Many interesting remains of the mammoth animals were discovered in these islands, and the supply of ivory must be very valuable to the seekers. The ice was too rotten to permit of landing, and the boats could not pass in, so Nordenskiold reluctantly relinquished his intention to explore those almost unknown islands, and the animal remains which abound there.
The Vega continued her uninterrupted course eastward till the ist of September. Then snow fell, and the Bear Islands were covered with the white garment. The navigation became difficult; the coast was cautiously skirted till, as September wore on, the nights became too dark for sailing, and the Vega was obliged to come to an anchor every evening.
On these occasions the natives came and made friends with the voyagers, and subsequently these Tchuktches welcomed the foreigners. The description given of the natives and their dwellings is curious. They live in large tents, which enclose sleeping-places or a kind of inner chambers, heated and lighted by an oil lamp. In these inner rooms the native women sit, with very little clothing on. In summer a fire is kept burning in the centre of the hut, and the smoke goes up through a hole in the roof. In winter there is no fire, and presumably the hut is closed against the outer air. The Greenlanders and Tchuktches use similar household articles: they trade for needles, knives and tools, linen shirts, etcetera, and especially brandy. Everyone smokes tobacco when he or she can obtain it. When it cannot be had, some herbs are chewed and smoked, after being dried behind the ears. Men and women seldom wear head coverings; they have tunics and trousers of reindeer skin, mocassins or shoes of bear-skin or walrus hide; the women plait their hair, and wear it long. The men cut theirs except the outer margin, which is combed down in a "fringe." The faces are painted or "tattooed" by both sexes.
The Vega continued her eastward course, meeting with little incident, but continually adding to the information already acquired. So on till the 27th of September, when, in the strait that separates Asia from America—near the entrance of Behring's Strait, the vessel got imprisoned in the early forming ice. The rising north wind rapidly piled up the hummocks, and in a short time all hope of quitting the place until the summer had to be abandoned, but very reluctantly, by Nordenskiold. "One single hour's steaming would have probably been sufficient to traverse the distance" between their position and the open strait, and one day earlier no difficulty would have presented itself!
This was extremely disappointing, and Nordenskiold writes pathetically about been frozen in so near the goal he had been so long aiming at. It was "the one mishap" which had attended his Arctic exploration. In this condition the vessel remained for two hundred and sixty-four days, the time passed nearly in darkness, but not unpleasantly, for the scientist has resources which set time at defiance. Good health and spirits were present, and the natives were friendly. At length deliverance came. On the 18th of July the Vega was released, and on the 20th she passed Behring's Straits. The North-East Passage was an accomplished fact! After a stormy cruise, in the course of which the ship was struck by lightning, and a voyage of marine discovery welcome to the civilised world accomplished, the Vega reached Yokohama, whence the electric current carried the news of Nordenskiold's success from sea to sea. The homeward journey was made by the Suez Canal to Europe, where the welcome accorded to the brave explorer was a veritable triumph. Nor must those who assisted him be forgotten. To Mr Oscar Dickson the honour belongs of holding out the full hand to Nordenskiold, without which his first voyages would never have been accomplished, and the North-East Passage might be still a mystery.
CHAPTER THIRTY FOUR.
CAPTAIN HALL'S VOYAGES.
Doctor Hayes' voyages—Captain Hall's experiences—The Polaris expedition—High latitudes—Illness and death of Captain Hall—The catastrophe on the ice—Skating on the floe—A perilous journey—Saved— Fate of the Polaris.
We must pass rapidly by Doctor Hayes' voyages undertaken to survey Greenland. He fully believed in the theory of the "open Polar Sea," and he had been a member of Kane's party. He left Boston in 1860, and entered Baffin Bay in August of that year. After much delay from ice, he started with sleighs across Smith's Sound to Grinnel Land. He encountered tremendous difficulties—most of his party turned back, but Hayes, with three men, persevered, and succeeded in reaching Grinnel Land. He still pushed on, then with only one companion, and reached the most northerly point attained, whence he could see water covered with soft ice. This he states is the open Polar Sea in the summer. He saw a headland farther north—"the most northerly land known." But having no boat he was obliged to return to his companions, and they reached Boston in 1861. The American Civil War prevented him from trying again for some years, but he subsequently explored Greenland, more for pleasure than in the interests of science, in 1869.
We now come to the voyages of Captain Charles F. Hall, which culminated in the Polaris expedition. In 1860, however, Captain Hall had made an attempt to find some traces of the Franklin expedition; but meeting with an accident, he returned. In 1864 he sailed again, and reached Hecla Strait. He carried home many Franklin relics, and ascertained that Sir John had actually discovered the North-West Passage, and established the melancholy truth that most of Franklin's men died of starvation in King William's Land, where their bones lay bleaching in the snowy waste. After five years' residence amongst the Esquimaux he ascertained that Captain Crozier, of the Terror (and he believed a companion), were living amongst the Esquimaux in 1864.
