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The Last Voyage of the Resolute by Edward Everett Hale

 

     [I had some opportunities, which no other writer for the press had,
     I believe, of examining the Resolute on her return from that weird
     voyage which is the most remarkable in the history of the navies of
     the world. And, as I know of no other printed record of the whole
     of that voyage than this, which was published in the Boston Daily
     Advertiser of June 11, 1856, I reprint it here. Readers should
     remember that the English government abandoned all claim on the
     vessel; that the American government then bought her off the
     salvors, refitted her completely, and sent her to England as a
     present to the Queen. The Queen visited the ship, and accepted the
     present in person. The Resolute has never since been to sea. I do
     not load the page with authorities; but I studied the original
     reports of the Arctic expeditions carefully in preparing the paper,
     and I believe it to be accurate throughout.

     The voyage from New London to England, when she was thus returned,
     is strictly her last voyage. But when this article was printed its
     name was correct.]

It was in early spring in 1852, early on the morning of the 21st of April, that the stout English discovery ship Resolute, manned by a large crew, commanded by a most manly man, Henry Kellett, left her moorings in the great river Thames, a little below the old town of London, was taken in tow by a fussy steam-tug, and proudly started as one of a fine English squadron in the great search of the nations for the lost Sir John Franklin. It was late in the year 1855, on the 24th of December, that the same ship, weatherworn, scantily rigged, without her lighter masts, all in the trim of a vessel which has had a hard fight with wind, water, ice, and time, made the light-house of New London,—waited for day and came round to anchor in the other river Thames, of New England. Not one man of the English crew was on board. The gallant Captain Kellett was not there; but in his place an American master, who had shown, in his way, equal gallantry. The sixty or seventy men with whom she sailed were all in their homes more than a year ago. The eleven men with whom she returned had had to double parts, and to work hard to make good the places of the sixty. And between the day when the Englishmen left her, and the day the Americans found her, she had spent fifteen months and more alone. She was girt in by the ice of the Arctic seas. No man knows where she went, what narrow scapes she passed through, how low her thermometers marked cold;—it is a bit of her history which was never written. Nor what befell her little tender, the “Intrepid,” which was left in her neighborhood, “ready for occupation,” just as she was left. No man will ever tell of the nip that proved too much for her,—of the opening of her seams, and her disappearance beneath the ice. But here is the hardy Resolute, which, on the 15th of May, 1854, her brave commander left, as he was ordered, “ready for occupation,”—which the brave Captain Buddington found September 10, 1855, more than a thousand miles from there, and pronounced still “ready for occupation”;—and of what can be known of her history from Old London to New London, from Old England's Thames to New England's Thames, we will try to tell the story; as it is written in the letters of her old officers and told by the lips of her new rescuers.

For Arctic work, if ships are to go into every nook and lane of ice that will yield at all to wind and steam, they must be as nearly indestructible as man can make them. For Arctic work, therefore, and for discovery work, ships built of the teak wood of Malabar and Java are considered most precisely fitted. Ships built of teak are said to be wholly indestructible by time. To this we owe the fact, which now becomes part of a strange coincidence, that one of the old Captain Cook's ships which went round the world with him has been, till within a few years, a whaling among the American whalers, revisiting, as a familiar thing, the shores which she was first to discover. The English admiralty, eager to fit out for Arctic service a ship of the best build they could find, bought the two teak-built ships Baboo and Ptarmigan in 1850,—sent them to their own dock-yards to be refitted, and the Baboo became the Assistance,—the Ptarmigan became the Resolute, of their squadrons of Arctic discovery.

Does the reader know that in the desolation of the Arctic shores the Ptarmigan is the bird most often found? It is the Arctic grouse or partridge,[15] and often have the ptarmigans of Melville Island furnished sport and even dinners to the hungry officers of the “Resolute,” wholly unconscious that she had ever been their god-child, and had thrown off their name only to take that which she now wears.

Early in May, 1850, just at the time we now know that brave Sir John Franklin and the remnant of his crew were dying of starvation at the mouth of Back's River, the “Resolute” sailed first for the Arctic seas, the flag-ship of Commodore Austin, with whose little squadron our own De Haven and his men had such pleasant intercourse near Beechey Island. In the course of that expedition she wintered off Cornwallis Island,—and in autumn of the next year returned to England.

Whenever a squadron or a man or an army returns to England, unless in the extreme and exceptional case of complete victory over obstacle invincible, there is always dissatisfaction. This is the English way. And so there was dissatisfaction when Captain Austin returned with his ships and men. There was also still a lingering hope that some trace of Franklin might yet be found, perhaps some of his party. Yet more, there were two of the searching ships which had entered the Polar seas from Behring's Straits on the west, the “Enterprise” and “Investigator,” which might need relief before they came through or returned. Arctic search became a passion by this time, and at once a new squadron was fitted out to take the seas in the spring of 1852. This squadron consisted of the “Assistance” and “Resolute” again, which had been refitted since their return, of the “Intrepid” and “Pioneer,” two steamships used as tenders to the “Assistance” and “Resolute” respectively, and of the “North Star,” which had also been in those regions, and now went as a storeship to the rest of the squadron. To the command of the whole Sir Edward Belcher was appointed, an officer who had served in some of the earlier Arctic expeditions. Officers and men volunteered in full numbers for the service, and these five vessels therefore carried out a body of men who brought more experience of the Northern seas together than any expedition which had ever visited them.

Of these, Captain Henry Kellett had command of the “Resolute,” and was second in seniority to Sir Edward Belcher, who made the “Assistance” the flag-ship. It shows what sort of man he was, to say that for more than ten years he spent only part of one in England, and was the rest of the time in an antipodean hemisphere or a hyperborean zone. Before brave Sir John Franklin sailed, Captain Kellett was in the Pacific. Just as he was to return home, he was ordered into the Arctic seas to search for Sir John. Three years successively, in his ship the “Herald,” he passed inside Behring's Straits, and far into the Arctic Ocean. He discovered “Herald Island,” the farthest land known there. He was one of the last men to see McClure in the “Investigator” before she entered the Polar seas from the northwest. He sent three of his men on board that ship to meet them all again, as will be seen, in strange surroundings. After more than seven years of this Pacific and Arctic life, he returned to England, in May or June, 1851, and in the next winter volunteered to try the eastern approach to the same Arctic seas in our ship, the “Resolute.” Some of his old officers sailed with him.

