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Letters Written during the Late Voyage of Discovery


Arctic Ocean, 1st October, 1819.


LITTLE did I or any one else in this expedition imagine, that when my last letter of the first past was concluded, we were so near the termination of our operations and researches, for probably a considerable time to come. Little did we count on being arrested by the ice in this most dismal and desolate region, and {37} compelled to pass, in such a situation, a range of dreary helpless months, the duration, and the effects of which, no one on board, not even our Greenland mariners, could conjecture. The duration of the sun's absence in any given latitude within the Arctic circle, we could calculate; but what might be the state of the land, and especially of the sea around us, what resources, if any, could be drawn from then, how we were to occupy ourselves in a night of cold, and to guard against the consequences of a long course of inactivity on the health and spirits of all on board; on these, and various other topics, we had conjecture along to guide us. When our story comes to be known in Europe, some of those good-natured friends, of whom Sir Peter Teazle speaks in the School for Scandal, will be ready to comfort us with the reflection, that had we left England a little sooner in the year, had we displayed a little more ingenuity in searching for a passage across the American Arctic seas, or a little more perseverance in contending with the obstacles which opposed themselves to our progress; had we, in fact, done any thing but what we have done, instead of freezing to death in the parallel of 75° of N. latitude, we might now be indulging the hope of basking in the genial climes of the Asiatic Pacific. That we shall convince the world that, as far as our knowledge and zeal were concerned, we have not been wanting to ourselves, is perhaps too much to be expected; that we have already convinced ourselves, and one another, is beyond a doubt. After assuring you that we all, one excepted, now possess perfect health, notwithstanding the severe labours to which every man in the expedition, none excepted, has been subjected, I will return to my usual account of our proceedings.

My last letter concluded rather abruptly, with announcing our arrival, on the 1st of September, on the eastern part of what appeared to be an island detached from any land before examined or seen; for we had run about seven leagues to the westward, without discovering any land from the southern extremity of Byam Martin Island. The part we came upon was a low point, and standing to the S.W. for a few miles, we found ourselves at noon of Wednesday, 1st September, in N. lat. 74° 59' 1/2, and W. long. 106° 07'1/2. The land, like the immediate preceding islands, was of a character wholly different from that of the coasts of the eastern parts of the strait, being low along the shore, and more elevated, but neither mountainous nor precipitous, in the interior. Little snow was observed on the land, but the sea to the southward was completely invested with ice, as far as our best glasses could penetrate. Large masses of ice are aground on the shore; but still the channel between the land and the great body of ice {38} was open and of sufficient breadth, from one to two leagues in most places. The extent of the ice and sea to the southward we could not ascertain, for no land on that side was visible since the 24th of last month, when we were treated with the appearance of a star, the only one we had seen for about nine weeks.

In the morning of Thursday the 2nd instant, we had foggy weather with very light winds, which not being sufficient to govern the ships, they met with several severe shocks from the floating masses of ice. Had the wind been stronger, the sea was in general so open near the land, that we could have avoided them. In the forenoon a party of officers and men from both ships went ashore, having observed the water to shoal very regularly as they approached it; the depth being 6 fathoms, half a mile from the shore. In that depth were a number of masses of ice aground, a circumstance which it struck us might, if necessary, be of great service, by placing the ships between the land and those masses, which would protect us from the pressure of the great bodies of ice out at sea. The beach was flat sand, and the general ground of the land seemed to be sandstone, not unmixed, however, with limestone. The soil a little way back from the shore was a black mould, which might, in another climate, be very productive: in the moist valleys grass and moss grew abundantly, and the grass to a good height. Several pieces of coal were picked up in walking about the island; an appearance of no small importance to those who may pass through or be detained in such a climate. Great numbers of horns of deer and musk-oxen, as well as of their footsteps, were found; showing those animals to be no strangers in the island, or at least what we took to be an island. Part of the body of a musk-ox was seen, which could not have been many months on the spot. The great white bear must also inhabit, or at least visit the island, for their skulls, as well as their tracks, were seen in several places. A number of holes were found in the dry eminences, of different sizes, some probably made by field-mice, and others by foxes. Some ptarmigans were shot, and flocks of geese and ducks, as also of snow-buntings, passed the ships from the land, as if preparing or already set out on their journey for warmer climates. Two deer were seen, but too shy to be secured; and wherever any spot of good grass or moss was met, there their marks were evident. The most curious discovery was that of the horn of a narwhal, on a rising ground above a mile from the beach; carried thither probably by some Esquimaux in their summer visits to the island. A piece of a large fir-tree was discovered almost buried in the sand, about a quarter of a mile from the shore, and {39} 10 or 12 yards above the level of the water. The spot on which the observations were made was about 100 yards back from the shore in lat. 74°, 58', and long. 107°, 03'1/2. The variation was 151°, 30' easterly, or 208° 30', counted round westerly. The time of high water at full and change was probably towards 2 o'clock; the rise and fall of the tide about 5 1/2 feet. The piece of fir-tree above mentioned, and still more, the skeleton of a whale found up from the water, could never, therefore, have been transported to their position by the tides, if they were formerly as they are now. The skeleton of the whale may have occupied its present site for many ages past. The wood has evidently been crushed by the pressure of the heavy ice. On a hill behind the place of observation, the necessary notifications of the presence of the ships was deposited in a bottle under a heap of stones.