In September, 1869, Captain Hall returned to America, having discovered the site of Frobisher's settlement three hundred years before; but it was not until 1872 that he was enabled to start in the Polaris to find the North Pole. On the 29th of June he sailed from New York. Doctor Bessel accompanied the ship as naturalist, and at least one member of Kane's expedition also went. Captain Tyson, who figures in the narrative, joined the Polaris at Godhaven, and Hans, the hunter, at Upernavik.
On the 21st of August the Polaris continued her voyage, and followed Kane's route. Captain Hall reached the spot where the Advance had been quitted, and pushing on steadily, reached the channel which had been thought was the "open Polar Sea." He proceeded up to latitude 82 degrees 16 minutes North; but here the Polaris was beset in the ice at last; hitherto all had been plain sailing. They reached winter quarters in September, and named the place "Thank God" Bay, latitude 81 degrees 38 minutes North, longitude 61 degrees 44 minutes West.
The winter was fatal to Captain Hall. After his return from a few days' sledging journey, he was suddenly taken ill. In this exploration, which he undertook with the Esquimaux and his first mate (Mr Chester), he reached a place he named Newman's Bay, in latitude 82 degrees North. When the illness first attacked him it was not deemed serious; but he became partially paralysed, and on the 8th of November he expired, leaving Captain Buddington in command. Captain Hall was buried on the morning of the 11th of November, the darkness of the Polar night being faintly illuminated by ship's lanthorns and the weird boreal gleam of the stars in the atmosphere.
During the remainder of the winter, surveys were made; but Buddington did not continue the discipline of Hall. In May, Tyson, Meyers, and the two Esquimaux started on a sledging expedition, and got some musk oxen. Through these boat-expeditions, during the summer, discipline was greatly relaxed, and consequently the original plan of the voyage could not be carried out. The Polaris on the ice drifted, as other vessels have drifted, and came down Smith's Sound to Kane's former winter quarters.
A panic occurred in October, which nearly proved fatal to some of the members of the expedition. The ice "nipped" the Polaris, and it appears, from all accounts, that the ice-master who commanded (Buddington) completely lost his presence of mind, and commanded a general heaving overboard of stores and everything on deck. The order was obeyed, with results as might have been anticipated. The ice was broken up by the lifting and settling of the ship. The stores were scattered broadcast on the floe, and Captain Tyson, with a few of the most sensible men, left the vessel to arrange the stores, with the Esquimaux and their wives and children as assistants in the work.
They were all very busy sorting the supplies when a terrible rending and cracking was heard. Explosion succeeded explosion—the ice opened in many places—the Polaris was freed; and in a few moments, before the people on the ice could return, or indeed realise the situation, she had plunged into the darkness and disappeared!
This was a terrible catastrophe. There were nineteen men, women, and children actually adrift upon a mass of ice, with a very limited supply of provisions; and the only means of gaining terra firma two small boats. These were got ready, but the loose ice rendered their use impossible. The Polaris came in sight, but paid no attention to signals. So the voyagers remained drifting on the ice-floe, about four miles in circumference, but by no means assured from disruption, which might occur at any moment.
The ice continued to drift, and now and then pieces broke off. On the 16th the dreaded event occurred—the floe parted—the castaway party on one side, and the house, etcetera, on the other. But by means of the boats the stores were recovered, and then a fresh floe was occupied, whereon snow-huts were erected, Esquimaux fashion.
Time passed. October went and November came; food was scarce, and the exploring party were "allowanced." But two seals, less cautious than their companions, were at length captured—nearly all the dogs had already been eaten, and fresh food was absolutely necessary. The seals caught were scientifically killed, the blood was drunk, and "the eyes," says Captain Tyson, "given to the youngest child." (The animal, being cut up, is divided into portions which are distributed by lot to the various candidates for the delicate morsels, of which the brain is considered the daintiest.)
We need scarcely detail the daily round and common tasks of the drifting party on the ice. In January Davis Strait was reached, and a ray of sunlight cheered them on the 19th, so the progress southward had been considerable. The German seamen did not behave well and caused considerable anxiety, but there was no long disturbance.
At the beginning of the month of March the ice reached Cumberland Gulf, and on the 11th of that month it broke up with direful noises, leaving the whole party on a small piece, which being fortunately very thick continued its journey southward very gently. Seals were now captured in abundance. One of the Esquimaux also shot a bear. Then the floe was quitted, and the pack ice reached. After that things became worse. A gale arose and blew away their tent and bedding, and unless they had all clung to the boat it would have been lost also. They saved it, but remained without shelter, half-frozen and in danger of starvation. At the end of April three steamers successively appeared, but although the castaways did all they could to attract attention they were not perceived until on the 30th another "steam sealer," the Tigress, of Newfoundland, appeared and rescued them from their perilous position. They were all landed at Saint John's on the 12th of May.
