In the Arctic Seas Part 7

_28th._--We have been in expectation of a gale all day. This evening there is still a doubtful sort of truce amongst the elements. Barometer down to 2883; thermometer up to +5, although the wind has been strong and steady from the N. for twenty-four hours, low scud flying from the E., snow constantly falling. An hour ago the wind suddenly changed to S.S.E.; the snowing has ceased; thermometer falls and barometer rises.

{JAN., 1858.}


_2nd Jan., 1858._--New Year's day was a second edition of Christmas, and quite as pleasantly spent. We dwelt much upon the anticipations of the future, being a more agreeable theme than the failure of the past. I confess to a hearty welcome for the new year--anxious, of course, that we may escape uninjured, and sufficiently early to pursue the object of our voyage.

Exactly at midnight on the 31st December the arrival of the new year was announced to me by our band--two flutes and an accordion--striking up at my door. There was also a procession, or perhaps I should say a continuation of the band; these performers were grotesquely attired, and armed with frying-pans, gridirons, kettles, pots, and pans, with which to join in and add to the effect of the _other_ music!


We have a very level hard walk alongside the ship; it is narrowed to two or three yards in width by a snow-bank four feet high. In the face of this bank some twenty-five holes have been excavated for the dogs, and in them they spend most of their time. It looks very formidable in the moonlight, being a good imitation of a casemated battery.

After our rubber of whist on New Year's night Petersen related to us some of his dreadful sufferings when with the party which had left Dr.

Kane. They spent the months of October and November in Booth Sound, lat.

77; all that time upon the verge of starvation, unable to advance or retreat. For these two months they had no other fuel than their small cedar boat, the smoke of which was not endurable in their wretched hut, and without light, for the sun left them in October, unless we except one inch and a half of taper daily, which they made out of a lump of bees'-wax that accidently found its way into their boat before leaving the ship. In December they regained their vessel. I am surprised that no account of the extreme hardships of this party--so far exceeding that of their shipmates on board--has ever appeared; and I regret it, as I believe they owed their lives to the experience and fidelity of their interpreter Petersen. At first the Esquimaux assisted them; latterly they were quite unable to do so, and became anxious to get rid of their visitors. Observing how weakened they had become, the Esquimaux endeavored to separate them from their guns and from each other, and even used threatening language.


During December we drifted 67 miles, directly down Baffin's Bay towards the Atlantic, and are now in lat. 74. Although it is quite impossible to discriminate between the several influences which probably govern our movements, or to ascertain how much is due to each of them--such as the relative positions of ice, land, and open water, winds, currents, and earth's rotation--yet it appears in the present instance that the wind is almost the sole agent in hastening this vast _continent_ of ice towards the latitudes of its dissolution. We move before the wind in proportion to its strength: we remain stationary in calm weather.

Neither surface nor submarine current has been detected; the large icebergs obey the same influences as the surface ice. We have noticed a slight set to the westward--it is not likely to be produced by current, and may be the result of the earth's motion from west to east.

_6th._--Many lanes of water. A seal has been seen, the only one for six weeks. Of the old ice which so closely hemmed us in up to the middle of September, there is hardly any within several miles of us except the large floe-piece we are frozen to. Every crack or lane which opens is quickly covered with young ice, so that it cannot close again; and in this manner the old ice has been spread out. I rejoice in its dispersion!


To-day I put a tumblerful of our strong ale (Allsopp's) on deck to freeze: this was soon effected, the temperature being -35. After bringing it below, and when its temperature had risen to 17, it was almost all thawed--at 22 it was completely so: it looked muddy, but settled after standing for a couple of hours, when I drank it off, in every way satisfied with my experiment and my beer: it seemed none the worse for its freezing, but rather flat from its long exposure in a tumbler.

_17th._--Northerly winds blow almost constantly. We have drifted 60 miles since the 1st, and are only 115 miles from Upernivik,--once more upon confines of the habitable world! good light for three hours daily; all this is cheering. We continue our snow-hut practice, and can build one in three-quarters of an hour.

_28th._--The upper edge of the sun appeared above the horizon to-day, after an absence of eighty-nine days; it was a gladdening sight. I sent for the ship's steward and asked what was the custom on such occasions?

