In the Arctic Seas Part 15


Proceed westward in a boat--Cheerless state of the western sea--Struggles in Bellot Strait--Falcons, good Arctic fare--The resources of Boothia Felix--Future sledge travelling--Heavy gales--Hobson's party start--Winter quarters--Bellot Strait--Advanced depot established--Observatories--Intense cold--Autumn travellers--Narrow escape.


Most anxious to know the real state of the ice in the western sea--upon which our hopes so entirely depend--I intend starting this evening by boat, as far through Bellot Strait as the ice will permit, then land and ascend the western coast-hills.

{SEPT., 1858.}

_1st Sept._--My boat party consisted of four men and the doctor, who came with me for the novelty of the cruise, bringing his camera to fasten upon any thing picturesque. We landed near Half-way Island, and pitched our tent for the night. Early next morning I commenced the rather formidable undertaking of ascending the hills, for it is not possible to pass under the cliffs, and at last I gained the summit of the loftiest, overlooking Cape Bird at a distance of 3 or 4 miles, and affording a splendid view to the westward, as well as glimpses between the hills of the blue eastern sea. Long and anxiously did I survey the western sea, ice, and lands, and could not but feel that in all probability we should not be permitted to pass beyond our present position.

[Illustration: M'Clintock in his Boat sailing through Bellot Strait.]


To the northward Four River Point--Sir James Ross' farthest in 1849--was at once recognized; rather more than nine years ago I stood upon it with him, and gazed almost as anxiously in this direction! My present view confirmed the impression then received, of a wide channel leading southward. The outline of the western land is very distant; it is of considerable but uniform elevation, and slopes gradually down to the strait, which is between 30 and 40 miles wide. This western land appears to be limestone, and without off-lying islands. Our side of the strait or sea, on the contrary, is primary rock, and fringed with islets and rocks; its southern extreme bears S.S.W., and is probably 30 miles distant.

Now for the ice. Although broken up, it lies against this shore in immense fields: there is but little water or room for ice-movement.

Along the west shore I can distinguish long faint streaks of water.

There is no appearance of disruption about Four River Point or in the contracted part of Peel Strait--we have nothing to hope for in that quarter; neither is there any evidence of current or pressure; the ice appears much decayed, but, as I am surveying it from a height of about 1600 feet, I may be deceived.


The strong contrast between the eastern and western seas and lands is very unfavorable to the latter.

Apart from the ice, I was fortunate, however, in discovering a long narrow lake, occupying a valley which lies between a small inlet near Cape Bird and Hazard Inlet--in fact, a sort of echo of Bellot Strait--and I look upon it as our sledge route for the autumn, since it appears probable we shall winter in our present position.

This is a _wonderous rough_ country to scramble over; one never ceases to wonder how such huge blocks of rock can have got into such strange positions. I noticed two masses in particular, each of them perched upon three small stones. The rock is gneiss; there is also much granite. Even upon the hill-tops pieces of limestone are occasionally met with.

My walk occupied eleven hours, and, although I everywhere saw traces of animals, the only living thing seen was a grey falcon. During my absence from the tent the men rambled all over the hills, but saw no game, our encampment was therefore shifted to a better position near the eastern termination of the table-land. This morning we explored the neighboring valleys; saw three deer, and shot one, returning on board the 'Fox' in time for dinner.

Many deer had been seen not far from the ship, and Hobson had shot a bearded seal. I have organized another boat party; Young will start with it to-morrow morning to seek a sledge route from the southern angle of Brentford Bay to the western sea.

_5th._--Young returned this morning; he reports the south-west angle of the bay not to run in so far as we expected, and to be environed by very high land, impracticable for sledges.

Our Esquimaux, Samuel, shot a fawn to-day.

Strong northerly winds have latterly prevailed; Bellot Strait is quite clear of ice; to-morrow morning, therefore, we shall make our _fifth_ attempt to get the 'Fox' through.


_6th._--Steamed through the clear waters of Bellot Strait this morning, and made fast to the ice across its western outlet at a distance of two miles from the shore, and close to a small islet which we have already dubbed _Pemmican Rock_, having landed upon it a large supply of that substantial traveller's fare, with other provisions for our future sledging-parties. This ice is in large stout fields, of more than one winter's growth, apparently immovable in consequence of the numerous islets and rocks which rise through and hold it fast. If the weather permits, we shall remain here for a few days and watch the effect of winds and tides upon it; that the ship will get any further seems improbable.

_10th._--I have explored a small inlet near Cape Bird, which we have named _False Strait_, from its striking resemblance to the true one, and find it is only separated from the long lake by half a mile of low land; the lake we have ascertained to be about 12 miles long, and from it valleys extend eastward and southward, so that we are sure of a good sledge-route,--an important matter, as the hills rise to 1600 feet above the sea.


Cape Bird is 500 feet high; from its summit we carefully observe the ice. This granite coast presents a jagged appearance; it is deeply indented and studded with islets. The ice in the western sea (or Peel's Strait) is much more broken up than it was upon the 31st ultimo; there is no longer any fixed ice except within the grasp of the islets. Birds and animals have become very scarce; three seals have been shot, and a bear seen. To-morrow we shall return to our harbor, and endeavor to procure a few more reindeer before they migrate southward.

_12th._--Yesterday we anchored within the entrance of our creek, being a more convenient position than up at its head. We are already in our wintering position, and, being without occupation, one day seems most remarkably like another! Although the fondly cherished hope of pushing farther in our ship can no longer be entertained, yet as long as the season continues navigable it is our duty to be in readiness to avail ourselves of any opportunity, however improbable, of being able to do so.


