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This online exhibition presents the history behind the search and discovery of the Northwest Passage, a waterway linking the North Atlantic with the North Pacific Ocean via the North American Arctic, in the 19th century.

Before the age of the aeroplane, before the building of the interoceanic canals, before even the advent of steam propulsion, many dreamed of finding a shorter route to the Far East, one that did not involve sailing round either of the southern capes. Commercial, political, and strategic reasons made the finding of the Northwest Passage a prize of great worth.

But the Arctic could be a hostile and unforgiving environment, putting the reputation, equipment and lives of those who attempted its exploration, at risk.


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Dreams and nightmares in the Arctic

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Note about captions

Within the Society’s Collections there are some historical images (and image titles or captions) which are recognised as containing unacceptable forms of language, or present image content that is considered inappropriate. In such cases, as part of its Collections policy, the Society maintains access to those images and descriptors as a source of context and information for researchers, recognising that the historical language used or image subjects in themselves do not reflect the Society’s contemporary position as an organisation wholly committed to principles of equality and diversity.


RGS Print Store

Selected images featured in this online exhibition can be purchased from the RGS Print Store.

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