A Naval Biographical Dictionary/Back, George

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BACK, Kt. (Capt., 1835. f-p., 23; h-p., 16.)

Sir George Back was born, 6 Nov. 1796, at Stockport, in Cheshire.

This officer entered the Navy, in Sept. 1808, as Midshipman, on board the Arethusa 38, Capt. Robt. Mends. On 26 Nov. following he was present at the capture, off Cherbourg, of Le Général Ernouf French privateer, of 16 guns and 58 men; and, in the course of March, 1809, he assisted in the boats, while serving on the north coast of Spain, at the destruction of 20 heavy guns, mounted on the batteries at Lequeytio, and defended by a detachment of French soldiers – at the seizure also of several vessels up the river Andero – and at the destruction of the guns and signal-posts at Baignio, on which latter occasion, the 20th of the month, he was made prisoner and sent to France, where he remained until May, 1814. On regaining his liberty, Mr. Back joined the Akbar 60, flag-ship for some time of Sir Thos. Byam Martin at Flushing, and afterwards employed on the Halifax station. He passed his examination 5 Feb. 1817; became attached, in March following, to the Bulwark 76, bearing the flag of Sir Chas. Rowley in the river Medway; and, on 14 Jan. 1818, removed to the Trent hired brig, Lieut.Commmander, now Sir John, Franklin. After intermediately accompanying the perilous voyage of discovery made to the neighbourhood of Spitzbergen under Capt. David Buchan,[1] he was, early in 1819, selected to attend the former officer in his expedition overland from Hudson’s Bay to the Coppermine River. To Capt. Franklin’s ‘Narrative of a Journey to the Shores of the Polar Sea in 1819-22’ we must refer our readers for the particulars of that bold and hazardous undertaking – throughout every detail of which, including his journey on foot, in the depth of winter, from Fort Enterprise to Fort Chipewyan and back, a distance of 1104 miles, Mr. Back displayed in perfection all the qualities of a traveller of the most sterling, the most heroic cast. On 1 Jan. 1821, he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant, and on being subsequently appointed to the Superb 78, Capt. Sir Thos. Staines, visited Gibraltar and Barbadoes. We next, in Feb. 1825, find Lieut. Back, after attending a public dinner given to him by his fellow-townsmen at Stockport, again leaving England with Capt. Franklin, on another expedition to the Arctic regions, for the purpose of co-operating with Capts. Fred. Wm. Beechey and Edw. Wm. Parry, in their simultaneous endeavours to ascertain, from opposite quarters, the existence of a north-west passage. Capt. Franklin’s ‘Narrative of a Second Expedition to the Shores of the Polar Sea in 1825-7’ will also afford every information on the subject of this very interesting mission. In its execution he extended lus researches to lat. 70° 24' N., long. 149° 37' W. During this last sojourn in America Lieut. Back was promoted to the rank of Commander, by commission dated 30 Dec. 1825; and when Capt. Franklin, on the return of the expedition, set out in advance, with five of his party, from Great Bear Lake, he was left at Fort Franklin in charge of the other officers and men, the boats, and all the collections of natural history, rough journals, notes, and astronomical, magnetical, and atmospherical observations, with orders to proceed, on the breaking up of the ice, to York Factory, and thence to England, where he arrived 10 Oct. 1827. From that period, unable to procure employment, he remained on half-pay until appointed, early in 1833, to conduct an expedition fitted out for the purpose of seeking Sir John Ross, who had, in the summer of 1829, gone in quest of the long-sought north-west passage. A full account of all the results of that harassing enterprise, in the course of which he had the good fortune to discover the sources of the river that now bears his name, Capt. Back has ably delineated in his ‘Narrative of the Arctic Land Expedition to the Mouth of the Great Fish River, and along the Shores of the Arctic Ocean, in 1833-5.’ He returned to England 18 Sept. 1835, and on the 30th of the same month was advanced to the well-earned rank of Post-Captain. On 11 May, 1836, he was next appointed to the Terror bomb: and, on 23 June following, he sailed from Papa Westra, one of the Orkneys, in command of a new expedition to the frigid zone. The details of his miraculous return to Lough Swilly, where he arrived 3 Sept. 1837, after reaching as far only as the northward of Charles Island, in Hudson’s Bay, have been published by Capt. Back in his ‘Narrative of an Expedition in H.M.S. Terror, undertaken with a View to Geographical Discovery on the Arctic Shores, in 1836-7.’ He has since been on half-pay.

Sir Geo. Back, who was presented, 27 Nov. 1837, with the gold medal of the Royal Geographical Society for his important discoveries while in search of Sir John Ross, and who received the honour of knighthood 18 March, 1839, is at present, we believe, employed by the Treasury. He married, 13 Oct. 1846, Theodosia Elizabeth, relict of the late Anthony Hammond, Esq., of Savile Row. Agent – Wm. H. B. Barwis.


  1. See ‘A Voyage of Discovery towards the North Pole performed in H.M. Ships Dorothea and Trent, under the command of Capt. David Buchan, 1818.’ By Capt. F. W. Beechey, R.N. 8vo. Lond. 1843.