John Barrow has been called the father of Arctic exploration. ‘In fact,’ says Fergus Fleming firmly in his jolly new book, ‘he was the father of global exploration.’ Barrow was appointed Second Secretary to the Admiralty in 1804, and except for a brief hiatus between 1806 and 1807, he remained at his post until 1845. The First Secretary was an MP. The Second made things happen. Barrow dispatched volleys of ships ‘to every blank on the map that caught his fancy’.
A no-nonsense Lancastrian, Barrow ‘carved out a niche for himself as a geographer’ as a young man. Unfortunately he wasn’t a very good one. ‘He had no original views,’ says Fleming. ‘When he held a geographical opinion it was frequently the wrong one.’ After a spell in South Africa, where