In the Arctic Seas Part 24

formed a huge heap four feet high; every article was searched, but the pockets were empty, and not one of all these articles were marked,--indeed sailors' warm clothing seldom is. Two canteens, the property of marines, were found, one marked "88 C^o. Wm. Hedges," and the other "89 C^o. Wm. Hether." A small pannikin made out of a two-pound preserved-meat tin had scratched on it "W. Mark."

When continuing my homeward march, and, as nearly as I could judge, 2-1/2 or 2-3/4 miles to the north of Point Victory, I saw a few stones placed in line, as if across the head of a tenting place to afford some shelter; here it was I think that Lieutenant Gore deposited the record in May, 1847, which was found in 1848 by Lieutenant Irving, and finally deposited at Point Victory. Some scraps of tin vessels were lying about, but whether they had been left by Sir James Ross' party in May, 1830, or by the Franklin Expedition in 1847 or 1848, is uncertain.[25]

Here ended my own search for traces of the lost ones. Hobson found two other cairns, and many relics, between this position and Cape Felix.

From each place where any trace was discovered the most interesting of the relics were taken away, so that the collection we have made is very considerable.


Of these northern cairns I will write a description when I have received Hobson's account of his journey; but here it is as well to state his opinion, as well as my own, that no part of the coast between Cape Felix and Cape Crozier has been visited by Esquimaux since the fatal march of the lost crews in April, 1848; none of the cairns or numerous articles strewed about--which would be invaluable to the natives--or even the driftwood we noticed, had been touched by them. From this very significant fact it seems quite certain that they had not been discovered by the Esquimaux, whose knowledge of the "white men falling down and dying as they walked along" must be limited to the shore-line southward and eastward of Cape Crozier, and where, of course, no traces were permitted to remain for us to find. It is not probable that such fearful mortality would have overtaken them so early in their march as within 80 miles by sledge-route from the abandoned ships--such being their distance from Cape Crozier; nor is it probable that we could have passed the wreck had she existed there, as there are no off-lying islands to prevent a ship drifting in upon the beach; whilst to the southward they are very numerous; so much so that a drifting ship could hardly run the gauntlet between them so as to reach the shore.

The coast from Point Victory northward is considerably higher than that upon which we have been so many days; the sea also is not so shallow, and the ice comes close in; to seaward all was heavy close pack, consisting of all descriptions of ice, but for the most part old and heavy.


From Walls' Bay I crossed overland to the eastern shore, and reached my depot near the entrance of Port Parry on the 5th June, after an absence of thirty-four days. Hence I purposed travelling alongshore to Cape Sabine, in order to avoid the rough ice which we encountered when crossing direct from Cape Victoria in April, and also hoping to obtain a few more observations for the magnetic inclination.

The weather became foggy as we approached Prince George's Bay, therefore we were obliged to go well into it before attempting to cross. We gained the land--upon the opposite side, as I supposed--and which would lead us direct to Cape Sabine; but when the weather cleared up we saw a long low island to seaward of us, which puzzled me much. Eventually I found we had discovered a strait leading from Prince George's Bay into Wellington Strait, about 8 miles south of Cape Sabine.

This discovery cost us a day's delay, and was therefore unwelcome, as we were then in daily expectation and dread of the thaw, which renders all travelling so very difficult; and we were still 230 long miles from our ship. In this strait we found a deserted snow village of seventeen huts; one of them was unusually large, its internal diameter being 14 feet.

The men soon scraped together enough blubber to supply us with fuel for our homeward march. Strewed about on the ice or in every snow-hut were shavings and chips of fresh wood; in one of them I found a child's toy--a miniature sledge--made of wood. No traces of natives were found upon either shore at this place, nor had I met with any since leaving the western coast of the island to the southward of Cape Crozier.

Having passed through nearly to the eastern end of the strait, we cut off some distance by crossing overland, so as to reach the sea-coast 3 or 4 miles southward of Cape Sabine. A few willow-grouse, two foxes, and a young reindeer were seen. There was some vegetation upon the land, and animals appeared to resort to this locality in tolerable abundance; the contrast between it and the low, barren shore we had so recently come from was striking indeed!


