Narrative of CAPTAIN PARRY'S Voyage for the Discovery of a North-West Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean.
Captain Parry arrived at the entrance into Lancaster's Sound, on the 30th of July, 1819; and, this day, saw no fewer than eighty-two whales. Some of the officers and men landed at Possession Bay, and recognized many objects which they had seen there, when with Captain Ross. The tracks of human feet were observed upon the banks of a stream. These at first excited much surprise; but, on examination, they were discovered to have been made by the shoes of some of the same party, eleven months before.
In sailing, westward, up the Sound, Captain Parry says that it is more easy to imagine than to describe the almost breathless anxiety which was visible in every countenance, as the breeze, which had hitherto impelled the vessels, increased to a fresh gale. The mast-heads were crowded by the officers and men looking out; and an unconcerned observer, if, on such an occasion, any could be unconcerned, would have been amused by the eagerness with which the various reports from those stations were received.
After the vessels had proceeded a considerable distance, they passed some bold headlands, and high mountains. They also passed an inlet, to which Captain Parry gave the name of Croker's Bay, and which he is of opinion may, hereafter, be found a passage from Lancaster's Sound into the Northern Sea. They were thence carried along briskly for three days. On the 4th of August, there was, from the mast-head, an exclamation of "land!" and that sound, which, on ordinary occasions, is of all others the most joyful to a seaman's ears, was, on this, the signal for disappointment and mortification. The land, however, proved to be an island.
The vessels continued their progress, and several bays, capes, and headlands, were successively discovered. On the 22d there was a clear and extensive view to the northward; the water was free from ice, and the voyagers now felt that they had entered the Polar Sea. The magnificent opening through which their passage had been effected, from Baffin's Bay, to a channel dignified with the name of Wellington, was called, by Captain Parry, Barron's Straits.
In latitude 75 degrees 3 minutes, and longitude 103 degrees 44 minutes, an island was discovered; and Captain Sabine, with two other officers, landed on it. They found, in four different places, the remains of Esquimaux habitations. These were from seven to ten feet in diameter; and to each was attached a circle four or five feet in diameter, which had probably been the fire-place. The whole encampment appeared to have been deserted for several years; but recent footsteps of rein-deer and musk-oxen were seen in many places.
The circumstances under which the voyagers were now sailing were, perhaps, such as had never occurred since the early days of navigation. There was land towards the north; ice, it was supposed, was towards the south; the compasses by which the vessels had been steered, now varied so much, that they had become useless; and all the surrounding objects were obscured by a dense fog: consequently, there was now no other mode of regulating the course of the ships, than by trusting to the steadiness of the wind.
On the 2d of September a star was seen; the first that had been visible for more than two months. Two days afterwards, at a quarter past nine in the evening, the ships, in latitude 74 degrees 44 minutes, crossed the meridian of 110 degrees from Greenwich, by which they became entitled to L.5000; a reward offered by the British government to the first vessels which should cross that longitude, to the north of America. In order to commemorate the event, a lofty headland that they had just passed, was called Bounty Cape. On the following day the ships, for the first time since they had quitted the English coast, dropped anchor in a roadstead, which was called the Bay of the Hecla and Griper; and the crews landed on the largest of a group of islands, which Captain Parry named Melville Island. The ensigns and pendants were hoisted, as soon as the vessels had anchored; and it excited, in the voyagers, no ordinary sensations of pleasure, to see the British flag waving, for the first time, in regions, which, hitherto, had been considered beyond the limits of the habitable world.
The wind now became unfavourable to their progress; and a rapid accumulation of the ice, exposed the vessels to the greatest danger, and the crews to incessant fatigue. For several days they were unable to proceed further than along the coast of the island. This was the more mortifying, as Captain Parry had looked forward to the month of September, as the period, of all others, favourable to the rapid prosecution of his voyage. To add to his anxiety, a party of seamen, who had been sent on shore, to hunt deer, lost their way, and, for three nights, were exposed to the inclemency of the weather. The most distressing apprehensions were entertained respecting the fate of these men; nor, were they finally recovered, without considerable danger to those who were sent in search of them, and who, had their recovery been delayed one day longer, must themselves have perished. In gratitude for this preservation, the nearest headland was named Cape Providence.
The increasing dangers and difficulties attendant on continuing the navigation westward, prevented the vessels from proceeding further than to some distance along the coast of Melville Island. And, at length, Captain Parry, finding that no hope could be entertained, during the present season, of penetrating beyond this island, he was induced to return to Hecla and Griper Bay, for the purpose of passing there the winter.
It was now, however, requisite to cut a canal through the ice, which, since their departure, had extended a considerable distance into the sea; and to draw the ships up it into the harbour. In this operation, two parallel lines were cut, distant from each other, little more than the breadth of the ships; and the ice was divided into square pieces, which were subdivided diagonally, and were either floated out of the canal, or sunk beneath the adjacent ice. The labour of cutting this canal may be imagined, when it is stated that the length was more than four thousand yards, and that the average thickness of the ice was seven inches. At three o'clock of September the 26th, the third day spent in this operation, the vessels reached their winter quarters; an event which was hailed with three hearty cheers, by the united ships' crews. The group of islands which had been discovered, were called the North Georgian Islands.
As the ships had now attained that station where, in all probability, they were destined to remain for eight or nine months, every precaution was taken for their security, and for the preservation of the various stores which they contained. A regular system also was adopted, for the maintenance of good order, cleanliness, and the health of the crews, during the approaching long, dark, and dreary winter. All the masts, except the lower ones, were dismantled; and the boats, spars, ropes, and sails, were removed on shore, in order to give as much room as possible on the deck. The ropes and sails were all hard frozen, and it was requisite to keep them in that state, till the return of spring. A housing of planks, covered with wadding-tilt, such as is used for stage-waggons, was formed upon the deck of each of the vessels; and thus constituted a comfortable shelter from the snow and the wind.
