|Died||14 June 1840 31) (aged|
|Education||King's College, Aberdeen|
|Occupation||Arctic explorer, fur trader|
|Employer||Hudson's Bay Company|
|Relatives||Sir George Simpson (cousin)|
Thomas Simpson (2 July 1808 – 14 June 1840) was a Scottish Arctic explorer, Hudson's Bay Company fur trader, and cousin of Company Governor Sir George Simpson. He helped chart the northern coasts of Canada. He died by violence near the Turtle River while traveling through the wilderness in what is now the U.S. state of North Dakota but was then part of the Territory of Iowa. The circumstances of his final hours—in which he allegedly killed himself after gunning down two companions—have long been a subject of controversy.
Simpson was born in Dingwall, Ross-shire, Scotland, the son of magistrate Alexander Simpson (1751–1821), a schoolteacher, by his second wife Mary, who had helped raise George Simpson. Thomas had a half-brother, Aemilius, and a full brother, Alexander.He was a sickly and timid youth, avoiding rough sport. After his father's death the family ended up in financial distress, but despite this he was given a proper education.
Simpson was educated with a view to his becoming a clergyman, and was sent to King's College, Aberdeen, at the age of 17. He performed quite well and had been given the Huttonian prize, the highest award at the college, by the end of his fourth year. Sir George Simpson, his cousin, offered him a position in the Hudson's Bay Company in 1826, which he declined in order to complete his studies.
He graduated in 1828, at the age of 20, with a Master of Arts degree. He enrolled in a divinity class that winter with the goal of becoming a clergyman when the offer of a position in the Hudson's Bay Company was again extended, and this time he accepted. By his own confession he had "a little of the spirit of contradiction and an unwillingness to be led."In 1829, Simpson arrived in Norway House to join the Hudson's Bay Company as George's secretary. He was quite ambitious and in a letter to his brother stated that his talents would lead him to speedy advancement. He was stationed at the Red River Colony in the 1830s, serving as second officer to chief factor Alexander Christie.
From 1836 to 1839, Simpson was involved in an expedition to chart the Arctic coast of Canada in order to fill two gaps left by other expeditions in search of the Northwest Passage. The expedition was headed by Peter Warren Dease, a chief factor of the Hudson's Bay Company. Thomas was the junior officer but Dease ceded most of the responsibility to him. Several writerspresent Simpson as an ambitious and over-confident young man, whereas Dease was 20 years older, experienced in Arctic travel, and efficient but perhaps under-confident. Ten more men went with them, including the canoemen James McKay and George Sinclair who had travelled with George Back during his 1834 journey down the Back River.
The expedition was organized by the Hudson's Bay Company rather than the British Royal Navy, which sponsored most of the Northwest Passage exploration. They were to descend the Mackenzie River to the Arctic Ocean, turn west, and close the gap between John Franklin's 1826 furthest-west and Frederick William Beechey's furthest-east at Point Barrow. The next summer they were to go down the Coppermine River, repeat Franklin's 1821 route east to Cape Turnagain and continue along the unknown coast at least to the mouth of the Back River, which had been reached overland in 1834. They spent the winter of 1836 at Fort Chipewyan, where they built two 24-foot (7.3 m) boats.
The party left on 1 June, and a month later reached the mouth of the Great Bear River. There they detached four men to go upriver to the Great Bear Lake and build winter quarters at Fort Confidence while the rest went down the Mackenzie to the Arctic, which they reached on 9 July. They then travelled west along the coast past Franklin's Return Reef until they were blocked by ice at Boat Extreme, about 50 miles (80 km) east of Point Barrow. Simpson and five men continued on foot and reached Point Barrow on 4 August. They returned to Fort Confidence on 25 September. At this point the north coast had been mapped from the Bering Strait to the mouth of the Coppermine.