We know nothing of Captain Kellett but what his own letters, despatches, and instructions show, as they are now printed in enormous parliamentary blue-books, and what the despatches and letters of his officers and of his commander show. But these papers present the picture of a vigorous, hearty man, kind to his crew and a great favorite with them, brave in whatever trial, always considerate, generous to his officers, reposing confidence in their integrity; a man, in short, of whom the world will be apt to hear more. His commander, Sir Edward Belcher, tried by the same standard, appears a brave and ready man, apt to talk of himself, not very considerate of his inferiors, confident in his own opinion; in short, a man with whom one would not care to spend three Arctic winters. With him, as we trace the “Resolute's” fortunes, we shall have much to do. Of Captain Kellett we shall see something all along till the day when he sadly left her, as bidden by Sir Edward Belcher, “ready for occupation.”

With such a captain, and with sixty-odd men, the “Resolute” cast off her moorings in the gray of the morning on the 21st of April, 1852, to go in search of Sir John Franklin. The brave Sir John had died two years before, but no one knew that, nor whispered it. The river steam-tug “Monkey” took her in tow, other steamers took the “Assistance” and the “North Star”; the “Intrepid” and “Pioneer” got up their own steam, and to the cheers of the little company gathered at Greenhithe to see them off, they went down the Thames. At the Nore, the steamship “Desperate” took the “Resolute” in charge, Sir Edward Belcher made the signal “Orkneys” as the place of rendezvous, and in four days she was there, in Stromness outer harbor. Here there was a little shifting of provisions and coal-bags, those of the men who could get on shore squandered their spending-money, and then, on the 28th of April, she and hers bade good by to British soil. And, though they have welcomed it again long since, she has not seen it from then till now.

The “Desperate” steamer took her in tow, she sent her own tow-lines to the “North Star,” and for three days in this procession of so wild and weird a name, they three forged on westward toward Greenland,—a train which would have startled any old Viking had he fallen in with it, with a fresh gale blowing all the time and “a nasty sea.” On the fourth day all the tow-lines broke or were cast off however, Neptune and the winds claimed their own, and the “Resolute” tried her own resources. The towing steamers were sent home in a few days more, and the squadron left to itself.

We have too much to tell in this short article to be able to dwell on the details of her visits to the hospitable Danes of Greenland, or of her passage through the ice of Baffin's Bay. But here is one incident, which, as the event has proved, is part of a singular coincidence. On the 6th of July all the squadron, tangled in the ice, joined a fleet of whalers beset in it, by a temporary opening between the gigantic masses. Caught at the head of a bight in the ice, with the “Assistance” and the “Pioneer,” the “Resolute” was, for the emergency, docked there, and, by the ice closing behind her, was, for a while, detained. Meanwhile the rest of the fleet, whalers and discovery ships, passed on by a little lane of water, the American whaler “McLellan” leading. This “McLellan” was one of the ships of the spirited New London merchants, Messrs. Perkins &Smith, another of whose vessels has now found the “Resolute” and befriended her in her need in those seas. The “McLellan” was their pioneer vessel there.

The “North Star” of the English squadron followed the “McLellan.” A long train stretched out behind. Whalers and government ships, as they happened to fall into line,—a long three quarters of a mile. It was lovely weather, and, though the long lane closed up so that they could neither go back nor forward,—nobody apprehended injury till it was announced on the morning of the 7th that the poor “McLellan” was nipped in the ice and her crew were deserting her. Sir Edward Belcher was then in condition to befriend her, sent his carpenters to examine her,—put a few charges of powder into the ice to relieve the pressure upon her,—and by the end of the day it was agreed that her injuries could be repaired, and her crew went on board again. But there is no saying what ice will do next. The next morning there was a fresh wind, the “McLellan” was caught again, and the water poured into her, a steady stream. She drifted about unmanageable, now into one ship, now into another, and the English whalemen began to pour on board, to help themselves to such plunder as they chose. At the Captain's request, Sir Edward Belcher put an end to this, sent sentries on board, and working parties, to clear her as far as might be, and keep account of what her stores were and where they went to. In a day or two more she sank to the water's edge and a friendly charge or two of powder put her out of the way of harm to the rest of the fleet. After such a week spent together it will easily be understood that the New London whalemen did not feel strangers on board one of Sir Edward's vessels when they found her “ready for occupation” three years and more afterwards.

In this tussle with the ice, the “Resolute” was nipped once or twice, but she has known harder nips than that since. As July wore away, she made her way across Baffin's Bay, and on the 10th of August made Beechey Island,—known now as the head-quarters for years of the searching squadrons, because, as it happened, the place where the last traces of Franklin's ships were found,—the wintering place of his first winter. But Captain Kellett was on what is called the “western search,” and he only stayed at Beechey Island to complete his provisions from the storeships, and in the few days which this took, to see for himself the sad memorials of Franklin's party,—and then the “Resolute” and “Intrepid” were away, through Barrow's Straits,—on the track which Parry ran along with such success thirty-three years before,—and which no one had followed with as good fortune as he, until now.

On the 15th of August Captain Kellett was off; bade good by to the party at Beechey Island, and was to try his fortune in independent command. He had not the best of luck at starting. The reader must remember that one great object of these Arctic expeditions was to leave provisions for starving men. For such a purpose, and for travelling parties of his own over the ice, Captain Kellett was to leave a depot at Assistance Bay, some thirty miles only from Beechey Island. In nearing for that purpose the “Resolute” grounded, was left with but seven feet of water, the ice threw her over on her starboard bilge, and she was almost lost. Not quite lost, however, or we should not be telling her story. At midnight she was got off, leaving sixty feet of her false keel behind. Captain Kellett forged on in her,—left a depot here and another there,—and at the end of the short Arctic summer had come as far westward as Sir Edward Parry came. Here is the most westerly point the reader will find on most maps far north in America,—the Melville Island of Captain Parry. Captain Kellett's associate, Captain McClintock of the “Intrepid,” had commanded the only party which had been here since Parry. In 1851 he came over from Austin's squadron with a sledge party. So confident is every one there that nobody has visited those parts unless he was sent, that McClintock encouraged his men one day by telling them that if they got on well, they should have an old cart Parry had left thirty-odd years before, to make a fire of. Sure enough; they came to the place, and there was the wreck of the cart just as Parry left it. They even found the ruts the old cart left in the ground as if they had not been left a week.

