HotFreeBooks.com
Three Voyages for the Discovery of a Northwest Passage from the
by Sir William Edward Parry
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6
Home - Random Browse

On the morning of the 20th we came to a good deal of ice, which formed a striking contrast with the other, being composed of flat bay-floes, not three feet thick, which would have afforded us good travelling had they not recently been broken into small pieces, obliging us to launch frequently from one to another. These floes had been the product of the last winter only, having probably been formed in some of the interstices left between the larger bodies; and, from what we saw of them, there could be little doubt of their being all dissolved before the next autumnal frost. We halted at seven A.M., having, by our reckoning, accomplished six miles and a half in a N.N.W. direction, the distance traversed being ten miles and a half. It may therefore be imagined how great was our mortification in finding that our latitude, by observation at noon, was only 82 deg. 36' 52", being less than five miles to the northward of our place at noon on the 17th, since which time we had certainly travelled twelve in that direction.

At five A.M. on the 21st, having gone ahead, as usual, upon a bay-floe, to search for the best road, I heard a more than ordinary noise and bustle among the people who were bringing up the boats behind. On returning to them, I found that we had narrowly, and most providentially, escaped a serious calamity; the floe having broken under the weight of the boats and sledges, and the latter having nearly been lost through the ice. Some of the men went completely through, and one of them was only held up by his drag-belt being attached to a sledge which happened to be on firmer ice. Fortunately the bread had, by way of security, been kept in the boats, or this additional weight would undoubtedly have sunk the sledges, and probably some of the men with them. As it was, we happily escaped, though we hardly knew how, with a good deal of wetting; and, cautiously approaching the boats, drew them to a stronger part of the ice, after which we continued our journey till half past six A.M., when we halted to rest, having travelled about seven miles N.N.W., our longitude by chronometers being 19 deg. 52' east, and the latitude 82 deg. 39' 10", being only two miles and a quarter to the northward of the preceding day's observation, or four miles and a half to the southward of our reckoning.

Our sportsmen had the good fortune to kill another seal to-day, rather larger than the first, which again proved a most welcome addition to our provisions and fuel. Indeed, after this supply of the latter, we were enabled to allow ourselves every night a pint of warm water for supper, each man making his own soup from such a portion of his bread and pemmican as he could save from dinner. Setting out again at seven in the evening, we were not sorry to find the weather quite calm, which sailors account "half a fair wind;" for it was now evident that nothing but a southerly breeze could enable us to make any tolerable progress, or to regain what we had lately lost.

Our travelling to-night was the very best we had during this excursion; for though we had to launch and haul up the boats frequently, an operation which, under the most favourable circumstances, necessarily occupies much time, yet the floes being large and tolerably level, and some good lanes of water occurring, we made, according to the most moderate calculation, between ten and eleven miles in a N.N.E. direction, and traversed a distance of about seventeen. We halted at a quarter past eight A.M. after more than twelve hours' actual travelling, by which the people were extremely fatigued; but, while our work seemed to be repaid by anything like progress, the men laboured with great cheerfulness to the utmost of their strength. The ice over which we had travelled was by far the largest and heaviest we met with during our whole journey; this, indeed, was the only occasion on which we saw anything answering in the slightest degree to the descriptions given of the main ice. The largest floe was from two and a half to three miles square, and in some places the thickness of the ice was from 15 to 20 feet. However, it was a satisfaction to observe that the ice had certainly improved; and we now ventured to hope that, for the short time that we could still pursue our outward journey, our progress would be more commensurate with our exertions than it had hitherto proved. In proportion, then, to the hopes we had begun to entertain, was our disappointment in finding, at noon, that we were in latitude 82 deg. 43' 5", or not quite four miles to the northward of yesterday's observation, instead of the ten or eleven which we had travelled! We halted at seven A.M. on the 23d, after a laborious day's work, and, I must confess, a disheartening one to those who knew to how little effect we were struggling; which, however, the men did not, though they often laughingly remarked that "we were a long time getting to this 83 deg.!" Being anxious to make up, in some measure, for the drift which the present northerly wind was in all probability occasioning, we rose earlier than usual, and set off at half past four in the evening. At half past five P.M. we saw a very beautiful natural phenomenon. A broad white fog-bow first appeared opposite the sun, as was very commonly the case; presently it became strongly tinged with, the prismatic colours, and soon afterward no less than five other complete arches were formed within the main bow, the interior ones being gradually narrower than those without, but the whole of them beautifully coloured. The larger bow, and the one next within it, had the red on the outer or upper part of the circle, the others on the inner side.

We halted at a quarter past three on the morning of the 24th, having made four miles and a half N.N.E., over a road of about seven and a half, most of which we traversed, as usual, three times. We moved again at four P.M. over a difficult road, composed of small and rugged ice. So small was the ice now around us, that we were obliged to halt for the night at two A.M. on the 25th, being upon the only piece in sight, in any direction, on which we could venture to trust the boats while we rested. Such was the ice in the latitude of 82-3/4 deg.

