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Rear Admiral Sir John Ross

Sir John was the fourth son of the Reverend Andrew Ross, minister of the nearby Inch parish and, while nothing is known of his boyhood, it is on record that he joined the Royal Navy at the age of nine. After a few years he transferred to the merchant service, but by
1799 was back with the navy. Experience on many ships, combined with honourable war service, brought promotion to commander and a posting to the Baltic.  By 1816 he was married and had started to build a house in Stranraer.

A year later Ross was invited by the Admiralty to command an expedition in search of the Northwest Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific, a route that would transform shipping and the discovery of which had occupied many minds for three Centuries. Ross accepted the invitation eagerly.

His ships, the Isabella and the Alexander, sailed in 1818, when he was accompanied by his nephew, Midshipman James Clark Ross, later to gain even greater fame than his uncle, but in the Antarctic. This expedition lasted until October of the same year, and although it failed to find the passage, there were other encouraging results. Many of the earlier discoveries of William Baffin were confirmed, other claims were disproved and valuable contributions in many scientific fields were made. An account of all these discoveries was contained in the book Ross published after the expedition.

Unfortunately, the results did not please John Barrow, secretary of the Admiralty, who developed an intense antipathy towards Ross and bitterly attacked him in a review of the book. For the next 10 years Ross was kept in semi-retirement on half pay until, in 1828, he persuaded a wealthy friend, Felix Booth, to support another search for the passage using steam vessels. Booth put up most of the cash, Ross contributed some of his own, and the expedition sailed in 1829 in the Victory- with the belated blessing of the Admiralty.

Unfortunately, the expedition encountered problems almost from the beginning. The steam engines proved to be virtually useless and in the first of what turned out to be four incredibly harsh winters in the Arctic, Ross had the machinery completely taken out and dumped
out on to the ice.

In 1833, long after they had been given up for lost, Ross and his intrepid explorers finally escaped the grim grip of the Arctic ice and returned to Britain. Many miles of new coastline had been surveyed and his nephew James Ross had discovered the North Magnetic Pole in June 1831. On his return John Ross was the man of the moment and received a knighthood from William IV.

In 1839 Captain Sir John Ross was appointed consul at Stockholm but nine years later, because of a promise made to Sir John Franklin, whose expedition had disappeared, he returned to the Arctic to search for the missing men. He sailed from Stranraer in 1850 on what was to be a fruitless errand. However, despite the failure, he earned great public admiration on his return the following year and was then appointed a rear -admiral at the age of 73.

Sir John was a restless man and spent the few remaining years of his life either in London or at his home in Stranraer, which he had named Northwest Castle. He died in London in 1856, one of the greatest British explorers of his time.

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