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Instituted in 1857 as the Arctic Medal to reward earlier explorers attempting to discover a shorter route north of Canada for ships bringing spices from the Far East. The first awards were made to the men engaged in a search expedition to discover the fate of Sir John Franklin and his crew who were lost in 1847 while looking for the North West Passage.
A second Arctic Medal was sanctioned for the crews of three ships exploring in the Arctic in 1875-76.
In 1904 a third and current series, the Polar Medal, was instituted for members of Captain Scott's first expedition to the Antarctic.
Today the Polar Medal is awarded to individuals for extreme human endeavour against the appalling weather and conditions that exist in the Arctic and Antarctic. An increasing number are awarded to members of expeditions and scientific bases that are kept constantly manned in the Antarctic.