Early in the year, Simpson went overland to find the upper Coppermine River. In the summer, they descended the Coppermine, which was full of meltwater, and reached the still-frozen Arctic. They waited two weeks for the ice to clear and began working slowly east. On 20 August they were blocked by ice a few miles from Franklin's Point Turnagain on the Kent Peninsula. Dease stayed behind with the boats and Simpson walked about 100 miles (160 km) east to a place he called Point Alexander. To the north he saw and named Victoria Land. To the east he saw open water in Queen Maud Gulf. He returned to Dease and the frozen-in boats. A few days later the ice suddenly cleared and they had an easy sail back to the Coppermine. They had gone only a little further than Franklin.
It was a better year for ice. They followed the same route, passed Point Turnagain and Cape Alexander, sailed for the first time the Dease Strait and the Queen Maud Gulf, found the Adelaide Peninsula and Simpson Strait to its north and reached Chantrey Inlet where McKay and Sinclair had been in 1834. At Montreal Island, they found a cache left by George Back in 1834. Leaving Chantrey Inlet they were struck by a gale that lasted four days. Fifty miles northeast they turned back at the Castor and Pollux River. Returning, they followed the south shore of King William Island to a point they called Cape Herschel, where the coast turned north, then followed the south shore of Queen Maud Gulf and the south shore of Victoria Island. It had been the longest boat voyage ever made in Canadian Arctic waters.
At this point the entire Arctic coast had been roughly mapped from the Bering Strait to beyond Chantrey Inlet. The remaining problems were the possibility of a water route from Chantrey Inlet to the Gulf of Boothia and the huge rectangular area north of the coast and south of the Parry Channel. The party returned to the Great Slave Lake in September of that year, and from there Thomas drew up a letter to the directors of the Hudson's Bay Company describing the results of the expedition, which was published in many newspapers of the day. He also transmitted a plan for an expedition to complete further exploration of the coast between the Fury and Hecla Strait and the eastern limits of his previous explorations.
To attend to preparations for this new expedition, Simpson immediately left for the Red River Colony, making the entire 1,910-mile (3,070 km) journey in 61 days, arriving on 2 February 1840. The annual canoes from Canada to the settlement in June of that year brought no word of the reception of his exploits, or authorization to continue exploration, as word had not reached England in time to reply at that opportunity. Without authorization from the Directors, Thomas had no authority to arrange another expedition. Instead of waiting for an entire year for word, he decided to return to Britain in person.
Thomas left the Red River Colony on 6 June 1840, intending to travel south to the Minnesota River, in the United States, where he would embark on a voyage that would eventually take him to England. He initially set out with a group of settlers and Métis, but soon left the main party with four Métis traveling companions in order to make better time.
On 14 June 1840, Simpson and two of his companions were fatally shot at a wilderness camp in the Territory of Iowa – in what is now the state of North Dakota. According to the two survivors, Simpson had become increasingly anxious and even deranged during the trip, finally accusing two of the party of plotting to kill him. He shot them, and the witnesses fled, returning to the larger party, a portion of which then went to Simpson's encampment. They found him dead of gunshot wounds, his shotgun beside him.
Witness depositions agreed that Simpson shot John Bird dead and mortally wounded Antoine Legros (dit Lecomte) Senior. Legros Junior and James Bruce then fled to the main party. When the posse reached the site they found Legros Sr. dead but Simpson still alive. Five minutes later Simpson was dead. All involved said that the wound was self-inflicted. The investigation that was conducted by U.S. territorial authorities was based on witness depositions submitted in various locations. The authorities ruled the deaths a case of Murder–suicide.
Bruce's deposition claimed that Simpson told him he killed the two men because they intended to "murder him on that night for his papers."Those papers were later sent to his cousin, Sir George Simpson. Three years later, when Sir George sent the papers to Thomas' younger brother Alexander, the diary and all correspondence between Sir George and Thomas were missing. What the missing papers may have contained remains unknown.
In the meantime, after Simpson's death, the company's directors in London had sent permission for him to continue with his explorations. He had also been awarded the Royal Geographical Society's Founder's Medal, and the British government had announced its intention of granting him a pension of £100 a year. Instead, being accused of murder and suicide, and being disgraced in the eyes of the church, Thomas was buried in an unmarked grave in Canada.