Nothing can exceed the gloom and desolation of the western coast of King William's Island: Hobson and myself had some considerable experience of it; his sojourn there exceeded a month; its climate seems different from that of the eastern coast; it is more exposed to north-west winds, and the air was almost constantly loaded with chilling fogs. Everywhere upon the shores of the island I noticed boulders of dark gneiss; upon the west coast they were generally small, and of a dark gray color. About the north part of the island Hobson found a good deal of sandstone, the probable result of ice-drift from Melville Island or Banks Land.

This land gives one the idea of its having risen within a recent geological period from the sea--not suddenly, but at regular intervals; the numerous terraces or beach-marks form long horizontal lines, rising very gradually, and in due proportion as their distance increases from the sea; near the shore they are, of course, most distinct. Upon the west coast some fossils were picked up, chiefly impressions of shells.

King William's Island is for the most part extremely barren, and its surface clotted over with innumerable ponds and lakes. It is not by any means the "land abounding with reindeer and musk oxen" which we expected to find: the natives told us there were none of the latter and very few of the former upon it.


On the 8th June the first ducks and brent geese were seen flying northward. Passing over the extreme point of Cape Victoria, Boothia Land, near which we saw the deserted snow-huts of our March acquaintances, and shortly afterwards crossing the mouth of the deep bay to the north of it, in which, sheltered by the island, a ship would find security from ice pressure, and very tolerable winter quarters, we again reached the straight low limestone coast of Boothia Felix.


I was unable to make any delay at the Magnetic Pole, nor could I find a trace of Ross' cairn;[26] but at each of our encampments along the coast the magnetic inclination was carefully observed. Throughout my whole journey I availed myself of every opportunity of obtaining these most interesting observations, often remaining up, after we had encamped for rest, six or seven hours in order to do so; but the instruments supplied for this purpose were not well adapted, and occasioned me a vast deal of labor and loss of time, so as to diminish to almost one-third the results I should otherwise have obtained. Much snow has disappeared off the land; and the ridges or ancient beaches, being the parts most free from snow, showed out strongly in long, dark, horizontal lines, rising above each other until lost to view in the interior. Here and there a few fossil shells and corals were picked up, and four or five willow-grouse shot.

_13th June._--We passed from limestone to granite in lat. 71 10' N.

Here the land attains to considerable elevation. In the hollows of the dark granite rocks we found abundance of water, and also in a few places upon the sea-ice; it was quite evident that in another day or two the snow would altogether yield to the warmth of summer; birds were now frequently seen.

We discovered a narrow channel to the eastward of the one between the Tasmania Group, through which we had passed with so much difficulty in April; our new channel was covered with smooth ice, and was also much shorter.


At one of our depots lately visited, a note left by Hobson informed me of his being six days in advance of me, and also of his own serious illness; for many days past he had been unable to walk, and was consequently conveyed upon the sledge; his men were hastening home with all their strength and speed, in order to get him under the Doctor's care. We also were doing our best to push on, lest the bursting out of melting snow from the various ravines should render the ice impassable.

On the 15th the snow upon the ice everywhere yielded to the effects of increased temperature; I was, indeed, most thankful at its having remained firm so long. To make any progress at all after this date was of course a very great labor, requiring the utmost efforts of both the men and the dogs; nor was the freezing mixture through which we trudged by any means agreeable; we were often more than knee-deep in it.

We succeeded in reaching False Strait on the morning of the 18th June, and pitched our tent just as heavy rain began to descend; it lasted throughout the greater part of the day. After travelling a few miles upon the Long Lake, further progress was found to be quite impossible, and we were obliged to haul our sledges up off the flooded ice, and commence a march of 16 or 17 miles overland for the ship. The poor dogs were so tired and sore-footed, that we could not induce them to follow us; they remained about the sledges. After a very fatiguing scramble across the hills and through the snow valleys we were refreshed with a sight of our poor dear lonely little 'Fox,' and arrived on board in time for a late breakfast on the 19th June.


