked by impossible weather conditions, Dom Mee had vowed to return. The following year he did just that, accompanied by six fellow adventurers from the Royal Navy and Royal Marines.

The Arctic Quest 1832 team squeezed together to face the camera through a hole in a large block of ice

Read on for details of Dom’s team, the route that they took, information about Sir John Ross and the original expedition of 1829, and the expedition press releases and the updates that Dom and his team transmitted from the high arctic.

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Expedition background

The inspiration:
Sir John Ross (1777–1856)

Sir John Ross, British explorer of the Arctic, who led expeditions in 1818 and 1829 in search of the Northwest Passage.

Oil portrait of Sir John Ross
Sir John Ross © National Portrait Gallery

Ross was born in Inch, Wigton County, Scotland. He entered the Royal Navy at the age of nine and served in the Napoleonic Wars, reaching the rank of commander in 1812.

In 1818 Ross led his first expedition in search of the Northwest Passage connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. He concluded that Lancaster Sound was enclosed by mountains and thus provided no western outlet. One year later, fellow British explorer William Edward Parry, who had been second in command on Ross’s expedition, proved Ross wrong by reaching Melville Island through the sound. Ross’s reputation suffered, and the British navy rejected his proposal to lead another Arctic expedition.

In 1828 British businessman Felix Booth gave Ross financial backing for a second Arctic expedition. On the voyage, which began in 1829, Ross was accompanied by his nephew, James Clark Ross. During the expedition, in 1831, the younger Ross discovered the position of the magnetic North Pole. The expedition was also notable for the discovery of Boothia Peninsula and the Gulf of Boothia, both named for the voyage’s sponsor, as well as King William Island. In recognition of his discoveries, John Ross was knighted by the British government in 1834.

Sir John Ross served as British consul at Stockholm, Sweden, from 1839 to 1846. In 1850, again with Booth’s sponsorship, he made a third Arctic expedition to look for missing British explorer Sir John Franklin, who had also been searching for the Northwest Passage.

Search for the North West Passage, 1829–1833

Additional notes about (and quotations from) the original expedition led by Sir John Ross

Commanded by Captain John Ross R.N. with Commander James Clark Ross R.N. as Second in Command.

Purpose of the voyage was to discover the much fabled North West Passage. Failing to secure Admiralty Funds, Captain John Ross appealed to the wealthy Gin distiller Sir Felix Booth who agreed to sponsor the expedition.

Captain John Ross led a crew of 22. Third in Command was Mr William Thom RN and the remainder of the crew consisted of a Surgeon, First & Second Engineers, Steward, Armourer, 6 ‘Seamen’, 3 Ship’s Mates, a Carpenter and Carpenter’s Mate, Cook and 3 ‘Landsmen’.

The ‘Victory’ was the first steam powered vessel to be used in an arctic voyage. Built as an 85ton wooden paddle steamer, the Victory was also one of the smallest vessels to penetrate arctic waters.

The voyage set sail from Thames on 23rd May 1829 and, after joining their supply ship the Krusenstern, Ross departed his home on the shores of Loch Ryan (at Stranraer) and followed a then established route via Greenland to Baffin Bay, Lancaster Sound and Prince Regent Inlet.

By September 1829 the Victory was beset in the ice of Lord Mayor Bay at 70° 12’ N lat 92° 21’ W close to the harbour Ross named “Felix Harbour” after Sir Felix Booth. For over a year the Victory remained paralysed by ice.

“The ice which bound us and our ship in fetters of worse than iron, which surrounded us, obstructed us, imprisoned us, annoyed us in every possible manner, and thus haunted and vexed us for ten months of the year, had long become so odious to our sight”

“Is there anyone who loves the sight of ice and snow? To us the sight of ice was a plague a torment, an evil, a matter of despair.”

“The sameness of everything weighed our spirits.”

John Ross, Published Narrative 1835

“For the next three years the expedition could progress no further than a few nautical miles by sea. In temperatures, that on occasion plummeted to -92°F, desperation began to set in:“We were locked up by irruptable chains, and had ceased equally to hope or to fear.”

