Doctor John Rae - Scottish Doctor and Explorer


Hi Folks,




Dr. Rae's home in Orkney and the Doctor / Explorer himself.


Hi Folks,


I was sitting watching television last night ( which is not altogether unusual ) and a programme came on which was hosted by Billy Connolly who can make me laugh though this wasn't a comedy but a sort of travel/history one and as he can be very entertaining I settled to watch it. What I saw was really interesting and caught hold of my imagination so much so that I am relating the content below.... Yeah I know it's totally different from my usual ' funnies' but I'm sure that 'some' folk will be interested enough to scan through the content - even though it's quite a length. I can't help but wonder how Dr Rae's decendants must feel about their ancestor not getting any recognition for the work he did but anyway - have a look ...

I know that I'm a very insignificant human being in the scheme of things but as far as I can see Dr Rae was a big hearted intelligent helpful and courageous man who was also an Orkney Island Scotsman, unfortunately his good deeds were ignored due to some very unfortunate ignorance at the time and I, like many hope that he eventually gets the recognition that he deserves.

My Thanks to Wikipedia for a lot of the background information ...

A memorial to Sir John Franklin (the man who got the kudos for the expedition) lies within Westminster Abbey with the wording – “To the memory of Sir John Franklin, born April 16 1786 at Spilsby, Lincolnshire, Died June 11 1847, off Point Victory in the frozen ocean, the beloved chief of the gallant crews who perished with him in completing the discovery of the North West passage.”

Now, It is well known that in fact it was the Orcadian explorer John Rae who in 1848 was the first to identify and map the navigable link of the North West Passage. This is something which has again come into the public debate following Billy Connolly’s recent television program on the subject.

The MP for Orkney and Shetland Mr Carmichael said –

“The proximity of Westminster Abbey to the Palace of Westminster gives me the opportunity to pursue this aspect of John Rae’s legacy fairly easily and I intend to do so. It is not unreasonable to expect that another small sign might be placed alongside the memorial to Sir Franklin clarifying the proven position. The fact that a sign of this sort should have been erected in a place such as Westminster Abbey is itself of historical interest. John Rae was denied his proper recognition in his lifetime, it is to be hoped that these errors can at last be rectified.”

Mr Carmichael has also tabled a motion in the House of Commons calling upon Westminster Abbey amongst others to recognise the historical inaccuracies contained within their inscriptions and give John Rae his rightful recognition.

He recorded his admiration for all those in the nineteenth century who contributed to the exploration of the North West Passage in Canada; and congratulated Billy Connolly on his recent programme, “Journey to the Edge of the World” retracing their steps; further congratulates Mr Connolly on his conclusion that it was not in fact Sir John Franklin but John Rae who was the first to discover the final link to the passage while searching for the lost Franklin crew in 1848; regrets that memorials to Sir John Franklin outside the Admiralty headquarters and inside Westminster Abbey still inaccurately describe Franklin as the first to discover the passage and calls on the Ministry of Defence and the Abbey authorities to take the necessary steps to clarify the true position

Dr. John Rae was a Scottish doctor who explored Northern Canada, discovered the final part of the Northwest Passage and reported the fate of the Franklin Expedition .

He was born at the Hall of Clestrain in the parish of Orphir in the Orkney Islands. After studying medicine at Edinburgh he went to work for the Hudson's Bay Company as a doctor accepting a post as surgeon at Moose Factory, Ontario where he remained for ten years. He became known for his prodigious stamina and skilled use of snow shoes. He also learned to live off the land like the Inuit. This allowed him to travel great distances with little equipment and few followers, unlike many other explorers of the Victorian Age.. Over two months in 1844-45 he walked 1,200 miles, a feat that earned him the Inuit nickname Aglooka (he who takes long strides). In 1846 Rae went on his first expedition and in 1848 joined Sir John Richardson in searching for the Northwest Passage.

By 1849 Rae was in charge of the Mackenzie River District at Fort Simpson. He was soon called upon to head north again, this time in search of two missing ships from the Franklin Expedition. While exploring King William Island in 1853 Rae made contact with local Inuit, from whom he obtained much information about the fate of the lost naval expedition. His report to the British Admiralty carried shocking and unwelcome evidence that cannibalism had been a last resort for some of the survivors.

Franklin's widow Lady Jane Franklin was outraged and recruited many important supporters among them the writer Charles Dickens who wrote several pamphlets condemning Rae for daring to suggest the man of the doomed Franklin expedition would have resorted to cannibalism.

In 1860 Rae worked on the telegraph line to America, visiting Iceland and Greenland. In 1864 he made a further telegraph survey in the west of Canada. In 1884 at age 71 he was again working for the Hudson Bay Company, this time as an explorer of the Red River for a proposed telegraph line from the United States to Russia.

John Rae died in London on 22 July, 1893. A week later his body arrived in Orkney. He was buried in the kirkyard of St Magnus' Cathedral, Kirkwall. A memorial to him is inside the cathedral.

Rae Strait between King William Island and the Boothia Peninsula, Rae Isthmus, Rae River, Fort Rae and the village of Rae-Edzo (now Behchoko). Northwest Passage were all names for him.


The outcome of Lady Franklin's efforts to glorify the dead of the Franklin expedition meant Rae was shunned somewhat by the British establishment. Although he found the last link in the much-sought-after Northwest Passage Rae was never awarded a Knighthood, nor was he remembered at the time of his death, dying quietly in London. In comparison fellow Scot and contemporary explorer David Livingstone was knighted and buried with full imperial honours in Westminster Abbey.

However, historians have since studied Rae's expeditions and his roles in finding the Northwest Passage and learning the fate of Franklin's crews. Authors such as Ken McGoogan have noted Rae was willing to adapt and learn the ways of indigenous Arctic peoples, which made him stand out as the foremost specialist of his time in cold-climate survival and travel. Rae also respected Inuit customs, traditions and skills, which went against the beliefs of many 19th century Europeans that most native peoples were primitive and of little educational value.


In March 2009 Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael introduced into U.K. parliament a motion urging it to formally state it "regrets that memorials to Sir John Franklin outside the Admiralty headquarters and inside Westminster Abbey still inaccurately describe Franklin as the first to discover the passage, and calls on the Ministry of Defence and the Abbey authorities to take the necessary steps to clarify the true position."

Now some people may say 'why bother' so much time has elapsed since but I wonder how you would feel if one of your ancesters was ignored and not recognized for something he did ... I wonder if there will be any change in the status of Dr Rae ??



Cheers from the land of the Tartan, Love Kate xxx.

P.S. Normal service will resume in my next blog entry - I just couldn't stop myself from bringing this out into my part of the Blogosphere.
P.P.S. Here endeth the lesson - you'll be glad of that no doubt hehehe...