The McClure Arctic expedition of 1850, among numerous British search efforts to determine the fate of the Franklin's lost expedition, is distinguished as the voyage during which the Irish explorer Robert McClure became the first person to confirm and transit the Northwest Passage by a combination of sea travel and sledging.
McClure and his crew spent three years locked in the pack ice aboard HMS Investigator before abandoning it and making their escape across the ice. Rescued by HMS Resolute, which was itself later lost to the ice, McClure returned to England in 1854, where he was knighted and rewarded for completing the passage.
The expedition discovered the first known Northwest Passage, in the geographical sense, which was the Prince of Wales Strait. It also made the first passage, or journey, across the Canadian Arctic from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean. It did not, however, traverse the Prince of Wales Strait. Instead, the expedition did a portage across Banks Island, crossed the Banks Strait, Melville Sound, Barrow Strait, and then entered the Atlantic Ocean via the Parry Channel. As the expedition had been beset by numerous troubles, this second route was “discovered” haphazardly as the crew of the expedition attempted to find their way to civilization.
Today, shipping across the Northwest Passage is a rare occurrence and is not commercially viable due to the unreliability of predicting the state of sea ice in the region. The SS Manhattan, the first commercial ship to cross the Northwest Passage, used the first route that McClure discovered, the Prince of Wales Strait.