The party of about 40 bedraggled British seamen shuffled wearily across the icy wastes of King William Island in the Canadian Arctic. Exhausted and starving, it took everything they had just to keep going.
Then, miraculously, they caught sight of a small band of native Inuit on the ice ahead. One man, a naval officer, approached the natives, rubbing his hand across his stomach and repeatedly saying 'net-chuk', the Inuit words for seal. The Inuit handed over a few scraps of raw meat and calmly walked away, ignoring the desperate appeals and leaving the officer and his men to their fate.
This poignant encounter took place in 1848, and the officer was Captain Francis Crozier, leader of the remnants of the ill-fated 1845 Franklin expedition. The Inuit, who had long existed on the edge of survival, knew instinctively that the surrounding hunting grounds could support their own families--but not another 40 ravenous sailors. None of the seamen survived.
The account of the meeting survived through the oral testimony of the Inuit and is the last recorded sighting of Crozier. It was also the moment when the memory of Crozier began to fade, eventually consigning this distinguished and accomplished explorer to become little more than a footnote in the history of polar exploration.
However, Crozier was among the exceptional band of men whose exploits in 19th-century sailing ships opened the way for men such as Roald Amundsen, Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton in the 20th century. He served on six expeditions between 1821 and 1845 in pursuit of the era's foremost goals of polar exploration--navigating the Northwest Passage, reaching the North Pole and surveying the Antarctic continent.
While Crozier played a prominent role in these endeavours, he received little official recognition for his feats. Unlike most of his contemporaries--including John Franklin, Edward Parry, George Back, John Richardson, and John and James Clark Ross--Crozier never received a knighthood, and in the 1 SO years since his lonely, tragic death, he became a largely forgotten figure.
Francis Rawdon Moira Crozier was born in 1796 into a wealthy family in the Irish linen town of Banbridge, County Down. His father, George Crozier, was a prominent solicitor who acted for Ireland's most powerful land-owning families, and he was named after Francis Rawdon, the Earl of Moira.
In 1810, three months before his 14th birthday, Crozier enlisted in the Royal Navy and was immediately thrown into the Napoleonic wars. On one of his earliest voyages, his ship became lost in the Pacific Ocean and unexpectedly arrived at tiny Pitcairn Island, where the crew met the sole surviving mutineer from the Bounty.
After the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815, the Admiralty turned to exploration in an attempt to find work for its ranks of idle officers and to expand the British Empire. Arctic discovery was a key ambition during this energetic burst of exploration, which produced men such as Franklin, Parry, the Rosses and Crozier.
Crozier's first polar expedition came in 1821, when he volunteered to join Party's attempt to navigate the Northwest Passage, a feat that had eluded sailors for centuries. They returned after two years without success, but Crozier went north again a year later when Parry took the vessels Fury and Hecla on another vain bid to locate the passage. Disaster was only narrowly averted when Fury was wrecked in Prince Regent Inlet, and the entire party limped home on board Hecla.
In 1827, Crozier joined Parry and James Clark Ross in an arduous slog to reach the North Pole. The party, dragging heavily laden boats, trekked for more than 1,000 kilometres, but advanced only 275 kilometres north because the remorseless drift of the pack ice carried them steadily south. It was akin to walking the wrong way up a fast-moving escalator, and the men survived thanks largely to the depots earlier laid down by the diligent Crozier. …