Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Ross, James Clark
ROSS, Sir JAMES CLARK (1800–1862), rear-admiral, and Arctic and Antarctic navigator, third son of George Ross of Balsarroch, Wigtonshire, and nephew of Andrew Ross [q. v.] and Rear-admiral Sir John Ross [q. v.], was born on 15 April 1800. He entered the navy in April 1812 on board the Briseis, with his uncle, whom he followed to the Actæon, Driver, and, in 1818, to the Isabella. In 1819–20 he was in the Hecla with William Edward Parry [q. v.], and again in the expedition of 1821–3, in the Fury. During his absence, on 26 Dec. 1822, he was promoted to be lieutenant, and as such sailed in the Fury in Parry's third voyage in 1824–5, and was still in her when she was wrecked in Regent's Inlet. In 1827 he was again in the Hecla with Parry in the expedition to Spitzbergen and the endeavour to reach the pole by travelling over the ice. On his return he was made a commander, 8 Nov. 1827. In the Felix Booth expedition of 1829–33 he accompanied his uncle in the little Victory, had a principal share in carrying out the sledging operations on the coasts of Boothia and King William Land, and was the actual discoverer of the magnetic pole on 1 June 1831. On 28 Oct. 1834 he was promoted to post rank, and in 1836 commanded the Cove in a voyage to Baffin's Bay for the relief of some frozen-in whalers. In 1838 he was employed by the admiralty on a magnetic survey of the United Kingdom, and in April 1839 was appointed to command an expedition fitted out for magnetic and geographical discovery in the Antarctic.
The two ships Erebus and Terror sailed from England in September 1839. They first crossed the Antarctic Circle on 1 Jan. 1841, and in a short time discovered a long range of high land, which Ross named Victoria, a volcano upwards of twelve thousand feet high, named Mount Erebus, and the ‘marvellous range of ice-cliffs’ which effectually and to all appearances permanently barred the way to any nearer approach to the pole. For this discovery, in 1842 he was awarded the gold medal of the Geographical Societies of London and Paris. The expedition returned to England in 1843, having lost only one man by illness in the four years. Ross was knighted, and in the following year was made an honorary D.C.L. of Oxford. In 1847 he published ‘A Voyage of Discovery in the Southern and Antarctic Seas’ (2 vols. 8vo). In 1848–9 he commanded the Enterprise in an expedition for the relief of Sir John Franklin. He had no further service, though he continued to be consulted as the first authority on all matters relating to Arctic navigation. He died at Aylesbury on 3 April 1862. He married, in 1843, Anne, daughter of Thomas Coulman of Whitgift Hall, in Yorkshire; she predeceased him in 1857, leaving issue three sons and a daughter. It was said that an agreement with her family on his marriage prevented his acceptance of the command of the Franklin expedition which was, in the first instance, offered to him. Ross was elected F.R.S. on 11 Dec. 1828. Stephen Pearce twice painted his portrait; one picture is in the Franklin Museum at Greenwich, the other in the National Portrait Gallery, London, which also possesses a medallion by Bernard Smith.[O'Byrne's Nav. Biogr. Dict.; Ann. Reg. 1862, p. 395; Markham's Fifty Years' Work of the Royal Geogr. Soc. p. 65; Sir John Ross's Narrative of a Second Voyage, &c.; his own Voyage of Discovery, &c., referred to in the text; information from his cousin, Mr. Andrew Ross.]