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Arctic seas diary , by Edward Sabine

Sabine, later General Sir Edward Sabine KCB, FRS (1788-1833) President of the Royal Society, was a recently-elected Fellow when he joined the 1818 Arctic expedition commanded by John Ross FRS (1777-1856) charged with investigating a possible North-west passage into the Pacific Ocean. Ross’s party was a veritable who’s who of regional exploration: of his two vessels, 'Isabella' and 'Alexander', the latter was under the charge of William Edward Parry (1790-1855) while Ross’s nephew, the teenaged James Clark Ross (1800-1865) served with his uncle aboard 'Isabella'.

Edward Sabine was the party’s officially astronomer, an appointment made on the recommendation of the Royal Society. In practise, he was far more of a general scientist, taking the time to make magnetic observations, collecting specimens of the region’s natural history and describing the inhabitants of North America. The rather dull title of this manuscript account of his science, “Ms. Notes geographical, magnetical & meteorological” belies its interest. The diary is simultaneously an account of Sabine’s careful science and a well-written and discursive personal travelogue.

The expedition’s two former whaling vessels would voyage into Baffin Bay and Lancaster Sound in what is today Northern Canada before turning back. Ross’s decision to do so, based upon a supposed sighting of mountains, would be challenged in print by the expedition’s junior officers, including Sabine, leading to an extended controversy in which Ross fared badly. For Sabine, however, the science of the voyage laid the course of his future and very distinguished career.