In the Arctic Seas Part 20

They both told us it was in the fall of the year--that is, August or September--when the ships were destroyed; that all the white people went away to the "large river," taking a boat or boats with them, and that in the following winter their bones were found there.

These two Esquimaux families had been up as far north as the Tasmania Group[20] in latitude 71-1/4 N., and were returning to Neitchillee, hunting seals by the way; those we met at Cape Victoria had already gone there. The nearest natives to us at present, they said, were residing at the island of Amitoke, ten days' journey distant from here. Can this Amitoke be Matty Island?



We purchased some seal's blubber and flesh, as well as their two only dogs; but next morning Oo-na-lee repented his bargain, or feigned to do so, but as he came without the knife to exchange back we retained his dog; he tried to steal a tin vessel off one of the sledges, and perhaps it was for the purpose of regaining our favor that he made known to us, just as we were starting, that his countrymen had followed my homeward track in March, discovering my depot of blubber, articles for barter, and two revolvers, and carried them all off to Neitchillee,--by no means pleasant intelligence; their dogs must have enabled them to find the blubber by scenting it, for it was buried under 4 feet of snow, and strong winds obliterated all traces upon the surface.

I was now glad we had purchased both the dogs of the men, as it would probably prevent their seeking for our depots to the northward; the knowledge of the insecurity of _all_ depots amongst these people will keep us on our guard for the future. I regretted the loss of the pistols, as it left my party with no other arms than two guns.

Oo-na-lee told us when we first met him that one of his countrymen was very sick; not seeing a sick man in their huts, we forgot all about it until after starting, when Petersen interpreted to me Oo-na-lee's parting information, and told me how he described that the breech of the revolver turned round; it then occurred to me that one of the men might have been wounded,--they had discovered how to cock the locks, and the pistols were loaded and capped.

Oo-na-lee was well acquainted with the coast-line up to Bellot Strait, and had names for the different headlands, although he had never been so far north; he made many inquiries about the position of our ship, her size, and the number of men. Had he been able to travel so far with his wife and several young children, and without sledge or dogs, I think he certainly would have gone up to Port Kennedy; we did not give him any encouragement to do so. His wife was one of the most importunate of the many women we saw at Cape Victoria in March. She was the woman who plucked out an infant by its arm from inside her dress, and exposed it regardless of -30 and a fresh wind, as I have previously told.

The information respecting _both_ the missing ships was most important, and it remained for us to discover, if possible, the stranded ship.


Continuing our journey, we crossed a wide bay upon level ice, and the most perfectly smooth hard snow I ever saw; there must have been much open water here late last autumn. Seven or eight snow-huts, recently abandoned, were found near the magnetic pole. During the 25th, 26th, and 27th, we were confined to our tents by a very heavy south-east gale, with severe cold. Early on the 28th we reached Cape Victoria; here Hobson and I separated. He marched direct for Cape Felix, King William's Land, whilst I kept a more southerly course. Not daring to leave depots upon this coast, we carried on our whole supply, intending to deposit a small portion upon the Clarence Islands.

Hobson was unwell when we parted, complaining of stiffness and pain in his legs; neither of us then suspected the cause. I gave him directions to search the west coast of King William's Island for the stranded ship and for records, and to act upon such information as he might obtain in this way, or from the natives; but should that shore prove destitute of traces, to carry out if possible our original plan for the completion of discovery and search upon Victoria Land, comprising the blank space between the extremes visited by Captain Collinson and Mr. Wynniatt.


I soon found that my party had to labor across a rough pack; nor was it until the third day that we completed the traverse of the strait, and encamped near to the entrance of Port Parry, in King William's Island.

Although the weather was clear, and that by our reckoning we passed directly over the assigned position of the two southern of the Clarence Islands, yet we saw nothing of them.

A day was devoted to securing a depot in a huge mass of grounded ice, and in repairing and drying equipment, or, to speak more correctly, in getting rid of the ice which encumbered our sleeping bags and gear; this we effected by beating them well and exposing them to the direct rays of the sun. Magnetic and other observations gave me ample employment, the only _immediate_ result of which was my being almost snow-blind for the two following days.