The wind had now got round to the W.N.W., with raw, foggy weather, and continued to blow fresh all day. Snow came on soon after our halting, and about two inches had fallen when we moved again at half past four P.M. We continued our journey in this inclement weather for three hours, hauling from piece to piece, and not making more than three quarters of a mile progress, till our clothes and bread-bags had become very wet, and the snow fell so thick that we could no longer see our way. It was therefore necessary to halt, which we did at half past seven, putting the awnings over the boats, changing our wet clothes, and giving the men employment for the mere sake of occupying their minds. The weather improving towards noon on the 26th, we obtained the meridian altitude of the sun, by which we found ourselves in latitude 82 deg. 40' 23"; so that, since our last observation (at midnight on the 22d), we had lost by drift no less than thirteen miles and a half; for we were now more than three miles to the southward of that observation, though we had certainly travelled between ten and eleven due north in this interval! Again, we were but one mile to the north of our place at noon on the 21st, though we had estimated our distance made good at twenty-three miles. Thus it appeared that for the last five days we had been struggling against a southerly drift exceeding four miles per day.

It had, for some time past, been too evident that the nature of the ice with which we had to contend was such, and its drift to the southward, especially with a northerly wind, so great, as to put beyond our reach anything but a very moderate share of success in travelling to the northward. Still, however, we had been anxious to reach the highest latitude which our means would allow, and with this view, although our whole object had long become unattainable, had pushed on to the northward for thirty-five days, or until half our resources were expended, and the middle of our season arrived. For the last few days the eighty-third parallel was the limit to which we had ventured to extend our hopes; but even this expectation had become considerably weakened since the setting in of the last northerly wind, which continued to drive us to the southward, during the necessary hours of rest, nearly as much as we could gain by eleven or twelve hours of daily labour. Had our success been at all proportionate to our exertions, it was my full intention to proceed a few days beyond the middle of the period for which we were provided, trusting to the resources we expected to find at Table Island. But I could not but consider it as incurring useless fatigue to the officers and men, and unnecessary wear and tear for the boats, to persevere any longer in the attempt. I determined, therefore, on giving the people one entire day's rest, which they very much needed, and time to wash and mend their clothes, while the officers were occupied in making all the observations which might be interesting in this latitude; and then to set out on our return on the following day. Having communicated my intentions to the people, who were all much disappointed at finding how little their labours had effected, we set about our respective occupations, and were much favoured by a remarkably fine day.

The highest latitude we reached was probably at seven A.M. on the 23d, when, after the midnight observation, we travelled, by our account, something more than a mile and a half, which would carry us a little beyond 82 deg. 45'. Some observations for the magnetic intensity were obtained at this station. We here found no bottom with five hundred fathoms of line. At the extreme point of our journey, our distance from the Hecla was only 172 miles in a S. 8 deg. W. direction. To accomplish this distance, we had traversed, by our reckoning, 292 miles, of which about 100 were performed by water, previous to our entering the ice. As we travelled by far the greater part of our distance on the ice three, and not unfrequently five, times over, we may safely multiply the length of the road by two and a half; so that our whole distance, on a very moderate calculation, amounted to 580 geographical or 668 statute miles, being nearly sufficient to have reached the Pole in a direct line.

Our day of rest (27th of July) proved one of the warmest and most pleasant to the feelings we had yet had upon the ice, though the thermometer was only from 31 deg. to 36 deg. in the shade, and 37 deg. in the sun, with occasional fog; but to persons in the open air, calm and tolerably dry weather affords absolute enjoyment, especially by contrast with what we had lately experienced. Our ensigns and pendants were displayed during the day; and, sincerely as we regretted not having been able to hoist the British flag in the highest latitude to which we had aspired, we shall perhaps be excused in having felt some little pride in being the bearers of it to a parallel considerably beyond that mentioned in any other well-authenticated record.

At 4.30 P.M. on the 27th, we set out on our return to the southward, and I can safely say that, dreary and cheerless as were the scenes we were about to leave, we never turned homeward with so little satisfaction as on this occasion. To afford a chance of determining the general set of the current from this latitude, we left upon a hummock of ice a paper, sewn up in a water-proof canvass bag, and then enclosed in a water-tight tin canister, giving an account of the place where it was deposited, and requesting any person who should find it to send it to the secretary of the admiralty. Nothing worthy of particular notice occurred on this and the following day, on each of which we travelled eleven hours; finding the water somewhat more open and the floes less rugged than usual. Two of these were from two to three miles in length, and in one instance the surface was sufficiently level to allow us to drag the boats for three quarters of a mile with the sledges in tow. Our latitude, observed at noon of the 30th, was 82 deg. 20' 37", or twelve miles and a half to the southward of the preceding day's observation, though we had travelled only seven by our account; so that the drift of the ice had assisted us in gaining five miles and a half in that interval.

Setting out to continue our journey at five P.M., we could discover nothing from a high hummock but the kind of bay-ice before noticed, except on the floe on which we had slept. The travelling was very laborious, but we were obliged to go on till we could get to a secure floe for resting upon, which we could not effect till half past four on the 31st, when, in eleven hours and a half, we had not made more than two miles and a quarter of southing. However, we had the satisfaction, which was denied us on our outward journey, of feeling confident that we should keep all that we gained, and probably make a good deal more; which, indeed, proved to be the case, for at noon we found our latitude, by observation, to be 82 deg. 14' 25", or four miles to the southward of the reckoning.