The crews were in excellent health, and every care was taken to preserve it. Regulations were made, in the allowances both of bread and meat: as a preservative against scurvy, the men were allowed a quantity of vinegar with their meat, and they, every day, took a portion of lime-juice and sugar. The next care was for the minds of the men, the health of which Captain Parry wisely considered to have no small influence on that of the body. This excellent officer, anxious for their amusement during the long and tedious interval of winter, proposed, that a play should occasionally be got up on board the Hecla. He considered this to be the readiest means of preserving, among the crews, that cheerfulness and good-humour which had hitherto subsisted. The proposal was readily seconded by the officers of both ships: Lieutenant Beechey was consequently elected stage-manager, and the first performance was fixed for the 5th of November. In order still further to promote good-humour, and to furnish amusing occupation, a weekly newspaper was set on foot, called the "North Georgia Gazette, and Winter Chronicle," of which Captain Sabine undertook to be the editor, under a promise that it should be supported by original contributions from the officers of the two ships.
On the 4th of November the sun sank beneath the horizon, not to appear again above it for the space of ninety-six days. On the 5th the theatre was opened, with the farce of "Miss in her Teens;" and Captain Parry found so much benefit accrue to his men, from the amusement which this kind of spectacle afforded them, and with the occupation of fitting up the theatre and taking it down again, that the dramatic representations were continued through the whole winter, and were performed and witnessed with equal pleasure, even when the cold upon the stage was intense.
The sinking of the sun below the horizon, for so long a period, seemed to occasion a painful sensation to the animals, inhabitants of the island, as well as to the human beings who had sought a temporary asylum on it: for, from that time, the wolves began to approach the ships, as if drawn thither by a melancholy sympathy; and they often howled, most piteously, for many successive hours. They, however, seldom appeared in greater numbers than two or three together; and it was somewhat extraordinary, that although the crews of both vessels were, for many weeks, intent on killing or catching some of them, they never could succeed. Only one bear was seen during the whole winter: it was of the white kind, and had tracked Captain Sabine's servant quite to the ships; but, being there saluted by a volley of balls, it ran off and escaped.
The circumstances under which the crews of these vessels were situated, being such as had never before occurred, it cannot be uninteresting to know in what manner they passed their time during three months of nearly total darkness, and in the midst of a severe winter.
The officers and quarter-masters were divided into four watches, which were regularly kept, as at sea; while the remainder of the ship's company were allowed to enjoy their night's rest undisturbed. The hands were turned up at a quarter before six in the morning; and both the decks were well rubbed with stones and warm sand, before eight o'clock, at which time both officers and men went to breakfast. Three quarters of an hour being allowed, after breakfast, for the men to prepare themselves for muster, they were all assembled on the deck at a quarter past nine; and a strict inspection took place, as to their personal cleanliness, and the good condition, as well as sufficient warmth, of their clothing. The reports of the officers having been made to Captain Parry, the men were then allowed to walk about, or, more usually, to run round the upper deck; whilst he went down to examine the state of the deck below, accompanied by Lieutenant Beechey and Mr. Edwards the surgeon.
The state of this deck may be said, indeed, to have constituted the chief source of anxiety; and, at this period, to have occupied by far the greatest share of attention. Whenever any dampness appeared, or, what more frequently happened, any accumulation of ice had taken place during the preceding night, the necessary means were immediately adopted for removing it: in the former case, usually by rubbing the wood with cloths, and then directing hot air to the place; and, in the latter, by scraping off the ice, so as to prevent its wetting the deck, by any accidental increase of temperature. In this respect the bed-places were peculiarly troublesome; the inner partition, or that next the ship's side, being, almost invariably, covered with more or less dampness or ice, according to the temperature of the deck during the preceding night.
All the requisite examinations being finished, the men, when the weather would permit, were sent out to walk on shore till noon; but, when the day was too inclement to admit of this exercise, they were ordered to run round and round the deck, keeping step to the tune of an organ, or to a song of their own singing. A few of the men did not, at first, quite like this systematic mode of taking exercise; but, when they found that no plea, except that of illness, was admitted as an excuse, they not only willingly and cheerfully complied, but they made it the occasion of much humour and frolic among themselves.
The officers, who dined at two o'clock, were also in the habit of occupying one or two hours, of the middle of the day, in rambling on shore, even in the darkest period; except when a fresh wind or a heavy snow-drift confined them within the housing of the ships. It may well be imagined, that, at this period, there was but little to be met with in their walks on shore, which could either amuse or interest them. The necessity of not exceeding the limited distance of one or two miles, lest a snow-drift, which often arose very suddenly, should prevent their return, added considerably to the dull and tedious monotony which, day after day, presented itself. Towards the south was the sea, covered with one unbroken surface of ice, uniform in its dazzling whiteness, except that, in some parts, a few hummocks were seen thrown up somewhat above the general level. Nor did the land offer much greater variety: it was covered with snow, except here and there a brown patch of bare ground in some exposed situations, where the wind had not allowed the snow to remain. When viewed from the summit of the neighbouring hills, on one of those calm, clear days, which not unfrequently occurred during the winter, the scene was such as to induce contemplations, that had, perhaps, more of melancholy than of any other feeling. Not an object was to be seen on which the eye could long rest with pleasure, unless when directed to the spot where the ships lay. The smoke which there issued from the several fires, affording a certain indication of the presence of man, gave a partial cheerfulness to this part of the prospect; and the sound of voices, which, during the cold weather, could be heard at a much greater distance than usual, served, now and then, to break the silence which reigned around,—a silence far different from that peaceable composure which characterizes the landscape of a cultivated country: it was the death-like stillness of the most dreary desolation, the total absence of animated existence.