{MAY, 1859.}

On May 2nd we set off again briskly; our load being diminished to thirty days' provisions, and the sledge sail set, we soon reached the land, and travelled along it for Cape Sabine; it was very thick weather, and we were unable to see any distance in consequence of the mist and snow-drift. The following day was no better, and the shore, which we dared not leave to cross the bays, was extremely low.


We soon discovered that we had strayed inland; but, guided by the wind, continued our course. Upon May 4th we descended into Wellington Strait, and the weather being tolerably clear, crossed over to the south-west extreme of Matty Island, in the hope of meeting with natives, no traces of them having been met with since leaving Cape Victoria. Off this south-west point we found a deserted village of nearly twenty snow-huts, besides several others, within a few miles upon either side of it; in all of them I found shavings or chips of different kinds of wood from the lost expedition; they appeared to have been abandoned only within a fortnight or three weeks. Abundance of blubber was gathered up to increase our stock of fuel, and had we encamped here, the dogs would have feasted sumptuously off the scraps and bones of seals strewed about.


The runners (or sides) of some old sledges left here were very ingeniously formed out of rolls of seal-skin, about 3-1/2 feet long, and flattened so as to be 2 or 3 inches wide and 5 inches high; the seal-skins appeared to have been well soaked and then rolled up, flattened into the required form and allowed to freeze. The underneath part was coated with a mixture of moss and ice laid smoothly on by hand before being allowed to freeze, the moss, I suppose, answering the purpose of hair in mortar, to make the compound adhere more firmly.


From this spot the shore-line of Matty Island turned sharply to the N.N.E.; there were some considerable islands to the east, but thinking the most southerly of this group, named "Owut-ta" by the Esquimaux, the most likely place to find the natives, I pushed on in that direction until we encamped. Thick fog enveloped us for the next two days; we could not find the island, but found a very small islet near it, off which was another snow-village very recently abandoned, the sledge tracks plainly showing that the inhabitants had gone to the E.N.E., which is straight for Neitchillee. It was now evident that these places of winter resort were deserted, and that here at least we should not find any natives; I was the more sorry at having missed them, as, from the quantity of wood chips about the huts, they probably had visited the stranded ship alluded to by the last Esquimaux we had met, and the route to which lies up an inlet visible from here, and then overland three or four days' journey to the westward, until the opposite coast of King William's Land is reached.


The largest huts measured 12 feet in diameter, by 6 or 7 feet high; the greater part were constructed in pairs, having a passage 20 or 25 feet long, serving as the common entrance; where the passage divides into two branches, there was a small hut, which served as a sort of ante-chamber for the reception of such articles as were intended to remain frozen.


[20] These islands were so named by me, at the request of Lady Franklin, in grateful acknowledgment of many proofs of affectionate sympathy received from the colony over which her husband presided for several years, and, in particular, of the large contributions raised there in aid of her expeditions of search.


Meet Esquimaux--News of Franklin's people--Frighten a solitary party--Reach the Great Fish River--On Montreal Island--Total absence of all relics--Examine Ogle Peninsula--Discover a skeleton--Vagueness of Esquimaux information--Cape Herschel--Cairn.


_7th May._--To avoid snow-blindness, we commenced night-marching.

Crossing over from Matty Island towards the King William Island shore, we continued our march southward until midnight, when we had the good fortune to arrive at an inhabited snow-village. We found here ten or twelve huts and thirty or forty natives of King William's Island; I do not think any of them had ever seen white people alive before, but they evidently knew us to be friends. We halted at a little distance, and pitched our tent, the better to secure small articles from being stolen whilst we bartered with them.


I purchased from them six pieces of silver plate, bearing the crests or initials of Franklin, Crozier, Fairholme, and McDonald; they also sold us bows and arrows of English woods, uniform and other buttons, and offered us a heavy sledge made of two short stout pieces of curved wood, which no mere boat could have furnished them with, but this of course we could not take away; the silver spoons and forks were readily sold for four needles each.

