Thursday, 31 December 2009

Belfast-born explorer

Today the Irish Times column, An Irishman's Diary, recalled the explorer and naturalist Dr David Walker, who was born in Belfast in 1837.  He was educated at Befast Academical Institution and at Queen's College Belfast and then became a licentaite of the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin.

Dr Walker was the surgeon, naturalist and photographer on an expedition which left Aberdeen on 1 July 1857 to search for Sir John Franklin, who had disappeared while trying to discover the North West Passage.  The expedition was led by Captain F L McClintock and it returned to London on 23 September 1859, after two years away, including 250 days trapped in the ice.  During the journey he collected flora, fauna and geological specimens and carried out scientific observations and experiments.  On his return he presented papers of his findings to both academic and public meetings.

Walker was elected a member of the Royal Irish Academy, a fellow of the Royal Georgraphical Society and a fellow of the Linnean Society.  He also received the Arctic medal.

In the 1860s he went on an expedition to British Columbia and then crossed the border in the United States of America.  He served with the American army for fourteen years on the northwest frontier and then from 1883 to 1887 he was the resident doctor in a gold mining town in California.  Walker moved to Portland, Oregon, in 1889 and died there on 11 May 1917.  His death was reported in the New York Times but there was no mention in any papers in the United Kingdom.

Some years ago when Belfast City Council published a volume on Celebrated Citizens of Belfast, Walker did not even make it into the book, a regrettable omission.  I have not yet had the chance to check in the new Dictionary of Irish Biography but hopefully he is included there.

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