We halted at five A.M. on the 1st of August, the officers and men being quite knocked up, and having made by our account only two miles of southing over a road not less than five in length. As we came along we had seen some recent bear-tracks, and soon after discovered Bruin himself. Halting the boats and concealing the people behind them, we drew him almost within gun-shot; but, after making a great many traverses behind some hummocks, and even mounting one of them to examine us more narrowly, he set off and escaped—I must say, to our grievous disappointment; for we had already, by anticipation, consigned a tolerable portion of his flesh to our cooking kettle, over a fire of his own blubber.

In the course of our journey, on the 2d of August, we met with a quantity of snow, tinged, to the depth of several inches, with some red colouring matter, of which a portion was preserved in a bottle for future examination. This circumstance recalled to our recollection our having frequently before, in the course of this journey, remarked that the loaded sledges, in passing over hard snow, left upon it a light, rose-coloured tint, which, at the time, we attributed to the colouring matter being pressed out of the birch of which they were made. Today, however, we observed that the runners of the, boats, and even our own footsteps, exhibited the same appearance; and, on watching it more narrowly afterward, we found the same effect to be produced, in a greater or less degree, by heavy pressure, on almost all the ice over which we passed, though a magnifying glass could detect nothing to give it this tinge. Halting at seven A.M. on the 3d, after launching and hauling up the boats a great number of times, we had not only the comfort of drying all our wet clothes, but were even able to wash many of our woollen things, which dried in a few hours. The latitude observed at noon was 82 deg. 1' 48", or twelve miles and a half, to the southward of our place on the 31st, which was about three more than our log gave, though there had been southing in the wind during the whole interval.

We proceeded on our journey southward at eight P.M., and were again favoured with a clear and beautiful night, though the travelling was as slow and laborious as ever, there being scarcely a tolerable floe lying in our road. The sun now became so much lower at night, that we were seldom annoyed by the glare from the snow. It was also a very comfortable change to those who had to look out for the road, to have the sun behind us instead of facing it, as on our outward journey. We stopped to rest at a quarter past six A.M. on the 4th, after accomplishing three miles in a south direction, over a troublesome road of nearly twice that length. It was almost calm, and to our feelings oppressively warm during the day, the thermometer within the boats rising as high as 66 deg., which put our fur dresses nearly "out of commission," though the mercury exposed to the sun outside did not rise above 39 deg. Pursuing our journey at eight P.M., we paid, as usual, for this comfort by the extreme softness of the snow. The upper crust would sometimes support a man's weight for a short time, and then suddenly let him down two or three feet, so that we could never make sure of our footing for two steps together. Several of the men were also suffering much at this time from chilblains, which, from the constant wet and cold, as well as the irritation in walking, became serious sores, keeping them quite lame. With many of our people, also, the epidermis or scarfskin peeled off in large flakes, not merely in the face and hands, which were exposed to the action of the sun and the weather, but in every other part of the body; this, however, was attended with no pain, nor with much inconvenience.

A fat bear crossed over a lane of water to visit us, and, approaching the boats within twenty yards, was killed by Lieutenant Ross. The scene which followed was laughable, even to us who participated in it. Before the animal had done biting the snow, one of the men was alongside of him with an open knife; and, being asked what he was about to do, replied that he was about cut out his heart and liver to put into the pot, which happened to be then boiling for our supper. In short, before the bear had been dead an hour, all hands of us were employed, to our great satisfaction, in discussing the merits, not only of the said heart and liver, but a pound per man of the flesh; besides which, some or other of the men were constantly frying steaks during the whole day, over a large fire made of the blubber. The consequence of all this, and other similar indulgences, necessarily was, that some of them complained, for several days after, of the pains usually arising from indigestion; though they all, amusingly enough, attributed this effect to the quality, and not the quantity of meat they had eaten. However, notwithstanding these excesses at first, we were really thankful for this additional supply of meat; for we had observed for some time past, that the men were evidently not so strong as before, and would be the better for more sustenance.

The rain continued so hard at our usual time of setting out, that I was obliged to delay doing so till six P.M. on the 8th, when it ceased a little, after falling hard for twenty-four hours, and less violently for twelve more. When we first launched the boats, our prospect of making progress seemed no better than usual, but we found one small hole of water leading into another in so extraordinary a manner, that, though the space in which we were rowing seemed always to be coming to an end, we continued to creep through narrow passages, and, when we halted to dine at half an hour before midnight, had only hauled the boats up once, and had made, though by a winding channel, four or five miles of southing. This was so unusual a circumstance, that we could not help entertaining some hope of our being at no great distance from the open sea, which seemed the more probable from our having seen seven or eight narwhals, and not less than two hundred rotges, a flock of these little birds occurring in every hole of water. At noon on the 10th of August, we observed in latitude 81 deg. 40' 13", which was only four miles to the northward of our reckoning from the last observation, although there had been almost constantly southing in the wind ever since, and it had been blowing strong from that quarter for the last thirty hours. This circumstance afforded a last and striking proof of the general tendency of the ice to drift southward, about the meridians on which we had been travelling. Another bear came towards the boats in the course of the day, and was killed. We were now so abundantly supplied with meat, that the men would again have eaten immoderately had we not interposed the necessary authority to prevent them. As it was, our encampment became so like an Esquimaux establishment, that we were obliged to shift our place upon the floe in the course of the day, for the sake of cleanliness and comfort.

