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Letters Written during the Late Voyage of Discovery


Winter Harbour, 1st August, 1820.

{96} ONCE more, my dear Thomas, and for the last time, I do most sincerely pray, you have a letter from me, dated in Winter Harbour. We have long been preparing for our departure; and every thing being now in perfect readiness, we trust the sun will not revisit our northern meridian before we are again under sail.

The paper which accompanies this has been written at different times, as materials could be collected, and as opportunities for committing them to paper occurred. For since my last letter, or the first of last month, what with real indispensable occupations on board, and what from that restlessness of wind by which other folks, as well as myself, in our little world, are affected, when in the daily, hourly expectation of being set free from our wearisome bondage, if the paper were yet to prepare, prepared by me at the present juncture it could not possibly be.

In persuing this account of the expedition across Melville Island, a name I have never hitherto brought forward, you will naturally be surprised when you meet with the comprehensive term we, at the same time that my former communication stated that I was not one of that party. The fact is, that both in conversing with those who were on that expedition, and in reading their travelling notes, we came in so frequently and so properly, that it fairly insinuated itself into my memoranda without call, indeed without my being aware of it.

My next letter will probably contain the decision of a most important question: not exactly whether a passage for ships from the Atlantic to the Pacific ocean can be discovered to be practicable at any time of the year, but whether we, at this point of the season, can accomplish such a voyage. We are here in W. long. 110°, and N. lat. 75°. Behring's Strait, the only known opening between the American and the Asiatic continents, is in W. long. 170°, and N. lat. 66°. The direct distance, therefore, across the globe, between these two points, cannot be less than five hundred and fifty leagues. We are now in the beginning of August, and we cannot forget that it cost us no small trouble to cut our way through the ice into this haven, in the latter end of September, after struggling with mighty masses of that substance off the land for many weeks before. That we shall achieve such a work, therefore, in the little remaining of {97} this season, all circumstances considered, is really more than ought to be expected. In the mean time I return to my Journal, to give you some notices of our proceedings during the month just elapsed.

For some months past the boatswain's mate of the Hecla, William Scott, had been much indisposed, with scurvy and bowel complaint, attended by a general debility of mind as well as of body. On the 27th June he became delirious, and could with difficulty be kept in bed. His malady resisting every antidote which medical aid and humane attention could furnish, early in the morning of Friday, the 30th June, Captain Parry was informed that he was not expected to live out the day; but before he could dress to see the unfortunate man he had breathed his last. Scott's disorder bearing appearances unconnected with any circumstances of the expedition, the body was opened, and the result showed that, perhaps, in no country or climate could his life have been long preserved. On Sunday the 2d of last month, after divine service in the forenoon, the body was carried on shore, and interred on a level spot of ground at a proper distance back from the beach. The ceremony was conducted with every solemnity required by the occasion, and which our circumstances would permit. The ensigns and pendants of the ships were lowered to half-mast during the funeral procession, which was composed of every officer and man of both ships who could possibly be spared, walking to the grave two and two. A neat tomb-stone was afterwards placed at the head of the grave, facing westward, with a suitable inscription carved on it by Mr. Fisher, assistant-surgeon of the Hecla. The grave was also covered with stone, to prevent its being disturbed by wolves or other animals. In any circumstance the loss of Scott, a very quiet man and an excellent seaman, would have been sufficiently distressing to our little society; but in our forlorn situation in a remote and desolate corner of the world, it was peculiarly affecting. In action the seaman sees his comrades dropping on every side, without much apparent concern; for every instant the lot may be his own; but to see a shipmate carried off by illness in his bed, and be committed to the earth instead of a watery grave, these events have on him a singular effect. Many land folks are deeply averse to the dissection of the dead, especially of their near relations. Among seamen this aversion is particularly strong; and it is an unquestionable proof of the excellent discipline of our expedition, and of the personal respect for the commander entertained by the men, that their companion's body was opened without the least complaint or representation on their part.

{98} In the last days of June the spring tides were uncommonly high, and rising above the ice on the beach made it very difficulty to communicate with the shore. The ice in the harbour was in a state of decay more in fact than in appearance. The winds were mostly from the southward, and the weather cloudy with small rain, and sometimes snow; the temperature of the atmosphere was comfortable to our feelings, being always above the freezing point. On the first of July a party came in from the eastward, with a supply of hares, ducks, and grouse. Fifty deer and more had been seen in the course of three days; but in a country wholly destitute of cover it was impossible to get near them. On the same day another fish of the same kind with the former was picked up on the ice; a strong evidence of its progress in dissolution.

In the middle of the month, when the weather was really pleasant to our feelings; for you surely know that feelings of both body and mind are relative; the walks and other exercise ashore, united with the luxuries of game of different sorts, and the plentiful crops of sorrel removed every symptom of scurvy, and placed the crews in as good a state of health and spirits as when they left Europe.

Monday the 17th the mercury in the thermometer rose from 55° to 60°, and continued between these two points from six before to six after noon. This was the highest point hitherto observed in our journals: for in Melville Island, as in England, the warmest weather always comes after the longest day, just as the coldest weather had been experienced some time after the shortest day. On the 18th a boat could be rowed round the harbour in order to take the soundings, and, as had been before observed, the water was always found to be clear of ice in proportion to its shallowness.

The temperature of the atmosphere now began sensibly to decline; on the 31st the thermometer rose only to 40°: but the whole ice in the harbour appeared to be in motion, although slowly, out to sea. Orders were, therefore, given for embarking the instruments on shore, and instructions were sent by the commander to Lieutenant Liddon, respecting our places of rendezvous when on the future voyage, in case of separation.

At last at eight in the morning of this Tuesday the 1st of August, the harbour and bay out as far as Cape Hearne appearing quite free of ice, every thing was got on board, and at 1 P.M. both ships weighed and ran joyfully out of the harbour. But here I must lay aside my pen for the present.

Remaining, &c.

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