The Breadalbane Adventure


171 pages
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography
ISBN 0-88890-159-3






Reviewed by Bryan Hayter

Bryan Hayter worked as a marketing and communications co-ordinator for a consulting engineering firm; he lived in Elora, Ontario.


Those who follow the literature of underwater archaeology know that the quest for historical knowledge in sunken ships is fraught with difficulty. But in this volume, Canadian diver and underwater scientist Joe MacInnis sheds new light on a kind of watery ship graveyard which is less yielding than perhaps any other.

The actual discovery of the Breadalbane wreck, lost off Beechey Island in the Canadian Arctic in 1853, is a relatively minor part of this tale, however. The tremendous logistical problems inherent in searching waters far from civilization, located in an inhospitable climate, in waters usually covered by ice, are the true creators of tension in this account of the ongoing exploration of the Breadalbane. In fact, only a small part of the book involves contact (by remote control camera devices, in this case) with the amazingly well-preserved wreck. It’s really a story about how modern-day adventurers marshal equipment, money, expertise, even Coast Guard ice-breakers, to look for a wreck that, by all odds, should have been crushed by sea-bottom-scouring icebergs.

For that reason the book stands as a valuable record of more than just endurance in tough physical circumstances. It illuminates the world of modern exploration, filled as it is with administrative and financial barriers.

Furthermore, the Breadalbane story acts as a kind of primer on the latest equipment, which allows man to see with his eye before touching with his hands. It doesn’t take away from the suspense to reveal that the visual search at least is successful. At this time the wreck has yet to be boarded by divers. The book’s detailed photos of the ship serve to whet the explorer’s appetite.

Like many good books about men seeking knowledge of the past in the inconvenient places where it is so often found, this documentary is a story of men, more than one of equipment. MacInnis gathered hardworking, intrepid souls to his side and, thanks to his intimate narrative, the reader feels close to the group as it passes from the throes of deep frustration to the happy moment when the remote camera finally reveals an archaeological treasure waiting to yield many secrets.

At a time when other major ship discoveries in northern waters (specifically a Tudor war ship and War of 1812 schooner) are making the headlines also, this book has great relevance. It will add a new chapter to the too-thin ranks of works about the early ships that plied Canadian waters. And what’s equally important: the story has many chapters yet to be written. An added bonus is the effort to give readers a feel for life aboard the Breadalbane more than 100 years ago. Compared to the high-tech capabilities of the twentieth century explorers, the Arctic invasion by those wooden sailing ships seems positively suicidal.


MacInnis, Joe, “The Breadalbane Adventure,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 16, 2024,