The explorer Dr John Rae's home Jane Glue
This watercolour is of John Rae's birth place, Clestrain in Orphir as it is now. On the washing line are John Rae's coat from the arctic and a Canadian blanket. In the sky are a flock of geese that flew over the day I visited, I thought John Rae would have seen those too and in the foreground hidden in the grass are John Rae's fiddle and his sledge used in his explorations.
I’ve always known about John Rae, there is a memorial in St Magnus Cathedral which shows the explorer lying down, his gun by his side, and I also knew about Clestrain, John Rae's birthplace. But it was only after my mother, who after reading Ken McGoogan’s book on John Rae, Fatal Passage , had insisted on my sister and I taking her out to see the house of Clestrain that I became more interested in John Rae’s story. The house seemed incredibly sad with glimpses of what it used to be hidden in the stonework and architecture. I borrowed Mum’s book and I couldn’t put it down, I was hooked like her on the story of an incredible man who had achieved so many things that seemed impossible for a man in those times or even today. And what seemed to lie at the back of all that achievement was John Rae’s Orcadian roots, his knowledge of the sea, weather, nature and landscape, and also his ability to recognise that we are all equal. This was something that in Victorian times, the gentry found hard to accept. Overall it was John Rae’s ability to communicate with all people that made him stand out from the crowd and achieve what others could not, like the discovery of the Northwest Passage.
I visited the Hall of Clestrain a second time on my own to take in the atmosphere and I spent some time at Stromness Museum studying and drawing John Rae’s artefacts. Even just wondering the streets of Stromness gave me a sense of him and the relationship between Orkney and Canada through the Hudson’s Bay Company which again I already knew a bit about. Recently I found out that what is now The Pier Art's Centre was The Hudson Bay headquarters which employed John Rae and so many other Orcadians in Northern Canada. John Rae himself worked as a surgeon.
I then started a large painting of Clestrain in the snow (1) A Tribute to Dr John Rae the arctic explorer – www.janeglue.com and it gradually developed into a kind of history of the explorer. I used a map of Northern Canada for the roof, and hidden in the snow are John Rae’s possessions such as his sextant and sledge. Orkney has thousands of geese, many of which fly down from the Arctic. I placed geese in my painting too as a symbol of connection – and a moon. I always think that wherever you travel in the world we are all seeing the same moon! This original of this painting was gifted to Stromness museum and is now on display amongst the John Rae artefacts.
John Rae discovered the fate of Sir John Franklin's voyage and much to the admirality's disgust, the fact that the crew had resorted to cannibalism in order to try and survive. Although this knowledge had been passed on privately to the authorities after his discovery, it became somehow public knowledge much to John Rae's disgust. Lady Franklin, Sir John Franklin's widow along with the writer Charles Dickens, moved to destroy John Rae's reputation with great success at the time. It is only now that the many supporters of John Rae along with The John Rae Society are working to put history right. John Rae's birth place, Clestrain now belongs to the society and the aim is to restore the house and make it into a visitor centre.
I recently came across a very good article in The Press and Journal newspaper which also has a couple of very interesting short films on the subject of John Rae and is well worth a read. Here is the link
To follow the The John Rae Society, click on this link to their website