Captain Kellett came into harbor, and with great spirit he and his officers began to prepare for the extended searching parties of the next spring. The “Resolute” and her tender came to anchor off Dealy Island, and there she spent the next eleven months of her life, with great news around her in that time.

There is not much time for travelling in autumn. The days grow very short and very cold. But what days there were were spent in sending out carts and sledges with depots of provisions, which the parties of the next spring could use. Different officers were already assigned to different lines of search in spring. On their journeys they would be gone three months and more, with a party of some eight men,—dragging a sled very like a Yankee wood-sled with their instruments and provisions, over ice and snow. To extend those searches as much as possible, and to prepare the men for that work when it should come, advanced depots were now sent forward in the autumn, under the charge of the gentlemen who would have to use them in the spring.

One of these parties, the “South line of Melville Island” party, was under a spirited young officer Mr. Mecham, who had tried such service in the last expedition. He had two of “her Majesty's sledges,” “The Discovery” and “The Fearless,” a depot of twenty days' provision to be used in the spring, and enough for twenty-five days' present use. All the sledges had little flags, made by some young lady friends of Sir Edward Belcher's. Mr. Mecham's bore an armed hand and sword on a white ground, with the motto, “Per mare, per terram, per glaciem.” Over mud, land, snow, and ice they carried their dépot, and were nearly back, when, on the 12th of October, 1852, Mr. Mecham made the great discovery of the expedition.

On the shore of Melville Island, above Winter Harbor, is a great sandstone boulder, ten feet high, seven or eight broad, and twenty and more long, which is known to all those who have anything to do with those regions as “Parry's sandstone,” for it stood near Parry's observatory the winter he spent here, and Mr. Fisher, his surgeon, cut on a flat face of it this inscription:—

       HIS BRITANNIC MAJESTY'S
       SHIPS HECLA AND GRIPER,
          COMMANDED BY
     W. E. PARRY AND MR. LIDDON,
      WINTERED IN THE ADJACENT
          HARBOR 1819-20.
                    A. FISHER, SCULPT.

It was a sort of God Terminus put up to mark the end of that expedition, as the Danish gentlemen tell us our Dighton rock is the last point of Thorfinn's expedition to these parts. Nobody came to read Mr. Fisher's inscription for thirty years and more,—a little Arctic hare took up her home under the great rock, and saw the face of man for the first time when, on the 5th of June, 1851, Mr. McClintock, on his first expedition this way, had stopped to see whether possibly any of Franklin's men had ever visited it. He found no signs of them, had not so much time as Mr. Fisher for stone-cutting, but carved the figures 1851 on the stone, and left it and the hare. To this stone, on his way back to the “Resolute,” Mr. Mecham came again (as we said) on the 12th of October, one memorable Tuesday morning, having been bidden to leave a record there. He went on in advance of his party, meaning to cut 1852 on the stone. On top of it was a small cairn of stones built by Mr. McClintock the year before. Mecham examined this, and to his surprise a copper cylinder rolled out from under a spirit tin. “On opening it, I drew out a roll folded in a bladder, which, being frozen, broke and crumbled. From its dilapidated appearance, I thought at the moment it must be some record of Sir Edward Parry, and, fearing I might damage it, laid it down with the intention of lighting the fire to thaw it. My curiosity, however, overcame my prudence, and on opening it carefully with my knife, I came to a roll of cartridge paper with the impression fresh upon the seals. My astonishment may be conceived on finding it contained an account of the proceedings of H. M. ship 'Investigator' since parting company with the 'Herald' [Captain Kellett's old ship] in August, 1850, in Behring's Straits. Also a chart which disclosed to view not only the long-sought Northwest Passage, but the completion of the survey of Banks and Wollaston lands. Opened and indorsed Commander McClintock's despatch; found it contained the following additions:—

     “'Opened and copied by his old friend and messmate upon this date,
     April 28, 1852. ROBERT MCCLURE

     “'Party all well and return to Investigator to-day.'”

A great discovery indeed to flash across one in a minute. The “Investigator” had not been heard from for more than two years. Here was news of her not yet six months old. The Northwest Passage had been dreamed of for three centuries and more. Here was news of its discovery,—news that had been known to Captain McClure for two years. McClure and McClintock were lieutenants together in the “Enterprise” when she was sent after Sir John Franklin in 1848, and wintered together at Port Leopold the next winter. Now, from different hemispheres, they had come so near meeting at this old block of sandstone. Mr. Mecham bade his mate build a new cairn, to put the record of the story in, and hurried on to the “Resolute” with his great news,—news of almost everybody but Sir John Franklin. Strangely enough, the other expedition, Captain Collinson's, had had a party in that neighborhood, between the other two, under Mr. Parks; but it was his extreme point possible, and he could not reach the Sandstone, though he saw the ruts of McClure's sleigh. This was not known till long afterwards.

The “Investigator,” as it appeared from this despatch of Captain McClure's, had been frozen up in the Bay of Mercy of Banks Land: Banks Land having been for thirty years at once an Ultima Thule and Terra Incognita, put down on the maps where Captain Parry saw it across thirty miles of ice and water in 1819. Perhaps she was still in that same bay: these old friends wintering there, while the “Resolute” and “Intrepid” were lying under Dealy Island, and only one hundred and seventy miles between. It must have been tantalizing to all parties to wait the winter through, and not even get a message across. But until winter made it too cold and dark to travel, the ice in the strait was so broken up that it was impossible to attempt to traverse it, even with a light boat, for the lanes of water. So the different autumn parties came in, the last on the last of October, and the officers and men entered on their winter's work and play, to push off the winter days as quickly as they could.

