The North-West Passage

This cartoon is taken from an 1874 issue of Punch. It represents one of the Holy Grails of Nineteenth Century exploration; the search for the North West Passage. Everybody was convinced that there must have been a Northern route from the Atlantic to the Pacific. It was perhaps wishful thinking, people had been searching since the late fifteenth century and still hadn't found anything yet. The image of Britannia pouring over charts and maps shows the level of confidence Britons had in their endeavours in these heydays of the age of exploration. Livingstone had died just the year before this picture was published. His exploits and travels were all part of a boom in exploration and discovery and inspired imperial thinkers and activists across the Empire and beyond. This picture is just one manifestation of the boom in the exploring industry and how they felt that a combination of science, naval and technical skill could be used to overcome any geographical problem.

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by Stephen Luscombe