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In the Arctic Seas Part 23

[Illustration]

The only markings about the boat were those upon her stem, by which we learned that she was built by contract, was received into Woolwich Dockyard in April, 184 ,[22] and was numbered 61. There may have been a fourth figure to the right hand, as the stem had been reduced in order to lighten the boat. The ground the sledge rested upon was the usual limestone shingle, perfectly flat, and probably overflowed at times every summer, as the stones were embedded in ice.

The boat was partially out of her cradle upon the sledge, and lying in such a position as to lead me to suppose it the effect of a violent north-west gale. She was barely, if at all, above the reach of occasional tides.

One hundred yards from her, upon the land side, lay the stump of a fir-tree 12 feet long, and 16 inches in diameter at 3 feet above the roots. Although the ice had used it roughly during its drift to this shore, and rubbed off every vestige of bark, yet the wood was perfectly sound. It may have been and probably has been lying there for twenty or thirty years, and during such a period would suffer less decay in this region of frost than in one-sixth of the time at home. Within two yards of it I noticed a few scanty tufts of grass.

{SKELETONS AND RELICS.}

[Illustration]

But all these were after observations; there was that in the boat which transfixed us with awe. It was portions of two human skeletons. One was that of a slight young person; the other of a large, strongly-made, middle-aged man. The former was found in the bow of the boat, but in too much disturbed a state to enable Hobson to judge whether the sufferer had died there; large and powerful animals, probably wolves, had destroyed much of this skeleton, which may have been that of an officer.

Near it we found the fragment of a pair of worked slippers, of which I give the pattern, as they may possibly be identified. The lines were white, with a black margin; the spaces white, red, and yellow. They had originally been 11 inches long, lined with calf-skin with the hair left on, and the edges bound with red silk ribbon. Besides these slippers there were a pair of small strong shooting half-boots. The other skeleton was in a somewhat more perfect state,[23] and was enveloped with clothes and furs; it lay across the boat, under the after-thwart.

Close beside it were found five watches; and there were two double-barrelled guns--one barrel in each loaded and cocked--standing muzzle upwards against the boat's side. It may be imagined with what deep interest these sad relics were scrutinised, and how anxiously every fragment of clothing was turned over in search of pockets and pocket-books, journals, or even names. Five or six small books were found, all of them scriptural or devotional works, except the 'Vicar of Wakefield.' One little book, 'Christian Melodies,' bore an inscription upon the title page from the donor to G. G. (Graham Gore?) A small Bible contained numerous marginal notes, and whole passages underlined.

Besides these books, the covers of a New Testament and Prayerbook were found.

{RELICS ABOUT THE BOAT.}

Amongst an amazing quantity of clothing there were seven or eight pairs of boots of various kinds--cloth winter boots, sea boots, heavy ankle boots, and strong shoes. I noted that there were silk handkerchiefs--black, white, and figured--towels, soap, sponge, tooth-brush, and hair-combs; mackintosh gun-cover, marked outside with paint A 12, and lined with black cloth. Besides these articles we found twine, nails, saws, files, bristles, wax-ends, sailmakers' palms, powder, bullets, shot, cartridges, wads, leather cartridge-case, knives--clasp and dinner ones--needle and thread cases, slow-match, several bayonet-scabbards cut down into knife-sheaths, two rolls of sheet-lead, and, in short, a quantity of articles of one description and another truly astonishing in variety, and such as, for the most part, modern sledge-travellers in these regions would consider a mere accumulation of dead weight, but slightly useful, and very likely to break down the strength of the sledge-crews.

The only provisions we could find were tea and chocolate; of the former very little remained, but there were nearly 40 pounds of the latter.

These articles alone could never support life in such a climate, and we found neither biscuit nor meat of any kind. A portion of tobacco and an empty pemmican-tin, capable of containing 22 pounds weight, were discovered. The tin was marked with an E; it had probably belonged to the 'Erebus.' None of the fuel originally brought from the ships remained in or about the boat, but there was no lack of it, for a drift-tree was lying on the beach close at hand, and had the party been in need of fuel they would have used the paddles and bottom-boards of the boat.

