Exploration in the Canadian Arctic [Inuktitut Version]
Certificates of character and discharge for David Walker
1859, 19th century
16 x 33 cm
Gift of David Ross McCord
© McCord Museum
Keywords: Certificate (5)
Keys to History
In the 19th century, at the height of Arctic exploration, there was no shortage of sailors willing to sign on. Aside from the captain, his officers and the ordinary seamen, the crews consisted of men specially selected for this type of expedition. They were chosen on the basis of several criteria, including their naval service record, health and character. They were usually no more than 1.7 m tall, which made life easier in the cramped quarters of the ships at the time. There was also a chaplain to tend to the men's souls, along with interpreters, Arctic veterans (including old whalers), boiler men to keep the boilers going and even dogs to pull the sleds. Every expedition also included a surgeon to take care of the crew's health. Often, as in the case of David Walker (1837-1917), the ship's surgeon was also its naturalist and scientific officer, and even served as a teacher over the long winter months.
This certificate of character and certificate of discharge, signed by the captain of the Fox, the leader of the Arctic expedition of 1857-59, Francis Leopold McClintock, is an administrative document that rates a sailor's behaviour on a mission and ends his active service on the ship.
The Fox, on which Walker sailed, was stuck in the ice of Baffin Bay and spent the winter of 1857-58 drifting. The next summer, the voyage continued and the ship reached Bellot Strait, just off Prince Regent Inlet, where it spent its second winter. It returned to England the next year.
David Walker was born in Belfast in December 1837. He explored the Arctic between 1857 and 1859. He died in May 1917 after emigrating to the United States.
At nineteen, David Walker became the youngest graduate of the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland. He volunteered for Captain Francis Leopold McClintock's Arctic expedition as physician, naturalist and photographer.