Book Review:- ‘The Arctic Journal of Captain Henry Wemyss Feilden, R. A., The Naturalist in H. M. S. ‘Alert’, 1875–1876’ by T. H. Levere (ed.)

By Russell A. Potter, published February 2024


The Hakluyt Society continues its long-running series of volumes of exploration narratives with this fine edition of Henry Feilden’s journal, written while he was aboard HMS Alert on the British Arctic Expedition commanded by George Strong Nares from 1875 to 1876.

The Nares Expedition, as it is commonly known, was hampered to a degree by the relative lack of officers and crew experienced in northern climes, mainly due to the Admiralty’s 20-year hiatus from Arctic exploration. There was, however, a curious surfeit of naturalists, which makes the book’s reference to Feilden as ‘the’ naturalist a tad misleading. Dr Edward L. Moss, the surgeon aboard Alert, had sailed believing that he was to be the naturalist, a mistake of which he was not disabused until the expedition’s arrival in the Arctic. To Moss, Feilden was a mere self-taught amateur, though of course for much of the nineteenth century, a great many of the most eminent naturalists were. To complicate matters further, Henry Chichester Hart was separately appointed naturalist aboard Discovery; he at least had a degree in natural science from Trinity College. It is to the credit of all three men that the necessary work was, in the end, carried out without rancour. Feilden proved an excellent observer and thoroughgoing chronicler of nature in all its forms…

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Filed under: Other (Nineteenth C) | Arctic
Subjects include: Science & Exploration

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