In the Arctic Seas Part 22


It is easy to tell whether a cairn has been put up or touched within a moderate period of years; if very old, the outer stones have a weathered appearance, lichens will have grown upon the sheltered portions and moss in the crevices; but if recently disturbed, even if a single stone is turned upside down, these appearances are altered. If a cairn has been recently built it will be evident, because the stones picked up from the neighborhood would be bleached on top by the exposure of centuries, whilst underneath they would be colored by the soil in which they were imbedded. To the eye of the native hunter these marks of a recent cairn are at once apparent: and unless Simpson's cairn (built in 1839) had been disturbed by Crozier, I do not think the Esquimaux would have been at the trouble of pulling it down to plunder the cache; but having commenced to do so, would not have left any of it standing, _unless they found what they sought_.

I noticed with great care the appearance of the stones, and came to the conclusion that the cairn itself was of old date, and had been erected many years ago, and that it was reduced to the state in which we found it by people having broken down one side of it; the displaced stones, from being turned over, looking far more fresh than those in that portion of the cairn which had been left standing. It was with a feeling of deep regret and much disappointment that I left this spot without finding some certain record of those martyrs to their country's fame.

Perhaps in all the wide world there will be few spots more hallowed in the recollection of English seamen than this cairn on Cape Herschel.

A few miles beyond Cape Herschel the land becomes very low; many islets and shingle-ridges lie far off the coast; and as we advanced we met with hummocks of unusually heavy ice, showing plainly that we were now travelling upon a far more exposed part of the coast-line. We were approaching a spot where a revelation of intense interest was awaiting me.


About 12 miles from Cape Herschel I found a small cairn built by Hobson's party, and containing a note for me. He had reached this his extreme point, six days previously, without having seen anything of the wreck, or of natives, but he had found a record--the record so ardently sought for, of the Franklin Expedition--at Point Victory, on the N.W.

coast of King William's Land.


That record is indeed a sad and touching relic of our lost friends, and, to simplify its contents, I will point out separately the double story it so briefly tells. In the first place, the record paper was one of the printed forms usually supplied to discovery ships for the purpose of being enclosed in bottles and thrown overboard at sea, in order to ascertain the set of the currents, blanks being left for the date and position; any person finding one of these records is requested to forward it to the Secretary of the Admiralty, with a note of time and place; and this request is printed upon it in six different languages.

Upon it was written, apparently by Lieutenant Gore, as follows:--

"28 of May, { H.M. ships 'Erebus' and 'Terror' wintered in the 1847. { ice in lat. 70 05' N.; long. 98 23' W.

"Having wintered in 1846-7 at Beechey Island, in lat. 74 43' 28"

N., long. 91 39' 15" W., after having ascended Wellington Channel to lat. 77, and returned by the west side of Cornwallis Island.

"Sir John Franklin commanding the expedition.

"All well.

"Party consisting of 2 officers and 6 men left the ships on Monday 24th May, 1847.

"GM. GORE, Lieut.

"CHAS. F. DES VUX, Mate."


There is an error in the above document, namely, that the 'Erebus' and 'Terror' wintered at Beechey Island in 1846-7,--the correct dates should have been 1845-6; a glance at the date at the top and bottom of the record proves this, but in all other respects the tale is told in as few words as possible of their wonderful success up to that date, May, 1847.

We find that, after the last intelligence of Sir John Franklin was received by us (bearing date of July, 1845), from the whalers in Melville Bay, that his Expedition passed on to Lancaster Sound, and entered Wellington Channel, of which the southern entrance had been discovered by Sir Edward Parry in 1819. The 'Erebus' and 'Terror' sailed up that strait for one hundred and fifty miles, and reached in the autumn of 1845 the same latitude as was attained eight years subsequently by H.M.S. 'Assistance' and 'Pioneer.' Whether Franklin intended to pursue this northern course, and was only stopped by ice in that latitude of 77 north, or purposely relinquished a route which seemed to lead away from the known seas off the coast of America, must be a matter of opinion; but this the document assures us of, that Sir John Franklin's Expedition, having accomplished this examination, returned southward from latitude 77 north, which is at the head of Wellington Channel, and re-entered Barrow's Strait by a new channel between Bathurst and Cornwallis Islands.

Seldom has such an amount of success been accorded to an Arctic navigator in a single season, and when the 'Erebus' and 'Terror' were secured at Beechey Island for the coming winter of 1845-6, the results of their first year's labor must have been most cheering. These results were the exploration of Wellington and Queen's Channel, and the addition to our charts of the extensive lands on either hand. In 1846 they proceeded to the south-west, and eventually reached within twelve miles of the north extreme of King William's Land, when their progress was arrested by the approaching winter of 1846-7. That winter appears to have passed without any serious loss of life; and when in the spring Lieutenant Gore leaves with a party for some especial purpose, and very probably to connect the unknown coast-line of King William's Land between Point Victory and Cape Herschel, those on board the 'Erebus' and 'Terror' were "all well," and the gallant Franklin still commanded.


But, alas! round the margin of the paper upon which Lieutenant Gore in 1847 wrote those words of hope and promise, another hand had subsequently written the following words:--

"April 25, 1848.--H.M. ships 'Terror' and 'Erebus' were deserted on the 22nd April, 5 leagues N.N.W. of this, having been beset since 12th September, 1846. The officers and crews, consisting of 105 souls, under the command of Captain F. R. M. Crozier, landed here in lat. 69 37' 42" N., long. 98 41' W. Sir John Franklin died on the 11th June, 1847; and the total loss by deaths in the expedition has been to this date 9 officers and 15 men.