The weather became intensely severe; and, during the latter part of November, and the first half of December, Captain Parry's journal presents little more than observations on it; and oh the meteoric appearances and fantastic illusions of light and colour, with which the voyagers were often amused. At one time, the moon appeared to be curiously deformed by refraction; the lower edges of it seeming to be indented with deep notches, and afterwards to be cut off square at the bottom; whilst a single ray or column of light, of the same diameter as the moon, was observed to descend from it to the top of a hill. At another time, several transparent clouds were seen to emit, upward, columns of light, resembling the aurora borealis. The aurora borealis itself appears to have been seldom witnessed, in the splendour with which it occasionally illuminates even the northern parts of Scotland; still it was both frequent and vivid enough to give variety and beauty to the long nights which the voyagers had to endure.
The new year was ushered in by weather comparatively mild; but it soon regained its former severity. Captain Parry and his crews did not, however, experience those effects from the cold, even when 49 degrees below 0, which preceding voyagers have stated; such as a dreadful sensation on the lungs, when the air is inhaled at a very low temperature; or the vapour with which an inhabited room is charged, condensing into a shower of snow, immediately on the opening of a door or window. What they did observe was this: on the opening of the doors, at the top and bottom of the hatch-way ladders, the vapour was condensed, by the sudden admission of the cold air, into a visible form, exactly resembling a very thick smoke. This apparent smoke settled on the pannels of the doors and on the bulk-heads, and immediately froze, by which the latter were covered with a thick coating of ice, which it was necessary frequently to scrape off.
The extreme severity of the cold, which was sometimes prevalent, may be imagined from the following fact:—A house, erected on the shore, for scientific purposes, caught fire; and a servant of Captain Sabine, in his endeavours to extinguish it, exposed his hands, in the first instance, to the operation of considerable heat; and he afterwards, for some time, remained without gloves, in the open air. When taken on board the ship, his hands presented a strange appearance. They were perfectly hard, inflexible, and colourless; possessing a degree of translucency, and exhibiting more the external character of pieces of sculptured marble, than of animated matter. They were immediately plunged into the cold bath, where they were continued more than two hours, before their flexibility could be restored. The abstraction of heat had been so great, that the water, in contact with the fingers, congealed upon them, even half an hour after they had been immersed. During the cold application, the man suffered acute pain, by which he became so faint and exhausted, that it was requisite to put him to bed. In less than three hours, an inflammation came on, which extended high up the arm; and, soon afterwards, each hand, from the wrist downward, was enclosed in a kind of bladder, containing nearly a pint of viscid serous fluid. There were, however, three fingers of one hand, and two of the other, in which this vesication did not form. These fingers continued cold and insensible, nor could the circulation in them be restored; and, eventually, the amputation of them became necessary.
The distance at which sounds were heard in the open air, during the continuance of intense cold, seems almost incredible. Captain Parry says that his people were distinctly heard, conversing in a common tone of voice, at the distance of a mile; and that he heard a man singing to himself, at even a still greater distance. Another circumstance occurred, scarcely less curious than this: the smell of smoke was so strong, two miles leeward of the ships, that it impeded the breathing. This shows to what a distance the smoke was carried horizontally, owing to the difficulty with which it rises, at a very low temperature of the atmosphere.
In the severest weather, the officers sometimes amused themselves by freezing quicksilver, and beating it out on an anvil, so great was the severity of the cold; yet, not the slightest inconvenience was suffered, from exposure to the open air, by persons well clothed, so long as the weather was perfectly calm; but, in walking against even a very light wind, a smarting sensation was experienced all over the face, accompanied by a pain in the middle of the forehead, which soon became severe.
As a specimen of the average proportion of ice formed in the harbour, it is stated that, where the depth of the water was twenty-five feet, the ice was found to be six feet and a half thick; and the snow on the surface was eight inches deep.
Towards the end of January, some of the port-holes of one of the vessels were opened, in order to admit the carpenters and armorers to repair the main-top-sail-yard. On the 3d of February the sun was seen from the main-top of the Hecla, for the first time since the 11th of November. By the 7th, there was sufficient day-light, from eight o'clock till four, to enable the men to perform, with facility, any work on the outside of the ships.
On the 15th, Captain Parry was induced, by the cheering presence of the sun, for several hours above the horizon, to open the dead-lights, or shutters, of his stern-windows, in order to admit the day-light, after a privation of it, for four months, in that part of the ship. The baize curtains, which had been nailed close to the windows, in the beginning of the winter, were, however, so firmly frozen to them, that it was necessary to cut them away; and twelve large buckets full of ice or frozen vapour, were taken from between the double sashes, before they could be got clear. This premature uncovering of the windows, however, caused such a change in the temperature of the Hecla, that, for several weeks afterwards, those on board were sensible of a more intense degree of cold, than they had felt during all the preceding part of the winter.
The months of March and April seem to have passed tediously on, in watching the state of the weather. The crew of the Griper became somewhat sickly, in consequence of the extreme moisture, which it was found impossible to exclude from their bed-places. In May, Captain Parry laid out a small garden, planting it with radishes, onions, mustard, and cress; but the experiment failed, though some common ship-peas, planted by the men, throve extremely well.
