Bringing John Rae to Robert Burns Country

Next week will find me giving talks in Robert Burns Country. I mentioned previously that, thanks to a new “friendship bridge” extending between the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, I have fallen heir to a whirlwind, four-day speaking tour. Now, in response to popular demand, I can provide details.

My illustrated talk is called Let’s Take Back Arctic History: The John Rae Story. I argue that the orthodox or ‘official’ version of Arctic exploration history focuses almost exclusively on Royal Navy officers, omitting the contributions of Canada’s indigenous peoples and fur-trade explorers like the peerless Scottish-Orcadian John Rae. I will draw on my books Fatal Passage and Dead Reckoning, and say a few words about the forthcoming Arctic Return Expedition, which will retrace the route Rae followed on his all-important 1854 trek. If you’re in Scotland, you can catch me at 7:30 p.m. as follows. . . .

— March 26:  Dumfries, Easterbrook Hall.

— March 27: Galashiels, Scottish Border Campus 

— March 28: Ayr, Council Chambers, Ayr Town Hall

— March 29: Helensburgh, Victoria Halls

The connection with Burns is two-fold. The poet was born in a cottage in Alloway, Ayrshire (see painting to the left, which Sheena did after our first visit); and he died and lies buried in Dumfries. Somewhere, I have a photo of me in that town, sitting in his favorite chair in a local pub. But I’ll dig that out another time.

[The Burns portrait derives from Alexander Nasmyth.]

Leave a Comment