Meanwhile, as the Polaris had not appeared, the Tigress was commissioned by Captain Green, U.S.N., to seek her. She steamed up to Littleton Island, where an encampment of Esquimaux was discovered. The men were wearing clothing obtained from the Polaris, but after search and inquiry no after trace of the crew could be obtained, so Captain Green returned to Saint John's. They reached New York afterwards, and heard that Buddington and his crew had been picked up by a whaler some months before.
The ill-fated Polaris had been abandoned in latitude 78 degrees 23 minutes North, and 73 degrees 21 minutes West. She had been rendered almost useless by the ice, and the Esquimaux were presented with the hull; but she foundered. The crew encamped during the winter, and in the summer they sailed down to Cape York, where they met the ice. But in Melville Bay a steamer was seen embedded in the ice. This vessel was the Ravenscraig, of Dundee, whose Captain, Allen, received them very kindly. He subsequently put some of them on a vessel bound for Dundee, whither they then proceeded, and came home from Liverpool to New York; the others came back a few weeks later. Thus ended the unfortunate Polaris expedition, which, but for the untimely death of Captain F. Hall, might have accomplished its object—the discovery of the North Pole.
CHAPTER THIRTY FIVE.
CAPTAIN SIR GEORGE S. NARES' VOYAGE WITH THE "ALERT" AND "DISCOVERY"— 1875-6.
The Alert and Discovery—Heavy weather—Arrival in Greenland—Winter on the ice—Amusements and employments—Sledging work—The return home— Reception—Conclusion.
In 1875 the British Government commissioned the Alert and the Discovery, under the command respectively of Captains Nares and Stephenson, to explore the Arctic regions of the Pole. This expedition was fitted out in the most complete manner, and had the advantage of the advice and assistance of the most experienced Arctic travellers. Commander Markham, who was attached to the Alert, had crossed the Arctic circle before, as had Captain Nares, and all that could be done was done to make the voyage a success.
Sir George Nares had already seen considerable Arctic and sea service. His scientific voyage in the Challenger, too, had given him an unlimited fund of experience, in addition to his previous geographical attainments. Captain H. Stephenson also had proved his mettle in many parts of the world, and under these commanders were many trustworthy and experienced officers. The expedition quitted Portsmouth amid enthusiastic cheers on the 29th of May, 1875, and made their way across the Atlantic. Here they met with most violent storms, which tried both ships and ships' companies, as well as the Valorous store ship, which parted company in the ocean. The first ice was seen on the 27th of June, and the Valorous was picked up again all well.
Skirting the Greenland coast amid the ice, the vessels encountered heavy weather, and at length anchored in Godhaven Harbour, in the Isle of Disco. Here supplies and sledge dogs were embarked, and on the 15th of July the Alert towed the Discovery out of harbour, and proceeded northwards. They reached Upernavik and left it. Soon afterwards the Alert grounded, but cleared at high water. Cape York was gained in seventy hours, an extremely rapid passage. The Alert passed on by the Crimson Cliffs and Cape Digges, which have been so often mentioned, and reached the Cary Islands on the 27th of July. Depots were formed here and records placed with letters, as also on Sutherland and Littleton Islands. The advance into Smith's Sound was by no means easy, and several times the ships had to return to the latitude of Kane's winter quarters.
About this time the Alert was nearly crushed by an iceberg, but got clear, and the crew made the mountain tow the vessel by grappling it. By very slow degrees, pushing and driving through the "pack," the vessels at last reached Cape Constitution, to which Doctor Kane had penetrated, but which he did not pass. Going still northwards the ships cleared Kennedy Channel and reached Hall's Basin, in the north-east side of which were the winter quarters of the unfortunate Polaris. Robeson Channel had now to be cleared.
All this time the officers and men who could be spared from duty were not idle. Parties went hunting and sketching. Many scientific observations were made by dredging. Photographs were taken also. The Musk ox gave the hunters some sport, and Doctor Moss records that all the animals met with, though presumably they had never seen man before, were afraid of the party, thus contradicting the popular notion that animals which have never seen man are not afraid of him.
At this stage of the journey excellent winter quarters were found for the Discovery. The retreat of the ships had been secured. Orders were for the Discovery to remain in or about the eighty-second parallel. Such a situation was now found. The Discovery therefore remained just north of Lady Franklin Strait, on the opposite side of Hall's Basin, to that on which the Polaris wintered.
