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ARCTIC ARCHIPELAGO - The Searchers For Franklin

John Richardson (1787-1865)

A Portrait of John Rae by Stephen Pearce, 1862

John Richardson was born in Scotland. He studied medicine at Edinburgh University after which he joined the British Navy as a medical officer. He was with John Franklin on the Coppermine Expedition of 18191822 and the Mackenzie, 1825-27.

Richardson was to be an active searcher for Franklin. In 1847, though of the age of 60, he was appointed to search for his old friend.1 This he did with John Rae (as it turned out, Rae, too, studied medicine at Edinburgh University, though some 25 years later). Setting out in 1848, Richardson took the long established route, used by the fur traders. Arriving at Lake Winnipeg, they went north by rivers and lakes to Methye Portage. (See Map) Up to this point, it was all up hill, so to speak, the currents and water generally being against the paddlers; but at the north-end of Methye Portage, one arrives at the Mackenzie River Basin where the waters flow north. "From thence there is a continuous watercourse to the sea, through the Elk or Athabasca River, Athabasca Lake, Slave River and Great Slave Lake, and the Mackenzie proper."2 The explorers searched that coast which separates the mouths of the Mackenzie and Coppermine Rivers. They then went up the Coppermine to winter over at Fort Confidence, on Great Bear Lake. That spring, Richardson returned to England.

Richardson was knighted in 1846. He became a zoologist especially in the field of ichthyology (study of fishes). He retired to the Lake District in 1855. Richardson is buried at St Oswald's Church, Grasmere.3


1 One of Franklin's sisters married Richardson. Franklin and Richardson were "staunch comrades and friends." It would appear, however, the pair had difficulties with one and other, at times, out on the trail.

2 Richardson, Arctic Searching Expedition: A Journal ..., p. 33. The Portage la Roche or Methye Portage, was a major pass. To get to it is uphill; from it, downhill; it was a ridge that separated two major basins. To quote Mackenzie: "a very steep precipice, whose ascent and descent appears to be equally impracticable in any way as it consists of a succession of eight hills, some of which are almost perpendicular ..." (Alexander Mackenzie Explorer, p. 19.)

3 Wikipedia

[A LISTING OF The Searchers For Franklin]

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Peter Landry