The winter was very severe; and it proved that, as the “Resolute” lay, they were a good deal exposed to the wind. But they kept themselves busy,—exercised freely,—found game quite abundant within reasonable distances on shore, whenever the light served,—kept schools for the men,—delivered scientific lectures to whoever would listen,—established the theatre for which the ship had been provided at home,—and gave juggler's exhibitions by way of variety. The recent system of travelling in the fall and spring cuts in materially to the length of the Arctic winters as Ross, Parry, and Back used to experience it, and it was only from the 1st of November to the 10th of March that they were left to their own resources. Late in October one of the “Resolute's” men died, and in December one of the “Intrepid's,” but, excepting these cases, they had little sickness, for weeks no one on the sick-list; indeed, Captain Kellett says cheerfully that a sufficiency of good provisions, with plenty of work in the open air, will insure good health in that climate.

As early in the spring as he dared risk a travelling party, namely, on the 10th of March, 1853, he sent what they all called a forlorn hope across to the Bay of Mercy, to find any traces of the “Investigator”; for they scarcely ventured to hope that she was still there. This start was earlier by thirty-five days than the early parties had started on the preceding expedition. But it was every way essential that, if Captain McClure had wintered in the Bay of Mercy, the messenger should reach him before he sent off any or all his men, in travelling parties, in the spring. The little forlorn hope consisted of ten men under the command of Lieutenant Pim, an officer who had been with Captain Kellett in the “Herald” on the Pacific side, had spent a winter in the “Plover” up Behring's Straits, and had been one of the last men whom the “Investigator” had seen before they put into the Arctic Ocean, to discover, as it proved, the Northwest Passage.

Here we must stop a moment, to tell what one of these sledge parties is by whose efforts so much has been added to our knowledge of Arctic geography, in journeys which could never have been achieved in ships or boats. In the work of the “Resolute's” parties, in this spring of 1852, Commander McClintock travelled 1,325 miles with his sledge, and Lieutenant Mecham 1,163 miles with his, through regions before wholly unexplored. The sledge, as we have said, is in general contour not unlike a Yankee wood-sled, about eleven feet long. The runners are curved at each end. The sled is fitted with a light canvas trough, so adjusted that, in case of necessity, all the stores, &c., can be ferried over any narrow lane of water in the ice. There are packed on this sled a tent for eight or ten men, five or six pikes, one or more of which is fitted as an ice-chisel; two large buffalo-skins, a water-tight floor-cloth, which contrives

          “a double debt to pay,
     A floor by night, the sledge's sail by day”

(and it must be remembered that “day” and “night” in those regions are very equivocal terms). There are, besides, a cooking-apparatus, of which the fire is made in spirit or tallow lamps, one or two guns, a pick and shovel, instruments for observation, pannikins, spoons, and a little magazine of such necessaries, with the extra clothing of the party. Then the provision, the supply of which measures the length of the expedition, consists of about a pound of bread and a pound of pemmican per man per day, six ounces of pork, and a little preserved potato, rum, lime-juice, tea, chocolate, sugar, tobacco, or other such creature comforts. The sled is fitted with two drag-ropes, at which the men haul. The officer goes ahead to find the best way among hummocks of ice or masses of snow. Sometimes on a smooth floe, before the wind, the floor-cloth is set for a sail, and she runs off merrily, perhaps with several of the crew on board, and the rest running to keep up. But sometimes over broken ice it is a constant task to get her on at all. You hear, “One, two, three, haul,” all day long, as she is worked out of one ice “cradle-hole” over a hummock into another. Different parties select different hours for travelling. Captain Kellett finally considered that the best division of time, when, as usual, they had constant daylight, was to start at four in the afternoon, travel till ten P. M., breakfast then, tent and rest four hours; travel four more, tent, dine, and sleep nine hours. This secured sleep, when the sun was the highest and most trying to the eyes. The distances accomplished with this equipment are truly surprising.

Each man, of course, is dressed as warmly as flannel, woollen cloth, leather, and seal-skin will dress him. For such long journeying, the study of boots becomes a science, and our authorities are full of discussions as to canvas or woollen, or carpet or leather boots, of strings and of buckles. When the time “to tent” comes, the pikes are fitted for tent-poles, and the tent set up, its door to leeward, on the ice or snow. The floor-cloth is laid for the carpet. At an hour fixed, all talking must stop. There is just room enough for the party to lie side by side on the floor-cloth. Each man gets into a long felt bag, made of heavy felting literally nearly half an inch thick. He brings this up wholly over his head, and buttons himself in. He has a little hole in it to breathe through. Over the felt is sometimes a brown holland bag, meant to keep out moisture. The officer lies farthest in the tent,—as being next the wind, the point of hardship and so of honor. The cook for the day lies next the doorway, as being first to be called. Side by side the others lie between. Over them all Mackintosh blankets with the buffalo-robes are drawn, by what power this deponent sayeth not, not knowing. No watch is kept, for there is little danger of intrusion. Once a whole party was startled by a white bear smelling at them, who waked one of their dogs, and a droll time they had of it, springing to their arms while enveloped in their sacks. But we remember no other instance where a sentinel was needed. And occasionally in the journals the officer notes that he overslept in the morning, and did not “call the cook” early enough. What a passion is sleep, to be sure, that one should oversleep with such comforts round him!

Some thirty or forty parties, thus equipped, set out from the “Resolute” while she was under Captain Kellett's charge, on various expeditions. As the journey of Lieutenant Pim to the “Investigator” at Banks Land was that on which turned the great victory of her voyage, we will let that stand as a specimen of all. None of the others, however, were undertaken at so early a period of the year, and, on the other hand, several others were much longer,—some of them, as has been said, occupying three months and more.

