The Northwest Passage Essay

2361 words - 9 pages

The opening up of the north polar sea between 1815 and 1817 had prompted Barrow to propose a plan to send two expedition voyages, one in search of the Northwest Passage and the other to proceed from the sea of Spitzbergen towards the North Pole. Accordingly he sent the plan to the President and Council of the Royal Society which duly returned with their approval and the orders were issued by the Board of the Admiralty. Examining such interplay between scientific institutions, such as the Royal Society and the British Admiralty, one can see a well defined division of labour, in the collaboration between gentleman scientists at home and their field workers in the navy ship on voyages of exploration, in which the navy sent the ship to collect the data for the scientist to analyse. Knight has provided such an example: ‘A wide range of authorities were consulted, or entrusted with writing up accounts of the specimens, thus Michael Faraday analysed air from the Arctic brought back on Parry’s second voyage,…Geologists who described collections included William Jameson of Edinburgh, William Buckland of Oxford, and John MaCulloch of the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich who became President of the Geological Society; botanists included Robert Brown and William Hooker; and zoologists included J. C. Children, of the British Museum, Joseph Sabine, and John Curtis, John Richardson drew together the various observations made on the voyages into the Fauna Borealis-Americana, a Sumptous government-supported publication which superseded Pennant’s Arctic Zoology…’. The complement of men of science on board was generally working under authoritative command and instructions of an organization or individual who would stay on land. They could be seen as ‘an extension of their patrons’ senses, illuminating what was obscured to the eye’.
There was much debate regarding the difference between naval scientific expeditions and the other naval activities or between science and politics. On one side there are those who regard the naval scientific expedition as an instrument for imperialism, such as Jane Samson in the ‘That Extensive Enterprise’, in which she had indicated that there was considerable evidence of imperial tendency in Berthold Seemann, who as the naturalist on board the Herald in responded to landscape and noted connections between the collection of scientific data and the interests of British commercial and political expansion. In her analysis, she shows that the characteristic of many explorers and naturalists on the naval scientific expeditions evidently represent the tendency towards imperial power and the exploitation of nature. She states that, ‘Naval survey expeditions did far more than chart coast lines; they also mapped Europe’s conquest of the non-European world, cataloguing the future of empire’. This was amplified by Janet Browne, who emphasised the activity of naturalists in studying animal and plant distribution patterns or biogeography as...

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