John Ross

Birth: 1777


Sir John Ross (24 June 1777 - 30 August 1856) was a British rear-admiral and Arctic explorer. He entered the Royal Navy in 1786, serving in the Mediterranean till 1789, and afterwards in the Channel. In 1808 he acted as captain of the Swedish Fleet, and in 1812 was promoted commander. Six years later he was given the command of an Arctic expedition fitted out by the Admiralty, the first of a new series of attempts to solve the question of a North-West passage.

This expedition failed to discover much that was new, and somewhat prejudiced the Arctic reputation of its leader, who attained the rank of captain on his return. But in 1829, through the munihcence of Mr (afterwards Sir) Felix Booth, he was able to undertake a second Arctic expedition, which, during an absence of four years, achieved important geographical and scientific results.

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Sir John Ross was born 24 June, 1777, at Balsarroch, co. Wigton, is fourth son of the Rev. And. Ross (of the family of Ross of Balnagown), Minister of Inch and proprietor of Balsarrooh, by Elizabeth, second daughter of Robt. Corsane, Esq., of Micklenox, in Dumfriesshire, and sister of Robt. Corsane, Esq., a Captain in the Foot Guards - the last of a family whose representatives had for 18 successive generations been Provosts of Dumfries by the same Christian and surname, "Robert Corsane." Sir John is brother of the late Major-General And. Ross; [1] and of Robt. Ross, Esq., Secretary at the Cape of Good Hope and at Surinam, who died in 1837; cousin of Major-General Sir Hew Dalrymple Ross, K.C.B., Deputy-Adjutant-General Royal Artillery, and of Major-General Sir Adolphus John Dalrymple, Bart.; and a distant relative of Major-General Ross, who was killed at Baltimore. His great-grandfather was Aide-de-Camp to Field-Marshal the Earl of Stair, and fought as a Captain in the Black Horse at the battle of Culloden in 1745.

This officer entered the Navy, 11 Nov. 1786, as Fst.-cl. Vol., on board the Pearl 32, Capt. Hon. Seymour Finch, with whom he served in the Mediterranean until Dec. 1789. He was next, from 7 Nov. 1790 until 10 Sept. 1791, employed in the Channel in the Impregnable 98, Capt. Sir Thos. Byard; and in Sept. 1799, after he had been for several years in the merchant-service, he became Midshipman of the Weasel sloop, Capt. Wm. D'Urban, part of the force engaged in the expedition to Holland. On his return from a voyage to the Mediterranean he was received, in the course of 1802, on board the Clyde 38, Capt. Chas. Cunningham, and Diligence sloop, Capt. Alex. Robt. Kerr; in both which vessels he acted for a time as Lieutenant. He was subsequently employed, on the Home and Baltic stations - as Midshipman, in the Zealand 64, Kite sloop, and Grampus and Diomede 50's, all flag-ships of Sir Jas. Saumarez - as Acting-Lieutenant, in the Hydra 38, Capt. Geo. Mundy - as Acting-Lieutenant and Commander, in the Liberty 14 - as Master's Mate, under Sir J. Saumarez, in the Diomede, Cerberus, and Diomede again - as Acting- Lieutenant and Commander, in the Carteret cutter - as Acting-Lieutenant, in the Sylphe 18, Capt. Wm. Goate - a second time, as before, in the Carteret - as Lieutenant (commission dated 13 March, 1805), in the Penelope 36, Capt. Wm. Robt. Broughton, Surinam 18, Capt. John Lake, and Prince of Wales 98, Hibernia 120, Diomede 50, and Victory 100, all flag-ships of Sir Jas. Saumarez - as Acting-Commander (order dated 28 July, 1809), in the Ariel 18, in which vessel he remained upwards of two months - and, again as Lieutenant, in the Victory.