"To hoist the colors and serve out an extra half-gill, sir," was the ready reply: accordingly, the Harwich lion soon fluttered in a breeze cool enough to stiffen the limbs of ordinary lions, and in the evening the grog was issued.


_30th._--Our messmate Pussy is unwell, and won't eat; in vain has Hobson tempted her with raw seal's flesh, preserved salmon, preserved milk, etc.; at length castor-oil was forcibly administered. Puss is a great favorite. Our finest dog, Sultan, is also sick, and his coat is in bad order; blubber has been prescribed for him;--and poor old Mary has fits, not uncommon after the long winter. Petersen immediately ordered her to be bled by slitting her ear; but Christian, in his fright and haste, cropped the tip of it off These comprise our only medical cases. A dovekie, in its white winter plumage, and two seals have been seen lately.

{FEB., 1858.}

_15th Feb._--The returning daylight cheers us up wonderfully--not that we were suffering, either mentally or bodily, but the change is most agreeable; we can take much longer walks than were possible during the dark period. The men have been supplied with muskets, and go out sporting as ardently as schoolboys. I took a long walk towards one of our iceberg companions, but could not quite reach it, as weak ice intervened, each step producing an undulation. Finding the point of my knife went through it with but very slight resistance, I gave up the attempt and turned back. The ship's masts were scarcely visible in the distance; almost the whole of the intervening ice was of this winter's growth, and in many places much crushed up.


Daylight reveals to us evidences of vast ice movements having taken place during the dark months when we fancied all was still and quiet; and we now see how greatly we have been favored, what innumerable chances of destruction we have unconsciously escaped! A few days ago the ice suddenly cracked within ten yards of the ship, and gave her such a smart shock that every one rushed on deck with astonishing alacrity. One of these sudden disruptions occurred between me and the ship when I was returning from the iceberg; the sun was just setting as I found myself cut off. Had I been on the other side I would have loitered to enjoy a refreshing gaze upon this dark streak of water; but after a smart run of about a mile along its edge, and finding no place to cross, visions of a patrol on the floe for the long night of fifteen hours began to obtrude themselves! At length I reached a place where the jagged edges of the floes met, so crossed and got safely on board. Nothing was seen during this walk of nearly 25 miles except one seal. Recent gales have drifted us rapidly southward; cracks and lanes are very numerous.


On the 1st a blue (or sooty) fox was shot. Although 130 geographical miles from the nearest land he was very fat, hence we argue dovekies were much more numerous during winter than we supposed. We have often noticed the tracks of foxes following up those of the bears, probably for discarded scraps of the seals upon which they prey. Hobson's favorite dog "Chummie" has returned, after an absence of six days, decidedly hungry, but he can hardly have been without food all that time; some fox may have lured him off. He evinced great delight in getting back, devoted his first attentions to a hearty meal, then rubbed himself up against his own particular associates, after which he sought out and attacked the weakest of his enemies, and, soothed by their howlings, coiled himself up for a long sleep.

{MAR., 1858.}

_1st March._--February has been a remarkably mild, cloudy, windy month: the winter temperature may be said to have passed away by the 10th, the average temperature for the first ten days being -25, whilst for the remainder of the month it was -11. Had one fallen asleep for a month at least, he could not reasonably have expected to find a greater change on awaking. Our drift has been also great,--166 miles. We are south of the 70th parallel, and may soon be expelled from our icy home.

On the 24th there was a fearful gale of wind. Had not our housing been very well secured, it must have been blown away. We are preparing for sea, removing the snow from off the deck and round the ship; our sky-lights have been dug out (in winter they are always covered with a thick layer of snow), and the flood of light which beams down through them is quite charming. How intolerably sooty and smoke-dried everything looks!


On the 27th the first seal of this year was shot; it came in good time, for the fifty-one seals shot in autumn were finished only two days before: our English supply of dogs' food therefore remains almost untouched. Snow was observed to melt against the ship's side exposed to the sun, the thermometer in the shade standing at -22! A very fine dog has died from eating a quantity of salt fish, which he managed to get at although it was supposed to be quite out of his reach.

One of the two large icebergs which commenced this voyage with us last October, in 75-1/2 N., has drifted out of sight to the S.E., the other one is far off in the N.W. I attribute these increased distances solely to the spreading abroad of the intervening ice.

When we were far north, and probably drifting more slowly than the ice in the stream of Lancaster Sound to the westward of us, the ship's head turned very gradually from right to left, from N.N.W. to W.; when about the parallel of 72 N., we supposed ourselves to be drifting faster than the western ice; in this, as in the previous case, comparing our drift with that of Lieutenant De Haven, the ship's head slowly shifted back to the right as far as W.N.W.; latterly it has not changed at all: we are in a narrower part of Davis' Strait, where the winds probably blow with equal force from shore to shore and drift the whole pack at a uniform rate.

_5th._--On the 2nd four fat seals and some dovekies were shot; the largest seal weighed 170 lbs., the smallest 150 lbs.; they were males of the species _Phoca hespida_, or _Phoca ftida_, the latter epithet being by far the most appropriate at this season; the disagreeable odor resembles garlic, and taints the whole animal so strongly that even Esquimaux are nearly overpowered by it: this is almost the only description of seal we have obtained, but the females are at all seasons free from fetor. Several long lanes of water extend at right angles to the straits.


The Doctor has taken a photograph of the ship by the albumen process on glass; the temperature at the time was below zero. Upon the 3rd and 4th a well-remarked revolving storm passed nearly over us to the W.N.W.; its extreme diameter was 30 hours, that of the strength of the gale 18 hours; its centre probably passed about one-tenth of its diameter to the S.W. The barometer was rather high, having risen just before the wind commenced at N.E.; but it now fell half an inch in ten hours, and continued to fall until the wind shifted--almost suddenly--through S.E.

to S.S.W.; immediately the barometer got up rapidly. As the barometer fell, the temperature rose from zero to +18, and fell again after the change of wind. This violent storm brought with it a smart hail-shower.


The depression of the ice about the bows, in consequence of a vast accumulation of snow-drift upon it, brought the ship down by the head considerably; to-day this ice suddenly detached itself, and the fore part of the vessel sprang up; she still remains frozen and held down abaft. The snow-banking looks very woe-begone after this _ice-quake_; it inclines out from the ship, and in many places has been prostrated by the shock.

Early on the morning of the 7th the high land of Disco was seen; its distance was upwards of 90 miles.


A bear-fight--An ice-nip--Strong gales, rapid drift--The 'Fox' breaks out of the pack--Hanging on to floe-edge--The Arctic bear--An ice tournament--The 'Fox' in peril--A storm in the pack--Escape from the pack.


_9th March._--A bear was seen this morning; but as he was going away from us, the dogs were brought out in the hope that they might keep him at bay until the sportsmen came up. It was very pretty to see them take up the scent, the moment they caught sight of him they set off at full speed. Bruin had seen them first, and increased his pace to a clumsy gallop, yet the dogs were soon around him; he seemed to care but little about them, steadily making off and following the trending of a recently frozen crack in search of clear water, evidently aware that his persecutors would not follow him there.

After five hours all returned on board again; out of the ten dogs four were wounded by his claws,--skin deep only,--but one of the wounds was seven inches in length, as if made with a sharp knife! this was sewed up, the others were merely trimmed, and nature, I am informed, will do all the rest. It is really wonderful what cures nature and instinct effect: notwithstanding the extreme cold, no external dressings are applied, because the animal must not be prevented from licking its wound. Petersen says this bear must be very thin, else he could not run so fast. I think it very probable that he has been hunted before, and that fear lent him wings. A black whale has been seen.


_11th._--Two small seals free from taint were shot yesterday, so we had fried liver and steaks for breakfast this morning; both were good, but the steaks were preferred; they were very dark and very tender, had been cut thin, deprived of all fat, and washed in two or three waters to get rid of the blubber.

_16th._--Several long lanes of water have again opened, but now all of them extend parallel to the direction of the straits; one lane passed within 120 yards of the ship; its extremes are not visible even from aloft; the ice upon its east side has a more rapid southerly motion than that upon its west side.

_18th._--Last night the ice closed, shutting up our lane, but its opposite sides continued for several hours to move past each other, rubbing off all projections, crushing, and forcing out of water masses four feet thick: although 120 yards distant, this pressure shook the ship and cracked the intervening ice.

Chapter end

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