Lieutenant Pim had been appointed in the autumn to the “Banks Land search,” and had carried out his depots of provisions when the other officers took theirs. Captain McClure's chart and despatch made it no longer necessary to have that coast surveyed, but made it all the more necessary to have some one go and see if he was still there. The chances were against this, as a whole summer had intervened since he was heard from. Lieutenant Pim proposed, however, to travel all round Banks Land, which is an island about the size and shape of Ireland, in search of him, Collinson, Franklin, or anybody. Captain Kellett, however, told him not to attempt this with his force, but to return to the ship by the route he went. First he was to go to the Bay of Mercy; if the “Investigator” was gone, he was to follow any traces of her, and, if possible, communicate with her or her consort, the “Enterprise.”

Lieutenant Pim started with a sledge and seven men, and a dog-sledge with two under Dr. Domville, the surgeon, who was to bring back the earliest news from the Bay of Mercy to the captain. There was a relief sledge to go part way and return. For the intense cold of this early season they had even more careful arrangements than those we have described. Their tent was doubled. They had extra Mackintoshes, and whatever else could be devised. They had bad luck at starting,—broke down one sledge and had to send back for another; had bad weather, and must encamp, once for three days. “Fortunately,” says the lieutenant of this encampment, “the temperature arose from fifty-one below zero to thirty-six below, and there remained,” while the drift accumulated to such a degree around the tents, that within them the thermometer was only twenty below, and, when they cooked, rose to zero. A pleasant time of it they must have had there on the ice, for those three days, in their bags smoking and sleeping! No wonder that on the fourth day they found they moved slowly, so cramped and benumbed were they. This morning a new sledge came to them from the ship; they got out of their bags, packed, and got under way again. They were still running along shore, but soon sent back the relief party which had brought the new sled, and in a few days more set out to cross the strait, some twenty-five to thirty miles wide, which, when it is open, as no man has ever seen it, is one of the Northwest Passages discovered by these expeditions.

Horrible work it was! Foggy and dark, so they could not choose the road, and, as it happened, lit on the very worst mass of broken ice in the channel. Just as they entered on it, one black raven must needs appear. “Bad luck,” said the men. And when Mr. Pim shot a musk-ox, their first, and the wounded creature got away, “So much for the raven,” they croaked again. Only three miles the first day, four miles the second day, two and a half the third, and half a mile the fourth; this was all they gained by most laborious hauling over the broken ice, dragging one sledge at a time, and sometimes carrying forward the stores separately and going back for the sledges. Two days more gave them eight miles more, but on the seventh day on this narrow strait, the dragging being a little better, the great sledge slipped off a smooth hummock, broke one runner to smash, and “there they were.”

If the two officers had a little bit of a “tiff” out there on the ice, with the thermometer at eighteen below, only a little dog-sledge to get them anywhere, their ship a hundred miles off, fourteen days' travel as they had come, nobody ever knew it; they kept their secret from us, it is nobody's business, and it is not to be wondered at. Certainly they did not agree. The Doctor, whose sled, the “James Fitzjames,” was still sound, thought they had best leave the stores and all go back; but the Lieutenant, who had the command, did not like to give it up, so he took the dogs and the “James Fitzjames” and its two men and went on, leaving the Doctor on the floe, but giving him directions to go back to land with the wounded sledge and wait for him to return. And the Doctor did it, like a spirited fellow, travelling back and forth for what he could not take in one journey, as the man did in the story who had a peck of corn, a goose, and a wolf to get across the river. Over ice, over hummock, the Lieutenant went on his way with his dogs, not a bear nor a seal nor a hare nor a wolf to feed them with; preserved meats, which had been put up with dainty care for men and women, all he had for the ravenous, tasteless creatures, who would have been more pleased with blubber, came to Banks Land at last, but no game there; awful drifts; shut up in the tent for a whole day, and he himself so sick he could scarcely stand! There were but three of them in all; and the captain of the sledge not unnaturally asked poor Pim, when he was at the worst, “What shall I do, sir, if you die?” Not a very comforting question!

He did not die. He got a few hours' sleep, felt better and started again, but had the discouragement of finding such tokens of an open strait the last year that he felt sure that the ship he was going to look for would be gone. One morning, he had been off for game for the dogs unsuccessfully, and, when he came back to his men, learned that they had seen seventeen deer. After them goes Pim; finds them to be three hares, magnified by fog and mirage, and their long ears answering for horns. This same day they got upon the Bay of Mercy. No ship in sight! Right across it goes the Lieutenant to look for records; when, at two in the afternoon, Robert Hoile sees something black up the bay. Through the glass the Lieutenant makes it out to be a ship. They change their direction at once. Over the ice towards her! He leaves the sledge at three and goes on. How far it seems! At four he can see people walking about, and a pile of stones and flag-staff on the beach. Keep on, Pim: shall one never get there? At five he is within a hundred yards of her, and no one has seen him. But just then the very persons see him who ought to! Pim beckons, waves his arms as the Esquimaux do in sign of friendship. Captain McClure and his lieutenant Haswell are “taking their exercise,” the chief business of those winters, and at last see him! Pim is black as Erebus from the smoke of cooking in the little tent. McClure owns, not to surprise only, but to a twinge of dismay. “I paused in my advance,” says he, “doubting who or what it could be, a denizen of this or the other world.” But this only lasts a moment. Pim speaks. Brave man that he can. How his voice must have choked, as if he were in a dream. “I am Lieutenant Pim, late of 'Herald.' Captain Kellett is at Melville Island.” Well-chosen words, Pim, to be sent in advance over the hundred yards of floe! Nothing about the “Resolute,”—that would have confused them. But “Pim,” “Herald,” and “Kellett” were among the last signs of England they had seen,—all this was intelligible. An excellent little speech, which the brave man had been getting ready, perhaps, as one does a telegraphic despatch, for the hours that he had been walking over the floe to her. Then such shaking hands, such a greeting. Poor McClure could not speak at first. One of the men at work got the news on board; and up through the hatches poured everybody, sick and well, to see the black stranger, and to hear his news from England. It was nearly three years since they had seen any civilized man but themselves.

