In the Arctic Seas Part 1

In the Arctic Seas.

by Francis Leopold McClintock.


The following narrative of the bold adventure which has successfully revealed the last discoveries and the fate of Franklin, is published at the request of the friends of that illustrious navigator. The gallant M'Clintock, when he penned his journal amid the Arctic ices, had no idea whatever of publishing it; and yet there can be no doubt that the reader will peruse with the deepest interest the simple tale of how, in a little vessel of 170 tons burthen, he and his well-chosen companions have cleared up this great mystery.

To the honor of the British nation, and also let it be said to that of the United States of America, many have been the efforts made to discover the route followed by our missing explorers. The highly deserving men who have so zealously searched the Arctic seas and lands in this cause must now rejoice, that after all their anxious toils, the merit of rescuing from the frozen North the record of the last days of Franklin, has fallen to the share of his noble-minded widow.

Lady Franklin has, indeed, well shown what a devoted and true-hearted English woman can accomplish. The moment that relics of the expedition commanded by her husband were brought home (in 1854) by Rae, and that she heard of the account given to him by the Esquimaux of a large party of Englishmen having been seen struggling with difficulties on the ice near the mouth of the Back or Great Fish River, she resolved to expend all her available means (already much exhausted in four other independent expeditions) in an exploration of the limited area to which the search must thenceforward be necessarily restricted.

Whilst the supporters of Lady Franklin's efforts were of opinion, that the Government ought to have undertaken a search, the extent of which was, for the first time, definitely limited, it is but rendering justice to the then Prime Minister[1] to state, that he had every desire to carry out the wishes of the men of science[2] who appealed to him, and that he was precluded from acceding to their petition, by nothing but the strongly expressed opinion of official authorities, that after so many failures the Government were no longer justified in sending out more brave men to encounter fresh dangers in a cause which was viewed as hopeless. Hence it devolved on Lady Franklin and her friends to be the sole means of endeavoring to bring to light the true history of her husband's voyage and fate.

Looking to the list of Naval worthies, who, during the preceding years, had been exploring the Arctic Regions, Lady Franklin was highly gratified when she obtained the willing services of Captain M'Clintock to command the yacht 'Fox,' which she had purchased; for that officer had signally distinguished himself in the voyages of Sir John Ross and Captain (now Admiral) Austin, and especially in his extensive journeys on the ice when associated with Captain Kellett. With such a leader she could not but entertain sanguine hopes of success when the fast and well-adapted little vessel sailed from Aberdeen on the 1st of July, 1857, upon this eventful enterprise.

Deep, indeed, was the mortification experienced by every one who shared the feelings and anticipations of Lady Franklin when the untoward news came, in the summer of 1858, that, the preceding winter having set in earlier than usual, the 'Fox' had been beset in the ice off Melville Bay, on the coast of Greenland, and after a dreary winter, various narrow escapes, and eight months of imprisonment, had been carried back by the floating ice nearly twelve hundred geographical miles--even to 63-1/2 N. lat. in the Atlantic! See the woodcut map, No. 1.

But although the good little yacht had been most roughly handled among the ice-floes (see Frontispiece), we were cheered up by the information from Disco, that, with the exception of the death of the engine-driver in consequence of a fall into the hold, the crew were in stout health and full of energy, and that provided with sufficient fuel and provisions, a good supply of sledging dogs, two tried Esquimaux, and the excellent interpreter Petersen the Dane,[3] ample grounds yet remained to lead us to hope for a successful issue. Above all, we were encouraged by the proofs of the self-possession and calm resolve of M'Clintock, who held steadily to the accomplishment of his original project; the more so as he had then tested and recognized the value of the services of Lieutenant (now Commander) Hobson, his able second in command; of Captain Allen Young, his generous volunteer associate;[4] and of Dr.

Walker, his accomplished Surgeon.

Despite, however, of these re-assuring data, many an advocate of this search was anxiously alive to the chance of the failure of the venture of one unassisted yacht, which after sundry mishaps was again starting to cross Baffin's Bay, with the foreknowledge, that when she reached the opposite coast, the real difficulties of the enterprise were to commence.

