Mapping the Arctic

John Barrow published his first Arctic manifesto in February 1817, and Frankenstein’s narrative frame both drew on and contributed to this revival of interest in Arctic exploration.

Illustration (left):
"Map of the Arctic Regions" in John Barrow, Chronological History of Voyages into the Arctic Regions (John Murry, 1818). Photo credit: Forum Auctions. 

John Barrow was the second secretary of the Admiralty in the British Navy, and a key figure in the organisation of the British Arctic expedition of 1818-1819. He was convinced that the expedition would discover a passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. His motivations in setting it up oscillated between his advocacy for exploration and his desire to find employment for naval officers rendered superfluous following the end of the Napoleonic wars.

He published his first Arctic manifesto in February 1817, and Frankenstein’s narrative frame both drew on and contributed to this revival of interest in Arctic exploration. The expedition Barrow helped to organise was a notorious failure; the four ships of which it consisted were unable to find a passage from Baffin Bay through to the Polar Sea and did not travel further than 80°N (Bodo lies at 67°N and the North Pole is, of course, 90°N). The map in Barrow’s history reproduced here is indicative of the state of knowledge at this time; Baffin Bay itself is not even marked, a fact that can be readily seen through a comparison of the 1818 document and Google Maps.