On the 12th of May, some ptarmigans were seen. These were hailed as a sure omen of returning summer. Several of the men went out on shooting excursions; and, being exposed, for several hours, to the glare of the sun and snow, became affected with that painful inflammation in the eyes, called "snow-blindness." As a preventive of this complaint, a piece of black crape was given to each man, to be worn as a kind of short veil, attached to the hat. This was found to be sufficiently efficacious. But a more convenient mode was adopted by some of the officers: they took out the glasses from spectacles, and substituted black or green crape in their place.
In the beginning of May, the men cut the ice round the Hecla. This was done by means of axes and saws, and with astonishing labour; for the ice was still more than six feet thick. On the 17th, the operation was completed, and the ships were once more afloat.
Captain Parry and Captain Sabine, accompanied by ten other persons, officers and men, set off, on the 1st of June, to make a tour through the island. They took with them tents, fuel, and provisions; and carried their luggage in a small, light cart, to which the sailors occasionally fastened their blankets, by way of sails. They travelled by night, as well to have the benefit which any warmth of the sun might give during their hours of rest, as to avoid the glare of its light upon the snow. The vegetable productions which they observed, were chiefly the dwarf willow, sorrel, poppy, saxifrage, and ranunculus. The animals were mice, deer, a musk ox, a pair of swallows, ducks, geese, plovers, and ptarmigans; with some of which they occasionally varied their fare. The tracks, both of deer and musk oxen, were numerous; and one deer followed the party for some time, and gambolled round them, at a distance of only thirty yards. The soil of the island was, in general, barren; but, in some places, it was rich, and abounded with the finest moss. On one part of the beach, the travellers found a point of land eighty feet above the sea: this they named Point Nias, after one of the officers of the party; and they had the patience to raise on it, as a memorial of their exertions, a monument of ice, of conical form, twelve feet broad at the base, and as many in height. They enclosed within the mass, in a tin cylinder, an account of the party who had erected it, with a few silver and copper English coins; and Mr. Fisher, the assistant surgeon, constructed it with a solidity which may make it last, for many years, as a land-mark; for it is visible at the distance of several miles, both by sea and land. In one place, within a hundred yards of the sea, the remains of six Esquimaux huts were discovered. After a fortnight's absence, the party returned to the ships.
The approach of summer now began to be apparent, from the state of vegetation on the island; and, during the warm weather, a great quantity of sorrel was daily gathered. The hunting parties also brought in an abundance of animal food. The total quantity obtained, during the continuance of the vessels at Melville island, was 3 musk oxen, 68 hares, 53 geese, 59 ducks, and 144 ptarmigans; affording, in the whole, 3766 pounds of meat.
On the 22d of June, the men were delighted to observe that the ice had begun to be in motion; and, on the 16th of July, the snow had entirely disappeared, except along the sides of caverns, and in other hollows, where it had formed considerable drifts. The appearance of the land was, consequently, much the same as it had been when the ships first reached the island. The walks which the men were now enabled to take, and the luxurious living afforded by the hunting-parties, together with the abundant supply of sorrel, which was always at command, were the means of completely eradicating the scurvy; and the whole of the ships' companies were now in as good health, and certainly in as good spirits, as when the expedition left England.
After having made an accurate survey of Winter Harbour, where the vessels had been frozen up nearly eleven months, Captain Parry resolved to quit it. Accordingly, on the 1st of August, the vessels weighed anchor, and stood out to sea. Towards the west, the direction in which they were proceeding, the sea, at first, presented a very flattering appearance, being more clear of ice than it had been a month later in the preceding year, and presenting a fine navigable channel, two miles and a half in width, which, from the mast-head, appeared to continue as far as the eye could reach.
They had not, however, proceeded many leagues westward of their winter quarters, when the wind blew directly against them, and their course was further opposed by a strong current, which set towards the east. To these difficulties, great danger was soon added, from the drifting and pressure of the ice, which threatened the Griper, in particular, with total destruction. They penetrated to the longitude of 113 degrees 48 minutes, being the westernmost meridian hitherto reached, in the Polar Sea, to the north of America. But they had made so little progress, and were in such incessant danger; and the officers had so little hope of being able to effect any further discoveries of importance, during the present season, that Captain Parry at length determined to return.
On a consultation with his officers, respecting the best course to be pursued, it was resolved that, in their voyage homeward, they should run along the edge of the ice, with the intention of availing themselves of any opening that might lead towards the coast of America. It was not till the 26th, that the ships got clear of Cape Providence; but, after that, they had an open channel, and sailed before the wind, with such rapidity, and so little interruption, that, in six days, they cleared Sir James Lancaster's Sound, and were once more in Baffin's Bay. They now stood along the western shore of this bay, which they found indented with several deep bays or inlets.
On the 3d of September, they passed some icebergs, which were a hundred and fifty or two hundred feet above the surface of the water; and, soon afterwards, in an inlet, which Captain Ross had named the River Clyde, the voyagers saw four canoes, each of which contained an Esquimaux. These approached the ships; and the men, at their own desire, were taken on board. Three of them were young, and the fourth about sixty years of age. They appeared to be much pleased; and expressed their delight by jumping, and by loud and repeated ejaculations. Although there was no interpreter, they bartered several articles, in a manner that showed they were no strangers to traffic.
Some of the officers landed, and went to visit two Esquimaux tents, which were situated within a low point of land, that formed the eastern side of the entrance to a considerable branch of the inlet. The inhabitants, men, women, and children, on beholding them, came running out, with loud and continued shouting. Two of the women had infants slung, in a kind of bag, at their back, much in the same manner as gypsies are accustomed to carry their children. There were seven other children, from twelve to three years of age, besides two infants in arms.
