Robert J.L. McClure (1807-1873)


  • L.H. Neatby



Biographies, Expeditions, Explorers, History, Mapping, McClure, Robert John LeMesurier, 1807-1873, Search for Franklin, Banks Island, N.W.T., Northwest Passage, Parry, Cape, Prince of Wales Strait, Victoria Island, N.W.T./Nunavut, Viscount Melville Sound


Robert John LeMesurier McClure was born of Anglo-Irish gentry in 1807. He joined the Navy at the advanced age of 16 and for many years missed promotion. In 1836-1837 he was mate on George Back's Terror cruise in Hudson Bay and came back well initiated in the dangers of pack ice. ... After years of obscurity, he was made first lieutenant of the Enterprise, in which James Ross was leading the first Franklin rescue expedition. McClure gained no credit on this almost abortive cruise, as ill health barred him from major sledge journeys, and when Ross was disabled, Second Lieutenant McClintock was given temporary charge of the ship. ... On his return to England, McClure was made commander and appointed to the Investigator, which was to second Captain Richard Collinson of the Enterprise in a voyage by way of South America and Bering Strait to search the western Arctic. ... Collinson had intended to reach the Arctic by making a wide sweep around the Aleutians; McClure now resolved to halve the distance by striking straight through the uncharted and fog-bound island chain. ... By good fortune he carried with him two industrious diarists - his surgeon, Alexander Armstrong, and J.A. Miertsching, a Moravian missionary enlisted as Eskimo interpreter - as well as the gifted water-colour artist Lieutenant S.G. Cresswell. Confined near the shore by the pack and calling at Eskimo camps, McClure sailed past the Mackenzie River hundreds of miles to the east until at Cape Parry he was shouldered north by ice and made the lucky discovery of Prince of Wales Strait, separating Victoria and Banks islands and the last link in the passage sought. Ascending this almost to its outlet, he was caught by gale and tide and swept back to the narrows of the strait, where the ship was almost wrecked in the churning pack. When it froze solid, McClure took a sledge crew to its northern outlet on Parry's Viscount Melville Sound and linked their joint discoveries into one continuous Northwest Passage. In the spring, sledge parties mapped much of the shore of Banks and Victoria islands without finding a trace of Franklin's lost crews. Weeks failed to get the ship into the dense pack of Viscount Melville Sound. The proper course was then to return with his valuable report by the way he had come, but McClure, obsessed with the glory of navigating the passage, attempted the circuit of Banks Island to enter the sound from the west. ... In the spring McClure crossed the sound and cached his report on the Melville Island shore. That report was instrumental to their survival. After caching the message, they were ice-imprisoned in the same bay for a second winter. Supplies were nearing exhaustion; on half-rations for more than a year, many men grew shrunken, haggard, and tottering. McClure's desperate scheme of detaching them for a foot journey to the continent was averted by the arrival of Lieutenant Pim with word that two rescue vessels awaited them on Melville Island. ... Despite an unofficial statement that the Admiralty were displeased at irresponsibility that had almost caused a second Franklin disaster, McClure was knighted and a House of Commons committee convened to consider a generous reward for the discovery of the passage and the propriety of granting a portion of the bounty to the rescue ships of Kellett. With ingratitude and gross lack of candour, McClure testified that he could have saved his crew without Kellett's aid and secured the entire bounty of 10,000 [Pounds Sterling] for his own ship. ...






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