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In the Arctic Seas Part 11

The appearance of these men, as they danced and rolled about in frantic delight at our approach, was wild and strange, and their costume uniform and picturesque. Their long, coarse, black hair hung loosely over the seal-skin frock which in its turn overlapped their loose shaggy bear-skin breeches, and these again came down over the tops of their seal-skin boots. Most of them carried a spear formed out of the horn of a narwhal.

Having distributed presents of knives and needles, and explained to them that we did so because they had behaved well to the white people, (as we learned from Dr. Kane's narrative of their treatment of him and his crew), we pursued our voyage, not doubting but that we should soon reach the _North Water_, an extensive sea through which we could sail uninterruptedly to Pond's Bay.

During the night we advanced through loose ice; but fog and a rising S.E. gale delayed us, and to-day the pack has pressed in against the land, so that our wings are most unexpectedly clipped. A walrus was shot through the head by a Minie bullet; none other will penetrate such a massive skull: unfortunately for my collection of specimens, and for the dogs, the animal sank.

{JULY, 1858.}

{DAMAGE FROM ICE.}

_2d July._--For five days we have been almost beset amongst loose ice and grounded bergs; the winds were generally from the S.E. and accompanied by fog. To avoid being squeezed we had constantly to shift our position; once we were caught and rather severely nipped; the ship was heeled over about ten degrees and lifted a couple of feet: the ice was three feet thick, but broke readily under her weight. Unfortunately there was not time to unship the rudder, so it suffered very severely.

Upon a previous occasion the screw-shaft was bent and a portion of the screw broken off.

{ROTCHIES AND GULLS.}

Landed to obtain a good view of the sea in the offing; from the hills we could see nothing but pack to seaward. There was no land ice; we stepped out of the boat upon a narrow icefoot which fringed the coast; immediately above it we trod over a velvet sward of soft bright green moss; the turf beneath was of considerable depth. Here and there under this noble range of cliffs, which are composed of primary rock, there exists much vegetation for so high a latitude. From the fact of thick layers of turf descending quite down to the sea, it is evident that the land has been gradually sinking. Steep slopes of rocky _debris_, which screen the bases of the most precipitous cliffs, form secure nurseries for the little auk; these localities were literally alive with them; they popped in and out of every crevice, or sat in groups of dozens upon every large rock. I have nowhere seen such countless myriads of birds.

The _rotchie_, or little auk, lays its single egg upon the bare rock, far within a crevice beyond the reach of fox, owl, or burgomaster gull.

We shot a couple of hundred during our short stay on shore, and, by removing the stones, gathered several dozen of their eggs.

The huge predatory gulls, long ago named "Burgomasters" by Dutch seamen (because they lord it over their neighbors, and appropriate every thing good to themselves), have established themselves in the cliffs, where their nests are generally inaccessible: we were a month too late for their eggs; the young birds were as large as spring chickens. Of course we obtained specimens of the red snow, but had to seek rather diligently for it; its color was a dirty red, very like the stain of port wine: very few patches of it were found.

Last night a westerly wind blew freshly and dispersed the ice outside of us, so much so that this evening we have got out into almost clear water. Farewell Greenland!--hurrah for the west!

{FREE FROM THE ICE.}

_5th._--After getting free from the ice off the Crimson Cliffs, we soon lost sight of the last fragment, and steered for Pond's Bay. And now we all set to work in zealous haste to write our last letters for England, by the whalers, which we hoped soon to meet there.

After running 60 miles the ice re-appeared, and we sailed through a vast deal of it, but it became more closely packed, and a thick fog detained us for a day.

When the weather became clear, the main pack was seen to the W., S., and S.E.; in the hope of rounding its northern extreme we ran along it to the N.W. To-day it has led us to the N. and N.E., so that this evening Wolstenholme Sound is in sight. To the N. the pack appears impenetrable, and there is a strong ice-blink over it. All the ice we have lately sailed through is loose, and much decayed; it seems but recently to have broken away from the land, is not water-washed, neither has it been exposed to a swell, the fractured edges remaining sharp.

