In the Arctic Seas Part 4

_17th._--The fog overtook us yesterday evening, and at length, unable to see our way, we made fast at eleven o'clock to the ice. The wind had freshened, it was evidently blowing a gale outside the ice. During the night we drifted rapidly together with the ice, and this morning, on the clearing off of the fog, we steamed and sailed on again, threading our way between the floes, which are larger and much covered with _dry_ snow. This evening we again made fast, the floes having closed together, cutting off advance and retreat. A wintry night, much wind and snow.

_19th._--Continued strong S.E. winds, pressing the ice closely together, dark sky and snow; everything wears a wintry and threatening aspect; we are closely hemmed in, and have our rudder and screw unshipped. This recommencement of S.E. winds and rapid ebbing of the small remaining portion of summer makes me more anxious about the future than the present. Yesterday the weather improved, and by working for thirteen hours we got the ship out of her small ice-creek into a larger space of water, and in so doing advanced a mile and a half. It is now calm, but the ice still drifts, as we would wish it, to the N.W. Yesterday we were within 12 miles of the position of the 'Enterprise' upon the same day in 1848, and under very similar conditions of weather and ice also.

_20th._--No favorable ice-drift: this detention has become most painful.

The 'Enterprise' reached the open water upon this day in 1848, within 50 miles of our present position; unfortunately, our prospects are not so cheering. There is no relative motion in the floes of ice, except a gradual closing together, the small spaces and streaks of water being still further diminished. The temperature has fallen, and is usually below the freezing-point. I feel most keenly the difficulty of my position; we cannot afford to lose many more days. Of all the voyages to Barrow Strait, there are but two which were delayed beyond this date, viz., Parry's in 1824, and the 'Prince Albert's' in 1851. Should we not be released, and therefore be compelled to winter in this pack, notwithstanding all our efforts, I shall repeat the trial next year, and in the end, with God's aid, perform my sacred duty.


The men enjoy a game of rounders on the ice each evening; Petersen and Christian are constantly on the look-out for seals, as well as Hobson and Young occasionally; if in good condition and killed instantaneously, the seals float; several have already been shot; the liver fried with bacon is excellent.

Birds have become scarce,--the few we see are returning southward. How anxiously I watch the ice, weather, barometer, and thermometer! Wind from any other quarter than S.E. would oblige the floe-pieces to rearrange themselves, in doing which they would become loose, and then would be our opportunity to proceed.

_24th._--Fine weather with very light northerly winds. We have drifted 7 miles to the west in the last two days. The ice is now a close pack, so close that one may walk for many miles over it in any direction, by merely turning a little to the right or left to avoid the small water spaces. My frequent visits to the crow's-nest are not inspiriting: how absolutely distressing this imprisonment is to me, no one without similar experience can form any idea. As yet the crew have but little suspicion how blighted our prospects are.

_27th._--We daily make attempts to push on, and sometimes get a ship's length, but yesterday evening we made a mile and a half! the ice then closed against the ship's sides and lifted her about a foot. We have had a fresh east wind for two days, but no corresponding ice-drift to the west; this is most discouraging, and can only be accounted for by supposing the existence of much ice or grounded icebergs in that direction.

The dreaded reality of wintering in the pack is gradually forcing itself upon my mind,--but I must not write on this subject, it is bad enough to brood over it unceasingly. We can see the land all round Melville Bay, from Cape Walker nearly to Cape York. Petersen is indefatigable at seal-shooting, he is so anxious to secure them for our dogs; he says they must be hit in the head; "if you hit him in the beef that is not good," meaning that a flesh-wound does not prevent their escaping under the ice. Petersen and Christian practise an Esquimaux mode of attracting the seals; they scrape the ice, thus making a noise like that produced by a seal in making a hole with its flippers, and then place one end of a pole in the water and put their mouths close to the other end, making noises in imitation of the snorts and grunts of their intended victims; whether the device is successful or not I do not know, but it looks laughable enough.


Christian came back a few days ago, like a true seal-hunter, carrying his kayak on his head, and dragging a seal behind him. Only two years ago Petersen returned across this bay with Dr. Kane's retreating party; he shot a seal which they devoured raw, and which under Providence, saved their lives. Petersen is a good ice-pilot, knows all these coasts as well as or better than any man living, and, from long experience and habits of observation, is almost unerring in his prognostications of the weather. Besides his great value to us as interpreter, few men are better adapted for Arctic work,--an ardent sportsman, an agreeable companion, never at a loss for occupation or amusement, and always contented and sanguine. But we have happily many such dispositions in the 'Fox.'

_30th._--The whole distance across Melville Bay is 170 miles: of this we have performed about 120, 40 of which we have drifted in the last fourteen days. The 'Isabel' sailed freely over this spot on 20th August, 1852; and the 'North Star' was beset on 30th July, 1849, to the southward of Melville Bay, and carried in the ice across it and some 70 or 80 miles beyond, when she was set free on 26th September, and went into winter quarters in Wolstenholme Sound. What a precedent for us!