The officers purchased whatever things these people had to dispose of, and, in exchange for them, gave knives, axes, brass kettles, needles, and other articles; and then added such presents as they considered might be further serviceable to them. Though they appeared anxious to possess whatever the visitors had to give they did not exhibit any disposition to pilfer. And, in some of the bargains, particularly for a sledge and a dog, the articles, though previously paid for, were all punctually delivered.
In stature these Indians, like the Esquimaux in general, are much below the usual standard. The height of the men is from four feet and a half to five feet and a half, and of the women about four feet ten inches. Their faces, in the younger individuals, are round and plump: their skin is smooth, and their complexion not very dark: their teeth are very white, and their eyes small; their nose is small, and their hair black, straight, and glossy. All the women, except one, had their faces tatooed; and two of them had their hands tatooed also. The children were, in general, good-looking; and one of them, a boy about twelve years of age, was a remarkably fine, and even handsome lad.
The dress of the men consists of a seal-skin jacket, with a hood, which is occasionally drawn over the head. The breeches are also, generally, of seal-skin; and the boots, which are formed so as to meet the breeches, are of the same material. In the dress of the women, the drawers cover the middle part of the body, from the hips to one-third down the thighs; the rest of which, as far as the knees, is naked. The children are all remarkably well clad; their dress, both in the males and females, being, in every respect, similar to that of the men.
The tents which constitute the summer habitations of these Esquimaux, are principally supported by a pole of whalebone, about fourteen feet high. This pole stands perpendicularly, and has four or five feet of it projecting above the skins which form the roof and sides. The length of the tent is about seventeen feet, and the breadth from seven to nine; and the bed occupies nearly one-third of the whole apartment. The covering of the tent is fastened to the ground by curved pieces of bone.
Captain Parry, after taking leave of these his new acquaintance, directed his course towards England; and arrived in the river Thames about the middle of November.
* * * * *
With regard to the probable existence and accomplishment of a north-west passage into the Pacific Ocean, this indefatigable and accomplished officer remarks, that, as to the existence of such a passage, he does not entertain a doubt; but that he is not sanguine as to its ever being accomplished. The difficulties that are presented by the increasing breadth and thickness of the ice to the westward, after passing Barrow's Strait, added to the excessive severity of the climate, and the shortness of the season in which the Polar Sea can be navigated; these are circumstances which render almost hopeless any attempt to pass from the Atlantic westward. Captain Parry seems inclined to think that there is more probability of being able to effect the passage, by sailing from Behring's Strait, eastward, than from Baffin's Bay towards the west. But, in this case, it would be an impracticable passage for British ships. The great length of the voyage, the impossibility of taking out a sufficiency of provisions and fuel, and the severe trial to which the health of the crews would be subjected, by suddenly passing from the heat of the torrid zone, into the intense cold of a long winter, seem to render hopeless all our efforts to effect the voyage in this direction.
Twenty-seventh Day's Instruction.
LABRADOR AND GREENLAND.
On the south-western side of Davis's Strait is the wild, extensive, and uncivilized country of Labrador. Its coast was first discovered by the Portuguese navigators; but the frigidity of its climate is such, that no settlements of any importance have ever been fixed upon its shores. Even the extent of the country has been but imperfectly ascertained; for all the knowledge we have hitherto obtained respecting it, relates only to the coast. The inland territory remains yet unexplored.
Captain George Cartwright resided on the coast of Labrador, at different intervals, for sixteen years. He states that the face of the country, as far as he could discover it, was mountainous and desolate; and that some of the mountains were of considerable elevation. The soil, in some parts of the southern coast, appears, at first sight, to be fertile and covered with verdure; but, on examination, it is found to be poor, and the verdure is that of coarse plants, which would not serve as food for horses, cattle, or sheep. Some attempts have been made to cultivate this coast, but the depredations of bears and wolves have proved a formidable impediment; and such is the severity of the climate, that cattle must be housed for nine months in the year.
The whole eastern coast of Labrador exhibits a very barren appearance: the mountains rise abruptly from the sea, and are composed of rocks, that are thinly covered with peat earth. This produces only stunted spruce trees, and a few plants; but the adjacent sea, and the various rivers and lakes, abound with fish, fowl, and amphibious animals. Springs are rare, and fresh water is chiefly supplied by melted snow. In the various bays of this coast, there are numerous islands, on which eider-ducks, and multitudes of other sea-fowl breed. On some of the larger islands there are deer, foxes, and hares. The fruits of Labrador consist chiefly of currants, raspberries, cranberries, whortle-berries, apples, and pears. Among the mineral productions is a kind of felspar, which, when polished, exhibits a display of brilliant and beautiful colours.
The climate of this country, though severe, is healthy. There is little appearance of summer till about the middle of July; and, in September, winter indicates its approach. During summer the heat is sometimes unpleasant; and the cold of winter is of long duration, and generally intense. In Labrador, as in all other countries of northern climates, the quadrupeds are clothed with a longer and thicker fur during winter, than in summer; and many of the birds have a softer down, and feathers of a closer texture, than those of milder countries. Some of the animals also assume a white clothing at the commencement of winter.
The native inhabitants of Labrador are mountaineers and Esquimaux, between whom there subsists an invincible aversion. The former, who inhabit the interior districts towards the north, are of dark colour, and robust constitution, though their limbs are small. They subsist chiefly on rein-deer, which they are very dexterous in killing: they also kill foxes, martens, and beavers. As these people live a wandering life, they never build houses; but they construct a kind of tents, and cover them with branches of trees, and with deer-skins. Their summer dress consists of skins freed from the hair; and their winter-dress is formed of beaver and deer-skins, with the hair on. During the summer they traverse the country, in canoes, along the rivers and lakes. These canoes are covered with the bark of the birch-tree; and, although they are so light as to be easily carried, some of them are large enough to contain a whole family, together with the materials of their traffic. In winter the mountaineers of Labrador pass over the snow, by means of what are called snow-shoes.
