Sir Robert John Le Mesurier McClure

McClure, Sir Robert John Le Mesurier, Rear Admiral, K.C.B., was born in Wexford, 28th January 1807. His father having been killed in the naval service, Robert was brought up by his guardian, General Le Mesurier. At twelve he was sent to Sandhurst, but not fancying a military life, he ran away to France with three of his comrades. His guardian, respecting his preferences, induced him to return, and entered him in the navy as a midshipman. He sailed first in Nelson's Victory, After several years' service in American and Indian waters, he in 1836 volunteered to join the Arctic exploring expedition under Captain Back. On his return he was made Lieutenant of the Hastings, was employed as Superintendent of Quebec Dockyard, and saw some service during the Canadian rebellion. From 1842 to 1846 he commanded the Romney at the Havannah, and in 1847 served in the coast guard. When it was determined to send an expedition under Sir James Ross in search of Sir John Franklin in 1848, McClure volunteered, and was appointed First Lieutenant of the Enterprise.

On the return of this expedition in the following year, it was decided to send out another — not only with the hope of relieving Sir John Franklin, but of discovering the North-west passage. Accordingly the Enterprise, under Captain Collinson, and the Investigator, under Commander McClure, were equipped. These clumsy little vessels of about 400 tons register sailed for Behring's Straits, by Cape Horn, on 20th January 1850. They were parted almost immediately, and only once met again, in the Straits of Magellan, in April. In July the Investigator reached Honolulu, and stopped for a few days to refresh the crew. Entering Behring's Straits, McClure rounded the north-west point of America, and steering between the ice and the land, discovered Prince of Wales Strait. There the vessel was frozen up on 12th September 1850. Exploring parties were pushed forward, and on 26th October, McClure ascertained that Prince of Wales Strait opened into Melville Sound, and that no land intervened between them and Melville Island, thereby proving the existence of the North-west passage. In spring, sledge parties were sent in different directions in search of the missing voyagers.

On 17th July 1851 the Investigator, clear of ice, sailed southwards, and rounded Banks Land to the north. On 24th September she was again frozen up in the Bay of Mercy, in 74o north latitude and 118o; west longitude. During the winter the crew were fortunately able to supplement their provisions, rapidly running short, with numbers of deer and hares. The summer of 1852 did not release them, and the third winter (1852-'3) found them in the same position, on short rations, and with scurvy making rapid progress among the ship's company. On the 6th April 1853 every preparation had been made for sending off the sick in sledges, in the almost forlorn hope of reaching white settlements, while McClure and the rest remained by the ship, when they were unexpectedly relieved by a sledge party from the Resolute and Intrepid, under Captain Kellett, which had wintered at Melville Island.

McClure and his companions had been nearly three years without seeing white faces, except those of their own party. Captain McClure was still anxious to stop by his vessel and save her if possible; but a medical inquiry into the state of the crew, held by the surgeons of Kellett's expedition, placed it out of the question, and the Investigator was abandoned, 3rd June 1853, her crew being received into the Resolute and Intrepid. The summer enabled them to reach only as far as 1010 west longitude in Melville Sound, where they were obliged to spend the winter of 1853-4. On 26th August 1854 these vessels were in turn abandoned, by order of Sir Edward Belcher, who had arrived in those seas, senior in command, and the crews returned home by Davis Strait, reaching England on the 28th of September. Captain McClure and his companions had been absent nearly five years, and had passed by water from west to east round the northern coast of America. Efforts were afterwards made to dim the glory of his achievement by drawing attention to the probability that Sir John Franklin or some of his party had made an earlier discovery of the North-west passage. [See CROZIER, CAPTAIN.]

"However," in the words of the Athenaeum, "the discoverer of the North-west passage must be one who has made it by sailing, or walking over the ice, from ocean to ocean. This was done by McClure and his Investigators, and by them alone.

The discoverer's commission as Post-Captain was dated back to the day of his discovery, and he received the honour of knighthood. It never was more worthily bestowed. A select committee of the House of Commons reported that Sir Robert McClure and his companions 'performed deeds of heroism which, though not accompanied by the excitement and the glory of the battle-field, yet rival in bravery and devotion to duty the highest and most successful achievements of war.' Accordingly, a reward of £10,000 was granted to the officers and crew of H.M.S. Investigator, as a token of national approbation... In this generation, there are very few men who have achieved more lasting fame than Robert McClure." Sir Robert, in command of the Esk, afterwards served during the China war. This was the last time he was actively employed. He died, somewhat suddenly, 18th October 1873, aged 66, having attained the rank of Vice-Admiral, and received a Companionship of the Bath for his services in China. He was buried at Kensal Green Cemetery, London.


7. Annual Register. London, 1756-1877.

15. Athenaeum, The—Principally referred to under No. 233.

34. Biographie Générale. 46 vols. Paris, 1855-'66. An interleaved copy, copiously noted by the late Dr. Thomas Fisher, Assistant Librarian of Trinity College, Dublin.

228. McClure, Captain Robert L.: Discovery of the North-West Passage: Edited by Capt. S. Osborn. London, 1856.

241. Men of the Time. London, 1856-'75.