The 28th of July, three years before, Commander McClure had sent his last despatch to the Admiralty. He had then prophesied just what in three years he had almost accomplished. In the winter of 1850 he had discovered the Northwest Passage. He had come round into one branch of it, Banks Straits, in the next summer; had gladly taken refuge on the Bay of Mercy in a gale; and his ship had never left it since. Let it be said, in passing, that most likely she is there now. In his last despatches he had told the Admiralty not to be anxious about him if he did not arrive home before the autumn of 1854. As it proved, that autumn he did come with all his men, except those whom he had sent home before, and those who had died. When Pim found them, all the crew but thirty were under orders for marching, some to Baffin's Bay, some to the Mackenzie River, on their return to England. McClure was going to stay with the rest, and come home with the ship, if they could; if not, by sledges to Port Leopold, and so by a steam-launch which he had seen left there for Franklin in 1849. But the arrival of Mr. Pim put an end to all these plans. We have his long despatch to the Admiralty explaining them, finished only the day before Pim arrived. It gives the history of his three years' exile from the world,—an exile crowded full of effective work,—in a record which gives a noble picture of the man. The Queen has made him Sir Robert Le Mesurier McClure since, in honor of his great discovery.

Banks Land, or Baring Island, the two names belong to the same island, on the shores of which McClure and his men had spent most of these two years or more, is an island on which they were first of civilized men to land. For people who are not very particular, the measurement of it which we gave before, namely, that it is about the size and shape of Ireland, is precise enough. There is high land in the interior probably, as the winds from in shore are cold. The crew found coal and dwarf willow which they could burn; lemmings, ptarmigan, hares, reindeer, and musk-oxen, which they could eat.

       “Farewell to the land where I often have wended
     My way o'er its mountains and valleys of snow;
       Farewell to the rocks and the hills I've ascended,
     The bleak arctic homes of the buck and the doe;
       Farewell to the deep glens where oft has resounded
     The snow-bunting's song, as she carolled her lay
       To hillside and plain, by the green sorrel bounded,
     Till struck by the blast of a cold winter's day.”

There is a bit of description of Banks Land, from the anthology of that country, which, so far as we know, consists of two poems by a seaman named Nelson, one of Captain McClure's crew. The highest temperature ever observed on this “gem of the sea” was 53° in midsummer. The lowest was 65° below zero in January, 1853; that day the thermometer did not rise to 60° below, that month was never warmer than 16° below, and the average of the month was 43° below. A pleasant climate to spend three years in!

One day for talk was all that could be allowed, after Mr. Pim's amazing appearance. On the 8th of April, he and his dogs, and Captain McClure and a party, were ready to return to our friend the “Resolute.” They picked up Dr. Domville on the way; he had got the broken sledge mended, and killed five musk-oxen, against they came along. He went on in the dog-sledge to tell the news, but McClure and his men kept pace with them; and he and Dr. Domville had the telling of the news together.

It was decided that the “Investigator” should be abandoned, and the “Intrepid” and “Resolute” made room for her men. Glad greeting they gave them too, as British seamen can give. More than half the crews were away when the “Investigator's” parties came in, but by July everybody had returned. They had found islands where the charts had guessed there was sea, and sea where they had guessed there was land; had changed peninsulas into islands and islands into peninsulas. Away off beyond the seventy-eighth parallel, Mr. McClintock had christened the farthest dot of land “Ireland's Eye,” as if his native island were peering off into the unknown there;—a great island, which will be our farthest now, for years to come, had been named “Prince Patrick's Land,” in honor of the baby prince who was the youngest when they left home. Will he not be tempted, when he is a man, to take a crew, like another Madoc, and, as younger sons of queens should, go and settle upon this tempting god-child? They had heard from Sir Edward Belcher's part of the squadron; they had heard from England; had heard of everything but Sir John Franklin. They had even found an ale-bottle of Captain Collinson's expedition,—but not a stick nor straw to show where Franklin or his men had lived or died. Two officers of the “Investigator” were sent home to England this summer by a ship from Beechey Island, the head-quarters; and thus we heard, in October, 1853, of the discovery of the Northwest Passage.

After their crews were on board again, and the “Investigator's” sixty stowed away also, the “Resolute” and “Intrepid” had a dreary summer of it. The ice would not break up. They had hunting-parties on shore and races on the floe; but the captain could not send the “Investigators” home as he wanted to, in his steam tender. All his plans were made, and made on a manly scale,—if only the ice would open. He built a storehouse on the island for Collinson's people, or for you, reader, and us, if we should happen there, and stored it well, and left this record:—

“This is a house which I have named the 'Sailor's Home,' under the especial patronage of my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty.

Here royal sailors and marines are fed, clothed, and receive double pay for inhabiting it.”

In that house is a little of everything, and a good deal of victuals and drink; but nobody has been there since the last of the “Resolute's” men came away.

At last, the 17th of August, a day of foot-racing and jumping in bags and wrestling, all hands present, as at a sort of “Isthmian games,” ended with a gale, a cracking up of ice, and the “Investigators” thought they were on their way home, and Kellett thought he was to have a month of summer yet. But no; “there is nothing certain in this navigation from one hour to the next.” The “Resolute” and “Intrepid” were never really free of ice all that autumn; drove and drifted to and fro in Barrow's Straits till the 12th of November; and then froze up, without anchoring, off Cape Cockburn, perhaps one hundred and forty miles from their harbor of the last winter. The log-book of that winter is a curious record; the ingenuity of the officer in charge was well tasked to make one day differ from another. Each day has the first entry for “ship's position” thus: “In the floe off Cape Cockburn.” And the blank for the second entry, thus: “In the same position.” Lectures, theatricals, schools, &c., whiled away the time; but there could be no autumn travelling parties, and not much hope for discovery in the summer.

Spring came. The captain went over ice in his little dog-sled to Beechey Island, and received his directions to abandon his ships. It appears that he would rather have sent most of his men forward, and with a small crew brought the “Resolute” home that autumn or the next. But Sir Edward Belcher considered his orders peremptory “that the safety of the crews must preclude any idea of extricating the ships.” Both ships were to be abandoned. Two distant travelling parties were away, one at the “Investigator,” one looking for traces of Collinson, which they found. Word was left for them, at a proper point, not to seek the ship again, but to come on to Beechey Island. And at last, having fitted the “Intrepid's” engines so that she could be under steam in two hours, having stored both ships with equal proportions of provisions, and made both vessels “ready for occupation,” the captain calked down the hatches, and with all the crew he had not sent on before,—forty-two persons in all,—left her Monday, the 15th of May, 1854, and started with the sledges for Beechey Island.

