In the Arctic Seas Part 12

For four hours Petersen and I have been bargaining with an old woman and a boy, not for the sake of their seal-skins, but in order to keep them in good humor whilst we extracted information from them. They said they knew nothing of ships or white people ever having been within this inlet, nor of any wrecked ships. They knew of the depot of provisions left at Navy Board Inlet by the 'North Star,' but had none of them. The woman has traced on paper the shores of the inlet as far as her knowledge extends, and has given me the name of every point. She says the ice will break up with the first fresh wind. These two individuals are alone here. They remained on purpose to barter with the whalers, and cannot now rejoin their friends, who are only 25 miles up the inlet, because the ice is unsafe to travel over and the land precipitous and impracticable.

This afternoon the 'Tay' stood in towards us, and Captain Deuchars kindly sent his boat on board with an offer to take charge of our letters. The 'Tay' reached this coast only a few days ago, having met with the same difficulties which we experienced. The 'Innuit' was last seen nearly a month ago beset off Jones' Sound. The remaining steamer, the 'Chase,' has not been seen or heard of.

_29th._--The old woman's denial of all knowledge of the wrecks or cast-away men was very unsatisfactory. I determined to visit her countrymen at their summer village of Kaparoktolik, which she described as being only a short day's journey up the inlet.


Petersen and one man accompanied me. We started yesterday morning with a sledge and a Halkett boat. Although the ice over which we purposed travelling broke away from the land soon after setting out, yet we managed to get half way to the village before encamping. This morning we learnt the truth of the old woman's account. A range of precipitous cliffs rising from the sea cut us off by land from Kaparoktolik, so we were obliged to return to the ship. Our walk afforded the opportunity of examining some native encampments and caches. We found innumerable scraps of seal-skins, bird-skins, walrus and other bones, whalebone, blubber, and a small sledge. The latter was very old, and composed of pieces of wood and of large bones ingeniously secured together with strips of whalebone. Five preserved-meat tins were found; some of them retaining their original coating of red paint. Doubtless these were part of the spoils from Navy Board Inlet depot. The total absence of fresh wood or iron was strongly in favor of the old woman's veracity. Since yesterday, ice, about 16 miles in extent, has broken up in the inlet, and is drifting out into Baffin's Bay.

During my absence our shooting parties have twice visited a _loomery_ upon Cape Graham Moore, and each time have brought on board 300 looms.

Very few birds and no other animals were seen during our walk over the rich mossy slopes to-day. I saw a pair of Canadian brown cranes, the first of the species I have ever seen so far north, though Sir Robert M'Clure found them, I know, on Banks Land.

The lands enjoying a southern aspect, even to the summits of hills 700 or 800 feet in height, were tinged with green; but these hills were protected by a still loftier range to the north. Upon many well-sheltered slopes we found much rich grass. All the little plants were in full flower; some of them familiar to us at home, such as the buttercup, sorrel, and dandelion. I have never found the latter to the north of 69 before.

The old woman is much less excited to-day; she says there was a wreck upon the coast when she was a little girl; it lies a day and a half's journey, about 45 miles, to the north; and came there without masts and very much crushed; the little which now remains is almost buried in the sand. A piece of this wreck was found near her _abode_,--she has neither hut nor tent, but a sort of lair constructed of a few stones and a seal-skin spread over them, so that she can crawl underneath. This fragment is part of a floor timber, English oak, 7-1/2 inches thick; it has been brought on board.


_30th._--A gale of wind and deluge of rain has detained the ship until this evening; we are now steaming up the inlet, having the old lady and the boy on board as our pilots; they are delighted at the prospect of rejoining their friends, from whom they were effectually cut off until the return of winter should freeze a safe pathway for them; they had, however, abundance of looms stored up _en cache_ for their subsistence.