These mountaineers are esteemed an industrious people. They bear fatigue with almost incredible resolution and patience; and will often travel two successive days without food. They, every year, come to the Canada merchants, who have seal-fisheries on the southern coast, and bargain their furs, in exchange for blanketing, fire-arms, and ammunition; and they are immoderately fond of spirits. Some of them profess to be Roman Catholics; but their whole religion seems to consist in reciting a few prayers, and in counting their beads.
It is customary with these Indians, to destroy such persons among them as become aged and decrepit. This practice they endeavour to vindicate from their mode of life: for they assert that those who are unable to procure the necessaries requisite for their existence, ought not live merely to consume them.
The Esquimaux, who inhabit the northern parts of the country, are a race similar to the Greenlanders. They have a deep tawny or rather copper-coloured complexion; and are inferior in size to the generality of Europeans. Their faces are flat, and their noses short. Their hair is black and coarse; and their hands and feet are remarkably small. Their dress, like that of the mountaineers, is entirely of skins; and consists of a sort of hooded shirt, of breeches, stockings, and boots. The dress of the different sexes is similar, except that the women wear large boots, and have their upper garment ornamented with a kind of tail. In their boots they occasionally place their children; but the youngest child is always carried at the back of its mother, in the hood of her jacket. The women ornament their heads with large strings of beads, which they fasten to the hair above their ears.
The weapons of these Esquimaux are darts, bows, and arrows; and their food consists chiefly of the flesh of seals, deer, and birds; and of fish. Some of their canoes are near twenty feet in length, and not more than two feet wide. They each contain only one person; are formed of a frame-work, covered with skins; and are so extremely light, that they are easily overset. Notwithstanding this, and the circumstance that few of the Esquimaux are able to swim, these people are able to navigate them, in safety, without a compass, and even in the thickest fogs. When the ground is covered with snow, they traverse the country in sledges, drawn by dogs.
During winter, they live in houses, or rather in a kind of cavern, which they sink in the earth; and, during summer, they occupy tents, made circular with poles, and covered with skins. Their only beverage is water. The men are extremely indolent; and all the laborious occupations, except that of procuring food, are performed by the women. They sew with the sinews of deer; and much of their needlework is very neat. The Esquimaux cannot reckon, numerically, beyond six; and their compound numbers reach no further than 21: all beyond this are called a multitude.
The principal articles of export, obtained from the coast of Labrador, are cod-fish, salmon, oil, whalebone, and furs of various kinds.
Near the south-eastern extremity of Labrador is the island of Newfoundland; which, at present, constitutes an important station, for the British cod-fisheries. It is of triangular form, and about three hundred miles in circuit; and, though it lies between the same parallels of latitude as the south of France, its climate is very severe. In winter the rivers are frozen to the thickness of several feet; and, during this season, the earth is covered with snow, and the cold is so intense that the power of vegetation is destroyed. The coasts abound in creeks, roads, and harbours; and the interior of the island is full of steep rocks, woody hills, and sandy valleys; and of plains, interspersed with rocks, lakes, and marshes. A very small portion of it is at present cultivated; for neither the soil nor the climate is favourable to productions necessary to the support of human life. St. John's, the chief town of the island, is a mean and ill-built place, with narrow and dirty streets. It is situated on the south-eastern part of the coast, and has a considerable harbour.
This island formerly belonged to the French; but, in 1713, it was ceded to the English, to whom it still belongs. Its chief importance is derived from its vicinity to an immense bank, beneath the surface of the ocean, which is frequented by myriads of cod-fish. On this bank there are annually employed more than two thousand fishing-vessels; and four hundred merchant-ships, in conveying the fish to different parts of the world. All the fish are caught by lines; and they are conveyed to the shores of Newfoundland, to be salted and dried, or otherwise prepared for exportation. The Newfoundland fishery usually commences about the middle of May, and continues till the end of September.
Is an extensive peninsula, or, as some geographers believe, an immense island, lying north of the 60th degree of latitude, and between the 48th and 70th degrees of west longitude. It is said to have been originally discovered, as early as the tenth century, by a party of exiled Icelanders, who gave to it the name of "Greenland," from its exhibiting a much greater appearance of verdure than Iceland. Cape Farewell, its southernmost point, is a small island divided from the shore by a narrow inlet.
The interior of the country is dreary and mountainous; and some of the mountains are so lofty, that they are visible to the distance of more than forty leagues. They are covered with perpetual snow; and ice and snow, like the glaciers of Switzerland, fill the elevated plains, and even many of the valleys. The lowlands, adjacent to the sea-coast, are clothed with verdure during the summer season. The coast is indented with many bays and creeks, which extend far into the land; but many parts of it are altogether inaccessible by shipping, on account of the enormous masses of floating ice, which abound in the extreme northern seas.
Christian Missionaries were settled in this country, by the Danes, many centuries ago; and they formed churches and monasteries in different parts, through an extent of country nearly two hundred miles in length. From authentic records it appears that Greenland was anciently divided into two districts, the westernmost of which contained four parishes and one hundred villages; and the other, twelve parishes, one hundred and twenty villages, the see of a bishop, and two monasteries. The present inhabitants of the western districts are, however, separated from those of the east by impassable deserts and mountains.
