Walton's grand ideas concerning the far north are exactly those of his time - the early nineteenth-century saw a surge of speculation and exploration into possible Northern sea-routes allowing swift travel between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. In one of the great examples of wishful thinking clouding scientific judgment, it was argued by some that successful navigation into the region around the North Pole might reveal an open Arctic sea, relatively free of ice, which would provide safe passage along the northern coasts of America and Asia, revolutionising global trade routes.
Covered by shifting ice for much of the year (See note to page 174), the Arctic Ocean's use for commercial shipping was extremely limited, a fact gradually revealed by numerous voyages like Walton's over the years – the Northeast Passage was not fully traversed until Finnish explorer Adolf Nordenskiöld's expedition of 1878. However, some observers claim that global warming is responsible for the Arctic ice-reduction which, in recent years, has made continuous trade through the Northwest and Northeast Passages a realistic possibility.
The British Library's online exhibition of historic attempts to navigate the Northwest Passage
Recent ice-reduction data at geology.com
BBC report on the Northeast Passage's commercial prospects, (2009)