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In the Arctic Seas Part 16

The temperature is mild (+17), but it is snowy and disagreeable weather; there is already enough snow upon the old ice to make walking laborious, and the land has also assumed its wintry complexion.

_28th._--The ship was kept available for prosecuting her voyage up to the _latest hour_; it was only yesterday that we left the western ice, and in consequence of the vast accumulation of young ice in Bellot Strait we had considerable difficulty in reaching the _entrance_ of Port Kennedy: all within was so firmly frozen over that after three hours'

steaming and working we only penetrated 100 yards; however, we are in an excellent position, although our wintering place will be farther out by a quarter of a mile than I intended.

{WINTER QUARTERS.}

To-day we are unbending sails and laying up the engines--uncertainty no longer exists--here we are compelled to remain; and if we have not been as successful in our voyaging as a month ago we had good reason to expect, we may still hope that Fortune will smile upon our more humble, yet more arduous, pedestrian explorations--"Hope on, hope ever." In the mean time the sudden transition, from mental and physical wear and tear, to the security and quiet of winter quarters, is an immense relief.

{OCT., 1858.}

{ERMINE HUNT.}

_2nd Oct._--M. Petersen has shot two very fine bucks; one is a magnificent fellow, weighing 354 lbs. (minus the paunch). Several deer have been seen; they come from the N. along the slopes of the eastern hills. An ermine came on board a few nights ago and kept the dogs in a violent state of excitement, being much too wary to come out from under the boat to be caught by them; at length one of the men secured it. This beautiful little animal does not appear to be full grown; its extreme length is 13 inches. Two others came off to the ship, and to our great amusement eluded the men who gave chase, by darting into the soft snow--which is now a foot deep--and re-appearing several yards off.

The weather is too mild to satisfy us; we wish for severe frost to seal us up securely, and make the ice strong enough to bear the sledge-loads of provisions, etc., which are to be landed for the purpose of making more room in the ship.

{HOBSON'S PARTY RETURNED.}

_6th._--A herd of a dozen reindeer crossed the harbor to-day. Last night Hobson and his companions returned, all well. They were stopped by the sea washing against the cliffs in latitude 71-1/2, and to that point they have advanced the depots. Although the weather has been stormy here, they have been able to travel every day. They found the coast still fringed with islets, and deeply indented; upon every point, moss-grown circles of stones indicated the abodes of Esquimaux in times long since gone by.

One night they muzzled a dog, as she was in the habit of gnawing her harness: in this defenceless state, unable even to bark and arouse the men, her _amiable_ sisterhood attacked her so fiercely that she died next day!

In honor of so important and successful a commencement of our travelling, as that accomplished by Hobson, we had a feast of good venison, plum pudding, and grog. It is quite evident that no more travelling can be accomplished until the ice forms a pathway alongshore; in this, as in some other respects, we anxiously await the advance of the season. The weather is mild; Bellot Strait is almost covered with ice, which drifts freely with every tide. Reindeer are seen almost daily; they too are awaiting the freezing over of the sea to continue their southern travels. Our harbor-ice is weak and covered a foot deep with a sludgy compound of snow and water.

_8th._--Yesterday an ermine was caught in a trap; hitherto these most active little skirmishers have successfully robbed our fox-traps of their baits as fast as they could be renewed. To-day Petersen shot another reindeer; it weighs 130 lbs.; many others were seen, also a wolf. Sometimes a few ptarmigan are met with, but hares very rarely.

_12th._--Fine weather generally prevails. We have landed about 100 casks, all our boats, and much lumber, so we shall have abundance of room on board. I enjoyed a long and exhilarating ramble upon snow-shoes to-day; without them I could not have gone over half the distance--the snow lies so deep and soft--but I only saw one reindeer.

_14th._--One of our magnetic observatories has been built; it stands upon the ice, 210 yards S. (magnetic) from the ship, and is built of ice sawed into blocks--there not being any suitable snow; it is just large enough to hold the declinometer for hourly observations, to be noted throughout the winter. The housings have been put over the ship already, as Hobson will leave us again in a few days to advance his depot and my own to the vicinity of the magnetic pole if possible. I would also send Young upon a similar duty, but the western sea cannot have frozen over yet.

