Palliser, Sir John
b. 1819-01-27
d. 1887-08-18
John Palliser was born 27 January 1819 in Dublin, Ireland. Palliser was educated abroad, and spoke many European languages including French, German, and Italian. Palliser entered Trinity College, Dublin in 1834, but left by 1838 without graduating. Instead, Palliser dedicated his life to travel and exploration, despite being born to an estate owning family.1
In 1847, Palliser left Europe to travel to North America. For the most part of 1847, Palliser hunted buffalo in the central prairies and interacted with Indigenous tribes.2 Then, in 1848 he travelled to New Orleans and Panama, returning to London the following year, where he subsequently published a chronicle of his travels, Solitary rambles and adventures of a hunter in the prairies, in 1853.3
In 1856, Palliser submitted a proposal to the Royal Geography Society, aiming to map the southern prairies of the Rocky Mountains. The proposal garnered attention from the Colonial Office, which eventually sponsored the expedition.4 The Colonial Office wanted Palliser and a team of scientists to find a route through the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Coast, entirely on British territory. The CO also required scientific accounts of the land and its surrounding environments.5 Labouchere hoped that Palliser would also act as an impartial observer to the actions of the Hudson's Bay Company on the continent. Ironically, the success of the expedition depended entirely on the HBC, as they organized most of the travel and accommodation.6 Palliser would establish a friendship with the HBC governor, Sir George Simpson.
In 1857, Palliser and his team set sail for New York. The team slowly progressed westward, reaching the Red River settlement a few months later.7 From there, they travelled westward on the 49th parallel, reaching the Rocky Mountains late in 1858. The team divided, each searching for different passes through the mountains.8 Eventually, Palliser and his team were able to establish a route through the mountains entirely on British soil, and requested to return to England on a new route for further discovery.9 Palliser was also instructed to share his information with Captain Hawkins, who at the time was surveying the Oregon Boundary.10 By 1860, Palliser had returned to Liverpool.
The expedition was tremendously successful, and important for the success of future settlements in the area. In 1865, the Great Map was published, the first comprehensive mapping of the area, consisting of information gathered by the expedition. The area travelled by Palliser and his team through Saskatchewan and Alberta to the Rockies is now referred to as “Palliser's Triangle.”11
Palliser inherited his father's estate in 1862. Yet, he set out for another expedition to Novaya Zemlya, modern day Russia, for similar purposes as his previous expeditions.12 His absences led to the mismanagement of his family's estate, which they would lose a few generations later.13 Palliser died 18 August 1887 in Ireland.
  • 1. Irene M. Spry, Palliser, Sir John, Oxford Dictionary Of National Biography.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. Ibid.
  • 5. Ibid.
  • 6. Ibid.
  • 7. Ibid.
  • 8. Ibid.
  • 9. Murchison to Lytton, 31 January 1859, 1127, CO 6/30, 299.
  • 10. Shaw to Merivale, 18 March 1858, 2680 NA, CO 6/26, 246.
  • 11. Spry, Palliser, Sir John.
  • 12. Ibid.
  • 13. Ibid.
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