The wind falling towards midnight, we launched the boats at half past one A.M. on the 11th, paddling alternately in large spaces of clear water and among streams of loose "sailing ice." We soon afterward observed such indications of an open sea as could not be mistaken, much of the ice being "washed" as by a heavy sea, with small rounded fragments thrown on the surface, and a good deal of "dirty ice" occurring. After passing through a good deal of loose ice, it became gradually more and more open, till at length, at a quarter before seven A.M., we heard the first sound of the swell under the hollow margins of the ice, and in a quarter of an hour had reached the open sea, which was dashing with heavy surges against the outer masses. We hauled the boats upon one of these, to eat our last meal upon the ice, and to complete the necessary supply of water for our little voyage to Table Island, from which we were now distant fifty miles, our latitude being 81 deg. 34', and longitude 18-1/4 deg. E. A light air springing up from the N.W., we again launched the boats, and at eight A.M. finally quitted the ice, after having taken up our abode upon it for forty-eight days.

We had some fog during the night, so that we steered entirely by compass, according to our last observations by the chronometers, which proved so correct, that, at five A.M. on the 12th, on the clearing up of the haze, we made the island right ahead. At eleven A.M. we reached the island, or rather the rock to the northward of it, where our provisions had been deposited; and I cannot describe the comfort we experienced in once more feeling a dry and solid footing. We found that the bears had devoured all the bread (one hundred pounds), which occasioned a remark among the men, with reference to the quantity of these animals' flesh that we had eaten, that "Bruin was only square with us." We also found that Lieutenant Crozier had been here since we left the island, bringing some materials for repairing our boats, as well as various little luxuries to which we had lately been strangers, and depositing in a copper cylinder a letter from Lieutenant Foster, giving me a detailed account of the proceedings of the ship up to the 23d of July. By this I learned that the Hecla had been forced on shore on the 7th of July, by the breaking-up of the ice at the head of the bay, which came down upon her in one solid mass; but, by the unwearied and zealous exertions of the officers and men, she had again been hove off without incurring the slightest damage, and placed in perfect security. Among the supplies with which the anxious care of our friends on board had now furnished us, some lemon-juice and sugar were not the least acceptable; two or three of the men having for some days past suffered from oedematous swellings of the legs, and evinced other symptoms apparently scorbutic, but which soon improved after administering this valuable specific.

Having got our stores into the boats, we rowed round Table Island to look for a place on which to rest, the men being much fatigued; but so rugged and inhospitable is this northern rock, that not a single spot could we find where the boats could possibly be hauled up, or lie afloat in security. I therefore determined to take advantage of the freshening of the N.E. wind, and to bear up for Walden Island, which we accordingly did at two P.M. We had scarcely made, sail when the weather became extremely inclement, with a fresh gale and very thick snow, which obscured Walden Island from our view. Steering by compass, however, we made a good landfall, the boats behaving well in a sea; and at seven P.M. landed in the smoothest place we could find under the lee of the island. Everything belonging to us was now completely drenched by the spray and snow; we had been fifty-six hours without rest, and forty-eight at work in the boats, so that, by the time they were unloaded, we had barely strength left to haul them up on the rock. We noticed, on this occasion, that the men had that wildness in their looks which usually accompanies excessive fatigue; and, though just as willing as ever to obey orders, they seemed at times not to comprehend them. However, by dint of great exertion, we managed to get the boats above the surf; after which, a hot supper, a blazing fire of driftwood, and a few hours' quiet rest, quite restored us.

The next morning, the 13th, I despatched Lieutenant Ross, with a party of hands, to the N.E. part of the island, to launch the spare boat, which, according to my directions, Lieutenant Foster had sent for our use, and to bring round the stores deposited there in readiness for our setting off for Low Island. They found everything quite undisturbed; but, by the time they reached us, the wind had backed to the westward, and the weather become very wet, so that I determined to remain here till it improved.

At ten A.M. on the 14th, the weather being fine, we launched our three boats and left Walden Island; but the wind backing more to the westward, we could only fetch into a bay on the opposite or southern shore, where we hauled the boats up on very rugged rocks, under cliffs about six hundred feet high, and of the same granite formation as Walden Island.

The wind dying away on the morning of the 17th, we once more set out for the ship at nine A.M.; but having a second time nearly reached Shoal Point, were again met by a strong breeze as we opened Waygatz Strait, and were therefore obliged to land upon the low shore to the southward of Low Island.

On the 18th of August the wind increased to a strong breeze from the S.W., with rain and sleet, which afterward changed to snow in some of the largest flakes I ever saw, completely changing the whole aspect of the land from summer to winter in a few hours. On the following morning we prepared to move at an early hour, but the wind backed more to the westward, and soon after increased to a gale, raising so much surf on the beach as to oblige us to haul the boats higher up. On the 20th, tired as we were of this tedious confinement, and anxious to reach the ship, the wind and sea were still too high to allow us to move, and it was not till half past seven A.M. on the following day that we could venture to launch the boats. Having now, by means of the driftwood, converted our paddles into oars, and being occasionally favoured by a light breeze, with a perfectly open sea, we made tolerable progress, and at half past four P.M. on the 21st of August, when within three or four miles of Hecla Cove, had the gratification of seeing a boat under sail coming out to meet us. Mr. Weir soon joined us in one of the cutters; and, after hearing good accounts of the safety of the ship, and of the welfare of all on board, together with a variety of details, to us of no small interest, we arrived on board at seven P.M., after an absence of sixty-one days, being received with that warm and cordial welcome which can alone be felt, and not described.

