The English admiral and polar explorer Sir James Clark Ross (1800-1862) is known for his discovery of the North magnetic pole and his magnetic surveys of the Antarctic.
James Clark Ross was born in London on April 15, 1800, the son of George Ross and a nephew of Rear Adm. John Ross. He entered the Royal Navy in 1812, serving with his uncle in four ships and accompanying him on his first Arctic voyage, in 1818. He was in William Edward Parry's four Arctic expeditions. The first was in 1819-1820 aboard the Hecla; the second was between 1821 and 1823 in H.M.S. Fury. Ross received a promotion on Dec. 26, 1822, and sailed as lieutenant of the Fury on Parry's 1824-1825 Arctic expedition. He was also with Parry in 1827-1828 during the latter's unsuccessful attempt to reach the North Pole by sledge from West Spitsbergen.
Ross was promoted to commander on Nov. 8, 1827. From 1829 to 1833 he again served on one of his uncle's Arctic expeditions. On this trip James Clark Ross led a party across Boothia Isthmus, reaching the North magnetic pole on May 31, 1831. After his return home in 1833, Ross was promoted to captain and undertook the relief of whalers in Baffin Bay in 1836 and conducted a magnetic survey of Great Britain from 1835 until 1838.
In September 1838, with Ross as commander, H.M.S. Erebus and Terror sailed to the Antarctic to discover the South magnetic pole, examine Antarctica, and conduct numerous scientific tests according to directions of the Royal Society. They penetrated the ice belt as far south as latitude 78°9'30" in January 1841, reaching open water and discovering the Ross Sea. They continued to sail south and discovered Victoria Land (now part of New Zealand's Ross Dependency). The Ross Shelf Ice barred their way further south, and they were forced to turn back. In November 1841 they sailed again, from New Zealand, to solve the "Great Barrier Mystery" and failed owing to bad weather conditions. This time they wintered in the Falkland Islands, but they were no more successful on their third attempt. Finally they sailed for home and reached England in September 1843.
This voyage gave Ross "a distinguished place amongst the most successful votaries of Science, and the brightest ornaments of the British Navy." He received gold medals from geographical societies in London and Paris; in 1844 he was knighted; and in 1848 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society. He led the first naval expedition in 1848-1849 to search for Sir John Franklin, missing with H.M.S. Enterprise and Investigator, but this was unsuccessful. Until his death, Ross was frequently consulted as "the first authority on all matters relating to Arctic navigation." He died at Aylesbury, England, on April 3, 1862.
Further Reading on Sir James Clark Ross
Ross's account of his expedition is A Voyage of Discovery and Research in the Southern and Antarctic Regions, 1839-43 (2 vols., 1847). Laurence P. Kirwan, A History of Polar Exploration (1960), devotes a chapter to the expedition, largely based on Ross's own account. Ross's discovery of the North magnetic pole is told in Sir John Ross, Narrative of a Second Voyage in Search of a North-West Passage … (1835).
Additional Biography Sources
Ross, M. J. (Maurice James), Polar pioneers: John Ross and James Clark Ross, Montreal; Buffalo: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1994.