She has drawn me another chart, much more neatly than the former, but so like it as to prove that her geographical knowledge, and not her powers of invention, have been taxed. She is a widow; her daughter is married, and lives at a place called Igloolik, which is six or seven days'

journey from here,--three days up the inlet, then about three days overland to the southward, and then a day over the ice.


Thinking it not quite impossible that this Igloolik might be the place where Parry wintered in 1822-3, I told Petersen to ask whether ships had ever been there? She answered, "Yes, a ship stopped there all one winter; but it is a long time ago." All she could distinctly recollect having been told about it was, that one of the crew died, and was buried there, and his name was Al-lah or El-leh. On referring to Parry's 'Narrative,' I found that the ice-mate, Mr. Elder, died at Igloolik!

This is a very remarkable confirmation of the locality,--for there are several places called Igloolik. She also told us it was an island, and near a strait between two seas. The Esquimaux take considerable pains to learn, and remember names; this woman knows the names of several of the whaling captains, and the old chief at De Ros Islet remembered Captain Inglefield's name, and tried hard to pronounce mine.

She now told us of another wreck upon the coast, but many days' journey to the south of Pond's Bay; it came there before her first child was born. Her age is not less than forty-five.

{AUG., 1858.}

_August 4th._--Our Esquimaux friends have departed from us with every demonstration of friendship, to return to their village. We have had free communication with them for four days--not only through Mr.

Petersen, but also through our two Greenlanders; the result is, that they have no knowledge whatever of either of the missing or the abandoned searching ships. Neither wrecked people nor wrecked ships have reached their shores. They seemed to be much in want of wood; most of what they have consists of staves of casks, probably from the Navy Board Inlet depot.


In their bartering with us, saws were most eagerly sought for in exchange for narwhal's horns; they are used by them in cutting up the long strips of the bones of whales with which they shoe the runners of their sledges, also the ivory and bone used to protect the more exposed parts of their kayaks and the edges of their paddles from the ice.

Files were also in great demand, and I found were required to convert pieces of iron-hoop into arrow and spear heads. If any suspicion existed of their having a secret supply of wood such as a wreck or even a boat would afford, it was removed by their refusing to barter the most trifling things for axes or hatchets.

But I must relate the events of the last few days as they occurred. When 17 miles within the inlet we reached the unbroken ice and made the ship fast. Here the _strait_--originally named Pond's _Bay_, and more recently Eclipse _Sound_--appears to be most contracted, its width not exceeding 7 or 8 miles. Both its shores are very bold and lofty, often forming noble precipices. The prevailing rock is grey gneiss, generally dipping at an angle of 35 to the west.

Early on the 1st of August I set out for the native village with Hobson, Petersen, two men, and the two natives from Button Point. Eight miles of wet and weary ice-travelling, which occupied as many hours, terminated our journey; the surface of the ice was everywhere deeply channelled and abundantly flooded by the summer's thaw; we were almost constantly launching our small boat over the slippery ridges which separated pools or channellings through which it was generally necessary to wade.


After toiling round the base of a precipice, we came rather suddenly in view of a small semicircular bay; the cliffs on either side were 800 or 900 feet high, remarkably forbidding and desolate; the mouth of a valley or wide mountain gorge opens out into its head. Here, in the depth of the bay, upon a low flat strip of land, stood seven tents,--the summer village of Kaparoktolik. I never saw a locality more characteristic of the Esquimaux than that which they have here selected for their abode; it is widely picturesque in the true Arctic application of the term.


Although August had arrived, and the summer had been a warm one, the bay was still frozen over; and if there was an ice-covered _sea_ in front, there was also abundance of ice-covered _land_ in the rear--a glacier occupied the whole valley behind and to within 300 yards of the chosen spot!

The glacier's height appeared to be from 150 to 200 feet; its sea-face extending across the valley,--a probable width of 300 or 400 yards,--was quite perpendicular, and fully 100 feet high. All last winter's snow had thawed away from off it and exposed a surface of mud and stones, fissured by innumerable small rivulets, which threw themselves over the glacier cliffs in pretty cascades, or shot far out in strong jets from their deeply serried channels in its face; whilst other streamlets near the base burst out through sub-glacial tunnels of their own forming.

