Why Famous: Irish explorer Robert McClure was the first person to discover the Northwest passage, the sea route between the Arctic and Atlantic oceans sought for centuries as a possible trade route to Asia.
A lieutenant, in the British Royal Navy he was made second-in-command of an expedition sent in 1850 to search for what had happened to a previous expedition led by John Franklin in 1845.
McClure, given command of HMS Investigator became separated from the expedition's lead ship and carried on alone. The Investigator sailed from the Pacific Ocean through the Bering Strait, discovering the Prince of Wales Strait where the Investigator became frozen in ice for the winter. When McClure climbed a high vantage point on Banks Island he could see the way through to Melville Island, previously discovered from the west by William Edward Parry.
McClure and his men were forced to spend another winter iced in but were eventually rescued from starvation in 1852 by the ship Resolute and her crew. McClure spent another two years in the Arctic after Revolution was also trapped in the ice, eventually travelling overland before journeying home.
It would be more than 50 years before the Northwest passage was successfully navigated by sea by Roald Amundsen in 1905.
- 1850-01-20 HMS Investigator headed by Robert McClure leaves England, 1st expedition to make a Northwest passage (though some over ice)
- 1850-10-26 Robert McClure sights the fabled Northwest Passage for the first time (from Banks Island towards Melville Island)