extraordinary Cheshire explorer
George Back - a name for ever remembered in Canada
The name of Cheshire's George Back is fixed firmly on the map of
Northern Canada....a lasting memorial to an explorer of quite extraordinary
courage and resolve.
Born in 1796 in Stockport and educated at the town's grammar school,
George Back joined the navy as a boy midshipman aboard the Arethusa
and was taken prisoner by the French in 1809. He was still only
thirteen and he spent his next five years incarcerated in the French
fortress of Verdun, until the Treaty of Fontainbleau brought about
Later he served as mate under John Franklin in search of a passage
from Spitzbergen to the Bering Strait by way of the North Pole.
Huge packs of ice barred progress and the expedition had to be aborted
but two years later he was again serving under Franklin in mapping
the previously uncharted Canadian coastline eastwards from the mouth
of the Coppermine River.
The voyage was nothing short of a nightmare as the ship became trapped
in frozen seas in the hostile Arctic. Supplies were virtually exhausted
when Franklin ordered Back, along with three ratings, to go in search
of food. For days on end they wandered across the barren wastes
and on October 6th, 1821, Back recorded in his diary:
"We halted at five among some brushwood, and made a sorry meal of
an old pair of leather trowsers and some swamp tea." Finally they
came across an Indian encampment from which supplies were dispatched
to the stricken vessel. Franklin, who of course later discovered
the North West Passage, recognised Back's feat by inviting him to
name an island near Bathurst's inlet. He christened it "Stockport"
in honour of his home town.
Back was later promoted to Commander and upon his return to Canada
he explored five hundred miles of the Great Fish River which, in
his honour, is now known as the Back River. Another major, if largely
unsuccessful, voyage followed and in 1838 he was knighted by Queen
He subsequently rose to the rank of Admiral and in 1875 was invited
to unveil the memorial erected to Sir John Franklin in Westminster
He died on June 23, 1878 and a stained glass memorial window was
set up in Stockport Town Hall to mark the life and achievements
of a remarkable man.
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