Contents Index Next

Letters Written during the Late Voyage of Discovery


11th May, 1819.


AGREEABLY to my promise, I now begin my account of our proceedings and our observations, in the important expedition on which we have embarked. You were never at sea, but you showed always a particular taste for descriptions of voyages to distant or unknown, or little known parts of the world. The enterprise in which we are engaged will, certainly, if we have any success, carry us into scenes presenting objects of novelty at least, if not of importance and value. We may, I trust, if we do no more, satisfy ourselves, convince perhaps our countrymen, and navigators of all nations, that a practicable communication by sea, round the northern coasts of North America, is not to be attained. To ascertain even this point is an object of no small importance. It will abundantly justify the expense to the nation, and the dangers to the persons employed in the research.

As my letters, if ever they arrive in Marybone, (and when and how they are to be forwarded I know not,) will soon pass from your hands into those of many kind friends, equally strangers with yourself and to sea affairs and sea language, I will endeavour to steer clear if possible of obscurity arising from such peculiarities. Being, however, formed on my regular Journal, nautical operations and incidents cannot always be expressed without nautical terms and phrases.

A sea-journal is the production of every day; but however important the occurrences and transactions of every day are to the seaman, to the landsman they often appear dull and uninteresting. You will not, therefore, expect me to transmit to you details, in which you would feel little concern, and the value of which you could not often comprehend. With re- {2} spect, however, to the time when, and the place where such and such incidents or operations occurred, I shall be careful to give you correct notices. For you must know that, although continually, in some sense, the sport of waves and winds, no human being leads a life so regular and methodical as the mariner.

The ships appointed for this expedition, to search for a northwest passage from the Atlantic ocean to the Pacific, are the Hecla, so named after the famous burning mountain in Iceland, in allusion to her destination as a bomb-vessel, to discharge inflamed substances on an enemy. She was built, I hear, in 1815; and by her peculiar shape and capaciousness, (nearly four hundred tons,) is well adapted to receive the large stock of necessaries of all kinds, for the ship's company, during a voyage of probably long duration. The other ship, the Griper, is a gun-brig, but materially improved by raising her, to enlarge her stowage. Still she has not enough of accommodation for all the stores, &c. requisite for the people on board; but must depend for some supplies on the Hecla. The whole ship's company of the Hecla consists of fifty-eight persons, officers, seamen, and marines; that of the Griper of thirty-six. Both vessels have received every additional strengthening which wood and iron can give them, particularly on the bows, to resist the shock in making their way through the ice. In the inside they are fitted up in the most comfortable manner, for all on board; and every article of clothing, food, medicines, &c., which can be foreseen to be requisite, has been plentifully supplied. Nor have such things been omitted as may serve to conciliate the natives of the countries we may visit. Nothing omitted, nothing in fact has been refused by the Lords of the Admiralty which was supposed, or suggested to be useful in promoting the safety, the health, and the comfort of all persons employed in the expedition. With the view of improving the nautical and geographical knowledge of those quarters of the globe through which we may pass, a very complete assortment of instruments of the best construction are put on board, together with every implement requisite for the accurate construction of charts and maps.

Both ships were ready to fall down the river from Deptford early in April; but they were detained by contrary winds till the beginning of this month, when the season seemed to be sufficiently advanced for our setting off. On Tuesday morning, therefore, the 4th inst., the Hecla was towed by a steam-vessel down to Northfleet, a little above Gravesend, and the Griper followed at night. Thus it has happened that the present expedition sails just a month later than the former, of 1818, in the ships Isabella and Alexander. The commander of the Hecla, {3} and of the expedition, is Lieutenant William Edward Parry: the Griper is commanded by Lieutenant Matthew Liddon. The Admiralty having granted to all those officers, seamen, and marines, who should be employed in the expedition, double the ordinary pay of the Navy, the vessels were soon furnished with the full number of the best seamen. It is not a little encouraging also to observe that, with a few exceptions, every man who served in the former enterprise, has volunteered his services in the present.

On Thursday the 6th we received on board, from the arsenal of Woolwich, our ordnance stores; and on Friday the powder. To obviate as much as might be done the effects of the iron guns on the quarter-deck, upon the compass, they have been removed, and their place supplied by brass.

Saturday 8th. -- Worked down to the Nore off Sheerness and received on board the various instruments for making observations for astronomical, nautical, geographical, and meteorological purposes. Several of the officers have also carried out instruments of their own property. As far therefore as those indispensable assistants can be procured, our expedition promises all reasonable success.

Monday 10th. -- The seaman and marines have received the wages due to them since they entered, with an advance of three months' pay; that they may provide various articles of clothing, and other necessaries for the voyage, agreeably to a list furnished by the officers on board. Some bullocks, beer, and the proper stock of water being brought off, all was ready for getting under weigh. This operation took place this morning at ten o'clock, and before sun-set we had got out of the difficult passes between the bands in the mouth of the Thames.

Of my feelings on this occasion, then, it will be just as easy for you to form, as for me to convey any exact idea. This is not the first time of my leaving England on a long voyage; but such is the nature of the present expedition, such are its purposes, such the accidents to which we must be prepared to expose ourselves, that it is impossible for me to suppress certain apprehensions and foreboding, to which I have hitherto been a stranger. -- But at the French say le vin est tiré il faut le boire. Duty, respect and affection to all at home, and be assured.

&c. &c.