Ken McGoogan



Elisha Kent Kane And The Arctic Frontier

Born in 1820, Elisha Kent Kane refused to allow his heart damaged by rheumatic fever to circumscribe his life. The handsome Philadelphia doctor became a gifted writer, an accomplished ladies man, and an intrepid explorer.

In 1851 and 1853 the young American made two arduous Arctic expeditions. He was searching for the lost explorer John Franklin and his crew. He also hoped to find the mythical, temperate Polar Sea which some believed lay beyond a barricade of ice at the top of the world. From there, many dreamed, it was short trip to the riches of China.

After being ice-bound in 1853 for two years, Kane led his 15 men in a desperate dash for survival across 1300 dangerous miles, traveling by sledge, dogsled, and small open boats. It was more daunting than Ernest Shackleton’s famous trek with his crew from The Endurance in Antarctica 60 years later.

Although Kane didn’t discover the fate of Franklin or the semi-tropical Polar Sea, his voyages yielded the only feasible route to the North Pole.

Kane’s death at 37 from complications of his childhood illness sent the nation into mourning. His funeral cortege lasted three weeks as it traveled overland and became a media event.

Ironically, his achievements and important Arctic discoveries were muted by America’s Civil War which supplanted exploration as a defining national event.

With this book, McGoogan offers an entertaining social history of 19th Century America and restores Kane to prominence among the great New World explorers.

HarperCollins Canada 2008



“His biography is as detailed, thorough, and compulsive as Jane Franklin herself might have demanded.”

The Mail on Sunday (London)

“ exhaustive and scrupulously researched biography.”
Sara Wheeler

Times of London

“McGoogan’s biography of Lady Franklin is both a detailed study of an extraordinary woman and an adventure story almost too fantastic to be true.”

Glasgow Herald

“An unforgettable book.”

Edmonton Journal


Pierre Berton Award
University of British Columbia President’s Medal

The true story of a woman born in the time of Jane Austen who strode the world stage and influenced the course of Arctic exploration

Born into a wealthy London family in 1791, Jane Griffin was denied the opportunities available to men of her class. Yet she became a world traveler, ranging far off the beaten path to explore Russia, Greece, the Holy Land and North Africa. She and her husband Sir John Franklin presided over Tasmania, and at the age of 70, she circumnavigated the globe in rough sailing ships.

At age 36, Jane married the famous but hapless explorer John Franklin. She helped him seize the leadership of a Royal Navy expedition to find the fabled shortcut to the China across the top of North America. After Franklin disappeared in the Arctic ice, Jane dispatched seven doomed expeditions to find him.

In 1854, when explorer John Rae returned to England with news that Franklin and his crew had perished and at the end some had resorted to cannibalism, Jane enlisted Charles Dickens to repudiate him.

Though she failed to rescue Franklin, she contributed more to the discovery of the North than anyone else.

HarperCollins Canada 2005
Bantam UK 2006


The Amazing Adventures of Samuel Hearne, the Sailor Who Walked to the
Arctic Ocean

In this vivid real-life tale of adventure, Ken McGoogan restores Samuel Hearne, an extraordinary 18th Century hero, to his rightful place in the history of exploration.

Samuel Hearne joined the Royal Navy at 12 years of age in 1757 and served as midshipman during the tumultuous Seven Years War. Later, in the employ of the Hudson’s Bay Company he undertook a remarkable 3500 mile, three-year overland journey in his quest for copper and became the first European to reach the Artic coast of North America.

Suffused with McGoogan’s characteristic passion and insight, and sparkling with surprises, Ancient Mariner is history and adventure at its best.

HarperCollins Canada / Oct. 2003
Carroll & Graf US / 2004
Bantam Press UK / 2004


John Rae's Arctic Discoveries

Shortlisted for Drainie-Taylor Biography Prize

"This is an overdue book that makes an important contribution...and yet remains compulsively readable for the non-specialist."

- Quill & Quire

"This whole book is a bolt of lightning...This book deserves a wide audience, critical acclaim and gratitude for research well done. I welcome its publication as the timely vindication of a great man's huge achievements."

- Peter St. John, Earl of Orkney, and senior scholar and professor of international relations at the University of Manitoba

"A wilderness physician, ardent naturalist and professional iconoclast, John Rae is Canada's least known yet most successful Arctic explorer. He unlocked the gate to the North West Passage and determined the fate of the doomed Franklin expedition. In this epochal reconstruction of these and other adventures, Ken McGoogan has written a thriller of a book, a story well told that well deserves telling. Fatal Passage joins the uncrowded shelf of essential classics about our mysterious North."

- Peter C. Newman

In May 1854, after spending a winter in the High Arctic, the Scottish explorer John Rae led an overland expedition 500 kilometres across frozen tundra, hauling sledges through blizzards and gale-force winds, while temperatures plunged to 62 degrees below zero. At the end of this trek, his fourth major Arctic expedition, Rae discovered a strait that proved to be the final link in the Northwest Passage.

John Rae had joined the search for a sea route across the top of the world from Europe to the treasures of Asia under the aegis of the Hudson's Bay Company. Rae had joined the HBC, not as a trader or explorer, but as a ship's doctor after graduating from Edinburgh Medical School at age nineteen.

In the High Arctic, where others had failed or perished, Rae triumphed, thanks to his endurance, his abilities as an outdoorsman, and his willingness to learn survival techniques from the native peoples.

However, Rae's recognition and reward were thwarted in London by the formidable Lady Jane Franklin. In 1845, her husband Sir John Franklin had led an expedition to find the final link in the Northwest Passage. When he failed to return, search parties were dispatched and a reward offered.

During Rae's pursuit of the final link, he learned from local Inuit (Eskimos) that some of Franklin's crew, felled by scurvy and starvation, had in desperation resorted to cannibalism.

To protect her husband's reputation, Lady Franklin impugned Rae's informants as "savages," and with her allies (including Charles Dickens) vilified Rae in the press and salons of London.

Ken McGoogan provides an enthralling account of adventure, hardship, scandal, and triumph in the race to chart the barren lands of the New World.

HarperCollins Canada/April 2001
Caroll & Graf US/02
Bantam Press UK/02

Ken McGoogan,is the author of two widely acclaimed, best selling books: Fatal Passage: The Story of John Rae, the Arctic Adventurer Who Discovered the Fate of Franklin; and Ancient Mariner: The Arctic Adventures of Samuel Hearne, the Sailor Who Inspired Coleridge's Masterpiece.