John Ross, Published Narrative 1835

“This wretchd prison was (not inaptly) named “Sheriffs Harbour” - This winter now set in with a severity not on record and while I am now writing you the ther (thermometer) stands 42° below the freezing point”

Letter to Francis Beaufort, Hydrographer of the Navy from John Ross

By January1832 the crew was reduced in number and capacity - James Marslin died in January 1830 (consumption) and two others fell victim to frostbite (rendering one lame) and blindness. Captain Ross himself had broken both legs in a fall in 1830.

The entire voyage was never intended to exceed two years at worst. As Ross and his crew entered third year in the arctic, abandonment of the Victory at Victory Harbour (in May 1832) was inevitable. The overland journey to Fury Beach was a series of portages in the most extreme and difficult terrain. It took 32 days and nights travelling the 300 miles - they arrived at Fury Beach with one days provisions left.

“My plan was to carry 2 of our boats 40 miles in advance and there make a depot of provisions, that is all we could spare which at ½ allowance would keep us alive until September.

We slept or rather took rest when fatigued by digging a trench in the snow, which being covered with canvas on 2 oars laid across and then snow, we crept in a the lee-end & by keeping close together prevented being frozen to death.”

letter to Francis Beaufort, Hydrographer of the Navy from John Ross

At Fury Beach they were saved by the stores of the Fury (wrecked in Parry’s earlier expedition) Inspite of their best efforts to proceed further north and cross Prince Regent Inlet, they were doomed to endure another arctic winter.

From their makeshift home (of wood, canvas and snow) at Fury Beach which Ross called ‘Somerset House’ he wrote in January 1833:

“you will excuse the bad writing for my fingers are very cold and the ink has frozen several times - where I shall conclude this sheet God only knows”

letter to Francis Beaufort, Hydrographer of the Navy from John Ross

In August 1833 Ross and his remaining crew of 19, were finally able to penetrate Lancaster Sound and end their ordeal. By happy coincidence the passing whaler Isabella which came to their rescue was the very ship that Captain Ross had commanded to the arctic in 1818.

The Rosses returned to a country stunned by the news of their survival. As no word of the expedition had been heard, it was widely believed in 1832 that they must have perished. Such was the feeling of pessimism that relief expeditions failed to find sponsorship. When finally the explorer George Back set out in, February 1833, his mission was overtaken by events.

Achievements

Ross and his men were absent from home for far longer than any previous arctic expedition and indeed for far longer than nearly all subsequent ones. They lost only one man as a direct result of their hardships and the arctic conditions.

In their encounter with the native population of Netsilik Inuit, Ross and his crew greatly advanced the knowledge of traditional customs and the importance of the Inuit diet and hunting methods in their unique adaptation to their environment.

In 1831 James Clark Ross discovered the North Magnetic Pole. They charted some 150 miles of coast line and explored 500 miles of previously unvisited lands.

“For instead of water, they found land and that there is no north west passage south of 70° north; the eastern sea being divided from the western by an isthmus of only five leagues in breadth; which, with the true discovery of the position of the magnetic pole will hand down the name of Captain Ross to ages yet unborn, as one of the ablest navigators that ever lived.”

1835 pamphlet

The route of Arctic Quest 1832

From Taloyoak settlement to abandoned Catholic Mission at Thom Bay

The Team left Taloyoak settlement as planned on the 1st August 2004, with a view to retracing the steps of the Victorian Explorer Sir John Ross RN. The team also hoped to find evidence of the abandoned ship the ‘Victory’.

The route from Taloyoak settlement to, Krusenstern Lake was to be taken by quad bike. From then on in, using inflatable boats & carrying all equipment between the lakes and rivers.

They crossed Krusenstern Lake too reach Krusenstern Falls then descended into Thom Bay to make camp at the abandoned Catholic Mission on the shores of Thom Bay.

The Team then visited the three harbours in which the Victory was ice bound. Cape North Hendon, Sheriffs Harbour and Felix Harbour. They found many artefacts relating to the ship, including evidence of the crew’s presence hundred of years past.

The team then retraced their own footsteps back to Thom Bay mission, up through Krusenstern Falls returning to Krusenstern Lake via Middle Lake eventually reaching the settlement of Taloyaok some six weeks later.

During this Expedition the team encountered some of the worst sea & lake ice seen for over sixty years. Polar bears, whales, caribou and just about all the Arctic environment can throw at a team working within the Arctic Circle.

