Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/McCormick, Robert

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McCORMICK, ROBERT (1800–1890), naval surgeon, explorer, and naturalist, born at. Runham, near Great Yarmouth, on 22 July 1800, was the son of Robert McCormick, surgeon in the navy, son of Robert McCormick of Ballyreagh, co. Tyrone, where the family had been settled for several generations. He studied medicine in 1821, under Sir Astley Cooper, at Guy's and St. Thomas's Hospitals, in 1822 obtained his diploma, and in 1823 entered the navy as an assistant surgeon. He was sent out to the West Indies, where he remained for two years, seeing most of the islands and the coast of the Spanish main. In the summer of 1825 be invalided, and after s year in a cutter in the North Sea, volunteered for Arctic service with Captain William Edward Parry [q. v.] with whom he sailed in the Hecla, in the expedition to north of Spitzbergen in the summer of 1827. On his return he was promoted to be 27 Nov. 1827, and two years later again sent out to the West Indies, much against his will. Within three which he again succeeded in getting himself invalided. His next appointment was to a surveying brig on the coast of Brazil. That, he found uncomfortable, and got superseded after a few months. In 1828 he was appointed to a sloop employed for some time in the blockade of the coast of Holland. Early the next year he was sent out to the West Indies, and McCormack, with a rooted dislike to the station, and especially in a small craft, invalided for a third time. He won half-pay for upwards of four years, the intervals of study made many excursions on foot through England and Wales, travelling in all some 3,440 miles, and pursuing on his tours his favourite studies of geology and natural history. In 1839 he was appointed, as much in the capacity of naturalist as surgeon, to the Erebus, then going on a voyage to the Antarctic, under the command of Captain James Clark Ross [q. v.]

When the expedition returned to England, in the autumn of 1843, McCormick was disappointed of promotion. In September 1845 he was appointed to the William and Mary yacht at Woolwich. He understood this appointment was for life, or till promotion, and was very angry at being, after two years, moved to the Fisgard, the flagship attached to Woolwich dockyard, from which he was superseded in December 1848. His next idea was to conduct a party in search of Sir John Franklin, and he laid before the board of admiralty a proposal to undertake such a search in an open boat. The admiralty scouted his plan as dangerous, but in 1853, while surgeon of the North Star, he was able to carry it out to some extent. He afterwards published 'Narrative of a Boat Expedition up the Wellington Channel in the year 1852',' 1854, 4to. He returned to England in the Phœnix in October 1853, He had never ceased to urge on the admiralty his claims for promotion, contending that his service with the Antarctic expedition was exceptional and ought to be exceptionally rewarded. The admiralty at last promoted him, on 20 May 1859, to be deputy-inspector of hospitals. He had, however, no employment, and in July 1865 he was put on the retired list, the admiralty refusing him the honorary rank of inspector of hospitals. His friends, as well as himself, thought that he was badly used. He was a man of considerable ability, but in his relations to the admiralty was sadly wanting in tact. He died 28 Oct. 1890. the accounts of his several voyages and expeditions, together with a very detailed autobiography and portraits at different ages, were published in 1884, in 2 vols. 8vo, under the title 'Voyages of Discovery in the Arctic and Antarctic Seas and round the World.'

[McCormick's autobiography.]

J. K. L.