James Anderson (1812-1867)


  • C. Stuart Mackinnon




Anderson, James, 1812-1867, Biographies, Canoeing, Expeditions, Explorers, History, Hudson's Bay Company, Search for Franklin, Starvation, Anderson River, N.W.T., Back River, Nunavut, Chantrey Inlet, Mackenzie River region, Montreal Island


... In 1831, James left Britain as an apprentice with the Hudson's Bay Company. For 20 years he served with energy, judgement, and business acumen in the James Bay, Lake Superior, and Athabasca areas. Then-Governor George Simpson entrusted him with the remote and valuable Mackenzie District. He improved profits by better book-keeping and retrenchment on the upper Yukon basin. His preference was to open trade directly with the Inuit via the Anderson River north of Fort Good Hope. Suddenly, in 1855, he was ordered to take part in the search for John Franklin's expedition. The Admiralty had wearied of the expensive probing of the arctic islands, but Dr. Rae of the Hudson's Bay Company had reported finding relics while surveying Boothia Peninsula. Inuit had told him of white men perishing on an island west of a great river. This was obviously the river down which Captain Back and Dr. King had taken a York Boat in 1834. Now the British government asked the Company to use the same route to check out Rae's report. Simpson had confidence that Anderson would see the matter through without creating new disasters. ... Because he could not carry enough supplies to overwinter, Anderson had to accomplish his mission in the short interval between breakup and the onset of the next winter. On Indian advice to bypass frozen lakes, he chose a new, more direct mountain portage route from Great Slave Lake. Solid ice on Lake Aylmer put him 12 days behind the schedule of Captain Back, whose carefully mapped route he joined at that point. ... On July 31, only two days later than Back, Anderson entered Chantrey Inlet. It was choked with wind-driven floes, and the fragile canoes could not operate as icebreakers. When the men managed to reach Montreal Island, they began finding wood and metal fragments along the shore and in Inuit caches. One chip bore the name "Mr. Stanley" of the Erebus. Using an inflatable rubber raft, three men pushed on to Maconochie Island. ... Anderson, with a true instinct, wanted to search Cape Richardson but was prevented by a "millstream" of jagged ice. Had he done so, he would have encountered, a scant eight kilometres to the west in a cul-de-sac later known as Starvation Cove, the last encampment of the Franklin expedition. Instead, he packed up the raft in the canoes, which had been repaired and regummed, and gave the order to return. Not until 1962 was the whole Back River canoed and kayaked again. ... Anderson's official report was brief and restrained. He had found no papers or bodies and could merely confirm Rae's statement that the disaster had occurred somewhere northwest of the Back. ... Anderson's health had been undermined by the trip. After three more years as chief factor in the Mackenzie District, he asked to be transferred. At Mingan on the St. Lawrence, he straightened out the account books and entertained the governor-general with salmon fishing. He finally retired, as a country squire, to Ontario, where his children were entering the professions. James Anderson's service to the Company was exemplary, and he narrowly missed fame at Starvation Cove. Altogether, he was a fine frontiersman - Canadian style.






Arctic Profiles