It is traditional for the great Arctic explorers to be given a knighthood. By doing so, their country highlights their qualities and helps their lives to become an inspiration to the next generation.
But the man who is arguably the greatest of them all received no knighthood and others were given the credit for some of his greatest achievements. John Rae solved the two greatest mysteries of 19th-century Arctic exploration. He found Rae Strait, the final link needed for a Northwest Passage, and he discovered the fate of the Franklin expedition. He did so by combing thousands of miles of uncharted wilderness in the harshest of conditions, wintering in the High Arctic - the first European to do so - living off the land and studying native technology and skilfully applying it.
He treated the native people with respect, looked after his men, and carried out his work with a warm humanity and an exhilaration for taking on every challenge that weather and terrain could throw at him.
He could turn his hand to anything: to hunt or to sail, to build a boat or an igloo, to treat injuries as a qualified medical doctor and to plan a healthy diet for his men, to haul on a sledge or to make careful scientific observations of such high quality that he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.
Here is a brief outline of John Rae and his epic achievements: http://www.frontiersmagazine.org/the-greatest-arctic-explorer-of-them-all-john-rae-200-years-on
And when Roald Amundsen, half a century on, made the first sailing of the Northwest Passage, he made his course through the link Rae discovered, Rae Strait, the only route that was free from destructive pack ice, and he wrote that Rae's work was 'of incalculable value' for his journey.
But Rae's account of how the men of the Franklin expedition had perished was not well received in Victorian Britain, and a campaign was launched to prevent him getting proper recognition for his achievements. A great wrong was done to a great man, and there is an opportunity today for our generation to take our own stand and honour him.
Today, we live in a world in need of heroes. By highlighting him we can give a new generation inspiration to help it face the challenges of the world today. The Post Office has a fine tradition of using postage stamps to raise awareness of achievement, in sport or the arts or science. This year, the 200th anniversary of his birth, is the ideal opportunity. We cannot let it go by without righting a wrong and giving him the national recognition which he so richly deserves - and thereby carrying on his spirit of courage and commitment into the future.
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