Thomas Simpson (1808-1840)

  • L.H. Neatby
Keywords: Biographies, Coasts, Expeditions, Explorers, History, Hudson's Bay Company, Mapping, Mental health and well-being, Simpson, Thomas, 1808-1840, Canadian Arctic Islands waters, Iowa, King William Island, Nunavut, Mackenzie River, N.W.T., Victoria Island, N.W.T./Nunavut

Abstract

Thomas Simpson was born in the north of Scotland and graduated from the University of Aberdeen with more than competence. He was enrolled in the service of the Hudson's Bay Company, and in the New World he exemplified the popular conception of the clever academic launched into society. He expressed the utmost contempt for his colleagues and in a letter assured his brother Alexander that his talents would secure him speedy advancement. This arrogance made him most unpopular in the service and caused George Simpson, in doubt of his kinsman's fitness to command, to appoint Chief Factor Peter Warren Dease to lead the expedition that he was planning to extend the northern coastal survey earlier initiated by John Franklin and John Richardson. Although the leadership escaped him, Thomas Simpson was made responsible for the actual survey work, an arrangement that worked admirably. ... Simpson proved his zeal and adaptability on this 1837 assignment. When the boats were blocked by ice, he took to the shore to do the work on foot; on seeing that the ice had receded, he borrowed an umiak to finish the work. No one applauded his success more than himself: "Mine alone is the victory," he wrote. "Dease is an unworthy, indolent, illiterate soul." In the next season - 1838 - when an eastward thrust from Point Turnagain was halted by ice, Simpson landed and added 160 km to the map on foot. The summer of 1839 proved more friendly. They sailed through Simpson Strait, which divided King William Island from the continent, passed the estuary of Back's Fish River - to become grimly memorable 15 years later - and reached Boothia Isthmus at the mouth of the Castor and Polux River. The ruthless Simpson still did not spare the boat crews; overruling the kindly Dease, he slowed the return voyage to map parts of th south shores of King William and Victoria islands, forcing the crews to ascend the Mackenzie River in sub-zero weather with ice masses already floating downstream. ... On the American prairie, Simpson met a violent death that has never been fully explained. ... Asked one evening whether they should encamp, he answered moodily that "that was just as the others chose." They were pitching the tent when Simpson shot two of them with his double-barrelled gun. He came forward declaring that he had done no wrong, that they had plotted to murder him. The two who remained mounted their horses and galloped off to join a wagon train that was not far behind. The next day one of them returned with four men who testified that they found two bodies lying in the open, while Simpson was stretched in his tent with the top of his head blown off. ....
Published
1987-01-01
Section
Arctic Profiles