Saturday, 28 September 2013

Dr John Rae

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Stromness is abuzz this weekend as delegates gather for the John Rae 200 International Conference. The conference explores the life and legacy of the arctic explorer, who was born at the Hall of Clestrain in Orphir, and grew up in and around Stromness where his father had taken over the Hudson's Bay Company agency.

Organised by the Stromness Museum, the conference features papers organised under three themes: Arctic Exploration, Museum collections and archive sources, and The Hudson's Bay Company and Orcadians in "The Nor' Wast". The full conference program can be viewed on the John Rae 200 website which also has a full list of events which have been organised to commemorate and celebrate Rae's bicentenary. 

This evening, as part of the conference a statue of John Rae will be unveiled at the Pier Head.  The ceremony takes place at 7.15pm for anyone who would like to go along. We won't make it but will try to take a photo of the statue for you next week . In the meantime here is the before picture of John Rae under wraps - or perhaps modelling the latest design for all-in-one arctic gear?!

If you'd like to learn about John Rae and his explorations, and find out why many feel his achievements have never received the official recognition they deserve, then come along to the library. Among the titles on Rae you will find No Ordinary Journey - published by the National Museums of Scotland in 1993 to mark the centenary of Rae's death,  and the two books by Stromness Museum John Rae 200 Exhibition Writer-in-residence, Canadian author Ken McGoogan - Fatal Passage and Lady Franklin's Revenge.

In his role as Writer-in-residence Ken will give a public lecture as part of the conference tomorrow evening, Sunday 29th September, in the Stromness Academy lecture Theatre at 7.30pm. The lecture is entitled Return to Rae Strait and entry is £5 payable at the door. 

Ken McGoogan's books not only tell of Rae's achievements but explain how his report on the fate of the Franklin expedition upset the Victorian establishment -  a campaign against Rae,  led by Lady Franklin, resulted in his achievements being dismissed or wrongly attributed. Many feel that it is time this wrong was righted and that John Rae should receive the official recognition for his achievements that he has, so far, been denied. 

This bicentenary year has seen the launch of the John Rae Society which has been formed to: 
...advance the education of the public in the life and achievements of Dr John Rae as the discoverer of the final navigable link to the Northwest Passage and as one of the greatest arctic explorers. 

Application forms to join the society are available in the library and they have a website under construction at 

As part of this drive to raise awareness of Rae a campaign was launched at the Orkney International Science Festival  with an online petition asking the minister responsible for the Post Office, Jo Swinson MP, to consider a special stamp to commemorate John Rae. 

You can find out more about Dr John Rae and his achievements in this article from the Orkney International Science Festival's online magazine Frontiers.

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