I cannot conclude the account of our proceedings without endeavouring to do justice to the cheerful alacrity and unwearied zeal displayed by my companions, both officers and men, in the course of this excursion; and if steady perseverance and active exertion on their parts could have accomplished our object, success would undoubtedly have crowned our labours. I must also mention, to the credit of the officers of Woolwich dock-yard, who took so much pains in the construction of our boats, that, notwithstanding the constant and severe trial to which their strength had been put—and a more severe trial could not well be devised—not a timber was sprung, a plank split, or the smallest injury sustained by them; they were, indeed, as tight and as fit for service when we reached the ship as when they were first received on board, and in every respect answered the intended purpose admirably.

* * * * *

On my arrival on board, I learned from Lieutenant Crozier that Lieutenant Foster, finding that no farther disturbance from ice was to be apprehended, and after making an accurate plan of the bay and its neighbourhood, had proceeded on the survey of Waygatz Strait, and proposed returning by the 26th of August, the day to which I had limited his absence. I found the ship quite ready for sea, with the exception of getting on board the launch, with the stores deposited by my direction on the beach. Lieutenant Foster's report informed me that, after the ship had been hauled off the ground, they had again suffered considerable disturbance for several days, in consequence of some heavy masses of ice driving into the bay, which dragged the anchors, and again threatened them with a similar accident. However, after the middle of July, no ice had entered the bay, and, what is still more remarkable, not a piece had been seen in the offing for some weeks past, even after hard northerly and westerly gales.

On the 22d of August, as soon as our people had enjoyed a good night's rest, we commenced bringing the stores on board from the beach, throwing out such a quantity of the stone ballast as was necessary for trimming the ship; after which the cables and hawsers were cast off from the shore, and the ship hauled off to single anchor. Lieutenant Foster returned on board on the 24th, having surveyed the greater part of the shores of the strait, as far to the southward as 79 deg. 33".

Lieutenant Foster saw some seahorses (narwhals) and white whales in the course of this excursion, but no black whales; nor did we, in the whole course of the voyage, see any of these, except on the ground already frequented by our whalers on the western coast of Spitzbergen. It is remarkable, however, that the "crown-bones," and other parts of the skeleton of whales, are found in most parts where we landed on this coast. The shores of the strait, like all the rest in Spitzbergen, are lined with immense quantities of driftwood, wherever the nature of the coast will allow it to land.

The animals met with here during the Hecla's stay were principally reindeer, bears, foxes, kittiwakes, glaucus and ivory gulls, tern, eider-ducks, and a few grouse. Looms and rotges were numerous in the offing. Seventy reindeer were killed, chiefly very small, and, until the middle of August, not in good condition. They were usually met with in herds of from six or eight to twenty, and were most abundant on the west and north sides of the bay. Three bears were killed, one of which was somewhat above the ordinary dimensions, measuring eight feet four inches from the snout to the insertion of the tail. The vegetation was tolerably abundant, especially on the western side of the bay, where the soil is good; a considerable collection of plants, as well as minerals, was made by Mr. Halse, and of birds by Mr. M'Cormick.

The neighbourhood of this bay, like most of the northern shores of Spitzbergen, appears to have been much visited by the Dutch at a very early period; of which circumstance records are furnished on almost every spot where we landed, by the numerous graves which we met with. There are thirty of these on a point of land on the north side of the bay.[023] The bodies are usually deposited in an oblong wooden coffin, which, on account of the difficulty of digging the ground, is not buried, but merely covered by large stones; and a board is generally placed near the head, having, either cut or painted upon it, the name of the deceased, with those of his ship and commander, and the month and year of his burial. Several of these were fifty or sixty years old; one bore the date of 1738; and another, which I found on the beach to the eastward of Hecla Cove, that of 1690; the inscription distinctly appearing in prominent relief, occasioned by the preservation of the wood by the paint, while the unpainted part had decayed around it.

The officers who remained on board the Hecla during the summer described the weather as the most beautiful, and the climate altogether the most agreeable, they had ever experienced in the Polar Regions. Indeed, the Meteorological Journal shows a temperature, both of the air and of the sea water, to which we had before been altogether strangers within the Arctic Circle, and which goes far towards showing that the climate of Spitzbergen is a remarkably temperate one for its latitude.[024] It must, however, be observed, that this remark is principally applicable to the weather experienced near the land, that at sea being rendered of a totally different character by the almost continual presence of fogs; so that some of our most gloomy days upon the ice were among the finest in Hecla Cove, where, however, a good deal of rain fell in the course of the summer.

The Hecla was ready for sea on the 25th of August; but the wind blowing fresh from the northward and westward prevented our moving till the evening of the 28th, when, the weather improving, we got under way from Hecla Cove, and, being favoured with a light air from the S.E., stood along the coast to the westward. On the evening of the 29th, when off Red Beach, we got on board our boat and other stores which had been left there, finding them undisturbed and in good order. The weather was beautifully fine, and the sun (to us for the first time for about four months) just dipped his lower limb into the sea at midnight, and then rose again. It was really wonderful to see that, upon this whole northern coast of Spitzbergen, where in May and June not a "hole" of clear water could be found, it would now have been equally difficult to discover a single mass of ice in any direction. This absence of ice now enabled us to see Moffen Island, which is so low and flat that it was before entirely hidden from our view by the hummocks. On rounding Hakluyt's Headland on the 30th, we came at once into a long swell, such as occurs only in places exposed to the whole range of the ocean, and, except a small or loose stream or two, we after this saw no more ice of any kind. On the 31st we were off Prince Charles's Foreland, the middle part of which, about Cape Sietoe, appeared to be much the highest land we had seen in Spitzbergen; rising probably to an elevation of above four thousand feet.

