STROMNESS, ORKNEY – A John Rae plaque is going into Westminster Abbey.
Alistair Carmichael, MP for Orkney in the British House of Commons, announced this evening that in 2014, a plaque will be mounted in the Abbey recognizing the Orcadian explorer as “the discoverer of the final link in the Northwest Passage.”
Carmichael made the announcement at a reception following the unveiling of a new statue of Rae (1813-1893) overlooking Stromness harbour.
Carmichael has twice brought motions to the British House of Commons seeking support for what many regard as overdue recognition of Rae. This time, he went straight to the Dean of Westminster Abbey, who quickly agreed.
In a brief chat following his
announcement, Carmichael said final confirmation awaits some “byzantine paperwork, but the Dean is onside, and that is what matters."
In my book Fatal Passage, which is the reason I am here as writer-in-residence, I celebrated the Scottish-Orcadian Rae for charting 1,800 miles of Arctic coastline, and for solving the two great mysteries of 19th century Arctic exploration. He discovered the final link in the Northwest Passage, and also the fate of the 1845 expedition led by Sir John Franklin, whose last survivors were driven to cannibalism.
The plaque will be made of Orkney stone, Carmichael said. “We have identified a spot on the wall near the Franklin bust.” The inscriptions beneath that bust and the larger-than-life statute of Franklin in nearby Waterloo Place have drawn criticism from the growing numbers of people who believe that the credit given to Franklin rightly belongs to Rae.
Several hundred people turned out for the ceremonial unveiling of the bronze statue, which was donated to the people of Orkney by Stromness native Alan Twatt. The inscription celebrates Rae as “the discoverer of the final link in the first navigable Northwest Passage.”
[Photos by Sheena Fraser McGoogan]