Culture

Celebrate The Birthday of Arctic Explorer Dr John Rae

John Rae statue by sculptor Ian Scott. Image credit Martin Laird

An open invite has been extended to Orkney and the rest of the world to celebrate the life and deeds of John Rae on Thursday, 30th September at noon by the Society building a legacy to his name.

John Rae, born at the Hall of Clestrain, Orphir, on 30th September 1813, one of nine children. Two of which died in infancy. He studied to become a doctor and signed on as ship’s surgeon on the Prince of Wales bound for Canada as part of Hudson’s Bay company operations.

Rae was forced to winter in Canada when the ship’s return route was blocked by ice. He accepted the post of surgeon and clerk at Moose Factory and served there for ten years. He spent his free time hunting and learning travel and survival skills from the Inuit, Cree, Dogrib and Metis peoples; including how to use sleds and snow-shoes.

His skills and hardiness made him the perfect choice to undertake expeditions to finish the mapping of the Arctic coast. This led to the discovery of the last navigable link of the North-West passage  between the Arctic and Pacific Oceans and to search for the doomed Franklin Expedition.

John Rae by Stephen Pearce (1819 – 1904)

The John Rae Society is working to restore his derelict family home, The Hall of Clestrain and create an International Arctic Centre in Orphir.

President of the John Rae Society Andrew Appleby said:

“As we mark the 208th anniversary of the birth of one of Orkney’s true life heroes, who displayed remarkable courage and resilience in the face of Arctic adversity on his explorations, we extend a warm welcome to his fellow Orcadians and everyone moved by his feats to join us.”

John Rae memorial, St Magnus Cathedral (photo D. Gordon E. Robertson)

A piper will lead celebrants from the graveyard gates at noon up to John Rae’s burial place where Elaine Grieve, Orkney’s Lord Lieutenant and Patron of The John Rae Society, will give an address and a small libation of Highland Park whisky will be poured on his grave to honour his memory.

Andrew Appleby said:

“Our vision is to welcome the world to Orkney to celebrate John Rae’s pioneering work in the Arctic. Visit his restored home and the Arctic Centre. Also to continue learning and understanding of the continent and its people through research and ongoing education there.”

1 reply »

  1. At last! John Rae is one of the least celebrated heroes of the Arctic – thanks to Charles Dickens and Lady Franklin! It is time he was internationally recognised for the man he was!

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