In the Arctic Seas Part 26

During the 4 months occupied in sailing from Davis Strait to Bellot Strait, many looms and rotchies, and 5 or 6 bears were shot.

_Wednesday, 10th._--The S.W. wind proved a good friend to us; by the morning of the 9th it had moved the ice off shore, and cleared away a passage for us out of Brentford Bay. We started under steam at eleven o'clock yesterday morning, and, passing round Long Island, made sail along the land towards Cape Garry, there being a channel about 2 or 3 miles wide between the pack and the shore.


The wind now failed us, and I experienced some little difficulty in the management of the engines and boiler; the latter primed so violently as to send the water over our top gallant yard, and the tail valve of the condenser by some means had got out of its seat, and admitted air to the condenser; but eventually we got the engines to work well, and steamed across Creswell Bay during the night. The pack rested against Fury Point, and an east wind springing up, we made fast to a large grounded mass of ice in Adelaide Bay, about 1/4 mile off shore, and in 3 fathoms water, at eleven o'clock this morning. Having managed the engines for twenty-four consecutive hours, I was not sorry to get into bed. We were hardly out of Brentford Bay when fulmar petrels and white whales were seen; the first we have noticed for eleven and a half months. Dovekies are likewise abundant, and a seal has already been shot. Creswell Bay is perfectly clear of ice, but this pale limestone land is the perfection of sterility, even with the rugged hills of Brentford Bay in lively recollection.

Upon the east side of Port Kennedy the bones of whales were found in two places a mile apart from each other; the lowest of them was 180 feet above the sea, the second was more than 300 feet high. The latter I examined, and found a jaw-bone, two ribs, a joint of the vertebrae, and fragments of other bones, all more or less buried in the soil, and much heavier than the bones of a recent animal; they lay within 40 or 60 yards of each other, and upon a little flat patch of rather rich earth, a rocky hill above, and steep slope below;--they are also nearly a mile inland.


Of the traces which we have left behind us, the most considerable are the graves of our two shipmates within the western point of our little harbor; they were tastefully sodded round, and planted over with the usual Arctic flowers. There is our record in a conspicuous cairn at the west point of Depot or Transition Bay: we left also three cases of pemmican near the east end of the Long Lake, and our travelling boat near its west end, at the head of False Strait.


_Monday, 15th._--Strong east winds, with much rain, have imprisoned us here for the last four days, and driven the whole pack close in, completely filling up Creswell Bay. We remain fast to the grounded ice, which shields us from pressure, otherwise we should have been driven irretrievably on shore. A couple more seals and a white whale have been shot; the latter measured 13-1/2 feet long, and proved to be a female of ordinary dimensions, and of an uniform cream color; the eyes are extremely small, and orifices of the ears scarcely large enough to admit a crow-quill. We dined off steaks of the flesh, and prefer it to seal, which it very much resembles, but it is not quite so tender; the skin is greatly prized by the Greenlanders as an antiscorbutic; it is a sort of gristly gelatinous substance, nearly half an inch thick, and possessing very little taste; fried and eaten with fish-sauce, it reminded me of cod sound, though not so good.

The blubber fills two twenty-gallon casks; it produces oil of a quality superior to seal oil; not an ounce of the flesh or skin of this huge animal has been thrown away, the men having a wholesome dread of scurvy, and unbounded confidence in "blood-meat," such as this! The Doctor has picked up a few fossils very similar to those formerly brought home from Port Leopold.


To our great joy the east wind died away this morning, and immediately a west wind sprang up, which very quickly freshened to a smart gale. At four o'clock this afternoon we were able to make sail, the ice having moved about 3 miles off shore. Passed within a mile of Fury Beach two hours afterwards, and saw the framing of the house, the boats and casks very distinctly.

_17th._--After passing Fury Beach it fell calm, so we steamed up as far as Batty Bay. On Tuesday afternoon we were off Port Leopold, running fast, when thick fog came on, and we got involved in loose ice, and seriously damaged our rudder. The boats and stores at Port Leopold appeared to remain as we left them last year. The flag-staff on the summit of North-east Cape (over Whale Point) is still standing, but not erect.