We had favourable winds to carry us clear of Spitzbergen; but after the 3d of September, and between the parallels of 70 deg. and 60 deg., were detained by continual southerly and southwesterly breezes for a fortnight. On the evening of the 17th we made Shetland, and on the following day, being close off Balta Sound, and the wind blowing strong from the S.W., I anchored in the Voe at two P.M., to wait a more favourable breeze. We were here received by all that genuine hospitality for which the inhabitants of this northern part of the British dominions are so justly distinguished, and we gladly availed ourselves of the supplies with which their kindness furnished us.

Early on the morning of the 19th of September, the wind suddenly shifted to the N.N.W., and almost immediately blew so strong a gale that we could not safely cast the ship until the evening, when we got under way and proceeded to the southward; but had not proceeded farther than Fair Island, when, after a few hours' calm, we were once more met by a southerly wind. Against this we continued to beat till the morning of the 23d, when, finding that we made but little progress, and that there was no appearance of an alteration of wind, I determined to put into Long Hope, in the Orkney Islands, to await a change in our favour, and accordingly ran in and anchored there as soon as the tide would permit.

We found lying here his majesty's revenue cutter the Chichester; and Mr. Stuart, her commander, who was bound direct to Inverness, came on board as soon as we had anchored, to offer his services in any manner which might be useful. The wind died away in the course of the night of the 24th, and was succeeded on the following morning by a light air from the northward, when we immediately got under way; but had not entered the Pentland Firth, when it again fell calm and then backed to the southward, rendering it impossible to make any progress in that direction with a dull-sailing ship. I therefore determined on returning with the Hecla to the anchorage, and then taking advantage of Mr. Stuart's offer; and accordingly left the ship at eight A.M., accompanied by Mr. Beverly, to proceed to Inverness in the Chichester, and from thence by land to London, in order to lay before his royal highness the lord high admiral, without farther delay, an account of our proceedings. By the zealous exertions of Mr. Stuart, for which I feel greatly obliged to that gentleman, we arrived off Fort George the following morning, and, landing at Inverness at noon, immediately set off for London, and arrived at the Admiralty on the morning of the 29th of September.

Owing to the continuance of southerly winds, the Hecla did not arrive in the river Thames until the 6th of October, when I was sorry, though not surprised, to learn the death of Mr. George Crawford, the Greenland master, who departed this life on the 29th of September, sincerely lamented by all who knew him, as a zealous, active, and enterprising seaman, and an amiable and deserving man. Mr. Crawford had accompanied us in five successive voyages to the Polar Seas, and I truly regret the occasion which demands from me this public testimony of the value of his services and the excellence of his character.

* * * * *

Having finished my Narrative of this Attempt to reach the North Pole, I may perhaps be permitted, in conclusion, to offer such remarks as have lately occurred to me on the nature and practicability of the enterprise.

That the object is of still more difficult attainment than was before supposed, even by those persons who were the best qualified to judge of it, will, I believe, appear evident from a perusal of the foregoing pages; nor can I, after much consideration and some experience of the various difficulties which belong to it, recommend any material improvement in the plan lately adopted. Among the various schemes suggested for this purpose, it has been proposed to set out from Spitzbergen, and to make a rapid journey to the northward with sledges or sledge-boats, drawn wholly by dogs or reindeer; but, however feasible this plan may at first sight appear, I cannot say that our late experience of the nature of the ice which they would probably have to encounter has been at all favourable to it. It would, of course, be a matter of extreme imprudence to set out on this enterprise without the means of crossing, not merely narrow pools and "lanes," but more extensive spaces of open water, such as we met with between the margin of the ice and the Spitzbergen shores; and I do not conceive that any boat sufficiently large to be efficient and safe for this purpose could possibly be managed upon the ice, were the power employed to give it motion dependant on dogs or reindeer. On the contrary, it was a frequent subject of remark among the officers, that reason was a qualification scarcely less indispensable than strength and activity in travelling over such a road; daily instances occurring of our having to pass over difficult places, which no other animal than man could have been easily prevailed upon to attempt. Indeed, the constant necessity of launching and hauling up the boats (which operations we had frequently to perform eight or ten, and, on one occasion, seventeen times in the same day) would alone render it inexpedient, in my opinion, to depend chiefly upon animals; for it would certainly require more time and labour to get them into and out of the boats, than their services in the intervals, or their flesh ultimately used as food, would be worth; especially when it is considered how large a weight of provender must be carried for their own subsistence.[025]

In case of employing reindeer, which, from their strength, docility, and hardy habits, appear the best suited to this kind of travelling, there would be an evident advantage in setting out much earlier in the year than we did; perhaps about the end of April, when the ice is less broken up, and the snow much harder upon its surface than at a more advanced part of the season. But this, it must be recollected, would involve the necessity of passing the previous winter on the northern coast of Spitzbergen, which, even under favourable circumstances, would probably tend to weaken in some degree the energies of the men; while, on the other hand, it would be next to impossible to procure there a supply of provender for a number of tame reindeer, sufficient even to keep them alive, much less in tolerable condition, during a whole winter. In addition to this, it may be observed, that any party setting out earlier must be provided with a much greater weight of warm clothing in order to guard against the severity of cold, and also with an increased proportion of fuel for procuring water by the melting of snow, there being no fresh water upon the ice in these latitudes before the month of June.