With respect to a _navigable_ North-West Passage, and to the probability of our having been able last season to make any considerable advance to the southward, had the barrier of ice across the western outlet of Bellot Strait permitted us to reach the open water beyond, I think, judging from what I have since seen of the ice in the Franklin Strait, that the chances were greatly in favor of our reaching Cape Herschel, on the S. side of King William's Land, by passing (as I intended to do) _eastward_ of that island.

From Bellot Strait to Cape Victoria we found a mixture of old and new ice, showing the exact proportion of pack and of clear water at the setting in of winter. Once to the southward of the Tasmania Group, I think our chief difficulty would have been overcome; and south of Cape Victoria I doubt whether any further obstruction would have been experienced, as but little, if any, ice remained. The natives told us the ice went away, and left a clear sea every year. As our discoveries show the Victoria Strait to be but little more than 20 miles wide, the ice pressed southward through so narrow a space could hardly have prevented our crossing to Victoria Land, and Cambridge Bay, the wintering place reached by Collinson, from the _west_.

No one who sees that portion of Victoria Strait which lies between King William's Island and Victoria Land, as we saw it, could doubt of there being but one way of getting a ship through it, that way being the _extremely_ hazardous one of drift through in the pack.

The wide channel between Prince of Wales' Land and Victoria Land admits a vast and continuous stream of very heavy ocean formed ice from the N.W., which presses upon the western face of King William's Island, and chokes up Victoria Strait in the manner I have just described. I do not think the North-West Passage could ever be sailed through by passing westward--that is, to windward--of King William's Island.

If the season was so favorable for navigation as to open the northern part of this western sea[27] (as, for instance, in 1846, when Sir J.

Franklin sailed down it), I think but comparatively little difficulty would be experienced in the more southern portion of it until Victoria Strait was reached. Had Sir John Franklin known that a channel existed eastward of King William's _Land_ (so named by Sir John Ross), I do not think he would have risked the besetment of his ships in such very heavy ice to the westward of it; but had he attempted the north-west passage by the _eastern_ route, he would probably have carried his ships safely through to Behring Strait. But Franklin was furnished with charts which indicated no passage to the eastward of King William's Land, and made that land (since discovered by Rae to be an island) a peninsula attached to the continent of North America; and he consequently had but one course open to him, and that the one he adopted.

My own preference for the route by the east side of the island is founded upon the observations and experience of Rae and Collinson in 1851-2-4. I am of opinion that the barrier of ice off Bellot Strait, some 3 or 4 miles wide, was the only obstacle to our carrying the 'Fox,'

according to my original intention, southward to the Great Fish River, passing _east_ of King William's Island, and from thence to a wintering position on Victoria Land. Perhaps some future voyager, profiting by the experience so fearfully and fatally acquired by the Franklin expedition, and the observations of Rae, Collinson, and myself, may succeed in carrying his ship through from sea to sea: at least he will be enabled to direct all his efforts in the true and only direction. In the mean time to Franklin must be assigned the earliest discovery of the North-West Passage, though not the actual accomplishment of it in his ships.[28]

{JULY, 1859.}

_Saturday, 2nd July._--Upon my arrival on board on the morning of the 19th June, my first inquiries were about Hobson; I found him in a worse state than I expected. He reached the ship on the 14th, unable to walk, or even stand without assistance; but already he was beginning to amend, and was in excellent spirits. Christian had shot several ducks, which, with preserved potato, milk, strong ale, and lemon-juice, completed a very respectable dietary for a scurvy-stricken patient. All the rest were tolerably well; slight traces only of scurvy in two or three of the men. The ship was as clean and trim as I could expect, and all had well and cheerfully performed their duties during my absence; hardly any game had been shot, except one bear.


The Doctor now acquainted me with the death of Thomas Blackwell, ship's steward, which occurred only five days previously, and was occasioned by scurvy. This man had scurvy when I left the ship in April, and no means were left untried by the Doctor to promote the recovery and rally his desponding energies; but his mind, unsustained by hope, lost all energy, and at last he had to be forcibly taken upon deck for fresh air.

For months past the ship's spirits had been of necessity removed from under his control.