They were most obliging and peaceably disposed, but could not resist the temptation to steal, and were importunate to barter everything they possessed; there was not a trace of fear, every countenance was lighted up with joy; even the children were not shy, nor backward either, in crowding about us, and poking in everywhere. One man got hold of our saw, and tried to retain it, holding it behind his back, and presenting his knife in exchange; we might have had some trouble in getting it from him, had not one of my men mistaken his object in presenting the knife towards me, and run out of the tent with a gun in his hand; the saw was instantly returned, and these poor people seemed to think they never could do enough to convince us of their friendliness; they repeatedly tapped me gently on the breast, repeating the words "Kammik toomee" (We are friends).

Having obtained all the relics they possessed, I purchased some seal's flesh, blubber, frozen venison, dried and frozen salmon, and sold some of my puppies. They told us it was five days' journey to the wreck,--one day up the inlet still in sight, and four days overland; this would carry them to the western coast of King William Land; they added that but little now remained of the wreck which was accessible, their countrymen having carried almost everything away. In answer to an inquiry, they said she was without masts; the question gave rise to some laughter amongst them, and they spoke to each other about _fire_, from which Petersen thought they had burnt the masts through close to the deck in order to get them down.

There had been _many books_ they said, but all have long ago been destroyed by the weather; the ship was forced on shore in the fall of the year by the ice. She had not been visited during this past winter, and an old woman and a boy were shown to us who were the last to visit the wreck; they said they had been at it during the winter of 1857-8.


Petersen questioned the woman closely, and she seemed anxious to give all the information in her power. She said many of the white men dropped by the way as they went to the Great River; that some were buried and some were not; they did not themselves witness this, but discovered their bodies during the winter following.

We could not arrive at any approximation to the numbers of the white men nor of the years elapsed since they were lost.

This was all the information we could obtain, and it was with great difficulty so much could be gleaned, the dialect being strange to Petersen, and the natives far more inclined to ask questions than to answer them. They assured us we should find natives upon the south shore of King William's Island only three days' journey from here, and also at Montreal Island; moreover they said we might find some at the wreck. For these reasons I did not prolong my stay with them beyond a couple of hours. They seemed to have but little intercourse with other communities, not having heard of our visit to the Boothians two months before; one man even asked Petersen if he had seen his brother, who lived in Boothia, not having heard of him since last summer.


It was quite a relief to get away from these good-humored, noisy thieves, and rather difficult too, as some of them accompanied us for miles. They had abundance of food, were well clothed, and are a finer race than those who inhabit North Greenland, or Pond's Inlet: the men had their hair cropped short, with the exception of one long, straggling lock hanging down on each side of the face; like the Boothians, the women had lines tattooed upon their cheeks and chins.

We now proceeded round a bay which I named Latrobe in honor of the late Governor of Victoria, and of his brother, the head of the Moravian Church in London, both esteemed friends of Franklin.


Finding the "Mathison Island" of Rae to be a flat-topped hill, we crossed over low land to the west of it, and upon the morning of the 10th May reached a single snow-hut off Point Booth. I was quite astonished at the number of poles and various articles of wood lying about it, also at the huge pile of walrus' and reindeer's flesh, seal's blubber, and skins of various sorts. We had abundance of leisure to examine these exterior articles before the inmates would venture out; they were evidently much alarmed by our sudden appearance.

A remarkably fine old dog was tied at the entrance--the line being made fast within the long passage--and although he wagged his tail, and received us as old acquaintances, we did not like to attempt an entrance. At length an old man and an old woman appeared; they trembled with fear, and could not, or would not, say anything except "Kammik toomee:" we tried every means of allaying their fears, but their wits seemed paralyzed, and we could get no information. We asked where they got the wood? They purchased it from their countrymen. Did they know the Great River? Yes, but it was a long way off. Were there natives there now? Yes. They even denied all knowledge of white people having died upon their shores. A fine young man came out of the hut, but we could learn nothing of him; they said they had nothing to barter, except what we saw, although we tempted them by displaying our store of knives and needles.

The wind was strong and fair, and the morning intensely cold, and as I could not hope to overcome the fears of these poor people without encamping, and staying perhaps a day with them, I determined to push on, and presented the old lady with a needle as a parting gift.

Chapter end

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