On the 3d the great body of ice was observed to draw in towards the land; it became therefore necessary, although the wind was slack, to gain as much westing as possible; which was done with all the means at our command. I must notice the peculiar beauty of this evening, the atmosphere being without a cloud, and the air frosty. The sun set with singular splendour, and the moon soon rose in all her glory. The refraction on the horizon gave her an appearance more elliptical than circular; an accident, you know, owing to the unequal effect of the air on the rays of light.

This day and the 4th we were employed in making way to the westward, passing before several headlands and bays; one of the latter running deeper into the land than we could see, nor did it seem to be worth the time which must have been lost in exploring it. Between nine and ten at night we calculated that we were on the meridian of the 110° degree of longitude, west from Greenwich. This was a point of no small importance to all persons in the expedition; and in the outset of the voyage it was considered as no contemptible exploit to be able to reach that meridian before we should be closed in for the winter. For by arriving in that longitude, within the arctic circle, the companies of both ships became entitled to 5000£, being the reward offered by the authority of parliament to any British subjects who should accomplish it. On the following morning, Sunday the 5th, after divine service, the event was communicated by Captain Parry to the company of the Hecla; and the same notification was made to the Griper. An addition to the usual allowance of meat and beer was served out to the people at dinner, and to mark the success, the seamen of themselves gave the name of Bounty Cape to a bluff headland a little to the eastward of the meridian of 110°.

Continuing her course to the westward, the Hecla made a low {40} projecting point, forming the farthest extremity of a bay. This point has been named after the enterprising traveller in North America, Hearne, as it stands about north from the reported position of the mouth of Coppermine river, where he came upon the sea. The wind now blew fresh from the northward, and the ice preventing the ships from proceeding westward, they worked up into the bay just mentioned, where they anchored in seven fathoms on good holding ground of mud and sand, well sheltered from ENE. round by N. to SW. Here we cast anchor, for the first time in all the voyage since we left England, an internal of four months, and this in west longitude 110°; precisely the position pointed out for obtaining the reward of our success in the expedition. In the evening of the 5th, a party of officers from the Hecla went ashore, making a second landing on this island. The ensigns were hoisted on the ships, and formal possession was taken of the island (for such it is always considered) in the name of the British nation. Whether the acquisition may ever be of any value in a political sense may be doubted, but it will always be a memorial of the skill and enterprising spirit of the persons entrusted with the researches by which it has been acquired.

On Monday the 6th, the wind still blowing hard from the northward, and the ice still closing in with the projecting land to the westward of the roadstead were we lay, another boat went on shore from the Hecla for the purpose of making astronomical observations, and examining the quality and productions of the soil. It was one of the objects to bring off some of the peat discovered near a mossy lake, which would have been of the greatest service as a substitute for the pit-coal on board. The quantity, however, brought on board did not quite answer our expectations: it was of a slaty texture but burned clear with a whitish flame. Perhaps the spot where it has been seen was not recognized. On the north side of the point where the boat landed, a harbour was found; but it was small, and at the mouth was a bar, having on it only ten feet of water at low tide. The landing point is situated in latitude 74° 47', and longitude, by the chronometers, 110° 34'.