Any such misgivings were happily illusory; and the reader who follows M'Clintock across the "middle ice" of Baffin's Bay to Pond Inlet, thence to Beechey Island, down a portion of Peel Strait, and then through the hitherto unnavigated waters of Bellot Strait in one summer season, may reasonably expect the success which followed.

Whilst the revelation obtained from the long-sought records, which were discovered by Lieutenant Hobson, is most satisfactory to those who speculated on the probability of Franklin having, in the first instance, tried to force his way northwards through Wellington Channel (as we now learn he did), those who held a different hypothesis, namely, that he followed his instructions, which directed him to the S.W., may be amply satisfied that in the following season the ships did pursue this southerly course till they were finally beset in N. lat. 70 05'.[5]

At the same time, the public should fully understand the motive which prompted the supporters of Lady Franklin in advocating the last search.

Putting aside the hope which some of us entertained, that a few of the younger men of the missing expedition might still be found to be living among the Esquimaux, we had every reason to expect, that if the ships were discovered, the scientific documents of the voyage, including valuable magnetic observations, would be recovered.

In the absence of such good fortune we may, however, well be gladdened by the discovery of that one precious document which gives us a true outline of the voyage of the 'Erebus' and 'Terror.'

That the reader may comprehend the vast extent of sea traversed by Franklin in the two summers before his ships were beset, a small map (No. 2) is here introduced representing all the lands and seas of the Arctic regions to the west of Lancaster Sound which were known and laid down when he sailed. The dotted lines and arrows, which extend from the then known seas and lands into the unknown waters or blank spaces on this old map, indicate Franklin's route, the novelty, range, rapidity, and boldness of which, as thus delineated, may well surprise the geographer, and even the most enterprising Arctic sailor.[6] For, those who have not closely attended to the results of other Arctic voyages may be informed, that rarely has an expedition in the first year accomplished more by its ships, than the establishing of good winter quarters, from whence the real researches began by sledge-work in the ensuing spring. Franklin, however, not only reached Beechey Island, but ascended Wellington Channel, then an unknown sea, to 77 N. lat., a more northern latitude in this meridian than that attained long afterwards in ships by Sir Edward Belcher, and much to the north of the points reached by Penny and De Haven. Next, though most scantily provided with steam-power, Franklin navigated round Cornwallis' Land, which he thus proved to be an island. The last discovery of a navigable channel throughout, between Cornwallis and Bathurst Islands, though made in the very summer he left England, has remained even to this day unknown to other navigators!

Franklin then, in obedience to his orders, steered to the south-west.

Passing, as M'Clintock believes, down Peel's Strait in 1846, and reaching as far as lat. 70 05' N., and long. 98 23' W., where the ships were beset, it is clear that he, who, with others, had previously ascertained the existence of a channel along the north coast of America, with which the sea wherein he was interred had a direct communication, was the _first real discoverer of the North-West Passage_. This great fact must therefore be inscribed upon the monument of Franklin.

The adventurous M'Clure, who has been worthily honored for working out another North-Western passage, which we now know to have been of subsequent date,[7] as well as Collinson, who, taking the 'Enterprise'

along the north coast of America, and afterwards bringing her home, reached with sledges the western edge of the area recently laid open by M'Clintock, will I have no doubt unite with their Arctic associates, Richardson, Sherard Osborn, and M'Clintock, in affirming, that "Franklin and his followers secured the honor for which they died--that of being the first discoverers of the North-West Passage."[8]

Again, when we turn from the discoveries of Franklin to those of M'Clintock, as mapped in red colors on the general map, on which is represented the amount of outline laid down by all other Arctic explorers from the days when these modern researches originated with Sir John Barrow, we perceive that, in addition to the discovery of the course followed by the 'Erebus' and 'Terror,' some most important geographical data have been accumulated by the last expedition of Lady Franklin.

Thus, M'Clintock has proved, that the strait named by Kennedy in an earlier private expedition of Lady Franklin after his companion the brave Lieutenant Bellot, and which has hitherto been regarded only as an impassable frozen channel, or ignored as a channel at all, is a navigable strait, the south shore of which is thus seen to be the northernmost land of the continent of America.