In the after part of the boat we discovered eleven large spoons, eleven forks, and four teaspoons, all of silver; of these twenty-six pieces of plate, eight bore Sir John Franklin's crest, the remainder had the crests or initials of nine different officers, with the exception of a single fork which was not marked; of these nine officers, five belonged to the 'Erebus,'--Gore, Le Vesconte, Fairholme, Couch, and Goodsir.

Three others belonged to the 'Terror,'--Crozier, (a teaspoon only), Hornby, and Thomas. I do not know to whom the three articles with an owl engraved on them belonged, nor who was the owner of the unmarked fork, but of the owners of those we can identify, the majority belonged to the 'Erebus.' One of the watches bore the crest of Mr. Couch, of the 'Erebus,' and as the pemmican tin also came from that ship, I am inclined to think the boat did also; the authorities at Woolwich could tell (by her number) to which ship she was supplied; and as one of the pocket chronometers found in the boat was marked, "Parkinson and Frodsham 980," and the other "Arnold 2020," it could also be ascertained to which ship they had been issued.[24]

{CONJECTURES.}

Sir John Franklin's plate perhaps was issued to the men for their use, as the only means of saving it; and it seems probable that the officers generally did the same, as not a single iron spoon, such as sailors always use, has been found. Of the many men, probably twenty or thirty, who were attached to this boat, it seemed most strange that the remains of only two individuals were found, nor were there any graves upon the neighboring flat land; indeed, bearing in mind the season at which these poor fellows left their ships, it should be remembered that the soil was then frozen hard, and the labor of _cutting_ a grave very great indeed.

I was astonished to find that the sledge was directed to the N.E., exactly for the next point of land for which we ourselves were travelling!

The position of this abandoned boat is about 50 miles--as a sledge would travel--from Point Victory, and therefore 65 miles from the position of the ships; also it is 70 miles from the skeleton of the steward, and 150 miles from Montreal Island; it is moreover in the depth of a wide bay, where, by crossing over 10 or 12 miles of very low land, a great saving of distance would be effected, the route by the coast-line being about 40 miles.

A little reflection led me to satisfy my own mind at least, that the boat was returning to the ships: and in no other way can I account for two men having been left in her, than by supposing the party were unable to drag the boat further, and that these two men, not being able to keep pace with their shipmates, were therefore left by them supplied with such provisions as could be spared to last until the return of the others from the ship with a fresh stock.

Whether it was the intention of the retroceding party to await the result of another season in the ships, or to follow the track of the main body to the Great Fish River, is now a matter of conjecture. It seems highly probable that they had purposed revisiting the boat, not only on account of the two men left in charge of it, but also to obtain the chocolate, the five watches, and many other articles which would otherwise scarcely have been left in her.

The same reasons which may be assigned for the return of this detachment from the main body, will also serve to account for their not having come back to their boat. In both instances they appear to have greatly overrated their strength, and the distance they could travel in a given time.

Taking this view of the case, we can understand why their provisions would not last them for anything like the distance they required to travel; and why they would be obliged to send back to the ships for more, first taking from the detached party all provisions they could possibly spare. Whether all or any of the remainder of this detached party ever reached their ships is uncertain; all we know is, that they did not revisit the boat, and which accounts for the absence of more skeletons in its neighborhood; and the Esquimaux report that there was no one alive in the ship when she drifted on shore, and that but one human body was found by them on board of her.

{POINT FRANKLIN.}

After leaving the boat we followed an irregular coast-line to the N. and N.W., up to a very prominent cape, which is probably the extreme of land seen from Point Victory by Sir James Ross, and named by him Point Franklin, which name, as a cape, it still retains.

I need hardly say that throughout the whole of my journey along the shores of King William's Land I caused a most vigilant look-out to be kept to seaward for any appearance of the stranded ship spoken of by the natives; our search was however fruitless in that respect.

FOOTNOTES:

[21] See Conclusion, p. 317.

[22] Only the first three figures of the date upon her stem remained, thus--184 .

[23] No part of the skull of either skeleton was found, with the exception only of the lower jaw of each.

[24] These chronometers, according to the receipts in office, were supplied one to each ship in 1845; but it is impossible to tell to which ship the boat belonged, as the number is imperfect.

CHAPTER XVI.