It has just occurred to me to ask whether you are always aware of the value of degrees, minutes, seconds, &c. of latitude, in situations more of less remote from the poles or the equator. The rule for ascertaining the extent of a degree of latitude on any parallel is to state this proportion. As radius to the co-sine, or sine of the complement of the latitude, so the number of nautical, geographical, or English miles in a degree on the equator, to the number of such miles in the given latitude. By this statement you will find, that, on the parallel of 75°, a degree of lati- {41} tude instead of containing 60 geographical or nautical miles, contains but a little more than one-fourth part of that number; that is 15 1/2 geographic or nearly 18 English miles. Hence the point on which the party from the Hecla landed is situated 8.8 nautical, or nearly 10 English miles west from the meridian of 110° of west longitude from Greenwich.

At the same point the magnetic variation was 253° 43' westerly, or 126° 17' easterly, and the dip of the needle 88° 30'; that is, it stood nearly vertical. The temperature indicated by Fahrenheit's thermometer was as low as 25° (7° below freezing;) but to our feelings the cold appeared much more intense.

The wind becoming moderate, and the ice drawing a little off at Cape Hearne, the ships prepared to get under way: but so tenacious was the ground that it took full two hours to raise the anchor. Turning that Cape at the distance of above a mile, in deep water, the land appeared to extend about south-west by west, and the channel between it and the main ice seemed tolerably clear of broken floating ice. Hard as the wind had lately blown, the ice was not removed more, in general, than three miles or so off from the shore; a proof that out at sea the main ice was compact and solid.

As we advanced westward we found the wind follow the coast from the eastward, a fact which promised us a favourable run: but from the mast-head we had the mortification to observe the ice closing quite in to the land at the farthest extremity of our view. The ships were, therefore, made fast to what is termed by the Greenlanders a floe, that is a large field of ice usually of great thickness, in very deep water, about 80 fathoms, about four miles out from the shore. The weather was now so dark, for several hours before and after midnight, that we were obliged to make the ships fast during that period; for the compasses were entirely useless, and the water was deep very close to the land. Still judging from what had been observed by those who were in the former voyage, September was expected to be the most proper month for prosecuting our enterprize.

In the morning of Tuesday the 7th, the ships made sail with an easy fair breeze; for the ice seemed to be drawing off from the land; but on coming to the point we wished to turn no opening appeared, so that we were obliged to make fast again to a floe. A boat was then sent of shore to sound round some large masses of ice which were aground near the land. The purpose of this was to know whether, in the event of the main ice closing in towards the shore, the ships might be protected by those grounded bodies of ice from the pressure. Sufficient depth of water was found within them, but not room for the ships to swing round: they were, therefore, kept in their situation at the floe. This {42} day we saw a number of musk-oxen on the land feeding; and two white hares were shot by a party on shore.

No change promising to take place in the ice without and to the westward of the ships, we looked out from some large and massy bergs (as we still called them, though wholly unlike the prodigious ice islands met with in Baffin's Bay, &c.) to which if aground we intended to secure the ships. Such masses were found, one for the Hecla fast in twelve fathoms of water about 300 yards from the shore, and another for the Griper in ten fathoms near to the land. To these bergs, therefore, both were made fast, and there we remained for several days. While we lay there the wind blew hard off the land in the night of the 11th and morning of the 12th. The ice without us began to drift to the eastward at the rate of above a mile in the hour, carrying away with it the mass to which the Hecla had been moored. Thus she escaped great danger, perhaps complete destruction, as did also the Griper, both being defended and kept in their position by their icebergs. While we lay in this situation parties from both ships went frequently on shore in search of game; for fresh food is one of the best preservatives against scurvy at sea. The musk-ox, the rein-deer, white hares, foxes, field-mice, were seen, but too far off to be struck. A number of snow-buntings were also observed, and some grouse, partly of a whitish colour, larger than a partridge, but lighter than the common British grouse. The white hares were large, weighing in general about eight pounds. A musk-ox was shot at and probably wounded; but he escaped with greater agility than was expected from his bulk and conformation. Pieces of coal were picked up scattered over the surface of the ground; but no indications of a vein of coal were any where discovered. On the 11th a musk-ox was shot by a midshipman of the Hecla, but at too great a distance to be brought to the ship. A piece of the meat taken on board and dressed as a steak, was more agreeable than had been expected, after what was said of the rank musky smell of the animal which from [sic] it has its name.

