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Memorable Manitobans: Christopher Middleton (?-1770)


Born in England, he served aboard privateers before joining the Hudson's Bay Company in 1721 as second mate. He made sixteen annual voyages to the Bay, many as Captain, and his astronomical observations were published by the Royal Society in 1726 (in 1737 he was chosen Fellow of the Royal Society). This publication drew the attention of Arthur Dobbs, who chose him to lead the expedition he was organizing to search for the Northwest Passage. He helped lobby for the expedition at the Admiralty, and was appointed its commander in 1740-1741, resigning from the HBC. His ships left England on 8 June 1741, so late that he was forced to winter at Churchill, where his crew suffered from scurvy. In 1742 he sailed further north than any previous explorer, but ended his expedition in Repulse Bay, having decided that there was no passage. He passed Chesterfield Inlet but did not enter it.

Upon his return to England, Dobbs accused him of falsifying the record in order to preserve the trading monopoly of the HBC, and their controversy resulted in the publication of five books and pamphlets by Middleton and three by Dobbs. In most respects Middleton has been vindicated, although he did miss Chesterfield Inlet. He remained underemployed until 1748, when he was placed on the Admiralty’s half-pay list. He stayed there until his death. Later historians have cast him as a victim of “a malicious campaign of denigration.”

See also:

The British Search for the Northwest Passage in the Eighteenth Century by Glyndwr Williams (1962)

The Voyage of Christopher Middleton 1741-1742 edited by William Barr and Glyndwr Williams (1994)

Christopher Middleton, Dictionary of Canadian Biography III, 446-50.


Dictionary of Manitoba Biography by John M. “Jack” Bumsted, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999.

This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.

Page revised: 21 March 2018

Memorable Manitobans

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