M'Clintock has also laid down the hitherto unknown coast-line of Boothia, southwards from Bellot Strait to the Magnetic Pole, has delineated the whole of King William's Island, and opened a new and capacious, though ice-choked channel, suspected before, but not proved, to exist, extending from Victoria Strait in a north-west direction to Melville or Parry Sound. The latter discovery rewarded the individual exertions of Captain Allen Young, but will very properly, at Lady Franklin's request, bear the name of the leader of the 'Fox' expedition, who had himself assigned to it the name of the widow of Franklin.[9]

Neither has the expedition been unproductive of scientific results. For, whilst many persons will be interested in the popular descriptions of the native Esquimaux, as well as of the lower animals, the man of science will hereafter be further gratified by having presented to him, in the form of an additional Appendix,[10] most valuable details relating to the zoology, botany, meteorology, and especially to the terrestrial magnetism, of the region examined.

Lastly, M'Clintock has convinced himself, that the best way of securing the passage of a ship from the Atlantic to the Pacific, is by following, as near as possible, the coast-line of North America: indeed, it is his opinion, founded upon a large experience, that no passage by a ship can ever be accomplished in a more northern direction. This it is well known was the favorite theory of Franklin, who had himself, along with Richardson, Back, Beechey, Dease, Simpson, and Rae, surveyed the whole of that same North American coast from the Back or Great Fish River to Behring Strait. Thus, when Franklin sailed in 1845, the discovery of a North-West Passage was reduced to the finding a link between the latter survey and the discoveries of Parry, who had already, to his great renown, opened the first half of a more northern course from east to west, when he was arrested by the impenetrable ice-barrier at Melville Island.

And here it is to be remembered, that the tract in which the record and the relics have been found, is just that to which Lady Franklin herself specially directed Kennedy, the commander of the 'Prince Albert,' in her second private expedition in 1852; and had that intrepid explorer not been induced to search northwards of Bellot Strait, but had felt himself able to follow the course indicated by his sagacious employer, there can be no doubt, that much more satisfactory results would have been obtained than those which, after a lapse of seven years, have now been realized by the undaunted perseverance of Lady Franklin, and the skill and courage of M'Clintock.

The natural modesty of this commander has, I am bound to say, prevented his doing common justice, in the following journal, to his own conduct--conduct which can be estimated by those only who have listened to the testimony of the officers serving with and under the man, whose great qualities in moments of extreme peril elicited their heartiest admiration and ensured their perfect confidence.

In writing this Preface (which I do at the request of the promoters of the last search), I may state that, having occupied the Chair of the Royal Geographical Society in 1845, when my cherished friend, Sir John Franklin, went forth for the third time to seek a North-West passage, it became my bounden duty in subsequent years, when his absence created much anxiety, and when I re-occupied the same position, ardently to promote the employment of searching expeditions, and warmly to sustain Lady Franklin's endeavors in this holy cause.

Imbued with such feelings, I must be permitted to say, that no event in my life gave me purer delight, than when Captain Collinson, whose labors to support and carry out this last search have been signally serviceable, forwarded to me a telegram to be communicated to the British Association at Aberdeen announcing the success of M'Clintock.

That document reached Balmoral on the 22nd of September last, when the men of science were invited thither by their Sovereign. Great was the satisfaction caused by the diffusion of these good tidings among my associates (the distinguished Arctic explorers Admiral Sir James Ross and General Sabine being present); and it was most cheering to us to know, that the Queen and our Royal President[11] took the deepest interest in this intelligence--such as, indeed, they have always evinced whenever the search for the missing navigators has been brought under their consideration. The immediate bestowal of the Arctic medal upon all the officers and men of the 'Fox' is a pleasing proof that this interest is well sustained.

But these few introductory sentences must not be extended; and I invite the reader at once to peruse the Journal of M'Clintock, which will gratify every lover of truthful and ardent research, though it will leave him impressed with the sad belief, that the end of the companions of Franklin has been truly recorded by the native Esquimaux, who saw these noble fellows "fall down and die as they walked along the ice."

Looking to the fact, that little or no fresh food could have been obtained by the crews of the 'Erebus' and 'Terror' during their long imprisonment of twenty months, in so frightfully sterile a region as that in which the ships were abandoned,--so sterile that it is even deserted by the Esquimaux,--and also to the want of sustenance in spring at the mouth of the Back River, all the Arctic naval authorities with whom I have conversed, coincide with M'Clintock and his associates in the belief, that none of the missing navigators can be now living.

