James Clark Ross

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James Clark Ross

James Clark Ross (cropped).jpg
Birth nameJames Clark Ross
Born(1800-04-15)15 April 1800
Finsbury Square, London, England
Died3 April 1862(1862-04-03) (aged 61)
Aston Abbotts, Buckinghamshire, England
St James the Great, Aston Abbotts
Branch Royal Navy
Service years1812–1862
RankRear-Admiral of the Red
ExpeditionsRoss expedition (1839–1843)
Ann Coulman
(m. 1843; died 1857)
RelationsSir John Ross (uncle)

Sir James Clark Ross FRS FLS FRAS (15 April 1800 – 3 April 1862) was a British Royal Navy officer and polar explorer known for his explorations of the Arctic, participating in two expeditions led by his uncle Sir John Ross, and four led by Sir William Parry, and, in particular, for his own Antarctic expedition from 1839 to 1843.


Arctic exploration[edit]

Ross was born in London, the nephew of Sir John Ross, under whom he entered the Royal Navy in 1812, accompanying him on Sir John's first Arctic voyage in search of a Northwest Passage in 1818. Between 1819 and 1827, Ross took part in four Arctic expeditions under Sir William Parry, and in 1829 to 1833, again served under his uncle on Sir John's second Arctic voyage. It was during this trip that a small party led by James Ross (including Thomas Abernethy) located the position of the North Magnetic Pole on 1 June 1831, on the Boothia Peninsula in the far north of Canada. It was on this trip, too, that Ross charted the Beaufort Islands, later renamed Clarence Islands by his uncle.[1][2]

In 1834, Ross was promoted to captain. In December 1835, he offered his services to the Admiralty to resupply 11 whaling ships which had become trapped in Baffin Bay. They accepted his offer, and he set sail in HMS Cove in January 1836. The crossing was difficult, and by the time he had reached the last known position of the whalers in June, all but one had managed to return home. Ross found no trace of this last vessel, William Torr, which was probably crushed in the ice in December 1835.[3] He returned to Hull in September 1836 with all his crew in good health.

From 1835 to 1839, except for his voyage with Cove, he conducted a magnetic survey of Great Britain with Sir Edward Sabine.[citation needed]

Antarctic exploration[edit]

Ross expedition in the Antarctic, 1847, by John Carmichael

Between 1839 and 1843, Ross commanded HMS Erebus on his own Antarctic expedition and charted much of the continent's coastline. Captain Francis Crozier was second-in-command of the expedition, commanding HMS Terror. Support for the expedition had been arranged by Francis Beaufort, hydrographer of the Navy and a member of several scientific societies. On the expedition was Joseph Dalton Hooker, who had been invited along as assistant ship's surgeon. Erebus and Terror were bomb vessels—an unusual type of warship named after the mortar bombs they were designed to fire and constructed with extremely strong hulls, to withstand the recoil of the heavy weapons. The ships were selected for the Antarctic mission as being able to resist thick ice, as proved true in practice.[4][5]

In 1841, James Ross discovered the Ross Sea, Victoria Land, and the volcanoes Mount Erebus and Mount Terror, which were named for the expedition's vessels. They sailed for 250 nautical miles (460 km) along the edge of the low, flat-topped ice shelf they called variously the Barrier or the Great Ice Barrier, later named the Ross Ice Shelf in his honour. The following year, he attempted to penetrate south at about 55° W, and explored the eastern side of what is now known as James Ross Island, discovering and naming Snow Hill Island and Seymour Island.

Ross reported that Admiralty Sound appeared to him to have been blocked by glaciers at its southern end.[6] Ross's ships arrived back in England on 4 September 1843. He was awarded the Grande Médaille d'Or des Explorations in 1843, knighted in 1844, and elected to the Royal Society in 1848.[7][8]

Search for Franklin's lost expedition[edit]

"E.I. 1849": Enterprise and Investigator, inscribed by a crew member of the Ross expedition on Somerset Island

In 1848, Ross was sent on one of three expeditions to find Sir John Franklin. The others were the Rae–Richardson Arctic expedition and the expedition aboard HMS Plover and HMS Herald through the Bering Strait. He was given command of HMS Enterprise, accompanied by HMS Investigator.[9] Because of heavy ice in Baffin Bay he only reached the northeast tip of Somerset Island where he was frozen in at Port Leopold. In the spring he and Francis McClintock explored the west coast of the island by sledge. He recognized Peel Sound but thought it too ice-choked for Franklin to have used it. In fact Franklin had used it in 1846 when the extent of sea ice had been atypically low. The next summer he tried to reach Wellington Channel but was blocked by ice and returned to England.[citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

Ross married Ann Coulman in 1843.[10] A blue plaque marks Ross's home in Eliot Place, Blackheath, London.[11] His closest friend was Francis Crozier, with whom he sailed many times.

