The Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership Scheme

Dr John Rae (1813-1893)

Dr John RaeDr John Rae was born and raised at the Hall of Clestrain in Orphir, overlooking Hoy Sound, the western entrance to Scapa Flow.

Here his father was factor to the Honeyman estate, one of Orkney's largest, but, when John was a child of six, his father also became employment agent for the Hudson's Bay Company.

Qualifying as a doctor at Edinburgh University, John then followed two elder brothers to work for the Hudson's Bay Company in Canada.

Dr John Rae went on to become the greatest figure of Arctic exploration.

On behalf of the Hudson's Bay Company he almost completed the mapping – begun by others – of Canada's Arctic coastline, traversing thousands of miles on foot, and overwintering his men without starvation or illness.

He was the first to discover the fate of Sir John Franklin's expedition, and he located the last navigable link of the North West Passage – Rae Strait – which Amundsen would prove in his epic voyage of 1903-06.

Rae's name was, however, practically erased from history, chiefly by Jane, Lady Franklin, in her determination to promote her late husband as discoverer of the North West Passage.

Rae's reliance on native methods of survival was looked down upon by the naval establishment. The Victorian public recoiled in horror and disbelief from Rae's report that Franklin's party had resorted to cannibalism in an attempt to survive.

Dr John Rae attributed his success in the Arctic to his upbringing at the Hall of Clestrain, where he and his brothers achieved self-reliance through an active outdoor life: “My chief and almost sole amusements during vacation or play hours were boating, shooting, fishing and riding”.

Rough walking in wet and cold, sometimes heavily laden with game, built up the physical endurance which characterised his adult life.

In recent years Dr John Rae's reputation has been boosted through books and television.