Captain Sir James Clark Ross, Antartic explorer, was born on the 15th of April, 1800.
James Clark Ross shouldn't be confused with his equally famous uncle, John Ross, both of whom gained the honour of a knighthood and both of whom are famous Arctic / Antarctic explorers. There was a connection, though, as the former was the latter's nephew, being the son of John's brother, George. Albeit James Clark (not James Clerk; that was Maxwell) was born in London, his father and his uncle, of course, were of good Scottish stock, being the sons of the Rev. Andrew Ross, Minister of Inch, near Stranraer. Apart from exploring the polar regions and being prefixed Sir, James and his uncle shared another attribute, which was that they both joined the navy at a tender age, at least by modern standards. Uncle John Ross joined up in 1786, when he was nine, for goodness sake and James Ross, the nephew, entered the Royal Navy in 1812, when he was
in his twelfth year.
The fortunes of James and John Ross were further intertwined as James joined the navy under his uncle and served under him during his first and second Arctic expeditions, before branching out on his own and taking in the Antarctic. All told, James Ross led or took part in eight expeditions to the Arctic and led a highly successful scientific expedition to the Antarctic. James Ross' crowning achievement was locating the North Magnetic Pole, which he did overnight between the 31st of May and the 1st of June, 1831. Ross found the elusive Magnetic Pole on the west coast of Boothia Peninsula in northern Canada, north of King William Island in what is now the Canadian Arctic (70° 05.3' N, 96° 46' W) and he claimed his discovery by planting the British flag. Writing of his achievement, Ross later wrote, “It almost seemed as if we had accomplished everything that we had come so far to see and to do; as if our voyage and all its labours were at an end and that nothing now remained for us but to return home and be happy for the rest of our days.”
James Ross also led the first naval expedition, in 1848-1849, in search of Sir John Franklin, who had gone missing with two of Ross' previous commands, H.M.S.s Erebus and Terror, albeit he was unsuccessful. James Ross in his day, rather than his uncle, was considered to have been “the first authority on all matters relating to Arctic navigation” and that reputation is largely based on his scientific approach to exploration, and his attention to detail. Ross' careful planning also extended to the diet of his crew, in that he always ensured his men were provided with ample supplies and a balanced diet.
It was in 1830, during the Rosses second trip, that James Ross charted the Beaufort Islands, in James Ross Strait, which were later renamed Clarence Islands by his uncle John. The interesting thing about the Clarence Islands is that when James charted them, there were only three. Ross the younger named the islands, collectively, after the Navy hyrdrographer, Captain Francis Beaufort and, individually, as Adolphus, Frederick and Augustus, after the sons of the Duke of Clarence. Now, when John Ross got to hear about those islands, bearing in mind he never saw them personally, there magically appeared a further six.
The increase, in an early example of virtual computing, arose as a result of John Ross' sycophantic nature and desire to impress his new King, William IV, the very same Duke of Clarence. Adding a notation that read, “changed by His Majesty's command,” John Ross further added six fictional islands to the chart and renamed the group to be the Clarence Islands. Ross' additions had names pertaining to the Clarence family, including Munster Island, Falkland Island, Erskine Island, Fox Island, and Errol Island.
Interestingly, there is an entry in the diary of Lady Jane Franklin, documenting a meeting she had with the eponymous Captain Beaufort, in which she records the following regarding the controversial changes to the chart book. Beaufort told her that the King had exclaimed, “Yes, yes, call them the Clarence islands” and Ross the elder had added a few more so that “the Clarences and Fitzclarences might have one apiece.”
James Clark Ross was born in London on the 15th of April, 1800. In 1812, he entered the Royal Navy and six years later, served under his uncle on that man's first Arctic voyage, in 1818, in search of a Northwest Passage. After that, between 1819 and 1827, Ross took part in four Arctic expeditions under Sir William Edward Parry, during which he studied Eskimo life and made an unsuccessful attempt to reach the North Pole by sledge from West Spitsbergen. Between 1829 and 1833, James accompanied his uncle on his second Arctic voyage, when they famously survived having been stranded in the ice for four winters. After that, from 1835 to 1838, James Ross was employed on the magnetic survey of Great Britain and in 1836, he took time out to rescue some whalers in Baffin Bay.
Ross' famous Antarctic expedition in Erebus and Terror took place between September 1838 and 1843, during which he reached further south than anyone hitherto, becoming the first to see Antarctica, the “southernmost land.” However, Ross was unsuccessful in locating the South Magnetic Pole, which had been a goal of the expedition, along with charting the coastline and studying earth magnetism on behalf of the Royal Society.
In January 1841, after having wintered in Hobart, Ross' ships reached open water and the Ross Sea. They continued to sail south until they discovered Victoria Land and the Victoria Barrier. Later named the Ross Shelf Ice, that low, flat-topped, 250 nautical miles (460 km) long barrier prevented them from sailing further south and they were forced to turn back. Later, in November 1841, Ross sailed again from New Zealand, in an attempt to solve the “Great Barrier Mystery”. Unfortunately, due to bad weather conditions, they weren't able to find an answer and wintered in the Falkland Islands. A third attempt, in 1842, exploring the eastern side of what is now known as James Ross Island, wasn't successful and so they gave up and sailed for home, reaching England in September 1843, after seven years at sea.
James Clark Ross published his memoirs in 1847, in an account of his Antarctic expedition entitled “A Voyage of Discovery and Research in the Southern and Antarctic Regions” and in which he wrote about the amazing coincidence of discovering two volcanoes with the same names as his two ships, Mount Erebus (a 12,400-foot tall volcano on Antarctica) and the smaller, extinct, Mount Terror.
Sir James Ross died in Aylesbury, on the 3rd of April, 1862 and he was buried in the churchyard local to his Buckinghamshire home, known as The Abbey, in Aston Abbotts.