(Signed) (Signed)

"F. R. M. CROZIER, "JAMES FITZJAMES, "Captain and Senior Officer. "Captain H.M.S. Erebus.

"and start (on) to-morrow, 26th, for Back's Fish River."


This marginal information was evidently written by Captain Fitzjames, excepting only the note stating when and where they were going, which was added by Captain Crozier.

There is some additional marginal information relative to the transfer of the document to its present position (viz., the site of Sir James Ross' pillar) from a spot four miles to the northward, near Point Victory, where it had been originally deposited by the _late_ Commander Gore. This little word _late_ shows us that he too, within the twelvemonth had passed away.

In the short space of twelve months how mournful had become the history of Franklin's expedition; how changed from the cheerful "All well" of Graham Gore! The spring of 1847 found them within 90 miles of the known sea off the coast of America; and to men who had already in two seasons sailed over 500 miles of previously unexplored waters, how confident must they have felt that that forthcoming navigable season of 1847 would see their ships pass over so short an intervening space! It was ruled otherwise. Within a month after Lieutenant Gore placed the record on Point Victory, the much-loved leader of the expedition, Sir John Franklin, was dead; and the following spring found Captain Crozier, upon whom the command had devolved at King William's Land, endeavoring to save his starving men, 105 souls in all, from a terrible death by retreating to the Hudson Bay territories up the Back or Great Fish River.

A sad tale was never told in fewer words. There is something deeply touching in their extreme simplicity, and they show in the strongest manner that both the leaders of this retreating party were actuated by the loftiest sense of duty, and met with calmness and decision the fearful alternative of a last bold struggle for life, rather than perish without effort on board their ships; for we well know that the 'Erebus'

and 'Terror' were only provisioned up to July, 1848.


Another discrepancy exists in the second part of the record written by Fitzjames. The original number composing the expedition was 138 souls,[21] and the record states the total loss by deaths to have been 9 officers and 15 men, consequently that 114 officers and men remained; but it also states that 105 only landed under Captain Crozier's command, so that 9 individuals are unaccounted for.

Lieutenant Hobson's note told me that he found quantities of clothing and articles of all kinds lying about the cairn, as if these men, aware that they were retreating for their lives, had there abandoned everything which they considered superfluous.

Hobson had experienced extremely bad weather--constant gales and fogs--and thought he might have passed the wreck without seeing her; he hoped to be more successful upon his return journey.

Encouraged by this important news, we exerted our utmost vigilance in order that no trace should escape us.

Our provisions were running very short, therefore the three remaining puppies were of necessity shot, and their sledge used for fuel. We were also enabled to lengthen our journeys, as we had very smooth ice to travel over, the off-lying islets keeping the rough pack from pressing in upon the shore.


Upon the 29th of May we reached the western extreme of King William's Island, in lat. 69 08' N., and long. 100 08' W. I named it after Captain Crozier of the 'Terror,' the gallant leader of that "Forlorn Hope" of which we now just obtained tidings. The coast we marched along was extremely low--a mere series of ridges of limestone shingle, almost destitute of fossils. The only tracks of animals seen were those of a bear and a few foxes--the only living creatures a few willow-grouse.

Traces even of the wandering Esquimaux became much less frequent after leaving Cape Herschel. Here were found only a few circles of stones, the sites of tenting-places, but so moss-grown as to be of great age. The prospect to seaward was not less forbidding--a rugged surface of crushed-up pack, including much heavy ice. In these shallow ice-covered seas, seals are but seldom found: and it is highly probable that all animal life in them is as scarce as upon the land.


From Cape Crozier the coast-line was found to turn sharply away to the eastward; and early in the morning of the 30th May we encamped alongside a large boat--another melancholy relic which Hobson had found and examined a few days before, as his note left here informed me; but he had failed to discover record, journal, pocket-book, or memorandum of any description.

A vast quantity of tattered clothing was lying in her, and this we first examined. Not a single article bore the name of its former owner. The boat was cleared out and carefully swept that nothing might escape us.

The snow was then removed from about her, but nothing whatever was found.


This boat measured 28 feet long, and 7 feet 3 inches wide; she was built with a view to lightness and light draught of water, and evidently equipped with the utmost care for the ascent of the Great Fish River; she had neither oars nor rudder, paddles supplying their place, and as a large remnant of light canvas, commonly known as No. 8, was found, and also a small block for reeving a sheet through, I suppose she had been provided with a sail. A sloping canvas roof or rain-awning had also formed part of her equipment. She was fitted with a weather-cloth 9 inches high, battened down all round the gunwale, and supported by 24 iron stanchions, so placed as to serve likewise for rowing thowels.

There were 50 fathoms of deep-sea sounding-line near her, as well as an ice grapnel. She appeared to have been originally "carvel" built; but for the purpose of reducing weight, very thin fir planks had been substituted for her seven upper strakes, and put on "clincher" fashion.


The weight of the boat alone was about 700 or 800 lbs. only, but she was mounted upon a sledge of unusual weight and strength. It was constructed of two oak planks 23 feet 4 inches in length, 8 inches in width, and with an average thickness of 2-1/2 inches. These planks formed the sides or runners of the sledge; they were connected by five cross-bars of oak, each 4 feet long, and 4 inches by 3-1/2 inches thick, and bolted down to the runners; the underneath parts of the latter were shod with iron.

Upon the cross-bars five saddles or supporting chocks for the boat were lashed, and the drag-ropes by which the crew moved this massive sledge, and the weights upon it, consisted of 2-3/4 inch whale-line.

I have calculated the weight of this sledge to be 650 lbs.; it could not have been less, and may have been considerably more. The total weight of boat and sledge may be taken at 1400 lbs., which amounts to a heavy load for seven strong healthy men.

Chapter end

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