On the 26th of August the Alert proceeded alone into Robeson Channel, but got into difficulties with the ice, which bore down on the ship in tremendous masses. But fortunately she found shelter, and escaped destruction. Any further progress appeared impossible, so preparations were made for forming the winter quarters near at hand. As September had come the sledges were got ready, and Commander Markham set out with stores to establish a depot for the spring exploring parties farther north. The party returned in three weeks frost-bitten and exhausted, but they had accomplished their mission. Lieutenant Aldrich had also come back, but reported nothing but ice.
Attempts were made to communicate with the Discovery, but the state of the ice and snow prevented any such adventure, though Captain Stephenson was only sixty miles distant. Winter now set in, and the Alert was banked in snow. Candles and stoves and snow kept the inhabitants warm, and snow-houses were erected for scientific and storage purposes. The prospect afforded a view of limitless snow, and then darkness set in and limited the view to a few yards, except when the oft-recurring moon gave her welcome light. Doctor Moss, in his journal, gives a spirited description of the daily routine, which we condense. The cold was intense—the greatest ever experienced (73 degrees).
The toilet is rapidly performed, a tub is a weekly luxury. The men have breakfasted, and the rattling of cups and saucers warns the officers curried-sardine day has come round again! Cocoa is ready and hot rolls. Then the men have lime-juice and hot water for health's sake. Afterwards all hands parade on deck for inspection and prayers. Then work begins. Water is procured from ice, tools mended, etcetera. The crew dine at one o'clock, the officers at 2:30. The latter go for a walk or rehearse theatricals. Going out, the air smells like green walnuts, says Doctor Moss. The walk, unless there is a moon, is taken up and down a beaten track, in the dark, half a mile long. The dinner gong sounds, all come in (brushing off the snow first). Then dinner, and when the cloth is off the white cat seats herself on the table. After dinner reading or writing, then school for the men; and music, chess or whist concluding the evening.
The Alert had no sun for a hundred and forty-two days, and the darkness was nearly as deep at noonday as an ordinary moonless night in England. On the 2nd of March the sun shone brightly, and the sledging was arranged for. The theatrical season had ended on the 24th of February. Many favourite farces were played, and the burlesque written by the chaplain met with great success.
A sledge party left to find the Discovery, but returned exhausted, and Petersen was nearly lost. He afterwards died, poor fellow, and was buried by his comrades on Cairn Hill, on the 14th of May. We have not space to follow all the sledging expeditions. We must condense the information and the interest. For two months and a half this, the most monotonous of all travelling, was continued. The labour was most severe and incessant, the distance made only a mile or two a day. Scurvy began its ravages, and the northern expedition had been nearly overcome, when Lieutenant Parr returned to the ship for assistance. Summer had arrived by this time. Immediate help was dispatched, but it was no easy task to find the men. Four of the party were alive, one had died. The sick man had been dragged on the sledge thirty-nine days, and they had buried him after all in a solitary spot in the far north—"a paddle and a batten" made a rude cross, and the sketch shows it most effectively in Doctor Moss's book. Five only of the seventeen of the party came back in working condition, and they were nearly exhausted.
The question now arose whether the Alert should remain, advance, or retreat. It was impossible to advance more than a few miles—the crew was suffering—and retirement was the most sensible act. So the vessel rejoined the Discovery, some of whose men had not returned, and great anxiety was manifested concerning them. At length the party appeared, after an absence of one hundred and thirty days.
From Discovery Bay they struggled south in company, racing against winter. On the 9th of September Cape Isabella (Smith's Sound) came in sight. Here letters were found which had been left by the Pandora. These were a cause of great joy, and when Disco was reached, and some coal procured, the explorers felt almost at home. On the 2nd of October the ships sailed for England. The Alert anchored at Valentia on the 27th of October, and the Discovery in Bantry Bay on the 29th.
A great deal had been accomplished by this expedition. The Alert had explored the west coast for two hundred and twenty miles, the Discovery had surveyed the Greenland coast, and Captain Stephenson placed a tablet over the grave of the brave Captain Hall of the Polaris, with a suitable inscription. The Alert men had attained the highest latitude ever reached, viz, 82 degrees 27 minutes North. The idea of the open Polar Sea then received its "quietus," for nothing but ice is there.
The Queen commanded the Admiralty to thank Captain Nares and the officers and men under his command, and Captain Nares was knighted. Some little dissatisfaction was expressed, but the effects of the work so ably done quickly extinguished any hostile feeling.
In concluding these Notable (Polar) Voyages we regret we cannot find space to relate the adventures of the plucky Pandora (afterwards the Jeannette), the Eira expedition, and others of less importance which have been undertaken since 1875. The Alert has lately been presented to the United States Government for their Arctic expedition, of which we shall soon hear something.
There are many chapters yet to be written concerning maritime discovery, but those we have selected appear to us to embody the greatest interest for our readers, for public curiosity and assistance has been lately so often directed to the Arctic which are slowly yielding their secrets to the enterprise of modern scientific and naval explorers.