The 19th Century

In the 19th century the British government made a renewed effort to find the Northwest Passage. Britain felt that its interests in North America were threatened by Russian exploration in the Arctic. Russia had already established itself in Alaska and was moving eastward. And the means were at hand: after the Napoleonic Wars (1800-1815) Britain had a navy needing employment.

Having exhausted the possibilities of a route through Hudson Strait in the 18th century, the British started again with an expedition to Baffin Bay, and found a passage through Lancaster Sound. The explorers began to work their way through the labyrinth of Arctic islands by wintering in the Arctic and exploring by sledge in the spring while their ships were still frozen in. Winters spent in the Arctic increased the Europeans’ contact with the Inuit, whose knowledge of the area was invaluable; but the white men were slow to adopt Inuit survival techniques, and many lives were lost because of it.

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