This country is subject to Denmark; and the parts of it that are chiefly visited by Danes and Norwegians, lie between the 64th and 68th degrees of north latitude; and, to this distance, the climate is said not to be very severe. At one time there was a Danish factory as far north as the 73d degree; but, beyond the 68th degree of latitude, the cold in winter is, in general, so intense, that even the rocks burst by the expansive power of the frost. Thunder and lightning seldom occur in Greenland; but the aurora borealis is frequently visible, particularly in the spring of the year; and is often so bright and vivid, as to afford sufficient light for a person to read by it.
Some of the southern parts of Greenland are fertile; but, in general, the soil resembles that of other mountainous countries; the hills being barren, and the valleys and low grounds being rich and fruitful. The principal quadrupeds of this country are rein-deer, dogs resembling wolves, Arctic foxes, and white or polar bears. The walrus and several kinds of seals frequent the shores. Eagles and other birds of prey are numerous. Whales and porpesses abound along the coasts; and the adjacent sea and bays yield an abundance of holibut, turbot, cod, haddocks, and other fish.
The inhabitants of Greenland are supposed to have had their origin from the Esquimaux of Labrador, for they nearly resemble that people. They are short, and somewhat corpulent; and have broad faces, flat noses, thick lips, black hair, and a yellowish tawny complexion. The keenness of the wind and the glare of the snow, render them subject to painful disorders in the eyes: they are also afflicted with many diseases, which tend to render them short lived. They are a quiet, orderly, and good-humoured people; but of a cold, phlegmatic, and indolent disposition. They never wash themselves with water, but lick their hands, and then rub their faces with them; in the same manner as a cat washes herself with her paws. In most of their habits they are extremely filthy.
When animal food can be procured, they prefer it to any other; but, in times of scarcity, they are sometimes compelled to subsist on sea-weeds, and on roots dressed in train-oil and fat. The intestines of animals, and offals of various kinds, are accounted by them as dainties.
Their clothes are chiefly made of the skins of rein-deer and seals. The men wear their hair short; and commonly hanging down from the crown of the head on every side. The women, on the contrary, seldom cut their hair.
The Greenlanders all speak the same language, though different dialects prevail in different parts of the country; and so numerous are the words of their language, that, like the Chinese, they are said to have a proper word for every object or art that requires distinction.
These people have no traditions respecting the memorable actions of their ancestors; further than that, many winters ago, some Norwegian settlers were slain by the population of the adjacent country, who unanimously rose in arms against them. Among other strange notions entertained by the Greenlanders, they imagine that rain is occasioned by the overflowing of reservoirs in the heavens; and they assert that, if the banks of these reservoirs should burst, the sky would fall down. The medical practice in this country is confined to a set of men who have the appellation of "Angekoks," or conjurers.
When a Greenlander is at the point of death, his friends and relatives array him in his best clothes and boots. They silently bewail him for an hour, after which they prepare for his interment. The body, having been sewed up in his best seal or deer-skin, is laid in the burying-place, covered with a skin, and with green sods; and, over these, with heaps of stones, to defend it from the attack of predaceous animals. Near the place of interment, the survivors deposit the weapons of the deceased, and the tools he daily used. With the women are deposited their knives and sewing implements. The intention in so doing is, that the person departed may not be without employment in the next world.
The Greenlanders are said to worship the sun, and to offer sacrifices to an imaginary evil spirit, that he may not prevent their success in hunting and fishing. They have a confused notion respecting the immortality of the soul, and the existence of a future state; and they believe that the spirits of deceased persons sometimes appear on the earth, and hold communication with the "Angekoks," or conjurers, to whom peculiar privileges and honours belong.
The traffic that is carried on among the Greenlanders is simple and concise, and is wholly conducted by exchange or barter. These people very rarely cheat or take undue advantage of one another; and it is considered infamous to be guilty of theft. But they are said to glory in over-reaching or robbing an European; as they consider this a proof of superior talent and ingenuity.
Wherever a great assembly or rendezvous of Greenlanders takes place, as at a dancing-match or any grand festival, there are always some persons who expose their wares to view, and who publicly announce what goods they want in exchange for them. The chief articles of traffic, with Europeans, are fox and seal-skins, whale and seal-oil, whalebone, and the horns of narwhals. For these, they receive, in exchange, iron points for their spears, knives, saws, gimlets, chisels, needles, chests, boxes, clothing, and utensils of various kinds.
The chief festival of the Greenlanders is that which they call the sun-feast; but this is merely held for the purpose of dancing and other amusements, and not for any religious acts or ceremonies. It is held about the commencement of the new-year, and for the purpose of rejoicing at the return of the sun, and the renewal of weather for hunting and fishing. At this feast they assemble, in various parts of the country, and in large parties. After gorging themselves with food, they rise up to play and to dance. Their only musical instrument is a drum; and the sound of this they accompany with songs, in honour of seal-catching, and exploits in hunting. The Greenlanders do not, on these occasions, intoxicate themselves with ardent spirits, like some of the American Indians; for their only beverage is water. There are other dancing-meetings held in the course of the year; but these are all conducted in a similar manner. The Greenlanders occupy much of their time in hunting and fishing. On shore they hunt rein-deer and other animals; and at sea they pursue whales, seals, and walruses: they also catch great quantities of fish and sea-fowl. Their canoes are formed of thin boards, fastened together by the sinews of animals, and covered with a dressed seal-skin, both above and below; so that only a circular hole is left in the middle, large enough to admit the body of one man. Into this hole he thrusts himself, up to the waist; after which he fastens the skin so tight round his body, that no water can enter. Thus secured, and armed with a paddle, which is broad at both ends, he ventures out to sea, even in the most stormy weather; and, if he be unfortunate enough to have his canoe overset, he can easily raise himself by means of his paddle. Besides this description of canoes, the Greenlanders have boats so large that they will contain fifty persons, with all their tackle, baggage, and provisions. These carry a mast and a triangular sail; the latter of which is made of the membranes and entrails of seals. The management of the larger boats is always given to women; who also perform the whole drudgery of the household, even to the building and repairing of the dwellings.
