Monday, 7 June 2010

Englishmen on Ice Part Three - Chasing the Wild Goose from the Congo to Canada

Map of the journey of The Fox Continuing my series of posts about the Murray Arctic exploration narratives with this rather lovely image of one of Aaron Arrowsmith's beautiful maps he did for the Navy...and for John Murray...(from a book called 'The Voyage of the Fox' from 1859...of which much more later...)

At this moment, at the risk of prolonging the curtain raising on these tales of derring do, I want to explore the mindset behind these explorations a little, and to say for reasons of completeness that the Victorian explorer story really starts for the John Murray Archive with the "Narrative of an expedition to explore the river Zaire, usually called the Congo, in South Africa", published in 1816, written by the hapless commander of that particular disaster, Captain J. K. Tuckey, R.N.

This was where the partnership between John Barrow as director of explorations for the Admiralty, and John Murray as the publisher of the resulting best selling exploration journals really began...

Barrow sent Tuckey to confirm one of his many pet theses: in this case that the river Niger flowed into the river Congo...that rivers would be found radiating from the Congo that would open up the African continent to Trade and Bibles in every direction...from Jo'burg to Cairo, from Kinshasa to Addis Abbaba

(This was why everyone went looking for the source of the Nile...why Stanley crashed through the jungle breaking stones and bodies from Zanzibar west to the Atlantic)

The Niger doesn't flow into the Congo, incidentally...but one must understand the mindset: God wants England to succeed. He will therefore arrange rivers in Africa to avoid the French.

Tuckey wasn't sent to find where the Niger actually WENT...merely to confirm the arrangements of Providence…that the Lord had thoughtfully provided a comprehensive river trading network in the interests of Imperial commerce. Amen.

He didn't find it. It wasn't there to be found, but the failure was HIS failure. Not Barrow's or God's. Men died. Lots of men died.

For Africa and the Arctic, this would set the pattern of geographical exploration guided by wishful thinking. This was especially true of the long search for what was called the Northwest Passage...a Northern route to the Pacific across the North coast of which Barrow dedicated his efforts, his political capital, and many, many lives over the next thirty years...

Such a trade route would be of enormous benefit to the Empire...God made the world for the benefit of that Empire...So the North West Passage simply must exist...all it needed was the gumption to go and find it...

And Murray had publishing rights to everything the Admiralty provided as expedition after expedition sailed into the ever shifting ice.

They never found it, of course. It wasn't there to be found any more than the Niger flowed into the Congo.
(Not as a trade route anyway...but hey...give global warming a few more years...Lancaster Sound might be the Suez Canal)

Never mind. Everyone loved a shipwreck story. And it was the polar narratives that swiftly followed Tuckey, starting withJames Ross in 1818, (accompanied by junior officers like William Parry, John Franklin, William Crozier and his own younger brother James) that really set the standard of suffering for the era.

Next time...we meet the star of our show..and one of the Archive's Firmament of genius and craziness...
John Franklin RN...the man who ate his boots...

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