Come celebrate John Rae, one of Orkney’s greatest sons, at birthday graveside ceremony

24 September 2021

John Rae Society invites the world to remember the remarkable life and achievements of Arctic explorer John Rae at St Magnus Cathedral graveyard

An open invite has been extended to Orkney and the rest of the world to celebrate the life and deeds of John Rae on Thursday, 30th September at noon by the John Rae Society that is building a legacy to his name.

President of the John Rae Society Andrew Appleby says: “As we mark the 208th anniversary of the birth of one of Orkney’s true life heroes, who displayed remarkable courage and resilience in the face of Arctic adversity on his explorations, we extend a warm welcome to his fellow Orcadians and everyone moved by his feats to join us.”

A piper will lead celebrants from the graveyard gates at noon up to John Rae’s burial place where Elaine Grieve, Orkney’s Lord Lieutenant and Patron of The John Rae Society, will give an address, and a small libation of Highland Park whisky will be poured on his grave to honour his memory.

John Rae was born at the Hall of Clestrain, Orphir, on 30th September 1813, one of seven children. He studied to become a doctor and signed on as ship’s surgeon on the Prince of Wales bound for Canada as part of Hudson’s Bay company operations. Rae was forced to winter in Canada when the ship’s return route was blocked by ice. He accepted the post of surgeon and clerk at Moose Factory and served there for ten years. He spent his free time hunting and learning travel and survival skills from the Inuit, Cree, Dogrib and Metis peoples; including how to use sleds and snow-shoes.

His skills and hardiness made him the perfect choice to undertake expeditions to finish the mapping of the Arctic coast that led to the discovery of the last navigable link of the North-West passage between the Arctic and Pacific Oceans, and to go in search of the doomed Franklin Expedition.

The John Rae Society is working to restore his derelict family home, The Hall of Clestrain, and create an International Arctic Visitor Centre in Orphir.

“Our aim is to welcome the world to Orkney to celebrate John Rae’s pioneering work in the Arctic at his restored home and the centre where we can work in partnership to grow and share an understanding of the Arctic through education, research, knowledge transfer and cultural awareness, ” added Chair of The John Rae Society Liz MacInally.