On Sunday the 12th, great anxiety was felt on account of a party of six men and an officer, the Greenland master belonging to the Griper, Mr. Fyfe. Early in the morning of the 11th they had been sent out to procure musk-oxen and rein-deer, the tracks of which had been seen to the westward of the ships. They were also to penetrate 15 or 30 miles into the country, to discover, if possible, its extent to the northward. As the business was to be accomplished in a day they had provisions for one day only. Not returning as expected, three gentlemen of the ship volunteered their services to go in search of the missing party; for the weather during the night was too severe for human beings {43} to remain abroad unless necessity compelled them to do so. But so thick was the drifting snow that this last party also missed their way back to the ship, which they reached late at night in a very exhausted state from cold and fatigue, but without any tidings of their absent shipmates. They were directed back by seeing the rockets thrown up when it grew dark. Next morning an officer of the Griper went on shore with one of the upper masts fitted as a flag staff and a large ensign, which he placed on a commanding spot about four miles back from the coast. But so thick was the snow-drift the whole day that they project could have no good effect.

On Monday the 13th, early in the morning, four parties with an officer to each were dispatched in search of the unfortunate men so long absent, and of whose safety little hope could now be entertained. They carried with them a number of pikes with flags to be planted in the line of each party's march, to serve as guides to the absentees, as well as to themselves in finding their way back to the ships. On each pike was hung a bottle containing written instructions, directing the missing men to the large flag-staff, where provisions would be found. When these four parties set out the thermometer was down 4° below freezing, and the wind blew hard with continued snow and drift from the westward. No words can express the joy felt by all on board both ships when, at sun-set on the third day of absence, one of the parties was seen coming along shore from the eastward with four of the original absentees. The whole seven it seems lost their way some hours after they went ashore, and wandered about utterly ignorant of their situation, until they came up to the great flag-staff, which was mistaken for another that had been planted further east some days before. Here, therefore, the party separated. The four now returned made a fire with some gunpowder and moss in the night time, and they supported themselves upon raw wild fowl. They reached the flag-staff only a few hours after the provisions had been deposited at it. They eat some bread and drank a little rum and water, which was previously mixed. It tasted, as they said, quite insipid, just the reverse of what might have been expected from men in their circumstances. Following the instruction left at the flag-staff, they set forward for the coast, and had not gone far when they met with footsteps in the snow which guided them to the party that brought them to the ships. Judging by the reports of the returned men of the route followed by their comrades after the separation, fresh parties were preparing to explore the land to the westward. Just as these were ready to set out, another of the former exploring parties appeared from the eastward with the information that the remaining three of the missing party were on {44} their way to the coast. It was ten at night before they were brought on board by fresh men sent to meet them, having been exposed to all the rigour of the weather and want for upwards of ninety hours. All of them had suffered severely, although in different ways, their fingers and toes in particular: but by the care employed about them on board they were all in a few days restored to health. It was a happy circumstance that our poor shipmates returned as they did: for in the night it blew very hard, and the thermometer, which had never been below 15°, fell in the morning of the 14th down to 9°: in such a case not one of the party could probably have withstood the inclemency of the weather. As they lost their way in the night of the first day of their expedition they were able to give no very satisfactory account of the country they had seen. After travelling for 16 or 18 miles the land seemed to be more fertile, or rather less barren, than on the coast, for in the moist valleys grass and moss grew in good quantities. In their wanderings they saw no musk-oxen, but a number of hares and rein-deer; they also observed some other animals of the deer kind, which, from their size, they supposed to be American elks. Musk oxen were, however discovered in companies by the parties sent after the missing. These last came to a fresh-water lake, supposed to extend about two miles by one, containing fish, a kind of trout: but as this happened during their wanderings they could give no account of the situation of the lake, which might prove highly serviceable to us by supplying fresh food on board.

The sudden depression of the thermometer beforementioned on the 14th, when the highest temperature in the shade was only 17°, and the lowest 9°, introduced so material a change in the climate, that on that day our winter may be said to commence.

In the morning of the 16th a strong current was observed to set to the westward, although the gale blew fresh just in the opposite direction; and at 9 A.M. the weather being tolerably moderate, both ships got under way about two miles from the land. From five to six leagues to the westward of the station where we had been so long detained, the land ran out in a very high bold headland, where the ice stretched quite in to the shore, although the heavy northwest gales had carried it off five or six miles from the coast to the eastward. The coast being frequently intersected by ravines of great depth, the gusts of wind sent down through them allowed us to carry no more sail than was just sufficient to preserve the command of the vessels. The night threatening to be very tempestuous and the coast being so lofty over very deep water where no ice could take the ground, we were, much against our will, obliged to run back to the eastward to the lower coast where we had been defended by the {45} grounded bergs, and where we had been rendered so uneasy by the absence of the party from the Griper. About 10 P.M. a mass of ice, aground near the Hecla, was set loose by the current, and drove her several times on a projecting piece of ice under water, or what the Greenlanders call a tongue. When there is light these tongues are easily seen, and may be avoided; but this happening in the night, the Hecla received several severe blows, as if she had struck the ground: no bad consequences, however, ensued from the accident.