While attached to the Surinam, Mr. Ross was severely wounded in the head and body at the cutting-out of a Spanish vessel from beneath the batteries of Bilboa. For this he was granted, in 1808, a pension of 91l. 5s., increased, in 1815, to 150l. per annum. Towards the close of 1808 he was sent from the Victory to act as Captain of the Swedish fleet on board the Swedish Admiral's ship. Attaining the rank of Commander 1 Feb. 1812, he was in that capacity appointed - 31 March, 1812, to the Briseis 10, in which sloop, stationed in the Baltic, North Sea, and Downs, he captured, 9 Oct. following, Le Petit Poucet French privateer, of 4 guns, 4 swivels, and 23 men, and drove on shore three vessels of a similar description - 7 June, 1814, to the Actaeon 16, employed in the North Sea, the White Sea, and on the coast of Ireland - 22 Aug. 1815, to the Driver 18, attached to the force in the North Sea and on the coast of Scotland - and 14 Jan. 1818, to the Isabella hired sloop. In the latter vessel he proceeded, in company with the Alexander brig, commanded by the present Sir Wm. Edw. Parry, for the purpose of exploring Baffin Bay, and inquiring into the probability of a north-west passage. Shortly after his return to England he was advanced, 7 Dec. 1818, to Post-rank. The results of his investigations are detailed by Capt. Ross in his 'Voyage of Discovery,' published in 1819 in two volumes 8vo., with map and plates. He was afterwards, from May, 1829, until Oct. 1833, employed, in the Victory steamer, on a fresh expedition to the Arctic regions, equipped at the expense of the present Sir Felix Booth, Bart.[2] He received the honour of Knighthood, together with the Companionship of the Bath, 24 Dec. 1834. On 8 March, 1839, he was appointed Consul at Stockholm, where he remained several years.

During the war Sir John Ross, in three different actions, was 13 times wounded. In consideration of his sufferings he was presented by the Patriotic Society with a sword valued at 100l.; and for services performed by him in the Baltic he was nominated a Knight Commander of the Swedish Order of the Sword, and presented by the King of Sweden with a sword worth 200l. He is also a Knight of the Second Class of St. Anne of Russia (in diamonds); of the Second Class of the Legion of Honour; of the Second Class of the Red Eagle of Prussia; and of the Second Class of Leopold of Belgium. In compliment to his services in the Arctic Seas, Sir John has received gold medals from the Geographical Society of London, the Geographical Institute of Paris, and the Royal Societies of Sweden, Austria, and Denmark; the freedom of the cities of London, Liverpool, Bristol, Hull, &c.; and six gold snuff-boxes from Russia, Holland, Denmark, Austria, London, and Baden. He is the author, among other works, of 'Letters to Young Sea Officers,' 'Memoirs and Correspondence of Admiral Lord De Saumarez,' and 'A Treatise on Navigation by Steam.' He married, first, in 1816, Christian, daughter of Thos. Adair, Esq., W.S., Edinburgh; and that lady dying in 1822, secondly, 21 Oct. 1834, Mary, only daughter of Retired Commander Thos. Jones, R.N. By his first marriage he has issue one son, a Magistrate at Cawnpore. Agents - Messrs. Stilwell.

Full Title: ROSS, Kt., C.B., K.C.S., K.S.A. (Captain, 1818. f-p., 23; h-p., 38.)


[1] Major-General Ross commanded the 54th regiment during the mutiny at Gibraltar in 1803, and by his conduct on that occasion saved the rock and the life of the Duke of Kent. He was in consequence appointed equerry to H.R.H., and A.D.C. to the King, He was afterwards Governor of Antigua, St, Kitts, Ste. Croix, and Demerara. He fought in Egypt, and commanded the army opposed to Suchet in Catalonia. He died at Carthagena in 1812.

[2] See 'Narrative of a Second Voyage in search of a North-West Passage,' &c. 4to. Lond. 1835.


A Naval Biographical Dictionary by William Richard O'Byrne. pg. 1006-1007.

1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica, Volume 23 pg. 740

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