When too late his shipmates made it known that he had a dislike to preserved meats, and had lived the whole winter upon salt pork! He also disliked preserved potato, and would not eat it unless watched, nor would he put on clean clothes which others in charity prepared for him.

Yet his death was somewhat unexpected; he went on deck as usual to walk in the middle of the day, and, when found there, was quite dead. His remains were buried beside those of our late shipmate Mr. Brand.


The news of our success to the southward in tracing the footsteps of the lost expedition greatly revived the spirits of my small crew; we wished only for the safe and speedy return of Young and his party.

Captain Young commenced his spring explorations on the 7th April, with a sledge-party of four men, and a second sledge drawn by six dogs under the management of our Greenlander, Samuel; finding in his progress that a channel existed between Prince of Wales' Land and Victoria Land whereby his discovery and search would be lengthened, he sent back one sledge, the tent, and four men to the ship, in order to economise provisions, and for forty days journeyed with one man (George Hobday) and the dogs, encamping in such snow lodges as they were able to build.

This great exposure and fatigue, together with extremely bad weather, and a most difficult coast-line to trace, greatly injured his health; he was compelled to return to the ship on 7th June for medical aid, but proposing at all hazards to renew his explorations almost immediately.

Dr. Walker met this determination by a strong protest in writing against his leaving the ship again, his health being quite unequal to it; but after three days Young felt himself somewhat better, and, with a zeal which knew no bounds, set off to complete his branch of the search, taking with him both his sledge-parties.

From the Doctor's account I felt most anxious for his return, lest his health, or that of his companions, should receive permanent injury; in fact this was now my only cause of anxiety. The season was rather forward here, and advancing with unusual rapidity, rain and wind dissolving the snow and ice; there was much water in Bellot Strait, extending from Half-way Island eastward to the table-land, and thence in a narrow lane to Long Island. After a day or two I could perceive a vast improvement in Hobson; and my own four men, with the exception of Hampton, who required rest, were in sound health; so also was my companion Petersen. On 24th June Christian shot two small reindeer, which gave us 170 lbs. of meat; a few days before that he shot a seal, which afforded two sumptuous meals for all on board.


The time having elapsed during which Young expected to remain absent, and the difficulties of the transit from the western sea having become greatly increased, I set off early on the 25th June with my four men, intending to visit Pemmican Rock; but failing to come across him there, I resolved to carry on provisions as far as Four River Point, in the hope of meeting with him, and of facilitating his return. To our surprise the water had all drained off the frozen surface of the Long Lake, and it therefore afforded excellent travelling. We found the poor dogs lying quietly beside our sledges; they had attacked the pemmican, and devoured a small quantity which was not secured in tin, also some blubber, some leather straps, and a gull that I had shot for a specimen; but they had not apparently relished the biscuit. Poor dogs! they have a hard life of it in these regions. Even Petersen, who is generally kind and humane, seems to fancy they must have little or no feeling: one of his theories is, that you may knock an Esquimaux dog about the head with any article, however heavy, with perfect impunity to the brutes.

One of us upbraided him the other day because he broke his whip-handle over the head of a dog. "_That was nothing at all_," he assured us: some friend of his in Greenland found he could beat his dogs over the head with a heavy hammer,--it stunned them certainly,--but by laying them with their mouths open to the wind, they soon revived, got up and ran about "_all right_."

We lost no time in giving them a good feed, the first for seven days, yet they did not seem unusually hungry, and soon coiled themselves up to sleep again. Whilst the men and dogs were employed next day in conveying a sledge to the east end of the lake, I walked to Cape Bird to look out for the absent party, but they had not yet returned to Pemmican Rock.

When vainly endeavoring, with felonious intentions, to climb up a steep cliff to the breeding-places of some silvery gulls, I saw and shot a brent goose, seated upon an accessible ledge, and made a prize of four eggs; it seems strange that this bird should have selected so unusual a breeding-place. Many seals were basking on the ice, and the watercourse by which our sledges ascended a week before to the Long Lake was now a strong and rapid stream. A few reindeer were seen.

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