On Friday the 17th, another attempt was made to stand to the westward, which proved equally unsuccessful, for the ice was found to be again close on the land in that direction. The ice here was of great thickness, and very heavy, similar to that found on the Greenland coast. It is therefore, perhaps, not the production of the narrow seas where we are, but comes, probably, from the open northern ocean, beyond our view. The strong setting of the waters, and the drift of the ice to the westward for several days together, we were unable to explain; but one consequence seemed to follow from it, which is, that to the westward must be a large space of open sea to receive it. In order to avail ourselves of the westerly drift of the ice, it was proposed to make the ships fast to a floating field of the ice, the thickest we had ever seen, and so extended that its extremities could not be perceived from the mast-head. It was not long, however, before this vast field was observed to be not only moving quickly to the westward, but also drawing in to the land: our project was, therefore, frustrated. Thus again we were forced back to the low shore to the eastward. The weather being moderate, and indeed fine in the night, in the morning of the 18th the new, or as it is technically called, the young ice, formed so quickly round the ships as to retard, and at last entirely to stop their progress. From this circumstance it was no longer a doubt whether the winter was or was not already begun: it was consequently absolutely necessary to look out for some safe sheltered haven, before we were completely beset in the ice, in a situation the most exposed on the coast.

The great mass, or floe of ice continuing to draw closer and closer on the shore, the ships were forced very near the land, in the prospect of being crushed between the immense mass and the ice accumulated and fastened to the beach. Dropping anchor in 10 fathoms water, about 100 fathoms from the land, the ships fortunately got near to what we called a berg, but what was, in fact, a hummock, or mount, formed by the pressure of one body of ice above or below others, by the force of the current. This hummock was aground, and, lying farther out than the ships, received the first shock of the floe, about 8 in the evening. The {46} crash produced by the collision was most tremendous, and vast masses of the floe were detached and forced up on what was originally aground. The force of the floe on the berg gradually abated; but the young, or bay ice, still pressing on the Hecla in such a way that she must inevitably fall on the shore, the necessary preparations for this awful operation were made; the rudder was raised up, the sails furled, and the yards ready to take down. Such was the desperate situation of the Hecla, and her consort the Griper was in a similar position on the opposite side of the grounded berg, which partly prevented the one from seeing the other. The Griper, from her construction, fell over considerably by the pressure of the ice; but neither ship received by any means the injury naturally to be expected, in a position where no human assistance could have been of any avail. The Hecla had been forced into less than 4 fathoms of water, within 50 feet of the beach; from which she was kept off by heaps of young ice. The Griper lost one of her boats. About 9 P.M. the ice drew off a little from the land, so as to allow both ships to get into a better situation for the night. In the morning of Sunday the 19th, the main ice had drifted about a mile out to sea, but the channel upon the shore was still impracticable, by the multitude of broken masses united together by the young ice. Early on the 20th the wind from the N.E. quarter opened up the channel, but the current still brought the ice westward, and a projecting point bearing on where the Griper lay, forced her to take the ground with only 7 feet of water on the inside, while she was still hard pressed by the ice without. In this state of things the best thing to be done was to place the Hecla somewhere in safety, and then to send as many hands as could be spared to assist the crew of the Griper in getting her off. But the wind continuing strong off the land, the water began to open up, and in the afternoon she got afloat without any damage, having luckily grounded at low water.

The exertions and the sufferings of all on board the ships, during these occurrences, it is impossible for me to represent: but all was performed and endured with a ready determination and activity infinitely creditable to every one. The Griper had also to contend with this peculiar difficulty, that their commander, Lieutenant Liddon, who, early in the expedition, had been afflicted with rheumatism, but recovered, was again attacked, worse than ever, in the latter part of the voyage. It was proposed to remove him to the Hecla, but to this he would not agree, and remained seated on deck during the whole of the very distressing occurrences, of which I have given you a very imperfect account.