Yesterday we set to work as usual to warp the ship along, and moved her ten feet: an insignificant hummock then blocked up the narrow passage; as we could not push it before us, a two-pound blasting charge was exploded, and the surface ice was shattered, but such an immense quantity of broken ice came up from beneath, that the difficulty was greatly increased instead of being removed. This is one of the many instances in which our small vessel labors under very great disadvantages in ice-navigation--we have neither sufficient manual power, steam power, nor impetus to force the floes asunder. I am convinced that a steamer of moderate size and power, with a crew of forty or fifty men, would have got through a hundred miles of such ice in less time than we have been beset.

The temperature fell to 25 last night, and the pools are strongly frozen over. I now look matters steadily and calmly in the face; whilst reasonable ground for hope remained I was anxious in the extreme. The dismal prospect of a "winter in the pack" has scarcely begun to dawn upon the crew; however, I do not think they will be much upset by it.

They had some exciting foot-races on the ice yesterday evening.

{SEPT., 1857.}


_1st Sept._--The indication of an approaching S.E. gale are at all times sufficiently apparent here, and fortunately so, as it is the dangerous wind in the Melville Bay. It was on the morning of the 30th, before church-time, that they attracted our attention: the wind was very light, but barometer low and falling; very threatening appearances in the S.E.

quarter, dark-blue sky, and grey detached clouds slowly rising; when the wind commenced the barometer began to rise. This gale lasted forty-eight hours, and closed up every little space of water; at first all the ice drifted before the wind, but latterly remained stationary. Twenty seals have been shot up to this time.


On comparing Petersen's experience with my own and that of the 'North Star' in 1849, it seems probable that the ice along the shores of Melville Bay, at this season, will drift northward close along the land as far as Cape Parry, where, meeting with a S.W. current out of Whale or Smith's Sound, it will be carried away into the middle of Baffin's Bay, and thence during the winter down Davis' Strait into the Atlantic. From Cape Dudley Digges to Cape Parry, including Wolstenholme Sound, open water remains until October. It is strange that we have ceased to drift lately to the westward.

_6th._--During the last week we have only drifted 9 miles to the west.

Obtained soundings in 88 fathoms; this is a discovery, and not an agreeable one. Of the six or seven icebergs in sight, the nearest are to the west of us; they are very large, and appear to be aground; we approach them slowly. Pleasant weather, but the winds are much too gentle to be of service to us; although the nights are cold, yet during the day our men occasionally do their sewing on deck. Our companions the seals are larger and fatter than formerly, therefore they float when shot; we are disposed to attribute their improved condition to the better feeding upon this bank. The dredge brought up some few shell-fish, star-fish, stones and much soft mud.

_9th._--On this day, in 1824, Sir Edward Parry got out of the middle ice, and succeeded in reaching Port Bowen. To continue hoping for release in time to reach Bellot Strait would be absurd; yet to employ the men we continue our preparation of tents, sledges, and gear for travelling. Two days ago the ice became more slack than usual, and a long lane opened; its western termination could not be seen from aloft.

Every effort was made to get into this water, and by the aid of steam and blasting-powder we advanced 100 yards out of the intervening 170 yards of ice, when the floes began to close together, a S.E. wind having sprung up. Had we succeeded in reaching the water, I think we should have extricated ourselves completely, and perhaps ere this have reached Barrow Strait, but S.E. and S.W. gales succeeded, and it now blows a S.S.E. gale, with sleet.

_10th._--Young went to the large icebergs to-day; the nearest of them is 250 feet high, and in 83 fathoms water; it is therefore probably aground, except at spring tide; the floe-ice was drifting past it to the westward, and was crushing up against its side to a height of 50 feet.


_13th._--Thermometer has fallen to 17 at noon. We have drifted 18 miles to the W. in the last week; therefore our neighbors, the icebergs, are not always aground, but even when afloat drift more slowly than the light ice. There is a water-sky to the W. and N.W.; it is nearest to us in the direction of Cape York; _could we only advance 12 or 15 miles in that direction, I am convinced we should be free to steer for Barrow Strait_. Forty-three seals have been secured for the dogs; one dog is missing, the remaining twenty-nine devoured their two days' allowance of seal's flesh (60 or 65 lbs.) in forty-two seconds! it contained no bone, and had been cut up into small pieces, and spread out upon the snow, before they were permitted to rush to dinner; in this way the weak enjoy a fair chance, and there is no time for fighting. We do not allow them on board.

_16th._--At length we have drifted past the large icebergs, obtaining soundings in 69 fathoms within a mile of them; they must now be aground, and have frequently been so during the last three weeks; and being directly upon our line of drift, are probably the immediate cause of our still remaining in Melville Bay. The ice is slack everywhere, but the temperature having fallen to 3, new ice rapidly forms, so that the change comes too late. The western limit of the day--Cape York--is very distinct, and not more than 25 miles from us.


_18th._--Lanes of water in all directions; but the nearest is half a mile from us. They come too late, as do also the N.W. winds which have now succeeded the fatal south-easters. The temperature fell to 2 below zero last night. We are now at length in the "North Water;" the old ice has spread out in all directions, so that it is only the young ice--formed within the last fortnight--which detains us prisoners here.

The icebergs, the chief cause of our unfortunate detention, and which for more than three weeks were in advance of us to the westward, are now, in the short space of two days, nearly out of sight to the eastward.

The preparations for wintering and sledge-travelling go on with unabated alacrity; the latter will be useful should it become necessary to abandon the ship.

Notwithstanding such a withering blight to my dearest hopes, yet I cannot overlook the many sources of gratification which do exist; we have not only the necessaries, but also a fair portion of the luxuries, of ordinary sea-life; our provisions and clothing are abundant and well suited to the climate. Our whole equipment, though upon so small a scale, is perfect in its way. We all enjoy perfect health, and the men are most cheerful, willing, and quiet.


Our "native auxiliaries," consisting of Christian and his twenty-nine dogs, are capable of performing immense service; whilst Mr. Petersen, from his great Arctic experience, is of much use to me, besides being all that I could wish as an interpreter. Humanly speaking, we are not unreasonable in confidently looking forward to a successful issue of this season's operations, and I greatly fear that poor Lady Franklin's disappointment will consequently be the more severely felt.

We are doomed to pass a long winter of absolute inutility, if not of idleness, in comparative peril and privation; nevertheless the men seem very happy--thoughtless, of course, as true sailors always are.

We have drifted off the bank into much deeper water, and suppose this is the reason that seals have become more scarce.

_22nd._--Constant N.W. winds continue to drift us slowly southward.

Strong indications of water in the N.W., W., and S.E.; its vicinity may account for a rise in the temperature, without apparent cause, to 27 at noon to-day.

The newly formed ice affords us delightful walking; the old ice on the contrary is covered with a foot of soft snow. We have no shooting; scarcely a living creature has been seen for a week.


_24th._--Yesterday I thought I saw two of our men walking at a distance, and beyond some unsafe ice, but on enquiry found that all were on board: Petersen and I set off to reconnoitre the strangers; they proved to be bears, but much too wary to let us come within shot. It was dark when we returned on board after a brisk walk over the new ice. The calm air felt agreeably mild. We were without mittens; and but that the breath froze upon moustachios and beard, one could have readily imagined the night was comfortably warm. The thermometer stood at +5.

To-day when walking in a fresh breeze the wind felt very cold, and kept one on the look-out for frost-bites, although the thermometer was up to 10. Games upon the ice and skating are our afternoon amusements, but we also have some few lovers of music, who embrace the opportunity for vigorous execution, without fear of being reminded that others may have ears more sensitive and discriminating than their own.

_26th._--The mountain to the North of Melville Bay, known as the 'Snowy Peak,' was visible yesterday, although 90 miles distant; I have calculated its height to be 6000 feet. A raven was shot to-day.


_27th._--Our salt meat is usually soaked for some days before being used; for this purpose it is put into a net, and lowered through a hole in the ice; this morning the net had been torn, and only a fragment of it remained. We suppose our twenty two pounds of salt meat had been devoured by a shark; it would be curious to know how such fare agrees with him, as a full meal of salted provision will kill an Esquimaux dog, which thrives on almost anything. I used to remonstrate upon the skins of sea-birds being given to our dogs, but was told the feathers were good for them! Here all sea-birds are skinned before being cooked, otherwise our ducks, divers, and looms would be uneatably fishy. A well-baited shark-hook has been substituted for the net of salt meat; I much wish to capture one of the monsters, as wonderful stories are told us of their doings in Greenland: whether they are the white shark or the basking shark of natural history I cannot find out. It is only of late years that the shark fishery has been carried on to any extent in Greenland; they are captured for the sake of their livers, which yield a considerable quantity of oil. It has very recently been ascertained that a valuable substance resembling spermaceti may be expressed from the carcase, and for this purpose powerful screw presses are now employed.

In early winter the sharks are caught with hook and line through holes in the ice.

The Esquimaux assert that they are insensible to pain; and Petersen assures me he has plunged a long knife several times into the head of one whilst it continued to feed upon a white whale entangled in his net!! It is not sufficient to drive them away with sundry thrusts of spears or knives, but they must be towed away to some distance from the nets, otherwise they will return to feed. It must be remembered that the brain of a shark is extremely small in proportion to the size of its huge head. I have seen bullets fired through them with very little apparent effect; but if these creatures _can_ feel, the devices practised upon them by the Esquimaux must be cruel indeed.


It is only in certain localities that sharks are found, and in these places they are often attracted to the nets by the animals entangled in them. The dogs are not suffered to eat either the skin or the head, the former in consequence of its extreme roughness, and the latter because it causes giddiness and makes them sick.

Chapter end

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