An extraordinary Cheshire explorer
George Back - a name for ever remembered in Canada

The name of Cheshire's George Back is fixed firmly on the map of Northern Canada....a lasting memorial to an explorer of quite extraordinary courage and resolve.

Born in 1796 in Stockport and educated at the town's grammar school, George Back joined the navy as a boy midshipman aboard the Arethusa and was taken prisoner by the French in 1809. He was still only thirteen and he spent his next five years incarcerated in the French fortress of Verdun, until the Treaty of Fontainbleau brought about his release.

Later he served as mate under John Franklin in search of a passage from Spitzbergen to the Bering Strait by way of the North Pole. Huge packs of ice barred progress and the expedition had to be aborted but two years later he was again serving under Franklin in mapping the previously uncharted Canadian coastline eastwards from the mouth of the Coppermine River.

The voyage was nothing short of a nightmare as the ship became trapped in frozen seas in the hostile Arctic. Supplies were virtually exhausted when Franklin ordered Back, along with three ratings, to go in search of food. For days on end they wandered across the barren wastes and on October 6th, 1821, Back recorded in his diary:

"We halted at five among some brushwood, and made a sorry meal of an old pair of leather trowsers and some swamp tea." Finally they came across an Indian encampment from which supplies were dispatched to the stricken vessel. Franklin, who of course later discovered the North West Passage, recognised Back's feat by inviting him to name an island near Bathurst's inlet. He christened it "Stockport" in honour of his home town.

Back was later promoted to Commander and upon his return to Canada he explored five hundred miles of the Great Fish River which, in his honour, is now known as the Back River. Another major, if largely unsuccessful, voyage followed and in 1838 he was knighted by Queen Victoria.

He subsequently rose to the rank of Admiral and in 1875 was invited to unveil the memorial erected to Sir John Franklin in Westminster Abbey.

He died on June 23, 1878 and a stained glass memorial window was set up in Stockport Town Hall to mark the life and achievements of a remarkable man.