Painful as is the realisation of this tragic event, let us now dwell only on the reflection that, while the North-West passage has been solved by the heroic self-sacrifice of Franklin, Crozier, Fitzjames, and their associates, the searches after them which are now terminated, have, at a very small loss of life, not only added prodigiously to geographical knowledge, but have, in times of peace, been the best school for testing, by the severest trials, the skill and endurance of many a brave seaman. In her hour of need--should need arise--England knows that such men will nobly do their duty.



[1] Viscount Palmerston.

[2] See the Memorial (Appendix) addressed to the First Lord of the Treasury, headed by Admiral Sir F. Beaufort, General Sabine, and many other men of science, and which, as President of the Royal Geographical Society, I presented to the Prime Minister; and also the speech of Lord Wrottesley, the President of the Royal Society, who, in the absence of the lamented Earl of Ellesmere, brought the subject earnestly under the notice of the House of Lords on the 18th of July, 1856.

[3] Since his return to Copenhagen, Petersen has been worthily honored by his Sovereign with the silver cross of Dannebrog.

[4] Captain Allen Young of the merchant marine not only threw his services into this cause, and subscribed 500 in furtherance of the expedition, but, abandoning lucrative appointments in command, generously accepted a subordinate post.

[5] For a _resume_ of all the plans of research and the speculations of seamen and geographers, see the interesting and most useful volume of Mr. John Brown, entitled, 'The North-West Passage and Search after Sir John Franklin,' 1858. In an Appendix to this work we learn, that from the earliest Polar researches by John Cabot, at the end of the 15th century, to the voyage of M'Clintock, there have been about 130 expeditions, illustrated by 250 books and printed documents, of which 150 have been issued in England. Amidst the various recent publications, it is but rendering justice to Dr. King, the former companion of Sir George Back, to state that he suggested and always maintained the necessity of a search for the missing navigators at or near the mouth of the Back River.

[6] The letter A in Baffin Bay (fig. 1) indicates the spot where Franklin was last seen. In fig. 2, B is the winter rendezvous at Beechey Island; C the greatest northing of the expedition, viz. 77 N. lat.; Z the final beset of the 'Erebus' and 'Terror;' the extreme north and south points of their voyage being represented by two small ships.

[7] In 1850.

[8] See a most heart-stirring sketch of the last voyage of Sir John Franklin, by Captain Sherard Osborn, in the periodical _Once a Week_, of the 22d and 29th October and 5th November last. Possessing a thorough acquaintance with the Arctic regions, the distinguished seaman has shown more than his ordinary power of description, in placing before the public his conception of what may have been the chief occurrences in the voyage of the 'Erebus' and 'Terror,' and the last days of Franklin, as founded upon an acquaintance with the character of the chief and his associates, and the record and relics obtained by M'Clintock. This sketch is prefaced by a spirited and graceful outline of all previous geographical discoveries, from the day when they were originated by the father of all modern Arctic enterprise, Sir John Barrow, to whom, and to many other eminent persons, from Sir Edward Parry downwards, I have in various Geographical Addresses offered the tribute of my admiration.

[9] In his volume before cited, p. xii., Mr. John Brown gave strong reasons (which he had held for some time) for believing in the existence of the very channel which now bears the name of M'Clintock. It is, however, the opinion both of that officer and his associates, as also of Captain Sherard Osborn, that Franklin could not have reached the spot where his ships were beset by proceeding down that ice-choked channel, but that he must have sailed down Peel Sound.

[10] Much of this Appendix will be prepared by Dr. David Walker.

[11] At the Aberdeen meeting the Prince Consort thus spoke:--"The Aberdeen whaler braves the icy regions of the Polar sea to seek and to battle with the great monster of the deep; he has materially assisted in opening these ice-bound regions to the researches of science; he fearlessly aided in the search after Sir John Franklin and his gallant companions whom their country sent forth on this mission; but to whom Providence, alas! has denied the reward of their labors, the return to their homes, to the affectionate embrace of their families and friends, and the acknowledgments of a grateful nation."


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