He also lived in the ancient House of the Abbots of St. Albans in Buckinghamshire. In the gardens of the Abbey there is a lake with two islands, named after the ships Terror and Erebus.[12]

Ross remained an officer in the Royal Navy for the rest of his life and was subsequently promoted several times, his final rank being Rear-Admiral of the Red awarded in August 1861.[13]

Ross died at Aston Abbotts on 3 April 1862, five years after his wife.[14][15] They are buried together in the parish churchyard of St. James the Great.

In fiction[edit]

Ross, played by British actor Richard Sutton, is a secondary character in the 2018 AMC television series The Terror, portrayed in a fictionalized version of his 1848 search for Franklin's lost expedition, as well as in the 2007 Dan Simmons novel on which the series is based. Ross is also mentioned continuously by Jules Verne in his novel The Adventures of Captain Hatteras.[citation needed]


See also[edit]



  1. ^ Bossi, Maurizio; Vieusseux, G.P. (1984). Notizie di viaggi lontani: l'esplorazione extraeuropea nei periodici del primo Ottocento, 1815–1845. Naples: Guida. ISBN 8870423999.
  2. ^ Woodman, David C. (1991). Unravelling the Franklin disaster: Inuit testimony. McGill-Queen's University Press. ISBN 9780773509368.
  3. ^ Jones, A.G.E. (1950). "The Voyage of H.M.S. Cove, Captain James Clark Ross, 1835–36". Polar Record. 5 (40): 543–556. doi:10.1017/S0032247400045150. Retrieved 21 April 2012.
  4. ^ "James Clark Ross (1800–1862)". Glasgow Digital Library. Retrieved 26 February 2016.
  5. ^ Ward, P. (2001). "Antarctic expedition, 1839–1843, James Clark Ross".
  6. ^ Ross, James (1847). A Voyage of Discovery and Research in the Southern and Antarctic Regions, During the Years 1839–43. 2. London: John Murray.
  7. ^ Appletons' annual cyclopaedia and register of important events of the year: 1862. New York: D. Appleton & Company. 1863. p. 749.
  8. ^ "No. 20325". The London Gazette. 15 March 1844. p. 909.
  9. ^ Mowat, Farley (1973). Ordeal by ice: the search for the Northwest Passage. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Ltd. p. 250. OCLC 1391959.
  10. ^ "Coulman Island". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey.
  11. ^ "Sir James Clark Ross 1800–1862 polar explorer lived here". Open Plaques. Retrieved 28 October 2016.
  12. ^ "History: Sir James Clark Ross". Aston Abbotts. Retrieved 28 October 2016.
  13. ^ "No. 7144". The Edinburgh Gazette. 13 August 1861. p. 1044.
  14. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 5 March 2021.
  15. ^ "No. 22701". The London Gazette. 23 January 1863. p. 413.
  16. ^ Riffenburgh, Beau (2007). Encyclopedia of the Antarctic. Taylor & Francis. p. 815. ISBN 9780415970242.
  17. ^ a b Ross, Maurice James (1994). Polar Pioneers: John Ross and James Clark Ross. McGill-Queen's Press. ISBN 9780773512344.
  18. ^ "RRS James Clark Ross". British Antarctic Survey. Retrieved 28 October 2016.
  19. ^ "North Magnetic Pole Discovered 1 June 1831". History Channel. Retrieved 21 April 2017.
  20. ^ Rushton, Annabel (9 February 2014). "Who's this Ross character then?". RSPB. Retrieved 28 October 2016.
  21. ^ 1) [Bertrand, Kenneth John, et al, ed.] The Geographical Names of Antarctica. Special Publication No. 86. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Board on Geographical Names, May 1947. 2) [Bertrand, Kenneth J. and Fred G. Alberts]. Gazetteer No. 14. Geographic Names of Antarctica. Washington: US Government Printing Office, January 1956.


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