Acts of Parliament

  1. Great Britain. An act for giving a publick reward unto such person or persons, being His Majesty’s subject or subjects, as shall discover a northern passage for vessels by sea, between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans : and also unto such as shall first approach by sea within one degree of the northern pole. [London: Printed by Charles Eyre and William Strahan, Printers to the King, 1776] (title page) [Stefansson G640 .G74]

The 1776 Act of Parliament sets a monetary reward for any person(s) that discovers the Northwest Passage by sea or who arrives within one degree of the North Pole. The act makes clear the potential importance of a Northwest Passage discovery for both trade and science, and it details how potential rewards will be split between those responsible for the discovery. While this act was published long before John Franklin’s expeditions, it helps to set the context for his journeys. Franklin set out into the Arctic on three separate expeditions despite the dangers and unknowns associated with the region. In setting a hefty monetary reward and promoting the potential benefits to society, this act of Parliament likely intensified the Northwest Passage fervor and motivated explorers like Franklin to venture deep into the Arctic. It is important to understand why explorers like Franklin spent time navigating the Arctic, and this act of Parliament is part of that story.

  1. Great Britain. An act for more effectually discovering the longitude at sea, and encouraging attempts to find a northern passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and to approach the northern pole, 8th May 1818. [London: Printed by George Eyre and Andrew Strahan, 1818] (pg. 1) [Stefansson KD3715.G4 A3 1818]

Reforming the previous Longitude Acts, this 1818 Act by the British Parliament was a seminal piece of legislation in further inspiring arctic exploration. This act emphasized the institution’s dedication to improving general science and navigation. It created the sliding scale of rewards that went from 20,000£ for finding the Northwest Passage to 5,000£ for sailing to 110° W, 89°N, or reaching 83°N. Two years after this act was passed, Sir William Edward Perry was awarded 5,000£ for sailing past 113°W in the Hecla and Griper. Historically, this is an important document, not only because it further encouraged arctic exploration, but because it encouraged the growth of science and navigation.