During winter, the Greenlanders live in houses, and, during the summer, in tents. The houses are constructed of stones, with layers of earth and sods between them; and the rafters are covered with bushes and turf. The entrance is through a hole in the roof, which serves also as a chimney. The walls are hung with skins, fastened on by pegs, made of the bones of seals. These huts are divided, by skins, into several apartments, according to the number of families which inhabit them; and the inhabitants sleep on skins, upon the ground. The huts are well warmed with fires; and are lighted by lamps, filled with train oil, and furnished with moss instead of a wick. These lamps burn so bright as to give considerable heat as well as warmth.
At the outside of the dwelling-house are separate buildings, for store-houses, in which the inhabitants lay up their stock of provisions, train oil, and other useful articles. Near the store-houses they arrange their boats, with the bottoms upward; and they hang beneath these their hunting and fishing-tackle, and their skins. The summer-tents of the Greenlanders are of a conical form, and are constructed of poles, covered, both inside and out, with skins.
The seas in the vicinity of Greenland are, every year, frequented by both European and American vessels, employed in the whale-fishery. Such of these as enter Davis's Strait, generally resort to Disco Bay; and a few have penetrated even still further north than this. It is stated that, in the year 1754, a whaler, under the command of a Captain Wilson, was conducted, on the eastern side of Greenland, as far north as to the 83d degree of latitude: the sea was clear of ice, as far as the commander of this ship could descry; but as he did not meet with any whales, and began to apprehend some danger from proceeding onward, he returned; and, in the same year, another whale-fisher sailed as far north as to 84-1/2 degrees. These are the highest northern latitudes which any vessels have hitherto reached.
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Transcriber's Note: Some inconsistent hyphenation and spelling in the original document have been preserved. The author used a period after the L sign. Typographical errors corrected in the text: Title Pub^d. and Jan^y., abbreviations for page Published and January, have been retained ToC Alachnas changed to Alachuas ToC Oconne changed to Ocone ToC Missisippi changed to Mississippi ToC Sata changed to Santa, under ToC Minetarree changed to Minnetaree ToC Skaneaetas changed to Skaneactas ToC Riviers changed to Rivieres Page 4 Alleghanies changed to Alleghanys Page 6 Massachusets changed to Massachusetts Page 6 Tenassee changed to Tenessee Page 10 stile changed to style Page 18 cotten changed to cotton Page 19 island changed to Island Page 29 Uttawa changed to Utawa Page 29 superintendance changed to superintendence Page 35 war changed to was Page 39 whirpool changed to whirlpool Page 56 Potowmac changed to Potomac Page 59 towns changed to town Page 61 headachs changed to headaches Page 61 Kenhaway changed to Kenaway Page 67 scite changed to site Page 71 "a" added between "and great" Page 72 Birkbeek changed to Birkbeck Page 73 mocassins changed to moccasins Page 78 pertinaceous changaed to pertinacious Page 87 Washingington changed to Washington Page 96 Appamatox changed to Appomattox Page 100 "the the" changed to "of the" Page 119 pallisadoed changed to palisadoed Page 122 quakers changed to Quakers Page 133 elegible changed to eligible Page 138 plaistered changed to plastered Page 141 plaistered changed to plastered Page 142 plaistered changed to plastered Page 142 Coolome changed to Coloome Page 144 plaistered changed to plastered Page 148 Oconne changed to Ocone Page 149 fragant changed to fragrant Page 162 Alachnas changed to Alachuas Page 162 barbacued changed to barbecued Page 171 hacberry changed to hackberry Page 172 recompence changed to recompense Page 173 perroques changed to pirogues Page 176 Sauteau changed to Sauteaux Page 188 Mahas changed to Mahars Page 188 phrenzy chaned to phrensy Page 194 numbers changed to number Page 194 "the the" changed to "the" Page 198 Ahanahaways changed to Ahanaways Page 200 perrioques changed to pirogues Page 204 captain changed to Captain Page 209 phenomenomenon changed to phenomenon Page 214 buffalos changed to buffaloes Page 217 leggins changed to leggings Page 217 mockasins changed to moccasins Page 221 principle changed to principal Page 231 Arkanshaw changed to Arkansas Page 237 govenor changed to governor Page 238 leggins changed to leggings Page 238 mockinsons changed to moccasins Page 240 Tustla changed to Tuxtla Page 242 Mulattos changed to Mulattoes Page 242 Mestozos changed to Mestizos Page 247 tassals changed to tassels Page 251 Cortes changed to Cortez Page 251 plaisters changed to plasters Page 255 groupe changed to group Page 259 Teneriffe changed to Tenerife Page 260 Manilla changed to Manila Page 263 earthern changed to earthen Page 264 NOVIA changed to NOVA Page 280 latitute changed to latitude Page 283 leggins changed to leggings Page 284 profananation changed to profanation Page 290 martin-skins changed to marten-skins Page 298 leggins changed to leggings Page 300 Monterrey changed to Monterey Page 300 rabbet changed to rabbit Page 306 in changed to on Page 311 in added between "man it" Page 323 "to this be" changed to "this to be" Page 323 lieutenant changed to Lieutenant Page 323 Beechy changed to Beechey Page 334 tattooed changed to tatooed Page 338 decrepid changed to decrepit Page 339 caverns changed to cavern