I read this book a couple of years ago and have just been noodling through it again. It is about the successes, failures and general lunacy of British exploration in Africa and particularly the Arctic in the nineteenth century. John Barrow was the Second Secretary of the Admiralty. He had a lot of firmly held (but wrong) ideas about geography, and he sent expeditions off to confirm his views. Some of the expeditions were successful. Some limped back in tatters, the missing members buried at sea or on lonely African riverbanks, eaten by lions or left adrift with no food on an ice floe and never seen again.
It's a rattling good non-fiction read. Here is a little exerpt - this is a some of the equipment packed on board Capt. John Ross's vessel the Isabella as it set off for a polar expedition in 1818.
"Henry Kater's pendulum for measuring the ellipticity of the earth, Mr Plentty's Cork Life Boat, Enflefield's Mountain Barometer and Companion, Burt's Buoy and Knipper, Trengrouse's Apparatus for Saving Lives, and Troughton's Whirling Horizon".