The team

Susie Cox (Historian)

portrait photo of Susie Cox (Historian)

Susie Cox has been a historical researcher for many years. Having started her career researching historic buildings, Susie then moved from ‘buildings to boats’ and entered the field of maritime history ten years ago. In between researching exploration subjects, Susie curates a unique collection of 19th Century Maritime Art for a multi-national corporation.

Susie has travelled extensively in South East Asia, Australia, U.S.A. and South America. In 2000 she spent three months, in a remote region of Chile, working as an expedition photographer.

Paul Cronin (Royal Marines)

portrait photo of Paul Cronin (Royal Marines)

Paul joined the Marines in 1996 after working as a tree surgeon in the area surrounding Newbury, Berkshire.

Since joining the Corps Paul has completed further training and has specialised as a Signaller.

He has been involved in a variety of operations and deployments, most recently Op Telic in Iraq and a winter deployment to Norway. He is currently based with The Commando Logistics Regiment, Chivenor North Devon.

Paul lives in Somerset with his wife Jo, in his spare time he is a keen outdoors man and his hobbies include rock climbing, all forms of mountain sport, distance running and exploring the internet for his next big adventure.

Mark Hankey (Royal Navy)

portrait photo of Mark Hankey (Royal Navy)

Mark is the great, great grandson of Sir James Clarke Ross and has been involved with the Royal Navy since 1989 when he joined the Royal Naval Reserve (RNR) as a Seaman Officer. In 2000 he applied and was accepted into the RNR Public Affairs Branch (now known as the Media Relations Specialisation [MRS]).

For the next three years Mark was involved in a variety of MRS taskings including FOST and JMC serials and culminating in a recent Op. TELIC deployment.

Mark lives in Surrey with his partner Helen and when he is not commuting up to London enjoys pottering around in his 29 year old sailing boat, playing a bad game of golf and walking his dog.

C/Sgt Mark Cowell (Royal Marines)

portrait photo of C/Sgt Mark Cowell (Royal Marines)

Born in Leeds, West Yorkshire. He attended St Mary’s Comprehensive RC School. Mark joined the Royal Marines in 1981 and joined signals branch in 1984. Mark has served with Corps all around the world including tours of Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Northern Iraq and Afganistan.

Mark has a great passion for travel and tours Europe in his VW camper van and has plans for a world tour in his pride and joy in couple of years time. Mark also is a kean canoeist, hill walker and a collector of rocks and minerals.

Craig Haslam (Royal Marines)

portrait photo of Craig Haslam (Royal Marines)

Craig was born Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1973. He was raised in Whitley Bay and attended Monk Seaton High School. He then joined the Royal Marine in August 1990. He has served throughout the Corps, Completing operations in Northern Ireland, The Gulf and Iraq.

Craig has competed in the RN/RM Biathlon Team and Qualified for the Great Britain Biathlon Team. He has skied for Britain between 1995 and 1998 attending World Cup, World Championships and European fixtures.

Interests other than skiing include mountain walking, football, reading and anything as long as he’s outdoors.

Craig is currently on a training team at the Commando Training Centre, Lympstone in Devon. He is married to Emmajo with two sons, Logan, and Kyle.

Baz Campbell (Royal Marines)

portrait photo of Baz Campbell (Royal Marines)

Born bread and living in Blyth, Northumberland. He is a former student of St Benet Biscops RC high school. Bazz joined the Royal Marines in 1989. He has served operationally in N Iraq, Southern Turkey, Northern Ireland and Afghanistan. Most recently he served on Op Telic in Southern Iraq.

Bazz has trained all around the world, has specialised in Arctic Warfare, Jungle Warfare, he is a Sniper, a Jungle Tracking instructor and a platoon weapons instructor who is currently training Royal Marines recruits at the Commando Training Centre, Lympstone in Devon.

His interests include Mountaineering, Skiing, Scuba Diving, Running, Boxing, Shooting, Politics and History.

He is married to Elaine with their son Alex and daughter Jessica.


Extra

Download the official Combined Expedition Report, covering both Arctic Quest 1831 and Arctic Quest 1832, in PDF format.

Note that even when zipped, this is an 11 MB download