What a strange people to confine themselves to such a mere strip of beach! Upon each side they have towering rocky hills rising so abruptly from the sea, that to pass along their bases or ascend over their summits, is equally impossible; whilst a threatening glacier immediately behind, bears onward a sufficient amount of rock and earth from the mountains whence it issues, to convince even the unreflecting savage of its progressive motion.

[Illustration: The Village and Glacier of Kaparoktolik, Greenland.]

The land is devoid of game, although lemmings and ermines are tolerably numerous; it only supplies the moss which the natives burn with blubber in their lamps, and the dry grass which they put in their boots; even the soft stone, _lapis ollaris_, out of which their lamps and cooking vessels are made and the iron pyrites with which they strike fire, are obtained by barter from the people inhabiting the land to the west of Navy Board Inlet. But the sea compensates for every deficiency. The assembled population amounted to only 25 souls: 9 men, the rest women and children.

All of them evinced extreme delight at seeing us; as we approached the huts the women and children held up their arms in the air and shouted "Pilletay" (give me), incessantly; the men were more quiet and dignified, yet lost no opportunity, either when we declined to barter, or when they had performed any little service, to repeat "Pilletay" in a beseeching tone of voice.

We walked everywhere about the tents and entered some of them, carefully examining every chip or piece of metal; our visit was quite unexpected.

They had only two sledges; both were made of 2-1/2 inch oak-planks, devoid of bolt-holes or treenails, and having but very few nail-holes.

These sledges had evidently been constructed for several years, the parts not exposed to friction were covered with green fungus: one of them measured 14 feet long, the other about 9 feet; we were told the wood came from a wreck to the southward of Pond's Bay. Most of the sledge cross-bars were ordinary staves of casks. Amongst the poles and large bones which supported the tents we noticed a painted fir oar.

Some pieces of iron-hoop and a few preserved-meat tins--one of which was stamped "Goldner,"--completed their stock of European articles.


Petersen questioned all the men _separately_ as to their knowledge of ships or wrecks; but their accounts only served to confirm the old woman's story. None of them had ever heard of ships or wrecks anywhere to the westward. Both individually and collectively we got them to draw charts of the various coasts known to them, and to mark upon them the positions of the wrecks. The two chiefs, Noo-luk and A-wah-lah, soon made themselves known to me, and, when we desired to go to sleep, sent away the people who were eagerly pressing round our tent. All these natives were better-looking, cleaner, and more robust than I expected to find them.

A-wah-lah has been to Igloolik; one of his wives, for each chief has _two_, has a brother living there. I spread a large roll of paper upon a rock, and got him to draw the route overland, and also round by the coast to it; this novel proceeding attracted the whole population about us; A-wah-lah constantly referred to others when his memory failed him; at length it was completed to the satisfaction of all parties. When I gave him the knife I had promised as his reward, and added another for his wives, he sprang up on the rock, flourished the knives in his hands, shouted, and danced with extravagant demonstrations of joy. He is a very fine specimen of his race, powerful, impulsive, full of energy and animal spirits, and moreover an admirable mimic. The men were all about the same height, 5 feet 5 in.; they eagerly answered our questions, and imparted to us all the geographical knowledge, although at first they hesitated when we asked them about Navy Board Inlet, in consequence of the depot placed there having been plundered; but we soon found that they were easily tired under cross-examination, and often said they knew no more; it was necessary to humor them.

According to their account the depot was discovered and robbed by people living further west. This is probably true, as so few relics were to be seen here, which would not be the case if such active fellows as A-wah-lah and Noo-luk had received the first information of its proximity. These people of Kaparoktolik are the only inhabitants of the land lying eastward of Navy Board Inlet, and live entirely upon its _southern_ shore. In a similar manner, it is only the _southern_ coast of the land to the west of Navy Board Inlet that is inhabited. After distributing presents to all the women and children, and making a few trifling purchases from the men, we returned next day to the ship.