{FREQUENT GALES.}

_19th._--All the 17th a N.W. gale blew with fearful violence; yesterday it abated, but not sufficiently to allow our party to start. This morning Hobson got away with his nine men and ten dogs; his absence may be from eighteen to twenty days. Autumn travelling is most disagreeable; there is so much wind and snow, the latter being soft, deep, and often wet; the sun is almost always obscured by mist, and is powerless for warmth or drying purposes, and the temperature is vary variable.

Moreover there are now only eight hours of misty daylight. To-day the morning was fine, and temperature +8. Having completed the preliminary observations of the times of horizontal and vertical vibrations, also of the magnetic intensity, I set up to-day the declinometer, and commenced the hourly series of observations on the diurnal variation. I trust it may continue unbroken until we all set out upon our spring travels in March. A hare has been shot, but no other animals seen.

{ANOTHER OBSERVATORY BUILT.}

_29th._--It generally blows a gale of wind here; the only advantage in return for so much discomfort is that the snow is the more quickly packed hard. As we have only three working men and an Esquimaux left on board for ship's duties, I was assisted a few days ago by the doctor, the engineer, and the interpreter, in building another observatory, intended for certain monthly magnetic observations. This edifice is constructed of snow. Whenever we have a calm night we can hear the crushing sound of the drift-ice in Bellot Strait, which continues open to within 500 yards of the Fox Islands, and emits dark chilling clouds of hateful, pestilent, abominable mist.

[Illustration: Interior of the Observatory.]

The last two days have been very fine and calm: the men visited their fox and ermine traps, which are secreted amongst the rocks in a most mysterious manner--one ermine only has been taken. Seven or eight reindeer and some ptarmigan were seen; two of the latter and a hare were shot. We have commenced brewing sugar beer.

{NOV., 1858.}

_2nd Nov._--Very dull times. No amount of ingenuity could make a diary worth the paper it is written on. An occasional raven flies past, a couple more ptarmigan have been shot: another N.W. gale is blowing, with temperature down to -12.

_6th.--Saturday Night._ The N.W. gale blew without intermission for seventy hours, the temperature being about -15: we hoped that our absent shipmates might be housed safely in snow-huts. This afternoon all doubts respecting them were dispelled by their arrival in good health, but they evidently have suffered from cold and exposure during their absence of nineteen days. For the first six days they journeyed outward successfully; on that night they encamped upon the ice; it was at spring-tide, a N.E. gale sprang up, and blowing off shore detached the ice and drifted them off! The sea froze over on the cessation of the gale, and two days afterwards they fortunately regained the land near the position from which they were blown off; they have indeed experienced much unusual danger and suffering from cold.

{NARROW ESCAPE.}

As soon as they discovered that the ice was drifting off shore with them, they packed their sledges, harnessed their dogs, and passed the night in anxious watching for some chance to escape. When the ice got a little distance off shore, it broke up under the influence of the wind and sea, until the piece they were upon was scarce 20 yards in diameter; this drifted across the mouth of a wide inlet[18] until brought up against the opposite shore. The gale was quickly followed by an intense frost, which in a single night formed ice sufficiently strong to bear them in safety to the land, although it bent fearfully beneath their weight.

{ADVANCED DEPoTS.}

The depots were eventually established in latitude 71; beyond this Lieutenant Hobson did not attempt to advance, not only because their remaining provisions would not have warranted a longer absence, but because the open sea was seen to beat against the next headland. They have lived in tents only, and have not experienced the heavy gales so frequent here, and which are probably due mainly to our position in Bellot Strait, which performs the part of a funnel for both winds and tides between the two seas.

That the western sea should still remain open argues a vast space southward for the escape of the ice, and prevents our western party from carrying across their depot: the attempt to do so would be extremely hazardous. We must only be stirring earlier in the spring. I am truly thankful for the safe return of our travellers,--all this toil and exposure of ten persons and ten dogs has only advanced the depots 30 miles further--_i.e._, from 60 to 90 miles distant from the ship.

{EFFECT OF GALES.}

Hardly a particle of snow remains upon the harbor-ice, the recent gales having swept it away; and the porch of my snow-hut has been fretted away to a mere cobweb by the attrition of the snow-drift: the doctor and I rebuilt it to-day. Three reindeer and a wolf have been seen.

