An Arctic Explorer and his Rather Large Find

In History, Science, Species Seekers, Uncategorized on November 9, 2010 at 8:28 am

In 1773, Capt. Constantine John Phipps, 2nd Baron Mulgrave took two ships on a voyage towards the North Pole.  What was the mission’s outcome?

1.  He found the Northwest Passage.

2.  He saw a polar bear.

3.  He was a spy and brought back early evidence of revolutionary sentiments in the American colonies.

4.  He had to be rescued from the ice.

Capt. Constantine Phipps began his military career at the age of 15 aboard the 70 gun HMS Monmouth, and continued to serve his country for the next 33 years, commanding a total of five ships.  Phipps’ two ships, the Racehorse and the Carcass (with a young Horatio Nelson as midshipman), set sail from Deptford in June of 1773.  They never reached the North Pole, being forced back by ice when they got to the Seven Islands, an archipelago in the Arctic north of Norway.  They returned to Orford Ness, in Suffolk, in September of the same year.  The mission was not, however, a total loss.  Phipps was the first European to see a polar bear, which he named Ursus maritimus and described in A Voyage Towards the North Pole Undertaken by His Majesty’s Command (1774).  Some thought the polar bear belonged in a separate genus, Thalarctos, but subsequent evidence did not support this theory, and Phipps’ name stands.


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