Fog and ice obstructed our progress during the night; but this morning when I came on deck at eight o'clock, the day was bright, clear, and charming; no ice visible, except about Leopold Island, which was now some miles behind us. Towards evening the wind became contrary.

_Sunday evening, 21st._--At sea--out of sight of land!

On the 19th we were somewhat delayed by loose ice off Cape Hay, but by noon yesterday were close off Cape Burney, and whilst almost becalmed there, a mother bear swam off to us with two interesting cubs about the size of very large dogs. Foolish creatures! a volley of rifles decided their fate in a very few seconds. Not finding any whaling vessels off Pond's Inlet, the land-ice which shelters the whales having all disappeared, we therefore concluded that the whalers had left in consequence, so, without seeking for them further south, at once changed our course for Disco.

To-day only a few icebergs have been seen. There is a good deal of swell, so we tumble about. Roast _veal_ has appeared amongst the delicacies of our table since the battue of yesterday, and Christian has asked for a portion of the old bear to carry home to his mother. Bear's flesh is really considered a delicacy in Greenland.

_25th._--Becalmed off Hare Island, and getting the steam ready. We are only 108 miles from Godhavn, and the anxiety to clutch our letters has become intolerable. No pack-ice has been met with in our passage across Baffin's Bay, but many icebergs. This morning the lofty snow-clad land of Noursoak and Disco was beautifully distinct; and at the same time the wind died away, leaving us, at least, the opportunity to contemplate at our _leisure_ their gloomy grandeur.


_26th._--Steamed for ten hours last night. Fair winds and calms have alternated since then, but this evening we are within 20 miles, and hope soon to get into port. I have been reading over Young's report of his spring journey. It comprises seventy-eight days of sledge-travelling, and certainly under most discouraging circumstances. Leaving the ship on 7th April, he crossed the western strait to Prince of Wales' Land, and thence traced its shore to the south and west. On reaching its southern termination--Cape Swinburne, so named in honor of Rear-Admiral Swinburne, a much-esteemed friend of Sir J. Franklin, and one of the earliest supporters of this final expedition--he describes the land as extremely low and deeply covered with snow, the heavy grounded hummocks which fringed its monotonous coast alone indicating the line of demarcation betwixt land and sea. To the north-east of this terminal cape the sea was covered with level floe formed in the fall of last year, whilst all to the north-westward of the same cape was pack consisting of heavy ice-masses, formed perhaps years ago in far distant and wider seas.

Young attempted to cross the channel which he discovered between Prince of Wales' Island and Victoria Land; but from the rugged nature of the ice, found it quite impracticable with the means and time remaining at his disposal. Young expresses his firm conviction that this channel is so constantly choked up with unusually heavy ice as to be quite unnavigable; it is, in fact, a _continuous ice-stream_ from the N.W. His opinion coincides with my own, and with those of Captains Ommanney and Osborn, when those officers explored the north-western shores of Prince of Wales' Land in 1851.

Fearing that his provisions might run short he sent back one sledge with four men, and continued his march with only one man and the dogs for forty days! They were obliged to build a snow-hut each night to sleep in, as the tent was sent back with the men; but latterly, when the weather became more mild, they preferred sleeping on the sledge, as the constructing of a snow-hut usually occupied them for two hours. Young completed the exploration of this coast beyond the point marked upon the charts as Osborn's farthest, up nearly to lat. 73 N., but no cairn was found. Young, however, recognized the remarkably shaped conical hills spoken of by Osborn, when he at his farthest, in 1851, struck off to the westward.

The coast-line throughout was extremely low; and in the thick disagreeable weather which he almost constantly experienced, it was often a matter of great difficulty to prevent straying off the coast-line inland. He commenced his return on the 11th May, and reached the ship on 7th June, in wretched health and depressed in spirits.

