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James Clark Ross

James Clark Ross (cropped).jpg
Born (1800-04-15)15 April 1800
Finsbury Square, London. England, United Kingdom
Died 3 April 1862(1862-04-03) (aged 61)
Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, England, United Kingdom
St James, Aston Abbotts
Branch  Royal Navy
Service years 1812–1862
Rank Captain
Expeditions Ross expedition (1839–1843)
  • Royal Geographical Society's Founder's Medal (1842)
  • Grande Médaille d'Or des Explorations (1843)
Ann Coulman (m. 1843)
Relations Sir John Ross (uncle)

Sir James Clark Ross (April 15, 1800April 3, 1862), was a English naval officer and explorer. He explored the Arctic with his uncle Sir John Ross and Sir William Parry. He later led his own journey to Antarctica. He was born on April 15, 1800 in London, England and died on April 3, 1862 in Aylesbury, England.


Arctic exploration

Ross was born in London, the nephew of Sir John Ross, under whom he entered the Royal Navy in 1812, accompanying him on Sir John's first Arctic voyage in search of a Northwest Passage in 1818. Between 1819 and 1827, Ross took part in four Arctic expeditions under Sir William Parry, and in 1829 to 1833, again served under his uncle on Sir John's second Arctic voyage. It was during this trip that a small party led by James Ross (including Thomas Abernethy) located the position of the North Magnetic Pole on 1 June 1831, on the Boothia Peninsula in the far north of Canada. It was on this trip, too, that Ross charted the Beaufort Islands, later renamed Clarence Islands by his uncle.

In 1834, Ross was promoted to captain. In December 1835, he offered his services to the Admiralty to resupply 11 whaling ships which had become trapped in Baffin Bay. They accepted his offer, and he set sail in HMS Cove in January 1836. The crossing was difficult, and by the time he had reached the last known position of the whalers in June, all but one had managed to return home. Ross found no trace of this last vessel, William Torr, which was probably crushed in the ice in December 1835. He returned to Hull in September 1836 with all his crew in good health.

From 1835–1839, except for his voyage with Cove, he conducted a magnetic survey of Great Britain with Sir Edward Sabine.

Antarctic exploration

HMS Erebus and Terror in the Antarctic by John Wilson Carmichael
Ross expedition in the Antarctic, 1847, by John Carmichael

Between 1839 and 1843, Ross commanded HMS Erebus on his own Antarctic expedition and charted much of the continent's coastline. Captain Francis Crozier was second-in-command of the expedition, commanding HMS Terror. Support for the expedition had been arranged by Francis Beaufort, hydrographer of the Navy and a member of several scientific societies. On the expedition was Joseph Dalton Hooker, who had been invited along as assistant ship's surgeon. Erebus and Terror were bomb vessels—an unusual type of warship named after the mortar bombs they were designed to fire and constructed with extremely strong hulls, to withstand the recoil of the heavy weapons. The ships were selected for the Antarctic mission as being able to resist thick ice, as proved true in practice.

In 1841, James Ross discovered the Ross Sea, Victoria Land, and the volcanoes Mount Erebus and Mount Terror, which were named for the expedition's vessels. They sailed for 250 nautical miles (460 km) along the edge of the low, flat-topped ice shelf they called variously the Barrier or the Great Ice Barrier, later named the Ross Ice Shelf in his honour. The following year, he attempted to penetrate south at about 55° W, and explored the eastern side of what is now known as James Ross Island, discovering and naming Snow Hill Island and Seymour Island.

Ross reported that Admiralty Sound appeared to him to have been blocked by glaciers at its southern end. Ross's ships arrived back in England on 4 September 1843. He was awarded the Grande Médaille d'Or des Explorations in 1843, knighted in 1844, and elected to the Royal Society in 1848.

Search for Franklin's lost expedition

E&I 1849 Somerset Island
"E.I. 1849": Enterprise and Investigator, inscribed by a crew member of the Ross expedition on Somerset Island

In 1848, Ross was sent on one of three expeditions to find Sir John Franklin. The others were the Rae–Richardson Arctic expedition and the expedition aboard HMS Plover and HMS Herald through the Bering Strait. He was given command of HMS Enterprise, accompanied by HMS Investigator, Because of heavy ice in Baffin Bay he only reached the northeast tip of Somerset Island where he was frozen in at Port Leopold. In the spring he and Francis McClintock explored the west coast of the island by sledge. He recognized Peel Sound but thought it too ice-choked for Franklin to have used it. In fact Franklin had used it in 1846 when the extent of sea ice had been atypically low. The next summer he tried to reach Wellington Channel but was blocked by ice and returned to England.

Personal life

He was married to Lady Ann Coulman. He died at Aylesbury in 1862, five years after his wife. A blue plaque marks Ross's home in Eliot Place, Blackheath, London. His closest friend was Francis Crozier, with whom he sailed many times.

He also lived in the ancient House of the Abbots of St. Albans in Buckinghamshire. He is buried with his wife in the local churchyard of St. James the Great, Aston Abbotts. In the gardens of the Abbey there is a lake with two islands, named after the ships Terror and Erebus.

In fiction

Ross, played by British actor Richard Sutton, is a secondary character in the 2018 AMC television series The Terror, portrayed in a fictionalized version of his 1848 search for Franklin's lost expedition, as well as in the 2007 Dan Simmons novel on which the series is based. Ross is also mentioned continuously by Jules Verne in his novel The Adventures of Captain Hatteras.


  • The Ross seal, one of the four Antarctic phocids, first described during the Ross expedition
  • The James Ross Strait, Ross Bay, Ross Point, and Rossoya in the Arctic are all named after him
  • RRS James Clark Ross is a British Antarctic Survey research ship.
  • The crater Ross on the Moon is named after him
  • Ross's gull, a small gull, the only species in its genus, that breeds in the high arctic of northernmost North America and northeast Siberia
  • Ross Dependency, Ross Island, Ross Ice Shelf and Ross Sea in the Antarctic are all named after him
  • Mont Ross, the highest mountain, at a height of 6,070 feet (1,850 m), in the Kerguelen Islands, is named after Ross

Images for kids

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: James Clark Ross para niños

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