Discovering Magnetic North

Discovery of magnetic north features significantly in Walton's narrative.

The principles Walton was desirous of finding were not in fact identified until 1829, ten years after the publication of Frankenstein. Discovery of magnetic north had been one of the key objectives of the failed British expedition of 1818-19, and the topicality of the pursuit is perhaps one reason why it features so significantly in Walton's narrative. The discovery itself was made by James Clark Ross (1800-1862), a nephew of the explorer, John Ross, when his expedition lay trapped in the pack-ice. Operating on an intuition that magnetic north was in his vicinity, James Clark Ross used the opportunity to localize its position. In doing so, he used one of the instruments that the ship was carrying on board in order to facilitate magnetic observations, the dip circle. This instrument also appears in James Clark Ross's portrait, highlighting the significance of his discovery that magnetic north lay at 70° 5'N, 96°47'W. 



Photo:
Thomas Charles Robinson, Dip Circle, 1840, iron; silver; brass, 286 x 216 x 216 mm, Royal Museums Greenwich. Photo credit: Royal Museums Greenwich.










 





Painting:
John Robert Wildman, Portrait of Commander James Clark Ross, 1834, oil on canvas, 1442 x 1120 mm, Royal Museums Greenwich. Photo credit: Royal Museums Greenwich.