In the Arctic Seas Part 9

On many occasions the engines were stopped dead by ice choking the screw; once it was some minutes before it could be got to revolve again.

Anxious moments those!

After yesterday's experience I can understand how men's hair has turned grey in a few hours. Had self-reliance been my only support and hope, it is not impossible that I might have illustrated the fact. Under the circumstances I did my best to insure our safety, looked as stoical as possible, and inwardly trusted that God would favor our exertions. What a release ours has been, not only from eight months' imprisonment, but from the perils of that one day! Had our little vessel been destroyed after the ice broke up, there remained no hope for us. But we have been brought safely through, and are all truly grateful, I hope, and believe.

I grieve to think of poor Lady Franklin and our friends at home.

Severely as we have felt the failure of our first season's operations, yet the ordeal is now over with us: not so with her and them,--they have still to experience that bitter disappointment.

Our distance within the pack-edge, where we first made sail yesterday, was 22 miles. Before we got clear of the ice the height of the waves was 13-1/2 feet; after passing through the last of it there was no increase, but the sea was more confused; in fact, within the ice all minor disturbances were quelled or merged into one regular fast-following swell. The ship and her machinery behaved most admirably in the struggle; should I ever have to pass through such an ice-covered, heaving ocean again, let me secure a passage in the 'Fox.'

During our 242 days in the packed-ice of Baffin's Bay and Davis' Straits we were drifted 1194 geographical or 1385 statute miles; it is the longest drift I know of, and our winter, as a whole, may be considered as having been mild, but very windy.


We are steering now for Holsteinborg, where I intend to refit and refresh the crew; it is reputed to be the best place for reindeer upon the coast.


A holiday in Greenland--A lady blue with cold--The loves of Greenlanders--Close shaving--Meet the whalers--Information of whalers--Disco--Danish hospitality--Sail from Disco--Kindness of the whalers--Danish establishments in Greenland.


_Wednesday night, April 28th._--Safely anchored at Holsteinborg, and moored to the rocks; a charming change, after our position only a few days back. We have been visited by the Danish residents--the chief trader or governor, the priest, and two others: their latest European intelligence is not more recent than our own, but the Danish ship is hourly expected; she usually leaves Copenhagen about the middle of March.

The winter here has been just the reverse of our own experience; it has been severe in point of temperature, but with very little wind; the land lies buried in snow, and as yet there is no thaw; it is too early for the cod-fishery, and not a single reindeer has been killed throughout the winter! Eider-ducks, looms, and dovekies are abundant, as well as hares and ptarmigan.

_29th._--A bright and lovely day. Our poor, half-famished dogs have been landed near the carcases of four whales, so they must be supremely happy. I visited the Governor to-day, and found his little wooden house as scrupulously clean and neat as the houses of the Danish residents in Greenland invariably are. The only ornaments about the room were portraits of his unfortunate wife and two children: they embarked at Copenhagen last year to rejoin him, and the ill-fated vessel has never since been heard of. Poor Governor Elberg is in ill health, and talks of returning home--by _home_ he means Denmark, the land of his birth, and where once he had a home.


_30th._--This is a grand Danish holiday; the inhabitants are all dressed in their Sunday clothes--at least, all who have got a change of garments--and there is both morning and evening service in the small wooden church. As the Governor could not be persuaded to unlock the door of the dance-house, our men returned on board early; yesterday evening they were all on shore, and, with the Esquimaux, were squeezed into this one large room: to be squeezed in a crowd of human beings is positive enjoyment after a winter's isolation such as ours has been. Old Harvey constituted himself master of the ceremonies, and with his flute led the orchestra; it consisted of one other flute and a fiddle; he managed to perch himself above all the rest, at one end of the room, and played with such vigor that our bluejackets and the Esquimaux ladies danced away most furiously for hours. These ladies can dance in the least possible space, their costume being particularly well adapted for the purpose, partaking as it does much more of the "Bloomer" than the "crinoline."

Christian looks immensely happy: his countrymen regard him as a man whose fortune is made, and the women gaze with admiration upon his neat sailor's dress, and his good-natured, full, round face, and huge, fat, shining cheeks; Mr. Petersen is in great request to interpret between the English, Danes, and Esquimaux.

{MAY, 1858.}

_7th May._--I intended sailing for Disco this morning, but wind and weather were adverse. We have obtained but little here except water, a tolerable supply of rock cod, some ptarmigan hares, wildfowl, and a few items of stores. The Governor _now_ thinks the Danish ship must have been directed to visit Godhaab before coming here. We have left letters to go home in her, and they ought to be in England by the end of June.


I visited to-day a small lake at the foot of Mount Cunningham; it is said to occupy the centre of an extinct volcano: but I saw nothing to bear out the assertion. This is the only part of Greenland where earthquakes are felt. The Governor told me of an unusually severe shock which occurred a winter or two ago. He was sitting in his room reading at the time, when he heard a loud noise like the discharge of a cannon; immediately afterwards a tremulous motion was felt, some glasses upon the table began to dance about, and papers lying upon the window-sill fell down: after a few seconds it ceased. He thinks the motion originated at the lake, as it was not felt by some people living beyond it, and that it passed from N.E. to S.W.

This mountain scenery is really charming; but a little more animal life--reindeer, for instance--would make it far more pleasing in our eyes. The last twelvemonth's produce of this district amounts only to 500 reindeer skins instead of 3000, as in ordinary years. The clergyman of Holsteinborg was born in this colony, and has succeeded his father in the priestly office; his wife is the only European female in the colony.

Being told that fuel was extremely scarce in the Danish houses, and that "the priest's wife was blue with the cold," I sent on shore a present of some coals.

On Sunday afternoon, hearing the church bell ringing I went on shore. It proved to be only a christening. The little dusky infant received a long string of European names. There was a small description of barrel-organ, to the sound of which the congregation joined in, keeping up a loud monotonous chant. Most of the young people had hymn-books in their hands, printed in the Esquimaux language.

Ravens seem very abundant, also large grey falcons: perhaps the dead whales may have attracted an unusual number.


Poor Christian has not only fallen desperately in love, but has engaged himself to the object of his affections, a pretty Esquimaux girl. He asked me to-day to give her a passage up to Godhavn, as he wished to leave her in charge of his mother until his return there with us next year, when his engagement for the voyage would be fulfilled. Having heard a rumor of a young woman awaiting his return at Godhavn, I taxed him with it, but he replied with great simplicity that "he had never promised her, and would not marry her, as his friends objected to the match!" What are the good Greenlanders coming to? I recommended that he should have his betrothed in her own home, with her mother and family.

His asking a passage for her, in order to leave her with his mother, is strong proof of the sincerity of his engagement, not only to his lady love, but to the 'Fox' also.

I have written to the admiralty to account for my prolonged absence from England; and to Dr. Rink to acquaint him with the cause of my second visit to his inspectorate.

Governor Elberg has promised to get me some fossil fish, to be found only in North Strom Fiord: they are interesting, as being of unknown geological date.

_10th._--On the morning of the 8th we left Holsteinborg with a pleasant land wind and bright weather. When 15 miles off shore we were stopped by ice formed during the last two nights, the thermometer having fallen to 12; out in the offing the weather was gloomy and cold, and strong northerly winds were blowing. On closing the land again, we regained the off-shore wind, and bright weather.


Keeping close alongshore, and threading our way through a vast deal of "pack" and numerous icebergs, we gained sight of Disco about noon to-day, and by the evening were within an hour's sail of Godhavn, when we were again stopped by a broad belt of ice stretching along the coast; this was a bitter disappointment, more particularly as a gale of wind with heavy sea was fast rising, and snow beginning to fall thickly; there was nothing for it, however, but to stand off under easy sail for the night.


_12th._--At anchor at the Whalefish Islands. On the evening of the 10th we stood off from the inhospitable barrier of ice, prepared to meet the storm; snow fell so thickly that we could hardly see the icebergs in time to avoid them. We supposed ourselves to be well to leeward of the Whalefish Islands, but were deceived by the tides; suddenly a small, low islet was seen on the lee bow; not being able to pass to windward, we were obliged to wear ship, and, in doing so, passed within the ship's length of destruction--for we were certainly within that distance of the rocks! The islet was covered with snow, and but for some very few dark points showing through, it could not be distinguished from ice. On the 11th the weather improved, and in the evening we came to our present anchorage. From a hill we can watch an opportunity to enter Godhavn.

Notwithstanding the blowing weather, some natives came about five miles off to us; the water washed over their little _kayaks_, and kept the occupants' seal-skin dresses streaming with wet up to their shoulders; this part of their dress seems rather part of the kayak, as it is attached to it round the hole in which the _kayaker_ sits, so that no water can enter. It is wonderful to see how closely a man can assimilate his habits to those of a fish.

The Danish cooper in charge of this out-station tells us there are thirteen English whalers already out, and some of them have been up to the north end of Disco; two vessels are in sight. The world, it appears, is at peace. Petersen was at one time in charge of this station; he is now seeking out his old acquaintances.

_14th._--Summer has suddenly burst upon us--thermometer up to 40; moreover, we are enjoying English newspapers, and have dined off roast beef and vegetables!


Two days ago I sent a note off to a whaler by a kayak, requesting her captain to lend me some newspapers; the note reached Captain J. Walker, of the 'Jane,' and yesterday his ship, accompanied by the 'Heroine,'

Captain J. Simpson, approached us, and they both came in to call upon me, each of them bringing the very acceptable present of some newspapers, besides a quarter of beef, with vegetables. Nothing could exceed their sincere good feeling and kindness; they offered to supply me with anything their ships could afford. The account they give of last season is as follows: the whalers reached Devil's Point, near Melville Bay, as early as the 21st of May; southerly winds then set in, and blew incessantly for six weeks, during all which time they were closely beset, and the ships 'Gipsy' and 'Undaunted' were crushed. When able to move, the fleet returned southward along the "pack-edge," which was everywhere found to be impenetrable; they sailed southward of Disco, and about the middle of July the earliest ships rounded the southern extremity of middle ice in lat. 68-1/2, and found no difficulty in their further passage to Pond's Bay. Captain Walker says ships could not have reached Lancaster Sound, as there was much ice north of Pond's Bay which he thought extended quite across to Melville Bay.


The position of the ice last season was considered to be most unusual; the long prevalence of southerly winds appeared to have separated the tail of the pack from the main body, the former lying against the west land about Cape Searle, whilst the latter was forced northward and pressed closely into Melville Bay; the ships sailed freely between these two great divisions, and found the west water unusually extensive.

Had I been able to collect a sufficient number of sledge-dogs at Godhavn last year, it was my intention to have sailed across to the west side if possible, instead of pursuing the usual route through Melville Bay; but the opinions of the captains of the lost whalers were in favor of a "Melville Bay" passage, and the necessity for obtaining dogs left me no choice as to whether I should proceed west, or north to Proven and Upernivik; I have already recorded what were my opinions _at the time_, so need only observe _now_, that, although I failed, I believe my decision was justified by all former experience, even independently of the circumstances which obliged me to adopt it. Nevertheless it is mortifying to find that ships had reached as far as Pond's Bay, and with but little difficulty. Sir Edward Parry, upon his third voyage, did not reach the west water until very late in the season, although some of the whalers met with better success by following up another route.


There is nothing more uncertain than ice-navigation, dependent as it is upon winds, temperatures, and currents: one can only calculate upon "the chances," and how nearly we succeeded we have already seen. In the preceding year (1856) some of the whalers got through Melville Bay as early as the 15th June, only a few days after the commencement of the summer's thaw. Captain Walker tells me there are many years in which the whalers can pass up the western shore late in the season, but not always so far as Pond's Bay; of Melville Bay after the 10th or 15th July they know nothing, but the voyages of discovery afford us ample details; whilst of the southern route almost nothing has been made publicly known.

There are many intelligent whaling captains who possess much valuable knowledge of these lands and seas, and even in the terra incognita of Frobisher's Straits, whalers have wintered, whilst our charts scarcely afford even a vague idea of the configuration of these extensive islands. The so-called "Home Bay" has been penetrated for fifty miles, and is supposed to be a strait leading to Fox's Furthest. Scott's Inlet is also said to be a strait leading into a western arm of the same sea.

A surveying vessel would be usefully employed for a couple of summers in tracing the general outline of these possessions of Her Majesty, more particularly as they are rather thickly inhabited by Esquimaux most eager to barter their produce for rifles, saws, files, knives, needles, and such like articles. Good coal has been found upon Durbin Island (near Cape Searle), in a convenient little cove upon its southern side; and as the old sailing whalers are fast being replaced by steamers, this place may become of great importance to them.

We are refitting, shooting, and devouring quantities of excellent mussels; eider ducks are very abundant, but extremely shy. Poor puss has been killed; tempted on deck by the unusually warm weather, she was pounced upon by the dogs.


_17th._--Yesterday our attempt to enter the port of Godhavn failed, it is still filled with ice. This evening Young and I examined a narrow rocky cove--Upernivik Bay of the natives; finding it suitable for our purpose, the ship was brought in and moored to the rocks. We were received with much kindness by our friends, Mr. and Mrs. Olrik, and were presented with a file of late English papers. A considerable supply of beer was ordered to be brewed for us.

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