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This Distant and Unsurveyed Country by W. Gillies Ross

Finalist for The Mavis Gallant Prize for Non-Fiction in 1998


In 1857 Margaret Penny set off from Aberdeen, Scotland, with her husband, Captain William Penny, on a wintering voyage aboard the whaler “Lady Franklin” to what is now the eastern Canadian Arctic. Wives of British captains rarely sailed with their husbands and Margaret Penny was one of the few women to break with tradition, becoming the first European woman to winter at Baffin Island. Incorporating the journal she kept during the expedition with commentary by W. Gillies Ross, This Distant and Unsurveyed Country recreates nineteenth-century Baffin Island for the modern reader and provides a unique perspective on arctic whaling, the Canadian Arctic, and the interaction between Inuit and European culture at the time of the voyage.

Drawing on thirty years’ work on arctic whaling, Ross’s invaluable text supplements Margaret Penny’s journal to present a complete picture not only of this particular expedition but of arctic whaling in general. Ross provides illuminating insights into the principal characters, the mechanics and strategy of whaling, life aboard ship, the climate and goegraphy of the Arctic, the struggle for survival in the North, and the relationship between the Inuit and Europeans.

The unique combination of Margaret Penny’s unabridged journal and Ross’s extensive knowledge of whaling makes This Distant and Unsurveyed Country an invaluable resource and an unforgettable tale of adventure.

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A Woman's Winter at Baffin Island, 1857-1858



Baffin Island



McGill-Queen's University Press

Montreal & Kingston