Whitby Arctic voyagers

James Cook 1728 – 1779

James Cook is best remembered for his exploring in the Pacific, but he also made detailed maps of the coast of Newfoundland and, on his last voyage in the Whitby built ship Resolution, mapped much of the coast of Alaska and entered the Bering Strait.  He hoped to find the North-West passage from the west, but was blocked by ice.  After Cook’s death his men made a second attempt but were again unsuccessful.

Portrait of Captain Cook by Nathaniel Dance-Holland. from the National Maritime Museum via Wikimedia Commons. Public domain

Cook was born in Marton, near Middlesbrough, the son of a farm labourer.  He was apprenticed as a merchant seaman in Whitby, and made voyages to the Baltic before volunteering for the Royal Navy.  His rise to the rank of post-captain was an unusual achievement for a man of humble origins, and a tribute to Cook’s great ability as a navigator, explorer and scientist.

Cook’s legacy has become controversial in recent years, with some seeing him as a promoter of colonisation in the Pacific, and others arguing that Cook was not responsible for actions taken by other people after his death.

HMS Resolution by Henry Roberts. State Library of New South Wales via Wikimedia Commons. Public domain

If I am not so fortunate as to make my passage home by the North Pole, I hope at least to determine whether it is practicable or not.  From what we yet know, the attempt must be hazardous, and must be made with great caution.”

James Cook, 1776

Thomas Atkinson 1753 – ?

Thomas Atkinson was born in Kirkleatham and was apprenticed in his teens to a surgeon in Ripon.  In 1774 he joined a whaling ship, the Hope of Whitby as a surgeon.  Whaling ships were legally required to carry surgeons, who were usually young and recently qualified.

Cover and first page from Thomas Atkinsons’s journal [Z.1252]

… we observed the Aurora Borealis or northern Lights, but never saw any thing of the Kind equal them, they first appeared of a pale Yellow or brimstone Colour, but almost imperceptibly changed from that to a fine purple, they darted through the Heavens as quick as the motion of your Eye, and before they disappeared reassumed their pale Yellow or brimstone Colour again.

Thomas Atkinson 1774

Further Reading:

A transcript of the Thomas Atkinson’s journal by Alice Barrigan is available online here

More about Thomas Atkinson, also by Alice Barrigan, can be found here

William Scoresby Jr  1789 – 1857

William Scoresby was born in Cropton near Pickering.  His father, also called William Scoresby, was a successful whaling captain based in Whitby, and the younger Scoresby had a good education. 

William Scoresby Jr.  Wikimedia Commons. Public domain

Scoresby was an accomplished scientist and Fellow of the Royal Society, particularly interested in the study of terrestrial magnetism.  He was also a skilled navigator, and on a voyage in 1822 surveyed and charted much of the coast of East Greenland.  Shortly afterwards he retired from the sea and became a clergyman, but stayed keenly interested in science, navigation and exploration.  

William Scoresby’s map of Jan Mayen Island from Journal of a Voyage to the Northern Whale Fishery 1823

In 1820 he published An Account of the Arctic Regions and Northern Whale Fishery, a two volume book which became a standard work on marine science and was highly valued by Charles Darwin.  The introduction to a twentieth century reprint described the book as ‘a classic of whaling literature… an account of Arctic exploration and an outstanding pioneer work on the science of the sea.

Hummocks of ice assumed the forms of castles, obelisks, and spires; and the land presented extraordinary features….  Huge masses of rocks and summits of mountains were reared to an enormous elevation, distorted into singular shapes, and often seemed to be detached from the rest of the land, and freely suspended in the air.”   

William Scoresby, 1823

Drawings of snowflakes by William Scoresby from An Account of the Arctic Regions and Northern Whale Fishery

Further Reading:

You can read more about William Scoresby and his father on the Whitby Museum website. The Museum itself is also well worth a visit.

Original editions of Scoresby’s books An Account of the Arctic Regions and Northern Whale Fishery (1820) and Journal of a Voyage to the Northern Whale Fishery, including Researches and Discoveries on the Eastern Coast of Greenland (1823) are now rare, but free e-book versions can be found online and it is also possible to purchase modern reprints.

Thomas Blanky 1804 – ?

Thomas Blanky, who also spelled his name Blenky, Blenkey and Blenkhorn was born in Whitby, the son of a labourer. He went to sea at an early age, and made many voyages, including two Greenland whaling journeys in the Whitby ship Volunteer

He took part in four Royal Naval voyages of exploration, the first two as an able seaman, then in 1829 as First Mate aboard Captain John Ross’s Victory. The men of the Victory survived more than four years in the Arctic despite having to abandon their ship, and made several important discoveries including locating and visiting the Magnetic North Pole. 

After his return Blanky became captain of a merchant ship.  In 1845 he joined Sir John Franklin’s North-West Passage expedition as Ice Master of HMS Terror. The Franklin Expedition never returned, and all officers and men were declared dead in 1854.

Should we not be at home in the fall of 1848, or early in the spring of 1849, you may anticipate that we have made the passage, or likely to do so; and if so, it may be from five to six years, – it might be into the seventh, – ere we return; and should it be so, … look forward with hope that Providence will at length of time restore us safely to you.”

Thomas Blankey, 1845

Further Reading:

More about Thomas Blanky can be found in our three blog posts.