Finding John Rae

  with Alice ane Hamilton

(Alice) Jane Hamilton was born in Guelph, Ontario. Her mother, Isabel Rae Macaulay Hamilton, was a great-great niece of 18th Century Arctic Explorer John Rae. 


It is interesting to note that John Rae of Orphir, Orkney, Scotland, mysteriously disappeared from the family record.  


Around seven years ago, Jane's cousin Mary, the Hamilton family historian, learned about their family connection to John Rae through She was surprised to find out that her husband, Bruce, a history buff, knew all along about Dr. Rae, but not that he was our great great granduncle!

The question was: why did we not know of him, when we knew so much about our other Scottish ancestors? The Rae name is woven into our family history, yet no one spoke of our Orcadian relatives to us. Mary encouraged Jane to join her on a voyage of fascinating discoveries about John Rae, his expeditions, his contributions to Canadian, British and Scottish history, and his unexpected downfall at the hands of the British Admiralty.  


The two cousins are still on that voyage of Finding John Rae. In September, 2013, it led them to Orkney, where they participated John Rae 200, a fascinating and educational three-day conference organised by members of the Stromness Museum, of which John Rae had also been a member!

A large number of participants joined scholars, historians, teachers, writers, storytellers and scientists from Scotland, England and Canada (and even Greenland!), to share information, engage in lively discussions and celebrate the bicentenary of his birth. The conference was a resounding success. The entire summer had been filled with a wide variety John Rae-related events, involving art, music and much more.

On September 19th, 2014, Mary and Jane will return to Orkney. 

At 4 p.m. on Tuesday, September 30th, 2014, the cousins will join members of the John Rae Society, Scottish Secretary of State and M.P. for the Orkney and Shetland Islands, the Rt. Hon. Alistair Carmichael and many others, including members of the Orkney-based John Rae Society, at Westminster Abbey in London, to witness the placement of a plaque commemorating John Rae. The Orcadian red sandstone memorial will be located very near to that of Sir John Franklin.

The Very Reverend Dr. John Hall, Dean of Westminster Abbey, has personally sanctioned this sacred event. To learn more about John Rae, you can Google him.


We now have quite a clear understanding about why our ancestor and his astonishing story were buried. 

As you can see, our voyage is far from over. Please click on the "Blog" headline to climb aboard!

The above picture of me was taken by my husband Don Cooper on Franklin Island in Georgian Bay. (Yes, that John Franklin ... he set out from Penetanguishene on his earliest expedition to the Arctic - just half a block from where we live!)

This summer, I completed the first-draft manuscript of an historical fiction book about John Rae. It will be published in 2016 by Ronsdale Press in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The book imagines what it would have been like to BE him, living an adventurous life, wearing many professional hats and dealing with the people - Lady Franklin, Charles Dickens - and politics of 19th century Great Britain. The book also explores his family ties in Orkney, in Canada and in London, along with his great love for Kate, whom he married in Toronto during a snowstorm in January, 1860. 

There are some real surprises in his story, too!

                                                                                                                                   (Alice) Jane Hamilton