It was now manifest to every person in the expedition, that the season was too far advanced to suffer any hope to be enter- {47} tained of prosecuting the voyage with any prospect of success. The winds were boisterous, often contrary; a current of two miles per hour certainly set westward, but it was so encumbered with prodigious masses of ice, and that in many places close in with the land, that it was impossible to make any way in that direction; the coast itself was lofty, precipitous, and inaccessible; such was the intensity of the cold that young or bay ice was continually and rapidly forming round the ships, whenever the water was cleared of floes. If this should be the case a little longer it would be impossible to carry the ships into any snug situation under the land, for winter-quarters, and the coast where we now were offered not the least promise of discovering any such situation. We were now offered not the least promise of discovering any such situation. We were now at the autumnal equinox, and the meridian altitude in our position was only 15°, or the complement of our latitude. The safety of the ships, and the health and preservation of the people on board required the most speedy measures to be taken, to place them out of hazard, as much as the region we were in would admit. For these, and I doubt not various other good reasons, which may easily escape my discernment, the commander of the expedition, with the unanimous approbation of the principal officers, determined to take the first opportunity to return to the bay we had observed, and where we first dropt anchor, a little to the westward of the meridian of lon. 110°. In that bay seemed to be the only chance we had of placing the ships in security, out of the reach of the immense floes of ice which filled the offing. In consequence of this resolution, about two in the morning of Wednesday the 22d, the signal was made to weigh, an operation of no small difficulty, from the frost and the quantity of ice collected round the rudder and the sides. When we came off the W. point of the bay, there the young ice was so strong as to obstruct our course, and excite apprehensions that we should not be able to gain the proper anchor-ground. At length, however, the Hecla came to anchor at 8 P.M., in 9 fathoms, bottom of mud, a little to the E. of her station before. Early in the morning of the 23d, after a night of heavy snow and wind from the northward, Captain Parry went ashore to examine a harbour in the bottom of the bay, to the northward of the ship. This harbour afforded good shelter, but it had a shallow bar across the entrance. The worst circumstance of all, however, was, that the whole inner surface was one continued body of ice from 8 to 12 inches thick, all formed since we were there on the 5th inst. An officer from the Griper having mentioned that another harbour had been found a little to the westward, in the N.W. corner of the bay, on going thither it was found to be one sheet of ice, but of one 4 or 5 inches in thickness; but in other respects the position seemed to answer perfectly to what we wanted. Making {48} holes from time to time in the ice, for nearly a mile within the entrance, the depth of water was found to be from 4 to 5 fathoms.

Friday the 24th. -- At 6 A.M. the ships weighed, with the wind form the northward but moderate, and the weather fine. The east point of the entrance of the harbour was low, having in front a reef of rocks nearly dry, running out three quarters of a mile; on it were a number of masses of ice fast aground. About a mile to the south of this reef, is the opposite point of the entrance of the harbour, which is higher ground. The length of the harbour, from the south point to the bottom, is nearly three miles, on a general breadth of three quarters.

From the state of the ice it was necessary to cut a channel through it, to let the ships get into their proper place, in order to be as completely protected as possible from the drifting ice out at sea. In commencing this very laborious operation (for the extent to which it seemed to be necessary to cut the ice, could not be less than two miles and a quarter), two lines were marked out with pikes, sufficiently far asunder to admit the largest ship. Along these lines the ice was cut with a saw, worked above by two men, and the pieces in the interval, cut across from time, to facilitate the removal of the fragments. The wind being fresh from the northward, the seamen contrived to mount sails, on the loose ice, which by that contrivance, precisely suited to the invention of seamen, was carried down the canal to the sea. This accommodation did not, however, last long, for the frost in the night blocked up the canal. The ships, however, worked up as far as it was opened. As the fragments could no longer be carried towards the sea, it became necessary to sink them under the solid floe, by the men standing on one side, and by ropes drawing them under the ice. To encourage the seamen to this business the officers set the example; some of them remaining up to their knees in the water for many hours, with the thermometer never above 16°. This work being one of absolute necessity for the security of crews and ships, it was continued on Sunday, and a little past 3 P.M. both ships were drawn along by the people to the quarter destined to be our place of abode, during the tedious dark and dreary winter we are prepared to encounter. My next communication will contain some account of our operations and occupations in this situation -- a situation never before voluntarily chosen, as far as I know, by any ship or ship's company; never, certainly, for any motive such as ours. Do your best to calm the apprehensions of my mother and Mary, and comfort them with the prospect of a happy meeting, after the completion of our very interesting expedition.

