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Title Spread

“When the mind has been made up to encounter disasters and reverses, and has fixed a point as the zero of its scale, however for the time it may be depressed by doubts and difficulties, it will mount up again with the first gleam of hope for the future; but, in this instance, there was no expedient by which we could overcome the obstacles before us: every resource was exhausted, and it was vain to expect that any efforts, however strenuous, could avail against the close-wedged ice, and the constant fogs which enveloped every thing in impenetrable obscurity.”

Narrative of the Arctic Land Expedition…
George Back (1796-1878)
London: A. Spottiswoode for John Murray, 1836
First edition, octavo

In 1833, George Back set out to find John Ross, who had departed in the summer of 1829 on an expedition to find the Northwest Passage. Ross had not been heard from since. Back, a lieutenant in the Royal Navy, had sailed to the Arctic under John Franklin in 1819-22 and again in 1824-26. Back volunteered to lead his own expedition to find Ross.

While the Back expedition was en route, the Ross expedition arrived home in 1834. Back continued his expedition, traveling overland through central Canada from Montreal to Fort Resolution on the Great Slave Lake. The group of five, including an American Indian guide named Maufelly, used canoes to explore the Great Fish River, seeking and finding its source.

Back mapped the Arctic coast westwards, as they portaged around lakes, negotiated rapids, and made their way through dense forests. Upon his return, Back was awarded the gold medal of the Royal Geographical Society. The Great Fish River was renamed the Back River in his honor. In all, the expedition traveled nearly 7,500 miles, eventually making its way to the Arctic Coast before returning home to England.

Back documented his observations on geology, plant and animal life, the weather, (noting the aurora borealis in an appendix to this publication), and indigenous peoples; and added his own illustrations. In the year of its publication, Back traveled to the Arctic again. While Back was accused by some of being an ineffective leader, his writing was clear, detailed, even lyrical. His story is considered one of the finest travel narratives of the nineteenth century.

University of Utah copy gift of Dr. Ronald Rubin.