Simpson's brother Alexander published Narrative of the Discoveries on the North Coast of America, written by Thomas, in 1843, and later himself wrote The Life and Times of Thomas Simpson, published in 1845, in which he examined the possibility that Simpson's traveling companions had planned to steal his notes and maps, which they could have sold to the Hudson's Bay Company’s American rivals, and that Simpson was a victim of homicide.
A number of scholars have studied the evidence in Simpson's death without reaching a conclusion. [ incomplete short citation ] The three main competing views of the case have been: the official finding, that a deranged Simpson murdered two of his companions and then killed himself; the conspiracy theory, that Simpson's companions murdered him, perhaps for his papers, and then covered up the crime; and the shootout theory, that Simpson attacked his companions, killing two, but was then shot by the others, who invented the suicide story because they feared Simpson's prominence might lead to charges against them.
Famed explorer and historian Vilhjalmur Stefansson included the Simpson case in his 1938 book Unsolved Mysteries of the Arctic . He found the official story, based on witnesses' depositions, to be unconvincing though not impossible. Stefansson and other historians have noted that the official investigation was far from thorough, perhaps because of the remote location of the deaths.
John Rae was a Scottish surgeon who explored parts of northern Canada.
Sir John Franklin was a British Royal Navy officer and Arctic explorer. After serving in wars against Napoleonic France and the United States, he led two expeditions into the Canadian Arctic and through the islands of the Arctic Archipelago, in 1819 and 1825, and served as Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen's Land from 1839 to 1843. During his third and final expedition, an attempt to traverse the Northwest Passage in 1845, Franklin's ships became icebound off King William Island in what is now Nunavut, where he died in June 1847. The icebound ships were abandoned ten months later and the entire crew died, from causes such as starvation, hypothermia, and scurvy.
Samuel Hearne was an English explorer, fur-trader, author, and naturalist. He was the first European to make an overland excursion across northern Canada to the Arctic Ocean, actually Coronation Gulf, via the Coppermine River. In 1774, Hearne built Cumberland House for the Hudson's Bay Company, its second interior trading post after Henley House and the first permanent settlement in present Saskatchewan.
King William Island is an island in the Kitikmeot Region of Nunavut, which is part of the Arctic Archipelago. In area it is between 12,516 km2 (4,832 sq mi) and 13,111 km2 (5,062 sq mi) making it the 61st-largest island in the world and Canada's 15th-largest island. Its population, as of the 2021 census, was 1,349, all of whom live in the island's only community, Gjoa Haven.
Admiral Sir George Back was a British Royal Navy officer, explorer of the Canadian Arctic, naturalist and artist. He was born in Stockport.
John McLeod was a Scottish-born explorer of Canada, in his capacity as a fur trader with the North West Company and Hudson's Bay Company. He is remembered primarily for his explorations of several major rivers of the southwestern Northwest Territories, southern Yukon Territory, and northern British Columbia.
The history of the Northwest Territories covers the period from thousands of years ago to the present day. Prior to European colonization, the lands that encompass present-day Northwest Territories were inhabited for millennia by several First Nations. European explorers and fur traders began to explore the region since the late-16th century. By the 17th century, the British laid claim to both the North-Western Territory and Rupert's Land; and granted the Hudson's Bay Company a commercial fur trade monopoly over the latter region.
Fort Confidence, located at the mouth of the Dease River on the eastern tip of the Dease Arm of Great Bear Lake, Northwest Territories, was a Hudson's Bay Company establishment, built in 1837 by Peter Warren Dease and Thomas Simpson as a base for their exploration of the Arctic coast. It served as a quarters for two winters. The structure was a log building, and burned down a short time later. In 1848, the post was rebuilt by John Bell and used by Sir John Richardson and Dr. John Rae as a base of operations during the search for famous explorer Sir John Franklin, who went missing along the Arctic Coast. These buildings were still standing in 1902, but had again been destroyed by fire by 1911 when George M. Douglas's expedition to the Coppermine River passed through the area. The remains of this fort consist of four stone and clay chimneys.
