Tuesday, February 19, 2013

People: The Antarctic Hero

James Clark Ross joined the Royal Navy in 1812 and remained a sailor for the bulk of his life. Like many lifetime navy men, Ross was born to it. His uncle, Sir John Ross, would become one of the foremost explorers of the Arctic in his day. He took his young nephew off to search for the Northwest passage - a popular but often deadly pastime for British seamen - in 1818 when young James was 18.

The younger Ross made captain in 1834 and took command of HMS Cove in 1835 when he sailed off to Baffin Bay to rescue a wayward group of British whalers. The trip was difficult, but Ross, as can be guess by his portrait above featuring Polaris over his left shoulder, had a way with cooler climes. Cove did not meet up with the whalers but nonetheless returned safely home in September of 1836 with all men alive and healthy.

Ross' greatest achievement as a sailing Captain occurred over the years 1839 to 1843 when he led an expedition to the Antarctic. His vessels at this time were Erebus and Terror, whose names will ring a bell with anyone familiar with the aforementioned search for the nonexistent Northwest passage. Under Ross' care, the two ships would have greater successes than they would in later life. The expedition mapped much of the Antarctic coast where some features, such as the Ross Ice Shelf, still speak of the commander by name.

Ross returned to England to great praise. He was named to the Royal Society, married into landed gentry and returned to the Arctic more than once, even exploring inlets that would later thwart the doomed expedition of Sir John Franklin.

All in all Ross' career was remarkable but not unusual. Certainly two things about the commander have come down to us that continue to intrigue and delight to this day. First, the portrait above, which has been deemed swoon-worthy by more than one blogger. Second, the poem written by Louisa Sheridan as a memorium to his death in 1862. Entitled "Song of Captain Ross (of the North Pol-ice station)", the thing is full of somewhat less than respectful puns regarding Ross' career as an Arctic and Antarctic explorer. Everything is cool and chili and frosted; Louisa must have been very droll in conversation. One wonders what Lady Ann Ross thought of this "tribute" to her hero husband. You can find the poem in its entirety over as the wonderful Two Nerdy History Girls blog.

And so goodnight to another sailing man. Fair winds in the far beyond, Ross; with luck they'll all be warm.

Header: James Clark Ross by John R. Wildman c 1834 via Wikipedia


Timmy! said...

That is quite the painting (and the poem too) Pauline!

Pauline said...

Pretty silly, but the painting is impressive.

Also, I neglected to mention that this branch of the Ross family appears to be distantly related to the noteworthy Colonel George Ross of Battle of New Orleans fame and, thereby, the also famous Betsy Ross.