Errors in Franklin's records--Relics found at the cairn--Reflections on the retreat--Returning homeward--Geological remarks--Difficulties of summer sledging--Arrive on board the 'Fox'--Navigable N.W.

passage--Death from scurvy--Anxiety for Captain Young--Young returns safely.

{JUNE, 1859.}

{POINT VICTORY.}

On the morning of 2nd June we reached Point Victory. Here Hobson's note left for me in the cairn informed me that he had not found the slightest trace either of a wreck anywhere upon the coast, or of natives to the north of Cape Crozier.

Although somewhat short of provisions, I determined to remain a day here in order to examine an opening at the Bottom of Back Bay, called so after Sir George Back, by his friend Sir James Ross, and which had not been explored. This proved to be an inlet nearly 13 miles deep, with an average width of 1-1/2 or 2 miles; I drove round it upon the dog sledge, but found no trace of human beings; it was filled with heavy old ice, and was therefore unfavorable for the resort of seals, and consequently of natives also.

The direction of the inlet is to the E.S.E.; we found the land on either side rose as we advanced up it, and attained a considerable elevation, except immediately across its head, where alone it was very low; I have conferred upon it the name of Collinson, after one who will ever be distinguished in connection with the Franklin search, and who kindly relieved Lady Franklin of much trouble by taking upon himself the financial business of this expedition.

An extensive bay, westward of Cape Herschel, I have named after Captain Washington, the hydrographer, a steadfast supporter of this final search.

All the intermediate coast-line along which the retreating crews performed their fearful march is sacred to their names alone.

Hobson's note informed me of his having found a second record, deposited also by Lieut. Gore in May, 1847, upon the south side of Back Bay, but it afforded no additional information.

{ERRORS IN FRANKLIN'S RECORDS.}

It is strange that both these papers state the ships to have wintered in 1846-7 at Beechey Island! So obvious a mistake would hardly have been made had any importance been attached to these documents. They were soldered up in thin tin cylinders, having been filled up on board prior to the departure of the travellers; consequently the day upon which they were _deposited_ was not filled in; but already the papers were much damaged by rust,--a very few more years would have rendered them wholly illegible. When the record left at Point Victory was opened to add thereto the supplemental information which gives it its chief value, Captain Fitzjames, as may be concluded by the color of the ink, filled in the date--28th--in May, when the record was originally deposited. The cylinder containing this record had not been soldered up again; I suppose they had not the means of doing so; it was found on the ground amongst a few loose stones which had evidently fallen along with it from the top of the cairn. Hobson removed every stone of this cairn down to the ground and rebuilt it.

Brief as these records are, we must needs be contented with them; they are perfect models of official brevity. No log-book could be more provokingly laconic. Yet, that _any record at all_ should be deposited after the abandonment of the ships, does not seem to have been intended; and we should feel the more thankful to Captains Crozier and Fitzjames, to whom we are indebted for the invaluable supplement; and our gratitude ought to be all the greater when we remember that the ink had to be thawed, and that writing in a tent during an April day in the Arctic regions is by no means an easy task.

Besides placing a copy of the record taken away by Hobson from the cairn, we both put records of our own in it; and I also buried one under a large stone ten feet true north from it, stating the explorations and discoveries we had made.

{RELICS AT THE CAIRN.}

A great quantity and variety of things lay strewed about the cairn, such as even in their three days' march from the ships the retreating crews found it impossible to carry further. Amongst these were four heavy sets of boat's cooking stoves, pickaxes, shovels, iron hoops, old canvas, a large single block, about four feet of a copper lightning conductor, long pieces of hollow brass curtain rods, a small case of selected medicines containing about twenty-four phials, the contents in a wonderful state of preservation; a deep circle by Robinson, with two needles, bar magnets, and light horizontal needle all complete, the whole weighing only nine pounds; and even a small sextant engraved with the name of "Frederick Hornby" lying beside the cairn without its case.

The colored eye-shades of the sextant had been taken out, otherwise it was perfect; the movable screws and such parts as come in contact with the observer's hand were neatly covered with thin leather to prevent frost-bite in severe weather.

The clothing left by the retreating crews of the 'Erebus' and 'Terror'

Chapter end

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