{ICE CLOSING AGAIN.}

_6th._--Midnight. Last evening I persevered to the N. until every hope of progress in that direction vanished. To the W. the pack appeared tolerably loose; the wind was fresh at E.S.E., so I determined once more to push into it, and endeavor to battle our way through; I hoped it would prove to be merely a belt of 30 or 40 miles in width. We found the ice to lie for the most part in streams at right angles to the wind, and therefore much more open than it had appeared: there was seldom any difficulty in winding through it from one water space to another. The wind greatly increased, bringing much rain, but fortunately no fog;--the dread of this hung over me like a nightmare,--our progress depended upon the vigilance of the look-out kept in the crow's-nest. By noon we had made good 60 miles. Throughout the day the wind has gradually moderated: the rain gave place to snow, which in its turn was succeeded by mist.

The evening was fine eventually and clear; but still we find the ice is all around. Just before midnight the termination of our lead was discovered, whilst the ice through which we had passed was closing together, and a dense fog came rolling down. Under these circumstances the ship was made fast as near to the nip as safety permitted, to await some favorable change.

_10th._--All the 7th we remained in our small basin, there being no outlet from it, and but little water anywhere visible. To pass away the dull hours and get rid of unwelcome reflections upon the similarity of our present position and that in August last, I commenced an attack upon all the feathered denizens of the pack--they seemed so provokingly contented with it--but they soon became wary, and deserted our vicinity, so I shot only a dozen fulmar petrels, three ivory gulls, two looms,[13]

and a _Lestris parasiticus_; some of them were useful as specimens, and such as were not destined for our table were given to the dogs. Although Cobourg Island was 45 miles distant from us, its lofty rounded outlines were very distinct, and much covered with snow. On the 8th we squeezed through nips for 4 or 5 miles, and on the 9th, reaching a large space of water, steamed towards Cobourg Island until again stopped by the pack at an early hour this morning, when within 5 or 6 leagues of it.

{STRUGGLING TO THE WESTWARD.}

This evening we are endeavoring to steam in towards the West-land, and fancy we can trace with the crow's-nest telescope a practicable route through the intervening ice-mazes to a faint streak of water along the shore. This sort of navigation is not only anxious, but wearying. To me it seems as if several months instead of only eight days had elapsed since we left Cape York. We are constantly wondering what our whaling friends are about, and where they are?

_14th._--The faint streak of water seen on the night of the 10th proved to be an extensive sheet to leeward of Cobourg Island. We reached it next morning. Jones' Sound appeared open, and a slight swell reached us from it, but all along the shore there was close pack. Although but little water was visible to the southward, we persevered in that direction, and, as the ice was rapidly moving off-shore under the combined influence of wind and tide, we were only occasionally detained.

Two hundred and forty-two years ago--to a day, I believe--William Baffin sailed without hindrance along this coast and discovered Lancaster Sound. What a very different season he must have experienced!

{VISIT OF NATIVES.}

Passing near Cape Horsburgh we approached De Ros Islet at midnight. The air being very calm, and still, the shouting of some natives was heard, although we could scarcely distinguish them upon the land-ice. The ship was made fast, and the shouting party, consisting of three men, three women, and two children, eagerly came on board. Only four individuals remained on shore.

{OFF LANCASTER SOUND.}

The old chief Kal-lek is remarkable amongst Esquimaux for having a bald head. He inquired by name for his friend Captain Inglefield. These three families have spent the last two years upon this coast, between Cape Horsburgh and Croker Bay. Their knowledge does not extend further in either direction. They are natives of more southern lands, and crossed the ice in Lancaster Sound with dog-sledges. Since the visit of the 'Phnix' in '54 they have seen no ships, nor have any wrecks drifted upon their shores. They seemed very fat and healthy, but complained that all the reindeer had gone away, and asked if _we_ could tell where they went to? Our presents of wood, knives, and needles were eagerly received. They assured us that Lancaster Sound was still frozen over, and that all the sea was covered with pack. After half an hour's delay we steamed onward, and on reaching a larger space of water our hopes (somewhat depressed by the native intelligence) began to revive. But we soon found that our clear water terminated near Cape Warrender.

Lancaster Sound, although not frozen over, was crammed full of floes and icebergs. The wind increased to a strong gale from the east, and pressed in more ice. At length the ship was with difficulty made fast to a strip of land-ice a few miles westward of Point Osborn. Gradually the gale subsided, but not until the pack was close in against the land. The tides kept sweeping it to and fro, to our great discomfort. The land is composed of gneiss, and the gravelly shore is low. A few ducks only have been shot, and traces of reindeer and hares seen. Our Melville Bay friends, the rotchies, are very rare visitors upon this side of Baffin's Bay.

Part of a ship's timber has been found upon the beach; it measures 7 inches by 8 inches, is of American oak, and, although sound, has long been exposed to the weather.

