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Thomas Simpson (explorer)

Thomas Simpson (July 2, 1808 – June 14, 1840) was an Sir George Simpson.


  • Early life 1
  • Arctic Expedition 2
  • Death 3
  • References 4

Early life

Simpson was born in Red River Colony in the 1830s, serving as second officer to chief factor Christie.

Arctic Expedition

Landmarks on the north coast. Point Barrow at the upper left, Mackenzie River, Coronation Gulf with the Coppermine River at its west end and Point Turnagain at its east end, Queen Maud Gulf, Adelaide Peninsula, Chantry Inlet/Back River, Boothia Peninsula, Gulf of Boothia and Melville Peninsula/Baffin Island. This map falsely shows the Coppermine draining from the Great Slave Lake and a questionable River at the southeast end of Coronation Gulf.

From 1836 to 1839, Thomas Simpson was involved in an expedition to chart the Arctic coast of Canada in order to fill two gaps left by other expeditions in search of the George Back in his 1834 journey down the Back River.

The expedition was organized by the Hudson's Bay Company rather than the Royal Navy which did most of the northwest passage work. They were to descend the Castor and Pollux River. Returning they followed the south shore of King William Island to a point they called Cape Hershel where the coast turned north, followed the south shore of Queen Maud Gulf and the south shore of Victoria Island. It had been the longest boat voyage ever made in Canadian Arctic waters.

At this point the entire Arctic coast had been roughly mapped from the Bering Strait to beyond Chantry Inlet. The remaining problems were the possibly of a water route from Chantry Inlet to the Gulf of Boothia and the huge rectangular area north of the coast and south of the Parry Channel. The party returned to Great Slave Lake in September of that year, and from there Thomas drew up a letter to the directors of the Hudson's Bay Company describing the results of the expedition, which was published in many newspapers of the day. He also transmitted a plan for an expedition to complete further exploration of the coast between the straits of the Fury and Hecla and the eastern limits of his previous explorations. To attend to preparations for this new expedition, he immediately left for the Red River Colony, making the entire 1,910 mi (3,070 km) journey in 61 days, arriving on February 2, 1840. The annual canoes from Canada to the settlement in June of that year brought no word of the reception of his exploits, or authorization to continue exploration, as word had not reached England in time to reply at that opportunity. Without authorization from the Directors, Thomas had no authority to arrange another expedition. Instead of waiting for an entire year for word, he decided to return to England in person.


Thomas left the Red River Colony on the June 6, 1840, intending to travel to England by way of the Minnesota River. He initially set out with a group of settlers and Métis, but soon left the main party with four Métis travelling companions in order to make better time. On June 14, 1840, he and two of his travelling companions died in a shoot-out. According to the two survivors, Simpson had become increasingly anxious and even deranged during the journey, finally accusing two of the party of plotting to kill him. He shot them, and the witnesses fled, returning to the larger party, a portion of which then went to Simpson's encampment. They found him dead of gunshot wounds, his shotgun beside him. The authorities ruled it a murder-suicide.

All the witnesses agreed that Simpson shot dead John Bird and mortally wounded Legros Senior. Legros Junor and James Bruce fled to the main party. When the posse reached the site they found Legros Sr. dead and Simpson alive. Five minutes later Simpson was dead. All involved said that the wound was self-inflicted. Bruce claimed that Simpson told him that he killed the two men because they intended to "murder him on that night for his papers." The papers were sent to

  1. ^ Glyn Williams, "Arctic Labyrinth", 2008, chapter 14
  2. ^ Anthony Brandt,"The Man Who Ate His Boots", Chapter 15
  3. ^ "Peter Warren Dease", Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online gives 100 miles of coast but the Kent Peninsula is not quite that long and the coast is not much indented.
  4. ^ Derek Hayes
  5. ^ James Raffan, "Emperor of the North: Sir George Simpson.. etc", chapter 15
  • s:Narrative of the Discoveries on the North Coast of America, effected by the Officers of the Hudson’s Bay Company, during the years 1836—39, Thomas Simpson, 1843
  • Dictionary of Manitoba Biography, J. M. Bumsted, 1999
  • Clan Fraser Society of Canada


Thomas' brother, Alexander Simpson, published Thomas' Narrative of the Discoveries on the North Coast of America, effected by the Officers of the Hudson’s Bay Company, during the years 1836—39 in 1843, and later wrote The Life and Times of Thomas Simpson, the Arctic Explorer (London, 1845), in which he examine's the possibility that the travelling companions were planning to steal his notes and maps which they could have sold to the Hudson's Bay Company’s American rivals.

In the mean time, the company's directors in London had sent permission for him to continue with his explorations. He had also been awarded the Royal Geographical Society’s gold medal, and the British government had announced its intention of granting him a pension of £100 a year. Instead, being accused of murder and suicide, and being disgraced in the eyes of the church, Thomas was buried in an unmarked grave in Canada.


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