In the kind of provisions proper to be employed in such enterprises—a very important consideration, where almost the whole difficulty may be said to resolve itself into a question of weight—I am not aware that any improvement could be made upon that with which we were furnished; for I know of none which appears to contain so much nutriment in so small a weight and compass. It may be useful, however, to remark, as the result of absolute experience, that our daily allowance of provisions,[026] although previously tried for some days on board the ship, and then considered to be enough, proved by no means sufficient to support the strength of men living constantly in the open air, exposed to wet and cold for at least twelve hours a day, seldom enjoying the luxury of a warm meal, and having to perform the kind of labour to which our people were subject. I have before remarked, that, previously to our return to the ship, our strength was considerably impaired; and, indeed, there is reason to believe that, very soon after entering upon the ice, the physical energies of the men were gradually diminishing, although, for the first few weeks, they did not appear to labour under any specific complaint. This diminution of strength, which we considered to be principally owing to the want of sufficient sustenance, became apparent, even after a fortnight, in the lifting of the bread-bags and other heavy weights; and I have no doubt that, in spite of every care on the part of the officers, as well as Mr. Beverly's skilful and humane attention to their ailments, some of the men, who had begun to fail before we quitted the ice, would, in a week or two longer, have suffered very severely, and become a serious encumbrance, instead of an assistance, to our party. As far as we were able to judge, without farther trial, Mr. Beverly and myself were of opinion that, in order to maintain the strength of men thus employed for several weeks together, an addition would be requisite of at least one third more to the provisions which we daily issued. I need scarcely remark how much this would increase the difficulty of equipping such an expedition.

I cannot dismiss the subject of this enterprise without attempting to explain, as far as I am able, how it may have happened that the ice over which we passed was found to answer so little to the description of that observed by the respectable authorities quoted in a former part of this volume.[027] It frequently occurred to us, in the course of our daily journeys, that this may, in some degree, have arisen from our navigators' having generally viewed the ice from a considerable height. The only clear and commanding view on board a ship is that from the crow's-nest; and Phipps's most important remarks concerning the nature of the ice to the north of Spitzbergen were made from a station several hundred feet above the sea; and, as it is well known how much the most experienced eye may thus be deceived, it is possible enough that the irregularities which cost us so much time and labour may, when viewed in this manner, have entirely escaped notice, and the whole surface have appeared one smooth and level plain.

It is, moreover, possible, that the broken state in which we unexpectedly found the ice may have arisen, at least in part, from an unusually wet season, preceded, perhaps, by a winter of less than ordinary severity. Of the latter we have no means of judging, there being no record, that I am aware of, of the temperature of that or any other winter passed in the higher latitudes; but, on comparing our Meteorological Register with some others kept during the corresponding season and about the same latitude,[028] it does appear that, though no material difference is observable in the mean temperature of the atmosphere, the quantity of rain which we experienced is considerably greater than usual; and it is well known how very rapidly ice is dissolved by a fall of rain. At all events, from whatever cause it may have arisen, it is certain that, about the meridian on which we proceeded northward in the boats, the sea was in a totally different state from what Phipps experienced, as may be seen from comparing our accounts—his ship being closely beset, near the Seven Islands, for several days about the beginning of August; whereas the Hecla, in the beginning of June, sailed about in the same neighbourhood without obstruction, and, before the close of July, not a piece of ice could be seen from Little Table Island.

I may add, in conclusion, that, before the middle of August, when we left the ice in our boats, a ship might have sailed to the latitude, of 82 deg. almost without touching a piece of ice; and it was the general opinion among us, that, by the end of that month, it would probably have been no very difficult matter to reach the parallel of 83 deg., about the meridian of the Seven Islands.

THE END.



FOOTNOTES

[001] This name being applied by the Esquimaux to several other portions of land, all of which are insular, or nearly so, it is probable that the word simply signifies an island.

[002] The expression "fixed ice" appearing better suited to our present obstacle than that of "land ice," I shall in future adopt it in speaking of this barrier.

[003] Lest it should be thought that this account is exaggerated, I may here state, that, as a matter of curiosity, we one day tried how much a lad, scarcely full grown, would, if freely supplied, consume in this way. The under-mentioned articles were weighed before being given to him; he was twenty hours in getting through them, and certainly did not consider the quantity extraordinary.

lb. oz. Seahorse flesh, hard frozen 4 4 Ditto, boiled 4 4 Bread and bread-dust 1 12

Total of solids 10 4 The Fluids were in fair proportion, viz.: Rich gravy-soup 1-1/4 pint. Raw spirits 3 wine glasses. Strong grog. 1 tumbler. Water 1 gallon 1 pint.

