RANKIN, JOHN, naval officer; fl. 1741–48.
In the spring of 1741 John Rankin was appointed lieutenant on the sloop Furnace (commander Christopher Middleton), which was bound on a voyage to Hudson Bay to find the northwest passage. Rankin headed three of the four boat expeditions that explored Wager Bay in July 1742. When the Furnace returned to England that autumn Arthur Dobbs, one of the chief advocates of a search for the elusive northerly route, provoked a controversy by accusing Middleton of concealing evidence that the entrance to the passage lay in the Wager. Having investigated that inlet, Rankin became a central figure in the dispute. At hearings before the admiralty in May 1743 he joined two other members of the Furnace’s crew, Edward Thompson and John Wigate, in testifying against Middleton.
A scrutiny of the available evidence does not inspire confidence in Rankin’s veracity. His log of the boat expeditions in the Wager refers to it only as a river, and contains no mention of the flood tide coming through it from the west upon which Dobbs laid such stress. A report signed by him after the final exploration stated that he had turned back when he sighted “a great Run or Fall of Water” about a league distant. Equally damaging is evidence of Rankin’s attitude after his return to England but before Dobbs had attacked Middleton’s findings. This includes a letter of 12 Feb. 1742/43 to Middleton which concludes, “I shall for Ever Think My Self bound to pray for your good health, and prosperity, If Ever it should be in my pour to Serve you by Night or day, I shall allways Think my self in Duty bound to do it.” Middleton’s own journal – soon alleged by Dobbs to be a forgery – was signed by Rankin on 19 April 1743 as being “a true Coppy from the Original Logbook kept on Board his Majestys Sloop Furnace.”
Rankin continued in the navy and at the end of the War of the Austrian Succession in 1748 was placed on the half-pay list. The name Rankin Inlet, given by Middleton to an opening on the west coast of Hudson Bay explored by Rankin in the summer of 1742, is an ill-deserved memorial to an officer whose mendacity helped to wreck the career of his former commander.
[Rankin’s log of the Furnace is at the National Maritime Museum (Greenwich, Eng.), Adm. L/F 109. His letter to Middleton of February 1743 is in PRO, Adm. 1/2099; his testifying signature is on the first page of Middleton’s log in PRO, Adm. 51/379, pt.i. The part Rankin played in the attack on Middleton is outlined in the various books written at the time of the controversy, notably Christopher Middleton, A vindication of the conduct of Captain Christopher Middleton . . . (London, 1743), and Arthur Dobbs, Remarks upon Middleton’s defence. The Middleton voyage is examined in Williams, British search for the northwest passage. g.w.]