FOOTNOTES:

[13] These birds are called willocks at home; they are the "Uria brunnichii" of naturalists.

CHAPTER IX.

Off Cape Warrender--Sight the whalers again--Enter Pond's Bay--Communicate with Esquimaux--Ascend Pond's Inlet--Esquimaux information--Arctic summer abode--An Arctic village--No intelligence of Franklin's ships--Arctic trading--Geographical information of natives--Information of Rae's visit--Improvidence of Esquimaux--Travels of Esquimaux.

{OFF CAPE WARRENDER.}

_16th July._--To borrow a whaling phrase, we are "dodging about in a hole of water" off Cape Warrender. I recognize the little bay just to the west of the cape where Parry landed in September, 1824. The "immense mass of snow and ice containing strata of muddy-looking soil" is there still, and, I should think, had considerably increased. Here his party shot three reindeer out of a small herd. We have narrowly scanned the steep hill-sides with our glasses, but without discovering any such inducement to land.

No cairns are visible upon Cape Warrender; the natives have probably removed them. Dense pack prevents us from approaching Port Dundas or crossing to the southern shore. We all find these vexatious delays are by no means conducive to sleep. The mind is busy with a sort of magic-lantern representation of the past, the present, and the future, and resists for weary hours the necessary repose.

_17th._--Last night's calm has allowed the pack to expand so much, that to-day we have steamed through it until within three miles of the noble cliffs of Cape Hay; and now we are drifting eastward with the ice precisely as did the 'Enterprise' and 'Investigator,' in September, '49.

Upon that occasion we were set free off Pond's Bay. There is a very extensive _loomery_ at Cape Hay; we regret the circumstances which prevent our levying a tax upon it. Here, if anywhere, I expected to find a clear sea, but east winds have prevailed for twenty days out of the last twenty-five, and this accounts for the present state of the sea; the next succession of west winds will probably effect a prodigious clearance of ice.

{THE WHALERS AGAIN.}

_21st._--The 'Tay' was seen to-day in loose ice, and much further off the land. She gradually steamed through it to the southward, and by night was almost out of sight. Her appearance surprised us, as we supposed she must have reached Pond's Bay long ago. Ten hours'

struggling with steam and sails at the most favorable intervals has only advanced us five miles. The weather is remarkably warm, bright, and pleasant. A very large bear came within 150 yards, and was shot by Petersen, the Minie bullet passing through his body. This beast measured 8 ft. 3 in. in length; his fat carcase was hoisted on board with great satisfaction, as our dogs' food was nearly expended.

_24th._--Last night the ice became slack enough to afford some prospect of release, so we charged the nips vigorously, and steamed away through devious openings towards Cape Fanshawe. For several hours but little progress was made, but this morning the ice became more open; clear water was seen ahead, and reached by noon. Although it is calm I prefer waiting for a breeze to expending more coals. We are only ten miles from Possession Bay. The air is so very clear that the land appears quite close to us. All that is not mountainous is well cleared of snow. There is immense refraction. Only a single iceberg in sight. The sea-water is light green, as remarked by Parry in 1819.

{OFF CAPE WALTER BATHURST.}

_26th._--A vessel was seen yesterday morning; the day continuing calm, we steamed through some loose ice, and joined her off Cape Walter Bathurst in the evening. It proved to be the 'Diana;' she parted from us on the 16th of June in Melville Bay, has everywhere been obstructed by the pack, as we have been, and only reached Cape Warrender three days before us. From thence to Possession Bay she met with _no obstruction_.

The subsequent east winds brought in all the ice which has so much retarded us.

The 'Diana' has already captured twelve whales. Taking the hint from Capt. Gravill, we have made fast to a loose floe, and are drifting very nearly a mile an hour to the southward along the edge of a very formidable land-ice, which is seven or eight miles broad. All to seaward of us is packed ice. The old whaling seamen of the 'Diana' are astonished at the unusual and unaccountable abundance of ice which everywhere fills up Baffin's Bay. All the 'Diana's' steaming coals, her spare spars, wood and even a boat, have been burnt in the protracted struggle through the middle ice.

{ENTER POND'S BAY.}

_27th._--After putting our letter-bag on board the 'Diana' this morning we steamed on for Pond's Bay, and at noon made fast near Button Point to the land-ice, which still extends across it.

{COMMUNICATE WITH ESQUIMAUX.}

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