[004] We have since heard that these ships were the Dexterity, of Leith, and the Aurora, of Hull, which were wrecked on the 28th of August, 1821, about the latitude of 72 deg.

[005] A fine lad, of about sixteen, being one day out in a boat with one of our gentlemen at Arlagnuk, reminded him, with a serious face, that he had laid a gun down full-cocked. There happened to be no charge in the gun at the time; but this was a proof of the attention the boy had paid to the art of using firearms, as well as an instance of considerate and manly caution, scarcely to have been expected in an individual of that age.

[006] Most Greenland sailors use these; but many persons, both officers and men, have an absurd prejudice against what they call "wearing stays."

[007] It is remarkable that this poor man had, twice before, within the space of nine months, been very near death; for, besides the accident already mentioned, of falling down the hill when escaping from the bear, he was also in imminent danger of dying of dropsy during the winter.

[008] This birch, they said, had been procured from the southward by way of Noowook. We never met with any of the same kind in those parts of the country which we visited, except that observed by Captain Lyon in the deserted habitations of the Esquimaux near Five Hawser Bay.

[009] Toolooak, who was a frequent visitor at the young gentlemen's mess-table on board the Fury, once evinced this taste, and no small cunning at the same time, by asking alternately for a little more bread and a little more butter, till he had made a hearty meal.

[010] Cervical, 7; dorsal, 13; lumbar, 7; sacral, 3; caudal, 19.

[011] Cartwright's Labrador, iii., 232.

[012] Ledyard. Proceedings of the African Association, vol i, p. 30.

[013] The first travelling boat, which was built by way of experiment, was planked differently from these two; the planks, which were of half-inch oak, being ingeniously "tongued" together with copper, in order to save the necessity of caulking in case of the wood shrinking. This was the boat subsequently landed on Red Beach.

[014] This article of our equipment contains a large proportion of nutriment in a small weight and compass, and is therefore invaluable on such occasions. The process, which requires great attention, consists in drying large thin slices of the lean of the meat over the smoke of wood-fires, then pounding it, and lastly mixing it with about an equal weight of its own fat. In this state it is quite ready for use, without farther cooking.

[015] The merits of this simple but valuable invention being now too well known to require any detailed account of the experiments, it is only necessary for me to remark, in this place, that the compass, having the plate attached to it, gave, under all circumstances, the correct magnetic bearing.

[016] It is remarkable, that the Esquimaux word for boot is very like this—Kameega.

[017] I find it to be the universal opinion among the most experienced of our whalers, that there is much less ice met with, of late years, in getting to the northward, in these latitudes, than formerly was the case. Mr. Scoresby, to whose very valuable local information, contained in his "Account of the Arctic Regions," I have been greatly indebted on this occasion, mentions the circumstance as a generally received fact.

[018] It was probably some such gale as this which has given to Hakluyt's Headland, in an old Dutch chart, the appellation of "Duyvel's Hoek."

[019] I have been thus particular in noticing the Hecla's position, because our observations would appear to be, with one exception, the most northern on record at that time. The Commissioners of Longitude, in their memorial to the king in council, in the year 1821, consider that the "progress of discovery has not arrived northward, according to any well-authenticated accounts, so far as eighty-one degrees of north latitude." Mr. Scoresby states his having observed in lat. 81 deg. 12' 42".

[020] Had we succeeded in reaching the higher latitudes, where the change of the sun's altitude during the twenty-four hours is still less perceptible, it would have been essentially necessary to possess the certain means of knowing this; since an error of twelve hours of time would have carried us, when we intended to return, on a meridian opposite to, or 180 deg. from, the right one. To obviate the possibility of this, we had some chronometers constructed by Messrs. Parkinson and Frodsham, of which the hour-hand made only one revolution in the day, the twenty-four hours being marked round the dial-plate.

[021] I may here mention, that, notwithstanding the heavy blows which the boats were constantly receiving, all our nautical and astronomical instruments were taken back to the ship without injury. This circumstance makes it, perhaps, worth while to explain, that they were lashed upon a wooden platform in the after locker of each boat, sufficiently small to be clear of the boat's sides, and playing on strong springs of whalebone, which entirely obviated the effects of the severe concussions to which they would otherwise have been subject.

[022] We found the best preservative against this glare to be a pair of spectacles, having the glass of a bluish-green colour, and with side-screens to them.

[023] Perhaps the name of this bay, from the Dutch word Treuren, "to lament, or be mournful," may have some reference to the graves found here.

[024] Mr. Crowe, of Hammerfest, who lately passed a winter on the southwestern coast of Spitzbergen, in about latitude 78 deg., informed me that he had rain at Christmas; a phenomenon which would indeed have astonished us at any of our former wintering stations in a much lower latitude. Perhaps the circumstance of the reindeer wintering at Spitzbergen may also be considered a proof of a comparatively temperate climate.

[025] See p. 254 of this volume. {line 6545 "The quantity of clean moss considered requisite for each deer per day is four pounds ..." - Transcriber}

[026] See p. 280 of this volume. {line 7210 "Our allowance of provisions for each man per day was as follows:" - Transcriber}

[027] See Introduction. {line 6343 "INTRODUCTION." - Transcriber}

[028] Particularly that of Mr. Scoresby during the month of July, from 1812 to 1818 inclusive, and Captain Franklin's for July and August, 1818.

THE END

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6
Home - Random Browse