George Taylor (b. 1800)

Written by Rob David

Occupations: Explorer and 3rd Mate

George Taylor was born in Lancaster in 1800.  When a young man he served an apprenticeship of five years in the shipyard of Joseph Hart in Ulverston, one of the town’s foremost shipbuilding companies.  On completion he was engaged as a ship’s carpenter and mate on various ships sailing from Liverpool and Hull to the Baltic.  At the point that Sir John Ross [1777-1856] purchased the steam vessel Victory in Liverpool, Taylor was the mate.   Ross asked him to sail the vessel to London for fitting out for Arctic exploration.  Taylor so impressed Ross that he was made Third Mate on his privately financed second voyage in search of the North-West Passage (1829-33).  Unusually this expedition was not supported by the Admiralty due their earlier disagreements with Ross over some of the geographical information he had reported.  Consequently this expedition was privately financed, largely by the gin distiller, Sir Felix Booth Bt. [1780-1850], and Ross himself.  The ship’s company comprised four officers and nineteen men.  Ross sailed Victory so far into the north-west passage that after the vessel became iced in during the first winter (1829-1830), the ice never melted enough to allow the ship to make any significant progress in any direction in 1830, 1831 or 1832.   In April 1831 Taylor was part of a team under John Ross’s nephew James Clark Ross [1800-1862] exploring the coast to the north of their winter harbour on the Boothia peninsular, named in honour of Sir Felix Booth, in northern Canada.  Putting on a wet sock Taylor suffered frostbite on his right foot.  The other men took three days to sledge him back to Victory with J.C.Ross walking the last twenty miles on his own and returning with extra men from the ship to assist the sledge haulers.  On Taylor’s return the surgeon had to amputate much of his right foot.  Taylor could no longer undertake active duty but he remained useful to Ross.  In 1832 Ross decided to abandon Victory as the vessel remained frozen in, and travel across the ice to seek rescue, This involved a further winter spent in a hut.  During this period Taylor was dragged on an improvised sledge.  Twice he had to be abandoned on the ice as the laden sledges were forever overturning, but on each occasion Ross returned with an empty sledge to collect him ’for which he was always grateful’.  The ship’s company was finally rescued at the ice edge by a passing whaler, Isabella of Hull [Captain Humphreys] in the summer of 1833, and returned to England in October 1833.  On returning Taylor turned down a situation in the Dock-yard and chose to return to Liverpool to join his wife and family who had been supported by Felix Booth during the period of the expedition.  The excessive length of the voyage overstretched the financial resources of the expedition and like all the crew Taylor was paid by the Admiralty who recognised that the expedition had performed significant geographical and scientific work, including the discovery of the North Magnetic Pole by James Clark Ross.  Ross called Taylor ‘one of the most trusty I had of the crew’.  A much reproduced feature about the expedition in regional newspapers in November 1833 (Hull Packet, Lancaster Gazette, Westmorland Gazette) referred to Taylor without mentioning his name, and suggested that on the final march he was not alone in needing help: ‘We left Fury Beach on 8th of July [1833]. Carrying with us three sick men, who were unable to walk’.  In 1834 Taylor found himself part of a scurrilous book by a hack writer, Robert Huish [1777-1850], who wrote a narrative of the expedition based largely on the story of the disaffected steward.   In this version it was suggested that the crew did everything they could to support Taylor, but that Ross had a different plan ‘to leave the poor fellow behind them!!!’. 

Sources: Sir John Ross, Narrative of a second voyage in search of a North-West Passage and of a residence in the Arctic regions during the years 1829, 1830, 1831, 1832, 1833 (London, 1835); M.J. Ross. Polar Pioneers: John Ross and James Clark Ross (Montreal and Kingston, 1994); R. David. In Search of Arctic Wonders: Cumbria and the Arctic in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries (Kendal, 2013).