• biogeography;
  • Canada;
  • geomagnetism;
  • Alexander von Humboldt;
  • John Henry Lefroy;
  • John Richardson;
  • Rupert's Land

ABSTRACT. Alexander von Humboldt's influence in British North America during the nineteenth century was filtered mainly through British imperial applications of “Humboldtian” sciences, including geomagnetism and biogeography. The best-known examples include Edward Sabine and John Henry Lefroy, Royal Artillery officers who, during the 1830s and 1840s, transformed British North American outposts and territories, including Rupert's Land, into Humboldtian sites and regions in Great Britain's imperial “magnetic crusade.” Important groundwork had already been laid by John Richardson, who applied data accrued during John Franklin's overland Arctic expeditions during the 1820s to systematize Humboldtian inquiries into the habitability of Canada's Great Northwest. Despite both the relative decline of Humboldtian sciences by midcentury and Humboldt's own reservations about the political ramifications of his science, his “cosmic” outlook circulated in Canada to refine territorial expansionists' scientistic arguments justifying annexation of Rupert's Land after the monopoly of the Hudson's Bay Company expired in 1869.