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Northward Ho! A voyage towards the North Pole 1773: catalogue to the exhibition at the Captain Cook Memorial Museum Captain Cook Memorial Museum. 2010


Carr 1983Northward Ho! A voyage towards the North Pole 1773: catalogue to the exhibition at the Captain Cook Memorial Museum
Published in 2010 by Captain Cook Memorial Museum, UK.

At first glance I thought I would find little of interest in this 65-page book. But, as I have said before,1 catalogues from this Whitby museum are fantastic value. In this case, for the price of two monthly magazines you get over 70 colour illustrations, a few black-and-white ones, and pages of valuable information.

And it isn't really a catalogue. It was produced to accompany the special exhibition being held this year at the museum.2 As well as descriptions of the 30 items on display, there are also three essays.

In 1773 Captain Constantine John Phipps set out to search for the open water that would take his ships to the North Pole, and enable further expeditions to cross the polar sea and reach the Pacific by way of Bering Strait. If it had been achieved, then Cook's Third Voyage would never have taken place.

In the first essay, Ann Savours explains why this voyage occurred, the preparations for it and what happened during the voyage. There was a strong belief that ice could be formed only from fresh water, so the North Pole must be surrounded by a vast open sea. The Royal Society proposed a voyage, which Lord Sandwich took to King George III. Two vessels were obtained. Not normal ships but bomb vessels with strengthened keels and additional timber supports. Constantine Phipps was appointed the captain of Racehorse, and Skeffington Lutwidge the captain of Carcass. Phipps had been at Eton with Banks, and had gone with him to Newfoundland in 1766. An astronomer was appointed, who conducted a trial of "some Longitude Watches" including one that later went on the Bounty voyage. During the voyage the two vessels became stuck in ice north of Spitsbergen, tried to cut their way through, tried to drag their boats over the ice to safety, drifted south and eventually forced their way into clear water.

An anonymous journal was published in 1774 shortly before the official one by Phipps. Watercolours by a midshipman were turned into paintings by John Cleveley and John Frederick Miller, which were engraved and included in the journal. It was translated into French and German.

Glyn Williams discusses the aftermath of the voyage, especially the subsequent voyages of Buchan, Franklin, Ross and Parry seeking the NW and NE passages. He explains that as Phipps had not sighted the ice barrier until 80°N, Cook's ships were not strengthened as they were not expected to sail north beyond 72°N; however they were stopped by ice at 70°N.

Sophie Forgan explores the library formed by Phipps, famed in his own time and mentioned in his obituaries. He had boxes of books with him when he travelled with Banks and Omai from London to Yorkshire. In doing so she explains an interesting aspect of 18th century life rarely covered. How were books obtained? From booksellers? If so, how did you find them? Did people buy second-hand books?

There are many links between Phipps's voyage and Cook's voyages. I mentioned only a few. Read this book to broaden your knowledge and be excited by what you find.

Oh. By the way. Horatio Nelson gets a mention, and there is an interesting Polish connection.

Reviewer: Ian Boreham


  1. Cook's Log, page 48, vol. 31, no. 3 (2008).
  2. www.cookmuseumwhitby.co.uk/special-exhibition/

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 44, volume 33, number 3 (2010).

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