During my absence more ice had broken away, involving the ship and almost forcing her on shore. It required every exertion to save her.

For two hours she continued in imminent danger, and was only saved by the warping and ice-blasting, by which at last she got clear of the drifting masses, _four minutes_ only before these were crushed up against the rocks!


Four Esquimaux came off to the ship in their kayaks, bringing whalebone, narwhals' horns, etc., to barter. Next to handsaws and files, they attached the greatest value to knives and large needles. These men remained on board for nearly two days, and drew several charts for us.

Noo-luk explained that seven or eight days' journey to the southward there are _two_ wrecks a short day's journey apart. The southern is in an inlet or strait which contains several islands, but here his knowledge of the coast terminates. The man A-ra-neet said he visited these wrecks five winters ago. All of them agreed that it is a very long time since the wrecks arrived upon the coast; and Noo-luk, who appears to be about forty-five years of age, showed us how tall he was at the time.

In the 'Narrative of Parry's Second Voyage,' at p. 437, mention is made of the arrival at Igloolik of a sledge constructed of ship-timber and staves of casks; also of two ships that had been driven on shore, and the crews of which went away in boats. In August, 1821, nearly two years previous to the arrival of this report through the Esquimaux to Igloolik, the whalers 'Dexterity' and 'Aurora' were wrecked upon the west coast of Davis' Strait, in lat. 72, 70 or 80 miles southward of Pond's Bay. The old man, Ow-wang-noot, drew the coast-line northwards from Cape Graham Moore to Navy Board Inlet, and pointed out the position of the northern wreck a few miles east of Cape Hay. Had it been conspicuous, we must have seen it when we slowly drifted along that coast.

These people usually winter in snow-huts at Green Point, a mile or two within the northern entrance of Pond's Bay. They hunt the seal and narwhal, but when the sea becomes too open they retire to Kaparoktolik; and when the remaining ice breaks up--usually about the middle of August--a further migration takes place across the inlet to the S.W., where reindeer abound, and large salmon are numerous in the rivers. Every winter they communicate with the Igloolik people. Two winters ago (1856-7) some people who lived far beyond Igloolik, in a country called A-ka-nee (probably the Ak-koo-lee of Parry), brought from there the information of white people having come in two boats, and passed a winter in snow-huts at a place called by the following names:--A-mee-lee-oke, A-wee-lik, Net-tee-lik.


Our friends pointed to our whale-boat, and said the boats of the white people were like it, but larger. These whites had tents inside their snow-huts; they killed and ate reindeer and narwhal, and smoked pipes; they bought dresses from the natives; none died; in summer they all went away, taking with them two natives, a father and his son. We could not ascertain the name of the white chief, nor the interval of time since they wintered amongst the Esquimaux, as our friends could not recollect these particulars.[14]

The name of the locality, A-wee-lik (spelt as written down at the moment), may be considered identical with "Ay-wee-lik," the name of the land about Repulse Bay in the chart of the Esquimaux woman, Iligliuk (Parry's 'Second Voyage,' p. 197).

We were of course greatly surprised to find that Dr. Rae's visit to Repulse Bay was known to this distant tribe; and also disappointed to find they had heard nothing of Franklin's Back-River parties through the same channel of communication. They were anxiously and repeatedly questioned, but evidently had not heard of any other white people to the westward, nor of their having perished there.

Ow-wang-noot lived at Igloolik in his early days, and made a chart of the lands adjacent, but said he was so young at the time that "it seemed like a dream to him." He was acquainted with Ee-noo-loo-apik, the Esquimaux who once accompanied Captain Penny to Aberdeen, and told us he had died, lately I think, at a place to the southward called Kri-merk-su-malek, but that his sister still lives at Igloolik.

Chapter end

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