Directly his health was partially re-established, he, in spite of the Doctor's remonstrances, as I have before said, again set out on the 10th with his party of men and the dogs, to complete the exploration of both shores of the continuation of Peel Sound, between the position of the 'Fox' and the points reached by Sir James Ross in 1849, and Lieutenant Browne in 1851. This he accomplished without finding any trace of the lost expedition, and the parties were again on board by 28th June. The ice travelled over in this last journey was almost all formed last autumn.

The extent of coast-line explored by Captain Young amounts to 380 miles, whilst that discovered by Hobson and myself amounts to nearly 420 miles, making a total of 800 geographical miles of new coast-line which we have laid down.


Hobson's report is a minute record of all that occurred during his journey of seventy-four days, and includes a list of all the relics brought on board, or seen by him. He suffered very severely in health: when only ten days out from the ship, traces of scurvy appeared; when a month absent he walked lame; towards the latter end of the journey he was compelled to allow himself to be dragged upon the sledge, not being able to walk more than a few yards at a time; and on arriving at the ship on the 14th June, poor Hobson was unable to stand. How strongly this bears upon the last sad march of the lost crews! And yet Hobson's food throughout the whole journey was pemmican of the very best quality, the most nutritious description of food that we know of, and varied occasionally by such game as they were able to shoot. In spite of this fresh-meat diet, scurvy advanced with rapid strides.

After leaving me at Cape Victoria, he says--"No difficulty was experienced in crossing James Ross Strait. The ice appeared to be of but one year's growth; and although it was in many places much crushed up, we easily found smooth leads through the lines of hummocks; many very heavy masses of ice, evidently of foreign formation, have been here arrested in their drift: so large are they that, in the gloomy weather we experienced, they were often taken for islands."

Again, at Cape Felix, he observes,--"The pressure of the ice is severe, but the ice itself is not remarkably heavy in character; the shoalness of the coast keeps the line of pressure at considerable distance from the beach; to the northward of the island the ice, as far as I could see, was very rough, and crushed up into large masses." Here we notice the gradual change in the character of the ice as Hobson left the Boothian shore and advanced towards Victoria Strait. The "very heavy masses of ice, evidently of foreign formation," had drifted in from the N.W. through M'Clure Strait; Victoria Strait was full of it; and Hobson's description of the ice he passed over clearly illustrates how Franklin, leaving clear water behind him, pressed his ships into the pack when he attempted to force through Victoria Strait. How very different the result _might_ and probably _would_ have been had he known of the existence of a ship-channel, sheltered by King William Island from this tremendous "polar pack"!

Hobson left King William Island on the last day of May, having spent thirty-one days on its desolate shores. During that period one bear and five willow-grouse were shot; one wolf and a few foxes were seen. One poor fox was either so desperately hungry, or so charmed with the rare sight of animated beings, that he played about the party until the dogs snapped him up, although in harness and dragging the sledge at the time.

A few gulls were seen, but not until after the first week in June.

I have already explained how Hobson found the records and the boat: he exercised his discretionary power with sound judgment, and completed his search so well, that, in coming over the same ground after him, I could not discover any trace that had escaped him.

I quite agree with him that there may be many small articles beneath the snow; but that cairns, graves, or any conspicuous objects could exist upon so low and uniform a shore, without our having seen them, is _almost_ impossible.


_Sunday evening, 29th._--Calm, warm, lovely, weather; and we are thoroughly enjoying it in the quiet security of Lievely harbor, or Godhavn. Although Friday night was dark, we managed to find out the harbor's mouth, and slowly steamed into it. The inhabitants were awoke by Petersen demanding our letters, but great indeed was our disappointment at finding only a very few letters and two or three papers, and these for the officers only! It appears that on the arrival of the whalers in early spring, the ice prevented their usual communication with the settlement, therefore the letters on board of them were unavoidably carried northward. Some few, however, which came out in the 'Truelove,' were landed at the neighboring settlement of Noursoak, and from thence were sent back to Godhavn.

