Ross, the son of the Rev. Andrew Ross, minister of Inch, near Stranraer, Wigtonshire, entered the Royal Navy in 1786, serving in the Mediterranean until 1789, and afterwards in the English Channel. In 1808 he acted as captain of the Swedish Fleet, and in 1812 was promoted to commander. Six years later he received the command of an Arctic expedition fitted out by the Admiralty, the first of a new series of attempts to solve the question of a Northwest Passage. This expedition failed to discover much that was new, and somewhat prejudiced the Arctic reputation of its leader, who attained the rank of captain on his return.
In 1829, through the munificence of Mr (afterwards Sir) Felix Booth, Ross was able to undertake a second Arctic expedition. This expedition, which lasted four years, achieved important geographical and scientific results. On his return Captain Ross received gold medals from the English and French geographical societies, and various foreign orders, including a knighthood of the Pole Star of Sweden, and in the following year (1834) received a knighthood and a CB in Britain. In 1850 he undertook a third voyage to the Arctic regions, this time in search of Sir John Franklin, and in the following year he attained flag-rank. His publications include: