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Letters Written during the Late Voyage of Discovery


Lancaster's Sound, Wednesday
1st September
, 1819.

{24} WELL do I know, my dear Thomas, that no incident, no operation on board ship, since I left London, however, uninteresting to a stranger, will be passed over by you and my other friends at home, as of little importance or unworthy of notice. The transactions and occurrences noticed in my letters hitherto, have in them, nevertheless, nothing new, nothing extraordinary, nothing but what may, and doubtless often does happen, to all who navigate the seas which we have traversed. Our adventures among the hills and shoals of ice, which occupy the middle portion of Davis's Strait and Baffin's Bay, are, however, certainly out of the ordinary course of sea affairs; for it was necessary that we should quit the usual track of shipping bound for those quarters; because the object for which the expedition was fitted out, is of a nature very different from those contemplated in the commercial enterprises of our countrymen, or of the mariners of other nations, who resort to the northern seas.

I am now to commence my remarks on a region hitherto unknown, or at any rate certainly undescribed by any navigator. This is the inlet of the sea opening into Baffin's Bay, on the west side, called Sir James Lancaster's Sound; the nature of which has, for many years, and in particular since the return of the expedition of 1818, occasioned no small diversity of opinion, among men of geographical and nautical science. The term sound, employed by Baffin, has sometimes been supposed to signify an inlet of the sea, but not a passage communicating with the open sea at the opposite extremity. If, however, we look to the application of the term in known cases, we find that it is, in fact, just what now-a-days we call a strait. Thus we have the Sound of Elsineur, leading from the Atlantic into the Baltic, between Denmark and Sweden. Nearer home we have the Sound of Mull, which separates that island from the continent of Scotland. In embarking on an expedition, for the purpose of determining the true nature of Lancaster's Sound, therefore, the anxiety which occupies every one engaged is beyond description: to conceive it, indeed, it requires to be felt. You will, of course, readily forgive me, if at once I return to my own dull matter-of-fact mode of relating things and notions as they present themselves to my notice. One thing I must, however, mention, which occasions very serious uneasiness to us all. This is, that the Griper, which at first kept a pretty equal pace with the Hecla, when sailing on a wind, {25} seems now to have fallen off very sensibly in that good property. The consequence will be, that the Hecla must either slacken her course, in order to have the Griper in company, and thereby lose invaluable time in this most inhospitable quarter of the globe, or be reduced to the cruel necessity of abandoning her consort, and pursuing the expedition alone. But spero meliora -- you see, my good fellow, I have not yet quite forgotten my Latin.

On Sunday the 1st August, we endeavoured, by standing away to the northward from Possession Bay and its vicinity, to make at least an entrance into the broad opening of Lancaster's Sound. The wind was, however, right out of the sound, accompanied by a heavy swell in the same direction; so that at noon of the 2d we had gained but very little westing, when we came into lat. 74° 30', and long. 78° 1', the north point of the sound bearing about W. by N. distant forty miles. The weather being clear in the evening, when, by turning up to the westward, we had gained about midway between the entrance-points of the sound, we had a tolerably distinct view of the lands on both sides. That on the south appeared mountainous and rugged, while the north coast was less elevated and uneven. This side was, of course, less involved in snow than the opposite. Numbers of black whales were seen around us, with the peculiarity of many young ones; contrary to what is remarked by the whale-fishers, who, it is said, very seldom meet with young fish any where excepting on the coasts of East Greenland and Spitzbergen. If this be the case, it would seem to denote, that the general nursery of the young whales is situated much nearer to the pole than our position; and that the communication between that nursery and East Greenland is much more convenient for the fish than that with Baffin's Bay. Hence, perhaps, we may suppose the vast region of Greenland to be insulated alike from America as from Asia. Every thing seems to announce a range of open sea before us to the westward. The icebergs may be said to have disappeared, and the ice which we see floating is too close to the north coast to offer any obstacle to our progress. The water has changed its colour since we entered the sound, from its usual light green to a dirty brownish tinge. At 9, A.M. of Monday the 2nd, in the middle of the entrance, the sounding-line gave 1050 fathoms, on a bottom of mud and small stones. The real depth, however, did not, perhaps, go beyond 850 or 900 fathoms (an English mile); for, in the calmest weather, the weight of the line itself will continue to draw it out, even after the lead has reached the bottom; hence, reported great depths of the sea must be received with caution.

Tuesday 3d. -- While the Hecla was contending against breezes from the westward and calms, the Griper, which had fallen {26} behind eight or nine miles, had a brisk wind from the westward. This carried her forward to join her consort, which, on receiving the same breeze, crowded all sail to push on westward. Expectation was now raised to the highest pitch, to look out to discover whether the passage up the sound was obstructed by either land or ice: but nothing of the kind appeared.

In the forenoon of he 3d we had a view of the north coast of the sound, from Hope's monument (a remarkable conical hill, now found to be on the land, and not an island, as it had appeared on the former voyage,) westward to Cape Warrender, a bold headland advancing into the sound. Being at noon in lat. 74° 26', and long. 80° 4 1/2', the magnetic variation was found to be only 106° 58' westerly. This last quantity is very remarkable; for it would indicate a diminution of the variation which had regularly increased during the whole voyage from England. We were still going to the westward, and, consequently, drawing nearer to the supposed position of the magnetic pole of the earth. The observation was, besides, made on one of the very few icebergs now within sight, where no local attraction from the minerals, either in the ships or in the ground, could, in any way, affect the needle of the compass. In Possession Bay the variation was 108° 47', and we had not increased our long. 2° 42'; yet the deviation of the needle from the meridian lessened 1° 49'; but the variation itself is known to vary in the course of a single day.

From Cape Warrender the north coast tended north-westerly, leading into a deep bay or inlet, which was named after Mr. Croker, Secretary of the Admiralty. The land appeared composed of high mountains, in some parts of that level kind, called by seamen table-land. Being nearly in the meridian of Cape Castlereagh, on the south coast, but above forty miles off, we could observe a deep bay, or inlet, on its west side, which was named Navy Board Inlet. Both this and Croker Bay may, perhaps, be only openings between insulated portions of the land. The cape on the west side of the latter bay was named after Sir Everard Home.

The wind being fresh from the east, and the sea unencumbered, except by a few icebergs, seemingly much decayed, the Hecla soon got nearly out of sight of the Griper; and the weather being extremely clear, she before dark had got to the vicinity of the position where land was supposed to be seen across the sound in the expedition of last year, namely, about the meridian of west long. 83°. In the course of this day's run breakers were seen to the northward, near to lat. 85°, intimating the presence of rocks in that spot. The broken water might, however, have been produced by a multitude of loose masses of ice; for the Griper found seventy-five fathoms water on sand and mud near {27} the spot. This depth is, nevertheless, much less than what had been found in any other part of the run up the sound.

Wednesday 4th. -- In the morning the Griper got up to the Hecla in the meridian of lat. 85°, the place previously fixed for the meeting of the ships in the middle of the sound, in case of separation. Still not the smallest indication of land, in our course to the westward, could be perceived. The sea was quite free from any connected ice, to announce its connexion with the shore, and all apprehensions of disappointment in our project of making our way good along the seas of North America were nearly dispelled, when, about six in the morning, we were stunned by the alarm that land was seen a-head. Our mortification was not, however, of long duration; for, as we advanced, and the weather brightened, the land was found to be an island of not great size on our left, towards the south shore of the sound. On each side of it the horizon was perfectly clear. Standing still on to the westward, our progress was at once cut short by a connected body of ice, which extended across the whole breadth of the strait, to a cape forming the west point of Maxwell Bay on the north coast. The wind was carrying the ships fast down upon this ice, where they must have been inclosed, had we not hauled off to the northward, to a proper distance. Another island was then discovered to the south of the first; and both were distinguished by the names of Prince Leopold's Islands; the north one being in lat. 74°, and long. 90°. In looking southward, to the east of these islands, we perceived what the northern seamen call a water-sky: that is, a dark appearance of the sky, denoting water under it in that quarter. For over ice or snow the sky assumes a peculiar brightness, called ice or snow blink, which may be seen at a considerable distance; the land-blink is, generally, more of a yellow hue than that over ice.

For some time before we reached Prince Leopold's Islands the south coast of the sound was hidden by a thick haze; but of the north coast we had a sufficient view all along. There the land has a very peculiar appearance, being perpendicular and very high over the sea, probably not less than five hundred feet. The strata of these precipices are laid open to view, and regularly horizontal, but of very unequal thickness. The outer face is separated by vertical fissures, into ranges of natural buttresses, which give the coast the air of an immense stretch of decayed walls and towers. It is intersected by many openings or inlets, giving to various parts more the appearance of a succession of islands, all lofty, precipitous, and inaccessible, than of a continued tract of sea-coast. That the land on the north, and, indeed, on both sides of the sound, may turn out to be a group of islands, is not at all improbable. In the evening of the 4th, the {28} white whales, a pecular species, were seen for the first time: various kinds of sea-fowl were also observed in numbers, near the edges of the ice. From the northernmost of the Leopold isles, the distance over to the north coast may be about thirty miles north and south. Although the interior of the country on the north coast was lofty, and even mountainous, yet not so much snow was seen on it as might have been expected. This has been accounted for by persons not such strangers to arctic lands as I am, by the surface being in general plain, on which the drifting winds have full scope for their violence, to carry off the snow and lodge it in the deep ravines and gullies, which, no doubt, intersect the land, but which are not to be seen from sea.

Thursday 5th. -- The weather was too foggy to allow us to make any attempt to turn, or to force a passage through some opening of the ice; and the east wind falling off, we had light shifting airs with thick drifting snow. As, in these circumstances, we could only endeavour to maintain the position we had gained, for, while the Hecla could discover no current in any direction, the Griper found one setting eastward, at the rate of nine or ten miles in the day, attempts were made, but in vain, to strike some of the white whales. For they would dive before the boats could get within forty yards of them. They seemed to be, in general, towards twenty feet long; and sometimes, while under water, a singular whistling noise proceeded from them, which our seamen, with their characteristic skill in giving names to objects, called the whale-song. White whales are mentioned by the adventurous Mackenzie, as being seen at the mouth of the river which he traced down to the sea, on the north coast of North America, and which now in its name records his exploit; may not this fact show the straits, in which we are now entangled, to communicate directly with Mackenzie's sea? This day, also, for the first time in the voyage, and for the first time in my life, we saw that curious fish, called in the northern seas the narwhal, and by our people the sea-unicorn. Should we have the good luck to gain possession of one of these formidable gentry of the north, you shall have some account of him.

Saturday 7th. -- No opening in the ice appearing on the north of Prince Leopold's isles, our attention was directed to the southward, where the water-sky announced the absence of land. We were, however, still detained off those islands by calms, and the ice, which extended several miles from them, prevented all attempts to land upon them. This was, however, of the less importance, for they must have been wholly inaccessible, being surrounded, wherever we saw, by lofty perpendicular precipices, exhibiting regular horizontal strata, forming shelves, as it were, round the cliffs, but none of the buttresses which distinguish the {29} N. coast of the Sound. On board the Griper the calm weather was employed in shifting her topmasts which had been sprung by carrying a press of sail, to keep up with the Hecla.

One of the boats of the Hecla was upset by the fall of some ice which the people were collecting near the islands, to be disolved on board for use: but no injury was done. Ice from a berg is always chosen for the purpose; but that on large bodies of floating ice, although it be in fact the ice of sea-water, answers very well when the salt water is allowed to drain off. Agreeably to the general remark that a bold, that is a lofty steep projecting coast is usually accompanied by deep water near the land, the soundings off the Leopoldine isles passed speedily from 135 to 175 fathoms on a bottom of soft mud. In the afternoon yesterday, the fog wearing away to the southward, we had a sight of the coast in the SE. quarter. A breeze then coming away from the NNW. both ships stood to the southward into what soon appeared to be a spacious inlet of the sea, at least ten leagues wide at the entrance, and opening up in a direction towards SSW. As far as could be discovered the coasts had no tendency to meet, nor was there the faintest indications of land in the bottom. The W. coast was in beset with ice that, however anxious we were to penetrate in that direction, no operation of that kind seemed at all practicable; we therefore ran southward between the ice and the E. coast, in a broad open channel for about two degrees of Latitude, or 120 miles.

Among the mysteries of nature by which men are environed, none is more interesting, because none is more essential to the navigator, than the powers and the properties of the magnet. That the needle when magnetized, and at liberty to move freely, regards a pole different from the poles of the earth, has long been known. But this is not all. This deviation, or variation, as it is termed, is itself subject to gradual variation; and it is only from continued observation of the effect produced by this double change of position of the needle of the mariner's compass that its position and indications can from time to time be known. When the polarity of the magnetized needle was first observed in London it pointed to the E. of the true north; that is, the variation was easterly. In the course of years, drawing more and more westward, the magnetic meridian at last coincided with the terrestrial, and no variation existed. Continuing to move westward, the magnet pointed above two points W. from true north. This was the case a few years ago, when the needle became stationary, and now it seems to be returning eastward to coincide once more with the true north. On the 18th of May the variation on the N. coast of Scotland was found to be 26° 38' westerly; on the 23rd June, at the beginning of the ice in Davis's Strait 61° 26'; on the 31st {30} July, in Possession bay, at the S. point of Lancaster's Sound 108° 47'. Ever since we entered the Sound the irregularities proceeding from the local attractions in the ships, the sluggishness of the needles, the change in their dip, have become so important and embarrassing, increasing as we advanced westward in the strait, as to render the compasses of no real use; circumstances all seeming to announce our approach to the present magnetic pole. It became therefore of the utmost importance, to ascertain by observations either on a solid field of ice or on the land, the true variation and dip of the needle. Lieutenants Beechey of the Hecla, and Hoppner of the Griper, with Captain Sabine, who acted in the capacity of astronomer, and Mr. Fisher, assistant surgeon of the Hecla, were therefore landed on the E. coast, some miles within the entrance of the inlet. The coast was low on the water, and rose to no great elevation, nor could be termed mountainous in the interior. Little snow was seen, but the soil seemed to be of the most sterile description. Some tufts of grass by the brooks, a poppy or two of very poor growth, and common moss or lichens, were the only vegetable productions met with. The only animals seen were a brace of ptarmigans and some snow buntings. On the beach were found some seal bones, and some white hair resembling that of the arctic fox. The rocks in places were chiefly limestone; but fragments of granite, hornblend, and quartz, were scattered on the shore. The bed of a stream consisted of clay slate, although the banks were calcareous. Along the beach lay a range of large pieces of ice, in some places ten feet thick. Judging from the fall of the tide during the stay on the land, the water seemed to rise from twelve to fourteen feet. The ebb set to the southward, from which quarter of course the floodtide must proceed. The water in the stream indicated a temperature of 42 1/2°, the air in the shade 51 1/2°, and the earth near the surface 34 1/2°. No remains of huts or any other signs of human beings were observed, a want which our officers supplied; for on a hill, near the landing place, they erected a pole with a board on which they painted the date and the names of the ships. Near this pole a bottle was buried, containing a similar notice in writing at greater length. The weather being remarkably clear, our ships continued under sail through the night; for the sun at midnight just dipped below the horizon, and rose again a few minutes afterwards. The water of the inlet now changed to pale green and very deep; we found 35 fathoms within three miles of the shore. Standing on still southward, the dark colour of the sky announced clear water in that direction, and the inlet evidently widened; but early in the morning of the 8th, the ice, hitherto confined to the west coast, stretched over to the east shore to a point of land which seemed to terminate that shore. This point was named after {31} Captain Kater, who has so greatly improved the compass and the pendulum: its position is in latitude 71° 53 1/2' and longitude 90° 04'. From all the circumstances observed in this inlet, it seemed to be the opinion on board, that it certainly communicates with the open sea to the southward, and that by watching the state of the ice in that direction a vessel may make good her way westward along before the rivers seen by Hearne and Mackenzie: perhaps, find a passage south-eastwardly into Hudson's Bay.

No passage appearing practicable through this inlet to the southward, the ships returned to Lancaster's Sound, in which it was hoped some opening might present itself through the ice between Prince Leopold's Islands and the north shore. While we were near Cape Kater, in the inlet, the magnet became of less use than ever before, for even in that gentleman's improved steering compasses the north point of the needle pointed constantly to the ship's head in whatever position she was placed. On our return northward, we found the ice to have closed much over towards the east coast of the inlet; and thick weather coming on with snow, the ships were made fast to it. Here we laid in a complete stock of excellent water from the pools on the floating ice, waiting until the weather should clear up and the wind became favourable, which we had before observed to blow either right up or down the inlet.

Thursday being the 12th of August, the birth-day of His Royal Highness the Prince Regent, it naturally suggested to affix his name to the inlet. On the following morning we were opposite to an opening in the east coast, running in a little to the southward of east. It was a mile over at the mouth, and three miles deep. About the middle of the north side a small island formed a very safe anchorage; for it was joined to the land by a ledge of rocks which kept out both sea and ice. The water in the whole bay was very deep; in the anchorage it was from five to eight fathoms very near the land, which is every where steep, excepting in the bottom of the bay, where a stream falls in, which comes down through a most barren tract covered with loose fragments of limestone. The bay, which was named Port Bowen, lies in latitude 73° 12' 11'', and longitude 89° 2' 8''. The variation at three miles out from the land was 114° 17' westerly.

A light breeze in the evening of the 13th carried the ships north to Prince Leopold's Island, which proved to be more inclosed with ice than when we stood to the southward. While we were in the inlet many white whales and some black ones were seen. Narwhals, or sea-unicorns, also were swimming about in vast numbers. On this account the Greenland masters on board thought a fishing establishment in that inlet could not fail to be {32} very profitable, for the oil of the fish and the ivory of the narwhal's horn -- à propos of the narwhal; -- I am now able to fulfil my promise, respecting this curious animal, one of which was killed by a party from the Hecla and taken on board on Wednesday the 11th. The narwhal differs in general shape from the whale in this, that, like most other fish, the thickest part of the body is towards the middle of the length, whereas, in the whale it is very near the head. What is called the horn is properly a piece of bone or ivory, which projects from the snout: in this case it was united to the left side, but on the other side no vestige of a horn appeared, as is sometimes observed. The horn, which is generally in length about one-third of that of the body, tapers to a point, being surrounded by a spiral indent which looks as if it were twisted. In our fish the length of the horn was four feet two inches, but some inches of it seemed to have been broken off: the circumference at the root 5 3/4 inches, at the top 2 2/3 inches. Length of fish from horn to tail 13 1/2 feet: circumference of thickest part of body about 9 feet. The female, as I hear, has no horns. The narwhal has no teeth, so that, like the whale, the food must be of a very soft nature. The tongue of both fish is of the same kind, being only a mass of soft fat attached to the under part of the mouth, consequently, quite unfit to promote mastication. The tail and fins, like those of the whale, differ from those other fish in consisting of gristly fat covered with skin, as is the body. The skin, which is half an inch in thickness, covers a layer of blubber from three to four inches in substance, and in this fish was supposed to be in sufficient quantity to produce above sixty gallons of oil. The flesh was black and of a fragile nature. In the internal parts the narwhal, like the whale, perfectly resembles land animals of the mammalia class. Large as the animal was, the stomach contained nothing but a greenish oily liquid.

The ice to the westward affording no means of prosecuting our course that way, a boat from each ship went ashore on the 15th, at the north-east point of the Prince Regent's inlet. The ground was equally barren with that further south, consisting generally of limestone containing fossil shells. On the top of a hill, about 700 feet above the sea, a bottle was placed under a pile of stones containing the date of our arrival at the spot. From this hill no water was seen beyond the ice to the west and northwest: but it was no small gratification that no symptom of land could be discerned in those directions. The latitude of this spot was ascertained to be 73° 33', and its longitude 88° 18': the variation 115° 37', and the dip of the needle 87° 36'. Off this point the soundings where the ships lay, 2 1/2 miles from the land, gave 170 fathoms on a bottom of soft mud. {33}

From the 15th to the evening of the 18th, we were engaged in trying to discover a passage through the ice between Prince Leopold's Island and the north coast of the sound. The weather was very thick and foggy so that it was impossible to avoid many smart blows from the loose ice in our way. At midnight of the 18th, the light was still sufficient to enable us to read or write in the ship's cabin. Near the north shore the sea was clear of ice; but on Thursday the 19th, the wind and swell from the east, and the absolute inutility of the compass in a heavy fall of snow, placed the vessels in a very hazardous situation. For at 2 p.m. they were found to be so close under the land that they had no more room than was necessary to put about. The land proved to be several leagues to the eastward of our position on the 4th of the month. The ice extending in some places within three miles of the coast, we had opportunities of examining various inlets by which the land seemed to be broken into islands, and not one continued tract of country. Various parts of the coast, particularly about Cape Felfoot, displayed the horizontal strata in a very distinct manner. For this perfect regularity of the horizontal distribution is one of the characteristics of the shores, where we see no marks of those great convulsions of the earth by which the component substances, in other parts of the world, have been thrown into such apparent disorder. Maxwell Bay now lay open before us, exhibiting a number of islands and inlets in the bottom. To the head-land which forms its west point was given the name of the celebrated astronomer Herschel.

On Saturday the 21st, the broad opening from Baffin's Bay being perfectly free of ice, want of wind alone retarded our course to the westward. When off Cape Hurd a piece of wood, seemingly part of a boat's yard, was picked up, and occasioned no small speculation, as it denoted that we were not the first navigators in the strait. At last, however, it turned out that it had been dropt by one of our own boats when formerly on the neighbouring north coast. On the 22d we found the land falling off much to the north-west, a circumstance which gave no small encouragement to our hopes; for it had been apprehended that the coast might take just the contrary direction and come to be connected with the American lands. Here we had a clear view of an open channel of upwards of eight leagues in width, in which neither ice nor land could be seen. This opening was named Wellington's Channel, from the Master General of the Ordnance; and to that portion of the broad passage from Baffin's Bay, at the beginning of Lancaster's Sound, westward to this channel, the commander gave the name of Barrow's Strait. The island on the west side of Wellington Channel was named after Admiral Cornwallis. The opening on the south side of this {34} island was at least 10 leagues wide, and the water, though not free from ice, seemed perfectly navigable. Our ships' companies were in the best health and spirits, and the ships themselves in excellent condition; our provisions were abundant; we had therefore, every reason to look forward to the happy prosecution of the expedition.

The rocks along the shore continued still to display a succession of horizontal strata in the lower parts, but those at the top seemed to dip a little to the westward. The general substance was limestone; but in those parts which were cleared of rubbish by the sea, some beds of beautiful marble, besides loose fragments, were displayed. The ebb-tide here came from the westward, to which direction the flood must have set. This circumstance was rather discouraging for us, as it seemed to denote that the tides regarded Baffin's Bay on the east, and not the great northern American Sea, to which we were bound, on the west. It was however, probably, that the partial settings of the tide, in a sea incumbered by numerous islands, might be more governed by their positions with respect to one another, than by the situation of the great ocean by which they were all inclosed. In the evening of the 22d we had a sight of two icebergs, objects to which we had for some time been strangers.

From the entrance of Lancaster's Sound on to the meridian of 92° the beginning of Wellington channel, the winds had always blown in the direction of the sound, i.e. E. or W. but on the 23rd, a steady breeze came away from the northward, or across the strait. This strengthened the general idea that the N. shore was composed wholly of islands loosely dispersed and at considerable intervals: the probability, therefore, was, that by holding on westwardly for some time longer, we might arrive in the open ocean. But a fog coming on in the morning of the 24th, our progress was greatly retarded, especially as the bad sailing of the Griper did not permit so much sail to be set as would have been requisite. In our course we came near a vast field of ice, about 10 miles long, on a general thickness of eight feet. In this day's run we passed two islands of some extent towards the N. shore; part of the S. shore was also visible about long 98°. On the 24th, the wind drawing westwardly, and the ice accumulating toward the S. shore of the strait, we worked up to windward, and came within sight of a long tract of coast on the N. The appearance of the islands and the coast is quite different from that of the lands in the eastern parts of the straits; for the surface of the former is generally low, smooth, and seemingly sandy. The depth of water agrees also with what is usually remarked on low coasts, for it was, in some places, only 34 fathoms, and the deepest did not reach to 80 fathoms. {35}

On Friday the 27th, the border of ice towards the S. coast left a broad range of open sea between it and the N. coast, and the weather was uncommonly clear and steady. As the ships might, therefore, by their difference in sailing, be liable to separation, a place of rendezvous was settled. The ice on the S. then unexpectedly turned northward, quite in to the shore of an island named after Admiral Sir Thomas Byam Martin, where a large quantity was evidently fast to the ground. All passage westward being thus cut off, we stood to the southward in search of some other opening in the ice, but in vain: we returned, therefore, towards that island in the hope of finding a passage round its N. side. In approaching it the sounding lessened gradually from 80 to 23 fathoms, within 2 miles of the shore. A boat being sent on shore from the Hecla to the E. side of the island, and a fog coming on soon after, the ship stood off and on near the place, by the guidance of the soundings, and fired guns from time to time, to direct the boat in her return from the shore. The gentlemen who landed found Byam Martin island, like the other coasts in the neighbourhood, to be low next the sea, and rise up farther back. The soil visited consisted of fine sand, which, in various places, disclosed rocks of white sandstone, very soft and brittle. The vegetation, when compared with that of the lands to the E. and S. might be considered to be abundant: moss was in considerable quantities in the low moist valleys. No snow was seen on the island, the brooks were of course dried up; but numerous masses of ice remained attached to the beach. No animals of any kind were observed: but that the brute creation, and even the human species, visited the island, was evident. Tracks of rein-deer were seen on the sands, as also their horns and hair: the skulls of white bears were also found, and the skull of a musk-ox was brought off. About a quarter of a mile back from the shore were discovered the ruins of six huts, about 12 feet long and 8 or 10 broad; at the end of each was a small space 3 feet square, composed of 4 flat stones set on edge. In these particulars these huts exactly resemble those of the Esquimaux, or Greenlanders, on the E. coast of Baffin's Bay. The small enclosures were perhaps fire-places, or rather repositories of provision. The temperature of the sandy soil was 35 1/2°; that of the air, the sun being under a cloud, was 33 1/2°. The latitude of the place of observation was 75°, 09', 23'', and the chronometrical long. 103°, 44', 37''. The dip of the needle was 88° 26', and the variation had gone westerly round by S. 14° 10' beyond the meridian, or it might now be reckoned 165° 50' easterly. The last observation of the variation was at Cape Riley, on the N. coast, in long. 91° 48', when it appeared to be 129° westerly: since that time the Hecla must {36} have passed over the meridian N. from the magnetic pole, or that spot in which the N. end of the needle would have pointed due S.; a spot which in our position must have been in about long. 100° W. from Greenwhich on the parallel of 75°. On the top of a hill or rising ground, two miles from the landing place, a heap of stones was collected over a bottle containing a bit of paper recording the ships' names and the date of their being on the coast.

Wednesday, 1st September, the compasses were now quite useless, and for some days past the haze allowed us to judge of the sun's position only by a brightness in that quarter of the heavens where he was. Having observed the general direction of the wind from the eastward, and the respective distance and situation of the Hecla and Griper while the sun was visible, the same distance and situation were carefully maintained as long as circumstances required it. Our principal dependence, however, was on the soundings, which increased or diminished, with tolerable regularity, as we were more or less off from the land. While we were on this part of the strait, or among the islands, it was rather surprising how few animals of any kind were seen; only a few seals and gulls. Being thus compelled to desist from every attempt to push on to the westward, new experiments on the dip of the needle were made on the ice, which coincided very nearly with those made of Byam Martin's island.

At last, this morning, the 1st September, the fog was succeeded by thick snow and sleet; but a breeze springing up, and there being but little ice in the neighbourhood of the ships, preparations were made for pursuing our course. After some time we had a peep at the sun, and standing on to the westward, about 9 A.M. we found ourselves a few miles off from a low point of land, which seemed to belong to a different island. -- But here I must bid you all adieu, until I shall be able to tell you something correctly on the subject.

Ever your's, &c.

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