Chantrey Inlet (Tariunnuaq) is a bay on the Arctic coast of Canada. It marks the southeast "corner" where the generally east–west coast turns sharply north. To the west is the Adelaide Peninsula and to the east is mainland. King William Island shelters it to the northwest. To the west the Simpson Strait separates King William Island from the Adelaide Peninsula. Its mouth is marked by Point Ogle on the west and Cape Britannia on the east. West of Point Ogle is Barrow Bay, Starvation Cove and Point Richardson. The Back River enters from the south. Near its mouth is a weather station on the Hayes River. Montreal Island is contained within the Inlet. It is 160 km (100 mi) long and 80 km (50 mi) wide at its mouth.
Montreal Island is located in Chantrey Inlet, Nunavut, Canada. The island has an area of 25 km2 (9.7 sq mi) and a perimeter of 31 km (19 mi).
Copper Inuit, also known as Kitlinermiut and Inuinnait, are a Canadian Inuit group who live north of the tree line, in what is now the Kitikmeot Region of Nunavut and in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region in the Inuvik Region of the Northwest Territories. Most of them historically lived in the area around Coronation Gulf, on Victoria Island, and southern Banks Island.
Kiillinnguyaq, formerly the Kent Peninsula, is a large Arctic peninsula, almost totally surrounded by water, in the Kitikmeot Region of Nunavut. Were it not for a 8.0 km (5 mi) isthmus at the southeast corner it would be a long island parallel to the coast. From the isthmus it extends 169 km (105 mi) westward into the Coronation Gulf. To the south, Melville Sound separates it from the mainland. To the north is Dease Strait and then Victoria Island. To the west is Coronation Gulf and to the east, Queen Maud Gulf. Cape Flinders marks the western tip of the peninsula, Cape Franklin is at the northwestern point, and Hiiqtinniq, formerly Cape Alexander marks the northeastern point.
The Coppermine expedition of 1819–1822 was a British overland undertaking to survey and chart the area from Hudson Bay to the north coast of Canada, eastwards from the mouth of the Coppermine River. The expedition was organised by the Royal Navy as part of its attempt to discover and map the Northwest Passage. It was the first of three Arctic expeditions to be led by John Franklin and also included George Back and John Richardson, both of whom would become notable Arctic explorers in their own right.
Peter Warren Dease was a Canadian fur trader and Arctic explorer.
A Halkett boat is a type of lightweight inflatable boat designed by Lt Peter Halkett (1820–1885) during the 1840s. Halkett had long been interested in the difficulties of travelling in the Canadian Arctic, and the problems involved in designing boats light enough to be carried over arduous terrain, but robust enough to be used in extreme weather conditions.
The Rae–Richardson Arctic expedition of 1848 was an early British effort to determine the fate of the lost Franklin Polar Expedition. Led overland by Sir John Richardson and John Rae, the party explored the accessible areas along Franklin's proposed route near the Mackenzie and Coppermine rivers. No contact with Franklin's party was achieved and Rae later interviewed the Inuit of the region, from whom he obtained credible accounts that the desperate remnants of Franklin's party had resorted to cannibalism. This revelation was so unpopular that Rae was shunned by the Admiralty and popular opinion; the search for Franklin continued for several years.
This timeline of European exploration lists major geographic discoveries and other firsts credited to or involving Europeans during the Age of Discovery and the following centuries, between the years AD 1418 and 1957.
Vice-Admiral William John Samuel Pullen was a Royal Navy officer who was the first European to sail along the north coast of Alaska from the Bering Strait to the Mackenzie River in Canada. His 1849 journey was one of the many unsuccessful expeditions to rescue Sir John Franklin and explore the Northwest Passage.
The Mackenzie River expedition of 1825–1827 was the second of three Arctic expeditions led by explorer John Franklin and organized by the Royal Navy. Its goal was the exploration of the North American coast between the mouths of the Mackenzie and Coppermine rivers and Bering Strait, in what is now present-day Alaska, Yukon, the Northwest Territories, and Nunavut. Franklin was accompanied by George Back and John Richardson, both of whom he had previously collaborated with in the disastrous Coppermine expedition of 1819–1821. Unlike Franklin's previous expedition, this one was largely successful, and resulted in the mapping of more than 1,000 km (620 mi) of new coastline between the Coppermine River and Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, an area that until then had remained largely unexplored by Europeans.