North Thompson. Looking Eastward. Ernest Coleman / Amberley Publishing /

By Liana Jacob

DRAMATIC nineteenth century photographs tell the story of the two eccentric Brits who became the first Europeans to explore the fabled North-West passage overland to reach the West Coast of Canada.

The vintage pictures show a portrait of a solemn-looking Sioux Chief with teepees in the background, with another image exposing the moment when an Indian chief gets shot by a former Etonian adventurer Charles Alston Messiter, who had his arm broken by the chief.

Other pictures illustrate the contrasting difference between the end of the trail back in the 1860s and what it looks like today, while another image shows a forest fire breaking out.

Front cover. Ernest Coleman / Amberley Publishing /


The incredible photos have been compiled into a book titled The Northwest Passage Overland by Ernest Coleman, who served in the Royal Navy for 36 years. It was published by Amberley Publishing.

“Anyone seeking a pair of archetypal Englishmen from the middle of Queen Victoria’s reign would be hard pressed to find better examples than Lord William Wentworth Fitzwilliam, Viscount Milton, and Walter Butler Cheadle,” Coleman said.

A photograph taken in San Francisco of Milton and Cheadle with their lawyer friend, George Walkem. Ernest Coleman / Amberley Publishing /


“Milton, the eldest son of Earl Fitzwilliam, was aged 23 and of slight build. Educated at Eton and Cambridge University, he was egocentric, delicate in health, temperamental, petulant, indolent, and easily offended.

“At the same time, however, had circumstances so provided, Milton was the type of young aristocrat who have been in the forefront of the Charge of the Light Brigade, or leading his men over the top from the trenches on the Somme or at Passchendaele.”

The book was published on November 15, 2017, to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the establishment of the Dominion of Canada and the 70th anniversary of the Canadian nationality.

The Native chief, who has just broken Messiter’s arm with a club, is shot. Ernest Coleman / Amberley Publishing /


After arriving in Quebec City in July 1862, Milton and Dr Walter Butler Cheadle travelled across the North American continent. During their trip they hiked up the Athabasca River and in 1863 they were the first ‘tourists’ to travel through the mountainous Yellowhead Pass.

“Cheadle, on the other hand, was no aristocrat, coming instead from the gentle confines of the rectory,” Coleman said.

“Neither man had experienced the rigours of a long overland journey. Milton had paid a short visit to the Canadian Red River settlement (now, Winnipeg, Manitoba), but the trials of an extended – and possibly hazardous – passage through barely explored territory lay beyond both men’s experiences.

Milton, Cheadle and The Boy come across the headless Native. Ernest Coleman / Amberley Publishing /


“Undeterred by this, and adopting the English practice of doing as little preparation as possible (a method that prevailed until after Captain Scott’s assault on the South Pole), they set off to find an overland route to the Cariboo goldfields of British Columbia.”

The Northwest Passage Overland was published by Amberley Publishing and is available here: