In the Arctic Seas Part 6

God grant it may be realized!

Yesterday Young shot the fiftieth seal, an event duly celebrated by our drinking _the_ bottle of champagne which had been set apart in more hopeful times to be drunk on reaching the North Water--that unhappy failure, the more keenly felt from being so very unexpected.


Petersen saw and fired a shot into a narwhal, which brought the blubber out. When most Arctic creatures are wounded in the water, blubber more frequently than blood appears, particularly if the wound is superficial--it spreads over the surface of the water like oil. Bills of fare vary much, even in Greenland. I have inquired of Petersen, and he tells me that the Greenland Esquimaux (there are many Greenlanders of Danish origin) are not agreed as to which of their animals affords the most delicious food; some of them prefer reindeer venison, others think more favorably of young dog, the flesh of which, he asserts, is "just like the beef of sheep." He says a Danish captain, who had acquired the taste, provided some for his guests, and they praised his _mutton_!

after dinner he sent for the skin of the animal, which was no other than a large red dog! This occurred in Greenland, where his Danish guests had resided for many years, far removed from European _mutton_. Baked puppy is a real delicacy all over Polynesia: at the Sandwich Islands I was once invited to a feast, and had to feign disappointment as well as I could when told that puppy was so extremely scarce it could not be procured in time, and therefore sucking-pig was substituted!

_19th._--A heavy southerly gale has increased the ice movements; happily we are undisturbed. As Young was seated under the lee of a hummock, watching for seals to pop up to breathe, the strong ice under him suddenly cracked and separated! He escaped with a ducking, and was just able to reach his gun from the bank ere it sank through the mixture of snow and water.


Yesterday we were all out; I saw only one seal, but was refreshed by the sight of a dozen narwhals. It is a positive treat to see a living creature of any kind. The only birds which remain are dovekies, but they are scarce, and, being white, are very rarely visible.

The dogs are fed every second day, when 2 lbs. of seal's flesh--previously thawed when possible--is given to each; the weaker ones get additional food, and they all pick up whatever scraps are thrown out; this is enough to sustain, but not to satisfy them, so they are continually on the look-out for anything eatable. Hobson made one very happy without intending it; he meant only to give him a kick, but his slipper, being down at heel, flew off, and away went the lucky dog in triumph with the prize, which of course was no more seen.

Two large icebergs drift in company with us; our relative positions have remained pretty nearly the same for the last month.

_23rd._--A heavy gale commenced at N.E. on the 21st, and continued for thirty-six hours unabated in force, but changed in direction to S.S.W.

It appears to have been a revolving storm, moving to the N.W. Yesterday, as the wind approached S.E., the temperature rose to +32; the upper deck sloppy; the lower deck temperature during Divine Service was 75!!

As the wind veered round to S.S.W., the wind moderated, and temperature fell: this evening it is -7. How is it that the S.E. wind has brought us such a very high temperature? Even if it traversed an unfrozen sea it could not have derived from thence a higher temperature than 29. Has it swept across Greenland--that vast superficies partly enveloped in glacier, partly in snow? No, it must have been borne in the higher regions of the atmosphere from the far south, in order to mitigate the severity of this northern climate.


Petersen tells me the same warm S.E. wind suddenly sweeps over Upernivik in midwinter, bringing with it abundance of rain; and that it always shifts to the S.W., and then the temperature rapidly falls: this is precisely the change we have experienced in lat. 75. I believe a somewhat similar, but less remarkable, change of temperature was noticed in Smith's Sound, lat. 78-3/4 N.

_25th._--Mild "Madeira weather," as Hobson calls it, temperature up to +7. By my desire Dr. Walker is occupied in making every possible experiment upon the freezing of salt water; the first crop of ice is salt, the second less so, the third produces drinkable water, and the fourth is fresh. Frosty efflorescence appears upon ice formed at low temperatures in calm weather--it is brine expressed by the act of freezing. We need not wonder that dogs, when driven hard over this ice, which soon cuts their feet, suffer intense pain, and often fall down in fits; nor that snow, falling upon young (sea) ice, wholly or partially thaws, even when the temperature is but little above zero; when near the freezing-point the young ice thus coated over becomes sludgy and unsafe.


_29th._--Keen, biting, N.W. winds. No cracks in the ice, therefore no seals. Grey dawn at ten o'clock, and dark at two. The moon is everywhere the sailor's friend, she is a source of comfort to us here. Nothing to excite conversation, except an occasional inroad of the dogs in search of food; this generally occurs at night. Whenever the deck-light, which burns under the housing happens to go out, they scale the steep snow banking and rush round the deck like wolves. "Why, bless you, Sir, the wery moment that there light goes out, and the quartermaster turns his back, they makes a regular sort_ee_, and in they all comes." "But _where do_ they come in, Harvey?" "Where, Sir? why everywheres; they makes no more to do, but in they comes, clean over all." Not long ago old Harvey was chief quartermaster in a line-of-battle ship, and a regular magnet to all the younger midshipmen. He would spin them yarns by the hour during the night-watches about the wonders of the sea, and of the Arctic regions in particular--its bears, its icebergs, and still more terrific "auroras, roaring and flashing about the ship enough to frighten a fellow"!


_30th._--Severe cold has arrived with the full moon; eight days ago the thermometer stood at the freezing-point, it is now 64 below it! So dark is it now that I was able to observe an eclipse of Jupiter's first satellite before three o'clock to-day. For the last two months we have drifted freely backwards and forwards before N.W. and S.E. winds; each time we have gained a more off-shore position, being gradually separated further and further from the land by fresh growths of ice, which invariably follow up every ice-movement. In this manner we have been thrust out to the S.W. 80 miles from the nearest land, and into that free space which in autumn was open water, and which we then vainly struggled to reach.

That the ice has been most free to move in this direction is additional evidence of the recent proximity of an open sea, and shows that in all probability--I had almost said certainty--we should have sailed, or at least drifted into it, had it not been for those enemies to all progress, the grounded bergs.


Burial in the pack--Musk oxen in lat. 80 north--Thrift of the Arctic fox--The aurora affects the electrometer--An Arctic Christmas--Sufferings of Dr. Kane's deserters--Ice acted on by wind only--How the sun ought to be welcomed--Constant action of the ice--Return of the seals--Revolving storm.

{DEC., 1857.}


_4th Dec._--I have just returned on board from the performance of the most solemn duty a commander can be called upon to fulfil. A funeral at sea is always peculiarly impressive; but this evening at seven o'clock, as we gathered around the sad remains of poor Scott, reposing under an Union Jack, and read the Burial Service by the light of lanterns, the effect could not fail to awaken very serious emotions.

The greater part of the Church Service was read on board, under shelter of the housing; the body was then placed upon a sledge, and drawn by the messmates of the deceased to a short distance from the ship, where a hole through the ice had been cut: it was then "committed to the deep,"

and the Service completed. What a scene it was! I shall never forget it.

The lonely 'Fox,' almost buried in snow, completely isolated from the habitable world, her colors half-mast high, and bell mournfully tolling; our little procession slowly marching over the rough surface of the frozen sea, guided by lanterns and direction-posts, amid the dark and dreary depth of Arctic winter; the deathlike stillness, the intense cold, and threatening aspect of a murky, overcast sky; and all this heightened by one of those strange lunar phenomena which are but seldom seen even here, a complete halo encircling the moon, through which passed a horizontal band of pale light that encompassed the heavens; above the moon appeared the segments of two other halos, and there were also mock moons or paraselenae to the number of six. The misty atmosphere lent a very ghastly hue to this singular display, which lasted for rather more than an hour.

Poor Scott fell down a hatchway two days only before his death, which was occasioned by the internal injuries then received; he was a steady, serious man; a widow and family will mourn his loss. He was our engine-driver; we cannot replace him, therefore the whole duty of working the engines will devolve upon the engineer, Mr. Brand.

_11th._--Calm, clear weather, pleasant for exercise, but steadily cold; thermometer varies between -20 and -30. At noon the blush of dawn tints the southern horizon, to the north the sky remains inky blue, whilst overhead it is bright and clear, the stars shining, and the pole-star near the zenith very distinct. Although there is a light north wind, thin mackerel-clouds are passing from south to north, and the temperature has risen 10.

[Illustration: A Funeral on the Ice. The effect of Paraselenae--Mock Moons.]


I have been questioning Petersen about the bones of the musk oxen found in Smith's Sound; he says the decayed skulls of about twenty were found, all of them to the north of the 79th parallel. As they were all without lower jaws, he says they were killed by Esquimaux, who leave upon the spot the skulls of large animals, but the weight of the lower jaw being so trifling it is allowed to remain attached to the flesh and tongue.

The skull of a musk ox with its massive horns cannot weigh less than 30 lbs.

Although it has been abundantly proved by the existence of raised beaches and fossils, that the shores of Smith's Sound have been elevated within a comparatively recent geological period, yet Petersen tells me that there exist numerous ruins of Esquimaux buildings, probably one or two centuries old, all of which are situated upon very low points, only just sufficiently raised above the reach of the sea; such sites, in fact, as would at present be selected by the natives. These ruins show that no perceptible change has taken place in the relative level of sea and land since they were originally constructed. At Petersen's Greenland home, Upernivik, the land has sunk, as is plainly shown by similar ruins over which the tides now flow.


Anything which illustrates the habits of animals in such extremely high latitudes I think is most interesting; their instincts must be quickened in proportion as the difficulty of subsisting increases. Foxes, white and blue, are very numerous; all the birds are merely summer visitors, therefore the hare is the only creature remaining upon which foxes can prey; but the hares are comparatively scarce: how then do the foxes live for eight months of each year? Petersen thinks they store up provisions during the summer in various holes and crevices, and thus manage to eke out an existence during the dark winter season; he once saw a fox carry off eggs in his mouth from an eider-duck's nest, one at a time, until the whole were removed; and in winter he has observed a fox scratch a hole down through very deep snow, to a cache of eggs beneath.

The men are exercised at building snow-huts; for winter or early spring travelling, this knowledge is almost indispensable. Upon a calm day the temperature of the external air being -33, within a snow-hut the thermometer stood 17 higher, this important difference being due to the transmission of heat through the ice from the sea beneath.

Evaporation goes on through ice from the water underneath it. The interior of each snow-hut is coated with crystals, and the ice upon which the huts are built is four feet thick, but when no longer in contact with water I cannot discover any evaporation from ice. For instance, a canvas screen on deck which became wet by the sudden thaw last month still remains frozen stiff.


_14th._--Of late there has been much damp upon the lower deck. This has now been remedied by enclosing the hatchway within a commodious snow-porch, which serves as a condenser for the steam and vapor from the inhabited deck below.

_19th._--Light N.W. winds, with occasional mists; the temperature is comparatively mild: -12 to -25.

It is now the time of spring-tides; they cause numerous cracks in the ice; but why so, at such a great distance from the land, I cannot explain. The three nearest points of land are respectively 110, 140, and 180 miles distant from us.

Much aurora during the last two days. Yesterday morning it was visible until eclipsed by the day-dawn at 10 o'clock. Although we could no longer see it, I do not think it ceased: very thin clouds occupied its place, through which, as through the aurora, stars appeared scarcely dimmed in lustre. I do not imagine that aurora is ever visible in a _perfectly_ clear atmosphere. I often observe it just silvering or rendering luminous the upper edge of low fog or cloud banks, and with a few vertical rays feebly vibrating.

Last evening Dr. Walker called me to witness his success with the electrometer. The electric current was so very weak that the gold-leaves diverged at regular intervals of four or five seconds. Some hours afterwards it was strong enough to _keep_ them diverged.

_21st._--Midwinter day. Out of the Arctic regions it is better known as the _shortest_ day. At noon we could just read type similar to the leading article of the 'Times.' Few people could read more than two or three lines without their eyes aching.


_27th._--Our Christmas was a very cheerful, merry one. The men were supplied with several additional articles, such as hams, plum-puddings, preserved gooseberries and apples, nuts, sweetmeats, and Burton ale.

After Divine Service they decorated the lower deck with flags, and made an immense display of food. The officers came down with me to see their preparations. We were really astonished! The mess-tables were laid out like the counters in a confectioner's shop, with apple and gooseberry tarts, plum and sponge-cakes in pyramids, besides various other unknown puffs, cakes, and loaves of all sizes and shapes. We bake all our own bread, and excellent it is. In the background were nicely-browned hams, meat-pies, cheeses, and other substantial articles. Rum and water in wine-glasses, and plum-cake, were handed to us: we wished them a happy Christmas, and complimented them on their taste and spirit in getting up such a display. Our silken sledge-banners had been borrowed for the occasion, and were regarded with deference and peculiar pride.

In the evening the officers were enticed down amongst the men again, and at a late hour I was requested, as a great favor, to come down and see how much they were enjoying themselves. I found them in the highest good humor with themselves and all the world. They were perfectly sober, and singing songs, each in his turn. I expressed great satisfaction at having seen them enjoying themselves so much and so rationally. I could therefore the better describe it to Lady Franklin, who was so deeply interested in everything relating to them. I drank their healths, and hoped our position next year would be more suitable for our purpose. We all joined in drinking the healths of Lady Franklin and Miss Cracroft, and amid the acclamations which followed I returned to my cabin, immensely gratified by such an exhibition of genuine good feeling, such veneration for Lady Franklin, and such loyalty to the cause of the expedition. It was very pleasant also that they had taken the most cheering view of our future prospects. I verily believe I was the happiest individual on board, that happy evening.

Our Christmas-box has come in the shape of northerly winds, which bid fair to drift us southward towards those latitudes wherein we hope for liberation next spring from this icy bondage.

Chapter end

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