Poor old “Resolute”! All this gay company is gone who have made her sides split with their laughter. Here is Harlequin's dress, lying in one of the wardrooms, but there is nobody to dance Harlequin's dances. “Here is a lovely clear day,—surely to-day they will come on deck and take a meridian!” No, nobody comes. The sun grows hot on the decks; but it is all one, nobody looks at the thermometer! “And so the poor ship was left all alone.” Such gay times she has had with all these brave young men on board! Such merry winters, such a lightsome summer! So much fun, so much nonsense! So much science and wisdom, and now it is all so still! Is the poor “Resolute” conscious of the change? Does she miss the races on the ice, the scientific lecture every Tuesday, the occasional racket and bustle of the theatre, and the worship of every Sunday? Has not she shared the hope of Captain Kellett, of McClure, and of the crew, that she may break out well! She sees the last sledge leave her. The captain drives off his six dogs,—vanishes over the ice, and they are all gone. “Will they not come back again?” says the poor ship. And she looks wistfully across the ice to her little friend the steam tender “Intrepid,” and she sees there is no one there. “Intrepid! Intrepid! have they really deserted us? We have served them so well, and have they really left us alone? A great many were away travelling last year, but they came home. Will not any of these come home now?” No, poor “Resolute”! Not one of them ever came back again! Not one of them meant to. Summer came. August came. No one can tell how soon, but some day or other this her icy prison broke up, and the good ship found herself on her own element again; shook herself proudly, we cannot doubt, nodded joyfully across to the “Intrepid,” and was free. But alas! there was no master to take latitude and longitude, no helmsman at the wheel. In clear letters cast in brass over her helm there are these words, “England expects each man to do his duty.” But here is no man to heed the warning, and the rudder flaps this way and that way, no longer directing her course, but stupidly swinging to and fro. And she drifts here and there,—drifts out of sight of her little consort,—strands on a bit of ice floe now, and then is swept off from it,—and finds herself, without even the “Intrepid's” company, alone on these blue seas with those white shores. But what utter loneliness! Poor “Resolute”! She longed for freedom,—but what is freedom where there is no law? What is freedom without a helmsman! And the “Resolute” looks back so sadly to the old days when she had a master. And the short bright summer passes. And again she sees the sun set from her decks. And now even her topmasts see it set. And now it does not rise to her deck. And the next day it does not rise to her topmast. Winter and night together! She has known them before! But now it is winter and night and loneliness all together. This horrid ice closes up round her again. And there is no one to bring her into harbor,—she is out in the open sound. If the ice drifts west, she must go west. If it goes east, she must go east. Her seeming freedom is over, and for that long winter she is chained again. But her heart is true to old England. And when she can go east, she is so happy! and when she must go west, she is so sad! Eastward she does go! Southward she does go! True to the instinct which sends us all home, she tracks undirected and without a sail fifteen hundred miles of that sea, without a beacon, which separates her from her own. And so goes a dismal year. “Perhaps another spring they will come and find me out, and fix things below. It is getting dreadfully damp down there; and I cannot keep the guns bright and the floors dry.” No, good old “Resolute.” May and June pass off the next year, and nobody comes; and here you are all alone out in the bay, drifting in this dismal pack. July and August,—the days are growing shorter again. “Will nobody come and take care of me, and cut off these horrid blocks of ice, and see to these sides of bacon in the hold, and all these mouldy sails, and this powder, and the bread and the spirit that I have kept for them so well? It is September, and the sun begins to set again. And here is another of those awful gales. Will it be my very last? I all alone here,—who have done so much,—and if they would only take care of me I can do so much more. Will nobody come? Nobody?... What! Is it ice blink,—are my poor old lookouts blind? Is not there the 'Intrepid'? Dear 'Intrepid,' I will never look down on you again! No! there is no smoke-stack, it is not the 'Intrepid.' But it is somebody. Pray see me, good somebody. Are you a Yankee whaler? I am glad to see the Yankee whalers. I remember the Yankee whalers very pleasantly. We had a happy summer together once.... It will be dreadful if they do not see me! But this ice, this wretched ice! They do see me,—I know they see me, but they cannot get at me. Do not go away, good Yankees; pray come and help me. I know I can get out, if you will help a little.... But now it is a whole week and they do not come! Are there any Yankees, or am I getting crazy? I have heard them talk of crazy old ships, in my young days.... No! I am not crazy. They are coming! they are coming. Brave Yankees! over the hummocks, down into the sludge. Do not give it up for the cold. There is coal below, and we will have a fire in the Sylvester, and in the captain's cabin.... There is a horrid lane of water. They have not got a Halkett. O, if one of these boats of mine would only start for them, instead of lying so stupidly on my deck here! But the men are not afraid of water! See them ferry over on that ice block! Come on, good friends! Welcome, whoever you be,—Dane, Dutch, French, or Yankee, come on! come on! It is coming up a gale, but I can bear a gale. Up the side, men. I wish I could let down the gangway alone. But here are all these blocks of ice piled up,—you can scramble over them! Why do you stop? Do not be afraid. I will make you very comfortable and jolly. Do not stay talking there. Pray come in. There is port in the captain's cabin, and a little preserved meat in the pantry. You must be hungry; pray come in! O, he is coming, and now all four are coming. It would be dreadful if they had gone back! They are on deck. Now I shall go home! How lonely it has been!”

