Scientist of the Day - Felix Booth
Felix Booth, a British merchant, died Jan. 24, 1850, at age 74. Booth inherited a family distilling business and turned Booth's Gin into a household name. He became prominent enough that he was elected sheriff of London in 1828. About this time, he met Sir John Ross, a disgraced captain in the Royal Navy. Ross had been the first of his generation to take a ship into Baffin Bay in search of a Northwest Passage. Unfortunately, he turned back just when he should have sailed forward, which aroused great displeasure among the Secretaries of the Admiralty, and Ross never got another command.
So when Ross wanted to take a second stab at an Arctic voyage, this time in a steam-powered vessel, he found a private sponsor in Felix Booth, who bought and outfitted the Victory (second image). Ross sailed in 1829 and made it partway into the Arctic archipelago, when the Victory was frozen in for the winter, which was normal. Unfortunately, it remained frozen in for the next four summers and winters, which was not normal, and Ross had plenty of time to name the features around him. He called the frozen bay the Gulf of Boothia (see map detail, third image), and the peninsula nearby Boothia Felix (now Boothia Peninsula), and his place of encampment Felix Harbour (fourth image). He even called the native Inuit he encountered “Boothians” (our first image above is captioned “Snow Cottages of the Boothians”).
In 1834, Ross and his men gave up waiting for a thaw and walked out, catching a ride from a passing vessel. Booth was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society the same year, presumably because he was a patron of science, since he had no other scientific credentials. We displayed several narratives of the Ross/Booth voyage in our 2008 exhibition, Ice: A Victorian Romance.
Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City. Comments or corrections are welcome; please direct to email@example.com.