Search for the Northwest Passage with Anthony Brandt

Anthony Brandt, editor of the National Geographic Adventure series and author of The Man Who Ate His Boots: The Tragic History of the Search for the Northwest Passage, will be the speaker at the 10 October, Second Sunday lecture for the New London County Historical Society. Brandt’s book, published earlier this year, is a spell-binding read of the 19th-century search for a Northwest Passage from Europe to the Pacific.

The search for the fabled Northwest Passage was primarily carried out by the British Navy in the period following the Napoleonic Wars at a time when they seemed to believe they were invincible. The discovery of an all-water route to the Pacific above Canada became a goal for nineteenth-century British explorers that was equivalent to the search for the Holy Grail. Today we know how futile that search was as the passage was non-existent because the waters north of Canada were essentially icebound all year long, at least at that time. That didn’t prevent a parade of British mariners from challenging the ice in that incredibly hostile environment.

This summer, a team of archaeologists from Parks Canada set out to find some of the explorers’ sunken ships. Almost miraculously, they found the 100 foot HMS Investigator fifteen minutes after they began using side-scanning sonar in the area where the ship was abandoned by explorer Robert McClure 155 years ago. Due to global warming the ice in the Arctic is receding; this summer, for the third time in the past four years, a Northwest Passage did exist. The search continues for Lord Franklin’s lost ships the Erebus and the Terror.

New London will always be connected to these stories through the rescue of the British navy ship HMS Resolute, discovered by Captain James Buddington and brought back to New London in 1855. It was the crew of the Resolute who saved McClure and his team in the Arctic. Although the Resolute too was abandoned in the Arctic, it floated free of the ice and drifted 1000 miles before it was found by Buddington in the Davis Straits.

You’ll meet all these people and these ships and more in Brandt’s presentation based on his book. In addition to several other books, Brandt has had a successful career in magazine journalism. He wrote for Esquire, American Heritage, The Atlantic, and many other magazines. A reception and book signing will follow his presentation. The program begins at 3pm at the Shaw Mansion, 11 Blinman Street, New London. It is free for members of the historical society; $5 admission is charged to those who are not members.

The Shaw Mansion, headquarters for Connecticut’s Navy during the American Revolution, has been the home of New London County Historical Society for over 100 years. Located at 11 Blinman Street, New London, it is near the intersection of Bank and Tilley Streets. For more information please call 860.443.1209 or go to www.newlondonhistory.org.