It was true enough that when Mr. Quail, the brother of the captain of the “McLellan,” whom the “Resolute” had befriended, the mate of the George Henry, whaler, whose master, Captain Buddington, had discovered the “Resolute” in the ice, came to her after a hard day's journey with his men, the men faltered with a little superstitious feeling, and hesitated for a minute about going on board. But the poor lonely ship wooed them too lovingly, and they climbed over the broken ice and came on deck. She was lying over on her larboard side, with a heavy weight of ice holding her down. Hatches and companion were made fast, as Captain Kellett had left them. But, knocking open the companion, groping down stairs to the after cabin they found their way to the captain's table; somebody put his hand on a box of lucifers, struck a light, and revealed—books scattered in confusion, a candle standing, which he lighted at once, the glasses and the decanters from which Kellett and his officers had drunk good by to the vessel. The whalemen filled them again, and undoubtedly felt less discouraged. Meanwhile night came on, and a gale arose. So hard did it blow, that for two days these four were the whole crew of the “Resolute,” and it was not till the 19th of September that they returned to their own ship, and reported what their prize was.

All these ten days, since Captain Buddington had first seen her, the vessels had been nearing each other. On the 19th he boarded her himself; found that in her hold, on the larboard side, was a good deal of ice; on the starboard side there seemed to be water. In fact, her tanks had burst from the extreme cold; and she was full of water, nearly to her lower deck. Everything that could move from its place had moved; everything was wet; everything that would mould was mouldy. “A sort of perspiration” settled on the beams above. Clothes were wringing wet. The captain's party made a fire in Captain Kellett's stove, and soon started a sort of shower from the vapor with which it filled the air. The “Resolute” has, however, four fine force-pumps. For three days the captain and six men worked fourteen hours a day on one of these, and had the pleasure of finding that they freed her of water,—that she was tight still. They cut away upon the masses of ice; and on the 23d of September, in the evening, she freed herself from her encumbrances, and took an even keel. This was off the west shore of Baffin's Bay, in latitude 67°. On the shortest tack she was twelve hundred miles from where Captain Kellett left her.

There was work enough still to be done. The rudder was to be shipped, the rigging to be made taut, sail to be set; and it proved, by the way, that the sail on the yards was much of it still serviceable, while a suit of new linen sails below were greatly injured by moisture. In a week more they had her ready to make sail. The pack of ice still drifted with both ships; but on the 21st of October, after a long northwest gale, the “Resolute” was free,—more free than she had been for more than two years.

Her “last voyage” is almost told. Captain Buddington had resolved to bring her home. He had picked ten men from the “George Henry,” leaving her fifteen, and with a rough tracing of the American coast drawn on a sheet of foolscap, with his lever watch and a quadrant for his instruments, he squared off for New London. A rough, hard passage they had of it. The ship's ballast was gone, by the bursting of the tanks; she was top-heavy and under manned. He spoke a British whaling bark, and by her sent to Captain Kellett his epaulettes, and to his own owners news that he was coming. They had heavy gales and head winds, were driven as far down as the Bermudas; the water left in the ship's tanks was brackish, and it needed all the seasoning which the ship's chocolate would give to make it drinkable. “For sixty hours at a time,” says the spirited captain, “I frequently had no sleep”; but his perseverance was crowned with success at last, and on the night of the 23d-24th of December he made the light off the magnificent harbor from which he sailed; and on Sunday morning, the 24th, dropped anchor in the Thames, opposite New London, ran up the royal ensign on the shorn masts of the “Resolute,” and the good people of the town knew that he and his were safe, and that one of the victories of peace was won.

As the fine ship lies opposite the piers of that beautiful town, she attracts visitors from everywhere, and is, indeed, a very remarkable curiosity. Seals were at once placed, and very properly, on the captain's book-cases, lockers, and drawers, and wherever private property might be injured by wanton curiosity, and two keepers are on duty on the vessel, till her destination is decided. But nothing is changed from what she was when she came into harbor. And, from stem to stern, every detail of her equipment is a curiosity, to the sailor or to the landsman. The candlestick in the cabin is not like a Yankee candlestick. The hawse hole for the chain cable is fitted as has not been seen before. And so of everything between. There is the aspect of wet over everything now, after months of ventilation;—the rifles, which were last fired at musk-oxen in Melville Island, are red with rust, as if they had lain in the bottom of the sea; the volume of Shakespeare, which you find in an officer's berth, has a damp feel, as if you had been reading it in the open air in a March north-easter. The old seamen look with most amazement, perhaps, on the preparations for amusement,—the juggler's cups and balls, or Harlequin's spangled dress; the quiet landsman wonders at the gigantic ice-saws, at the cast-off canvas boots, the long thick Arctic stockings. It seems almost wrong to go into Mr. Hamilton's wardroom, and see how he arranged his soap-cup and his tooth-brush; and one does not tell of it, if he finds on a blank leaf the secret prayer a sister wrote down for the brother to whom she gave a prayer-book. There is a good deal of disorder now,—thanks to her sudden abandonment, and perhaps to her three months' voyage home. A little union-jack lies over a heap of unmended and unwashed underclothes; when Kellett left the ship, he left his country's flag over his arm-chair as if to keep possession. Two officers' swords and a pair of epaulettes were on the cabin table. Indeed, what is there not there,—which should make an Arctic winter endurable,—make a long night into day,—or while long days away?

The ship is stanch and sound. The “last voyage” which we have described will not, let us hope, be the last voyage of her career. But wherever she goes, under the English flag or under our own, she will scarcely ever crowd more adventure into one cruise than into that which sealed the discovery of the Northwest Passage; which gave new lands to England, nearest to the pole of all she has; which spent more than a year, no man knows where, self-governed and unguided; and which, having begun under the strict régime of the English navy, ended under the remarkable mutual rules, adopted by common consent, in the business of American whalemen.

Is it not worth noting that in this chivalry of Arctic adventure, the ships which have been wrecked have been those of the fight or horror? They are the “Fury,” the “Victory,” the “Erebus,” the “Terror.” But the ships which never failed their crews,—which, for all that man knows, are as sound now as ever,—bear the names of peaceful adventure; the “Hecla,” the “Enterprise,” and “Investigator,” the “Assistance” and “Resolute,” the “Pioneer” and “Intrepid,” and our “Advance” and “Rescue” and “Arctic,” never threatened any one, even in their names. And they never failed the men who commanded them or who sailed in them.

FOOTNOTE:

[15] Tetrao lagopus.

 
 
 

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