Palmer first went to the Arctic in 1818 with the Spitzbergen expedition, serving as a mate on board HMS Dorothea under the command of Captain David Buchan (1780-1830). In 1819 he again volunteered for Arctic service as a Midshipman on board HMS Hecla on Parry’s first expedition to the Northwest Passage – probably the single most productive voyage in the century’s long quest for an open sea route through the Arctic Ocean to the Pacific. Sailing up Baffin Bay and into Lancaster Sound they passed 110oW, discovering Melville Island where the expedition was forced to spend the winter in the pack ice. In 1821-23 he was promoted Lieutenant of the Hecla on Parry’s second voyage when, together with HMS Fury, the expedition sailed through Hudson’s Strait and Foxe’s Channel to examine Repulse Bay. Wintering at Winter Island and Igloolik the expedition traced the Fury and Hecla Strait to its junction with Regent Inlet, but finding that the strait remained blocked by ice throughout the summers of 1822-23, Parry decided against a third winter in the Arctic and returned to Britain in 1823.
This portrait was painted in 1821, the year of Parry’s second voyage in search of the Northwest Passage, when Palmer had been promoted to Lieutenant of the Hecla. A cape on the southern side of Melville Island is named after him.
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