Once firmly frozen in, our autumn travelling will commence, and afford welcome occupation. Almost all on board have guns; ammunition is supplied, and a sailor with a musket is a very contented and zealous sportsman, if not always a successful one; it is a powerful incentive to exercise. To-day the ramblers saw only two hares, an ermine, and an owl.

Some peregrine falcons have lately been shot; Petersen declares they are "_the best beef in the country, and the young birds tender and white as chicken!_"

A few days ago a large cask of biscuit was opened, and a living mouse discovered therein! it was small, but mature in years. The cask, a strong watertight one, was packed on shore at Aberdeen, in June, 1857, and remained ever afterwards unopened; there was no hole by which the mouse could have got in or out, besides it is the only one ever seen on board. Ship's biscuit is certainly _dry feeding_, but who dares assert, after the experience of our mouse, that it is not wonderfully nutritious?

_15th._--Two nights ago a comet was observed just beneath the constellation of the Great Bear; a series of measurements were commenced for determining its path. Yesterday I walked through the most promising valleys for eight hours, but did not see a living creature; yet there is a very fair show of vegetation, much more than at Melville Island, where the game is abundant. To the east there is not a speck of ice, excepting only a huge iceberg, probably the same we saw off Fury Point, a very unusual visitor from Baffin's Bay, whence it must have been driven by those long-continued east winds (of painful memory) in June and July.

Hobson and two men encamped out for three days in order to scour the country; they have only seen one hare and one lemming! Walker geologizes; amongst other things he finds much iron pyrites. The dredge has been used, but with very little success. The thermometer ranges between 20 and 30. Fresh water pools are frozen over, sea-ice forms in every sheltered angle of the creeks. There is no snow upon the land, and this is one cause of the difficulty of finding game.


I have determined upon naming this beautiful little anchorage _Port Kennedy_, after my predecessor, the discoverer of Bellot Strait, of which it is decidedly _the_ port. This is not a compliment to him, but an agreeable duty to me, and nowhere could Mr. Kennedy's name be more appropriately affixed than in close proximity with his interesting discovery. And now having made this acknowledgment, I may venture to confer our little vessel's name upon the islets which protect its entrance.

The island upon which Mr. Kennedy and Lieutenant Bellot encamped was Long Island, about three miles further to the south-east.


_17th._--Of late we have been preparing provisions and equipments for our travelling parties. My scheme of sledge search comprehends three separate routes and parties of four men; to each party a dog-sledge and driver will be attached; Hobson, Young, and I will lead them.

My journey will be to the Great Fish River, examining the shores of King William's Land in going and returning; Petersen will be with me.

Hobson will explore the western coast of Boothia as far as the magnetic pole, this autumn, I hope, and from Gateshead Island westward next spring.

Young will trace the shore of Prince of Wales' Land from Lieutenant Browne's farthest, to the south-westward to Osborn's farthest, if possible, and also examine between Four River Point and Cape Bird.

Our probable absence will be sixty or seventy days, commencing from about the 20th March.

In this way I trust we shall complete the Franklin search and the geographical discovery of Arctic America, both left unfinished by the former expeditions; and in so doing we can hardly fail to obtain some trace, some relic, or, it may be, important records of those whose mysterious fate it is the great object of our labors to discover. But previous to setting forth upon these important journeys, I must communicate with the Boothians, if possible, either upon the west or east coast, in November or February. Sir John Ross' 'Narrative' informs us that they sometimes winter as far north upon the east coast as the Agnew River; and we know that upon the west, at the magnetic pole, their abandoned snow-huts were occupied in June by Sir James Ross.


_19th._--Yesterday we steamed once more through Bellot Strait, and took up our former position at the ice-edge, off its western entrance; the ice, hemmed in by islets has not moved.

From the summit of Cape Bird I had a very extensive view this morning: there is now much water in the offing, only separated from us by the belt of islet-girt ice _scarcely four miles in width_! My conviction is that a strong east wind would remove this remaining barrier; it is not yet too late. The water runs parallel to this coast, and is four or five miles broad; beyond it there is ice, but it appears to be all broken up.

Yesterday Young went upon a dog-sledge to the nearest south-western island, distant 7 or 8 miles. He reports the intervening ice cracked and weak in some places, but practicable for loaded sledges; the far side of the island is washed by a clear sea, and a bear which he shot plunged into it, and, drifting away, was lost. Young is in favor of carrying out the depot provisions to or beyond this island by boat; but as the temperature fell to 18 last night, and new ice forms wherever it is calm, I prefer the safer, although more laborious mode of sledging; accordingly to-day our dogs carried out two sledge-loads of the provisions intended for the use of our parties hereafter.

_22nd._--All the provisions have now been carried out to the nearest island, which I shall temporarily name _Separation_,[17] as there our spring parties will divide; and a portion intended for Hobson's party and my own has been carried on to the next island 7 or 8 miles further.

Our travelling boat and a small reserve depot have been placed upon Pemmican Rock, so already something has been done. Animal life is very scarce; a few seals, an occasional gull, and three brown falcons, are the only creatures we have seen for several days past. Last evening at eight o'clock a very vivid flash of lightning was observed; its appearance in these latitudes is very rare; once only have I seen it before--in September, 1850.


_25th._--Saturday night. Furious gales from N. and S.W., but our barrier of coast-ice remains undiminished. This morning Hobson set off upon a journey of fourteen or fifteen days' duration, with seven men and fourteen dogs; he is to advance the depots along shore to the south, and if successful will reach latitude 71.

Chapter end

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