Our newest limited edition single malt Scotch whisky, 17 Year Old John Rae Arctic Explorer, celebrates the life of the Orkney-born explorer, regarded today as the leading authority on Arctic travel and survival in the Victorian era. Just how much did his boyhood in Orkney prepare him for life on the very edge of an unknown world?
Born in Orphir on 30 September 1813, Rae went on to study medicine in Edinburgh and joined the Hudson Bay Company as a ship’s surgeon on HMS Prince of Wales before settling in Canada. The boy who grew up in these islands, and whose curiosity and resilience was shaped by our wild weather, tempestuous seas and unforgiving terrain, became the man who mapped over 1,750 miles of uncharted Arctic coast, on foot or alone in a small boat. In 1845, he discovered the last elusive navigable link in the Northwest Passage between the Atlantic and Pacific, known today as the Rae Strait. Yet for many years, his story was not told.
Rae developed a great love for the wild and windswept northern territories where he made his home, and a deep respect for the culture and traditions of its indigenous people – the Cree Indians and the Inuits. Defying Victorian convention, he befriended these people and keenly adopted their hunting, trekking and survival skills. In fact, John Rae was believed to be the greatest snowshoe walker of his time, reputedly covering over 1,200 miles on foot over a two-month period during 1844 and 1845. This earned him the Inuit name ‘Aglooka’ or ‘he who takes long strides’.
However, Rae was not only appointed to complete the mapping of the Arctic coast but, between 1848 and 1951, to take part in the search for the lost Royal Navy expedition of 1845, led by Sir John Franklin. Although awarded the Founders Gold Medal by the Royal Geographical Society in 1852 for his endeavours, Rae’s establishment of the grisly fate of Franklin and his crew relied solely on Inuit evidence and this ruffled many influential petticoats in Victorian Britain. As a result, Rae’s important expedition discoveries were largely written out of history at the time. His report, however, proved to be completely accurate and today he takes his rightful place in history as one of our greatest explorers.
Following his death in London in 1893, John Rae’s body was brought back to Orkney and buried in the grounds of St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall. A statue in Stromness, erected in 2013 (the 200th anniversary of the year of his birth) recognises his achievements and the John Rae Society is committed to enhancing public knowledge of Rae’s life and work. Through proceeds from the sales of this commemorative whisky, we are delighted to support their ambition to restore John Rae’s childhood home – the Hall of Clestrain in Orphir, Orkney – as an internationally renowned visitor centre.
John Rae Arctic Explorer is being offered exclusively to Inner Circle members via our Online Shop and Highland Park fans in Orkney via our Kirkwall Store until 11 August 2022 when any remaining bottles will go on general sale.