It is rather a nervous thing opening the first letters after a lapse of more than two years. We received them in our beds at three o'clock in the morning; and when we met at breakfast were able, thank God! to congratulate each other upon the receipt of cheering home news. Lady Franklin and Miss Cracroft wrote to me from Bournemouth in March last.

They have travelled more than we have, I think, having visited almost all the countries bordering the Mediterranean and Black Seas, posted through the Crimea, and steamed up the Danube! I am much gratified to learn that I have been elected a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron during my absence.


Yesterday morning I called upon the inspector, Mr. Olrik, who has been home to Denmark since I saw him last spring. In the autumn he took Mrs.

Olrik and his family to Copenhagen, and has but just returned alone. He received me with his usual kindness, and promised me such supplies as we require. It so happens that none of my expected business letters have arrived, so that I am not accredited in the slightest degree, nor is there any hint thrown out as to where I am to take the 'Fox.' Mr. Olrik gave me a large bundle of 'Illustrated London News,' which was exceedingly acceptable, and told us that Austria was at war with France and Sardinia. By the latest news a battle had been fought and won by the latter Powers. Most fortunately a 'Navy List' had come out to Hobson, otherwise I think we should have been utterly brokenhearted. We study its pages daily, and delight in noticing the advancement of our many friends.

{SEPT., 1859.}

_1st Sept., Thursday night._--At sea, on _the passage_, and already enjoying, by anticipation, the pleasures of home! Five busy days were spent in Godhavn, supplying our little wants, in as far as they could be supplied, including 100 gallons of light beer. The natives were very useful, the men bringing off water, stone ballast, and sand, and a troop of Esquimaux girls scrubbing the paintwork and the decks.

Each evening the men went on shore, taking with them a very limited quantity of rum-punch for the ladies, and danced for several hours in a large store; whilst the officers and myself spent the time with Mr.

Olrik or the other Danish gentlemen--Messrs. Andersen, Bulbrue, and Tyner. Nothing could exceed their kindness to us, whilst their good humor and their anecdotes, sometimes expressed in quaint English, greatly amused us. We shall always retain very agreeable recollections of Godhavn; twice has it been to us an Arctic home.


Mr. Petersen's nieces, the belles of the place, came on board (Miss Sophia with scented cambric handkerchief and gloves--in other respects she adheres to the Esquimaux costume); they were pleased with the organ, although it is out of repair, and they sang together very sweetly for us. Our Esquimaux shipmates, Christian and Samuel, were discharged, and, by their own request their wages given in charge to Mr. Olrik and Mr.

Bulbrue; they seemed to understand the importance of husbanding their wealth. Christian said he thought it would not be all spent under three years. First of all he intended buying a rifle for his brother, and then some wood to build a house for himself.

I was gratified very much when I heard them say that the men had treated them very well--"all the same as brothers;" and they really seemed sorry to leave the ship; they would come on board and look gravely about at everything as if regretting the coming separation. Even our poor dogs seemed to think the ship their natural abode; although landed at the settlement, they soon ran round the harbor to the point nearest the ship, and there, upon the rocks, spent the whole period of our stay.

On Tuesday night we set off some fireworks on shore to amuse the natives, for I intended sailing next day, but the wind prevented my doing so. The last day was spent in the interchange of presents between our Danish friends and ourselves; indeed, the sincere hearty good feeling which existed between every individual in the 'Fox' and the inhabitants of the settlement was as gratifying as apparent. Almost the only fresh supplies obtained here were rock cod and salmon-trout from Disco fiord. During our stay the weather was delightful; indeed it was the first really fine weather they had experienced at Godhavn during the present season, the summer having been cold and wet.


_10th Sept., Saturday night._--To-day we passed to the eastward of Cape Farewell, but about 100 miles to the south of it. The last iceberg was seen to-day; and now we are running along swiftly before a pleasant N.W.

breeze. Hitherto we have had every variety of wind and weather, from a calm to a gale, but generally the wind has been favorable. The change of temperature is already perceptible.


Chapter end

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