John Rae gains recognition in London

John Rae has a gained a plaque in London, England.

Friends of the Scottish-Orcadian explorer, who lived in that city from 1869 to 1893, recently mounted an historical plaque on the wall of his long-time home in Addison Gardens. I visited that site while researching Fatal Passage, and I remember feeling outraged that Rae — arguably the greatest Arctic explorer of them all — was not commemmorated there.

Obviously, Margaret Street of Edinburgh felt the same way. She launched a campaign to rectify this historical affront. And on June 23, the round blue plaque was publicly unveiled by survival expert and TV presenter Ray Mears. It reads: “John Rae (1813-1893) Arctic explorer lived and died here.”

Situated in the heart of London, the plaque complements the marble memorial in St. Magnus Cathedral in Orkney and the inscribed metal plaque that overlooks Rae Strait in the Canadian Arctic — the one that, along with Louie Kamookak and Cameron Treleaven, I erected in 1999. It marks the spot where Rae, working for the Hudson’s Bay Company, located the final link in the only Northwest Passage navigable in that period.

The London unveiling, organized by English Heritage, attracted about fifty well-wishers, among them Orcadians James Irvine and David Aggett. Irvine reports that after the brief ceremony “the current residents kindly invited all present to drinks, enabling us to appreciate why Rae would have much enjoyed the delightful large but secluded communal garden to the rear of the property.”


  1. Allan on February 1, 2022 at 5:20 pm

    Cudos to MacGoogan for bringing to the fore, the well-known fact that Rae was indeed the discoverer of the source of the Northwest Passage,(Amundsun later the first to traverse it).
    Franklin no more found the Passage than I did – he was forced into going, through the efforts of Lady Franklin. Ity was through her persistance over the years that led to England giving Sir Franklin undue recognition. It was Rae's misfortune to tell the truth to the Admiralty, in stating that Franklin's crew had resorted to cannibalism, which denied him full recognition.
    I have visited Rae's memorable sarcophagus in the huge, ancient St. Magnus Cathedral in the Orkneys – Showing him dressed in exploring gear, lying recumbrant with his rifle alongside his body. One just stands, in the quietness of the moment, contemplating his amazing feat in North America.

    I have not read Fatal Passage, but will be buying the book right away. I have seen portions of a movie on Rae and Franlklin, which I trust will be available.

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