Farewell, my dear brother,
&c. &c.


{60} Idleness is equally injurious to the mind and the body; and, in our position, could not fail to induce, or at least to dispose for disease. Two schemes were therefore proposed, and unanimously adopted. The one, to fit up a sort of theatre, on which to represent such little pieces as might interest and amuse the men: the other, to establish a sort of weekly newspaper, to be supported by the voluntary contributions (literary that is to say) of the officers of both ships. Of this work, Captain Sabine, of the Royal Artillery, the astronomer of the expedition, was to be the conductor or editor. The theatricals were placed under the superintendance of Lieutenant Beechey, as stage-manager; the commander himself, Captain Parry (for so I designate him, although he has only the rank of Lieutenant in the Navy), took his share in the common effort to excite and maintain cheerfulness and good-humour, excellent preservatives of health, spirits, contentment, and comfort, among the men.

Monday, the 1st of November, 1819, will ever be memorable in the history of literature. On that day appeared, composed, edited, but not printed, within the arctic circle, within fifteen degrees of the North Pole of the earth, the first number of the "North Georgian Gazette, or Winter Chronicle;" -- a work, take it all in all, without a fellow. In assembling matter for this work, you Londoners, more embarrassed by the multiplicity than by the scarcity of news, next to the sirloin John Bull's choicest treat, will be puzzled to imagine what the contributors had or could find to say. But what with the knowledge of some, the invention of others, the criticisms of a third order, the enterprize has never once been suspended for lack of matter. The experiment was, you may suppose, a little hazardous: the genus irritabile comprises many a scribbler besides the poet. But whether it is to be ascribed to the good sense and moderation of the writers, to their feeling of the propriety of the undertaking, to the chilling freezing powers of the climate, the only thing worth notice is this, that up to this day the "Arctic Miscellany" seems fully to produce the intended effect.

Preparations having been made on board the Hecla, our new theatre was opened on Friday, the 5th of November, with the popular piece of "Miss in her Teens." Fitted up on the quarter-deck, where the companies of both ships were accommodated; for the distance between them did not exceed half a cable's length, or sixty fathoms, and a line was extended between them, as I said before to guide those who passed backwards and forwards; the performance afforded a rich treat to our poor fellows, who felt most thankful for the pains taken by their officers to promote their {61} entertainment, and thereby shorten their dreary days. The exhibition lasted two hours, and seemed to answer so well the intended purpose on its first appearance, that it was resolved to repeat it once every fortnight. The delight of the crews was not, however, limited to the mere hours of performance: several cheerful days of anticipation and recollection were employed in fitting up and taking down the theatre, the only structure of the kind probably ever erected on the parallel of 75° north, and in a temperature at the beginning of Fahrenheit's scale, on the outside of the ship, and at the freezing point on the inside, close to the stage. The house was opened with an appropriate address, composed and delivered by Mr. Wakeham, clerk of the Griper, who also furnished two songs that were sung between the acts. Not the least amusing part of the business was to hear the judgements passed on the entertainment by our honest tars, who wanted terms to express their gratification, until the boatswain, a very formidable personage I assure you, on board ship, helped them out by informing them, that fine, excellent, and other epithets they had employed were nothing to the purpose; for what they had heard and seen was, "in fact, real true philosophy."

Although we were deserted by every animal from which we could have drawn any benefit about the time when the sun disappeared, yet the wolves were more faithful. Them we heard prowling and howling about on the edge of the ice in the dark, and, on some occasions, they ventured very near the ships, where by their scent they, no doubt, expected to appease their famished maws. It was curious to observe, at those times, the terror which agitated our pretty little white fox, when he heard their too well known voice. None of our people were ever attacked by the wolf, who, on the contrary, seemed very shy and unwilling to let them get near him. A wolf, however, once gave chase to one of our dogs, pursuing him until he took refuge near the ship with the people he accompanied. While the dog was trotting on towards him, the wolf remained still in his place; but when he saw the dog halt, and draw no nearer, then he sprung forward at full speed. Had the dog been far from protection, the wolf would soon have overtaken him.

{66} Having now brought down our transactions and observations to the close of 1819, I will also close this rambling epistle, with expressing every good wish for all at home, and all their and my good friends.

Your's most affectionately,
&c. &c.

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