FOOTNOTES:

[17] Subsequently named after my excellent friend A. Arcedeckne, Esq., Commodore of the Royal London Yacht Club.

[18] Named after Lord Wrottesley, in remembrance of the support given by him to the expedition, his advocacy of it in the House of Lords, and of the facilities granted me by the Royal Society--of which he was President--for the pursuit of scientific observations.

CHAPTER XII.

Death of our engineer--Scarcity of game--The cold unusually trying--Jolly, under adverse circumstances--Petersen's information--Return of the sun of 1859--Early spring sledge-parties--Unusual severity of the winter--Severe hardships of early sledging--The western shores of Boothia--Meet the Esquimaux--Intelligence of Franklin's ships--Return to the 'Fox'--Allen Young returns.

{DEATH OF OUR ENGINEER.}

_Nov. 7th._--_Sunday evening._--Brief as is the interval since my last entry, yet how awful, and, to one of our small company, how fatal it has been! Yesterday Mr. Brand was out shooting as usual, and in robust health; in the evening Hobson sat with him for a little time. Mr. Brand turned the conversation upon our position and employments last year; he called to remembrance poor Robert Scott, then in sound health, and the fact of his having carried our "Guy Fawkes" round the ship on the preceding day twelvemonth, and added mournfully, "Poor fellow! no one knows whose turn it may be to go next." He finished his evening pipe, and shut his cabin door shortly after nine o'clock. This morning, at seven o'clock, his servant found him lying upon the deck, a corpse, having been several hours dead. Apoplexy appears to have been the cause.

He was a steady, serious man, under forty years of age, and leaves a widow and three or four children; what their circumstances are I am not aware.

{THE FUNERAL.}

_10th._--This morning the remains of Mr. Brand, inclosed in a neat coffin, were buried in a grave on shore. A suitable headboard and inscription will be placed over it. From all that I have gathered, it appears that his mind had been somewhat gloomy for the last few days, dwelling much upon poor Scott's sudden death. Whether he really saw three reindeer on Saturday, watched their movements, and fired his Minie rifle at them when 700 yards distant, or whether it was the creation of a disordered brain, none can tell. On his first return on board he said he had seen deer _tracks_ only.

We are now without either engineer or engine-driver: we have only two stokers, and they know nothing about the machinery. Our numbers are reduced to twenty-four, including our interpreter and two Greenland Esquimaux.

_15th._--We have enjoyed ten days of moderate winds and calms, but the temperature has fallen as low as -31. This causes frost-cracks in the ice _across_ the harbor; they will freeze over, and others will form, and gape, and freeze at intervals, so that by next spring we shall probably be moved several inches, perhaps feet, off shore.

Mists have obscured the sun of late, and now it does not rise at all. We are indifferent; its departure has become to us a matter of course. The usual winter covering of snow has been spread upon deck rather more than a foot thick. Its utility in preventing the escape of heat became at once strikingly apparent. Nothing has been seen but a few ptarmigan and one reindeer, which trotted off towards the ship. Our bullets missed him, and the dogs unfortunately caught sight and chased him away. I do not think any dogs could overtake a reindeer in this rough country; the rocks would speedily lame them, and the snow, in many places, is quite deep enough to fatigue them greatly, whereas it offers but slight impediment to the deer, furnished as he is with long legs and spreading hoofs.

{SCARCITY OF GAME.}

_29th._--Animals have become very scarce. A few ptarmigan and willow-grouse have been seen, and three shot. Two days ago I saw two reindeer. The eastern sea is frozen over, and our old acquaintance the iceberg in Prince Regent's Inlet is still visible on a clear day. We brew sugar-beer, and we set nets for seals, but catch none. The nets have been made and set in favorable positions under the ice by the Greenlanders, so we suppose the seals also have migrated elsewhere; if so, the Esquimaux could not winter here. We have no regular school this winter, but five of the men study navigation every evening under the guidance of Young. Hobson and I are doing all we can to make the ship dry, warm, and comfortable: our large snow porches over the hatchways are a great improvement.

{DEC., 1858.}

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