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Title: Shores of the Polar Sea - A Narrative of the Arctic Expedition of 1875-6
Author: Moss, Edward L. (Edward Lawton)
Language: English
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A Narrative of the Arctic Expedition of 1875-6



Illustrated by
Sixteen Chromo-Lithographs and numerous Engravings
from Drawings made on the spot by the Author


Marcus Ward & Co., 67 & 68, Chandos Street, Strand
and Royal Ulster Works, Belfast

Printed by
Marcus Ward & Co.,
Royal Ulster Works,


I place these Sketches in the hands of my Publishers, believing that
careful chromo-lithographic fac-similes of them will convey a fuller
and perhaps more novel idea of Arctic scenery than any rendering in
black and white. As Sketches from Nature, they, for obvious reasons,
illustrate rather the scenery of our Expedition than its leading
events; the latter are the prerogative of the Historian, and do not
come within the scope of a Sketch-book, in which the letterpress is
subordinate, and intended merely to connect and describe the pictures.
Whatever may be the artistic value of the Sketches—and they lay claim
to none—they are at least perfectly faithful efforts to represent the
face of Nature in a part of the world that very few can ever see for

                                                        EDWARD L. MOSS.

  _2nd February, 1877._




  Entering the Arctic Circle—Continuous Daylight—Dispersion
  of the Squadron—Rendezvous at Godhavn—The Lost Norse
  Settlements—Embarkation of Eskimo Dogs and their
  Driver—Ascent of Hills at Disco—The “LYNGEMARKEN”—A
  Paradise for Botanists—Education at Disco—Parting from the
  Valorous—Proven—Sanderson’s Hope—The “North Water”—Northern
  Limit of Human Habitation—Melville Bay—Northumberland and
  Hakluyt Islands,                                                    9


  Classic Ground—A Ramble over the “Doige Mountains”—Foulke
  Fiord—The Mer de Glace—Pack Ice—The First Check—Hayes’
  Sound—Twin Glacier Valley—Charged by a Berg—Varying
  Fortunes—Walrus,                                                   15


  A Haul of the Dredge—Norman Lockyer Island—Traces of an Eskimo
  Exodus—Midnight on the 12th August—Mysterious Cairns—Forcing the
  Tidal Barrier—“Kane’s Open Polar Sea”—Hannah Island—Grant Land
  Reached—Musk Oxen—“Discovery’s” Winter Quarters,                   21


  The Ships Part Company—Robeson Channel—Strange
  Ice—Lincoln Bay—A Gale—A Rush North—The “Alert” reaches
  a Latitude never before attained by Ship, and enters a
  Polar Sea—Precarious Position—Disappointment—No Land
  to the North—Perennial Ice—Altered Prospects—Autumn
  Sledging—Pioneering—Dog-sledging—Romance and Reality,              27


  Exploration to the Westward—Dumb-bell Bay—A Seal—Search
  for Game—Lonely Lake—Fish in the Lake—A Gale—Return of the
  Boat Party—An Opportunity fortunately lost—The Expedition
  becomes _the most Northern_—Depôts sent forward—Frost-bite
  Range—Attempts to communicate with H.M.S. “Discovery”—Unexpected
  Difficulties—Soft Snow—Sunset—Preparations for Winter—The Snow
  Town—Building Snow Houses—Twilight Walk Shoreward,                 32


  End of Twilight—Moonlight—Daily Life in Winter
  Quarters—Condensation—Breakfast—Morning Prayers—Outdoor
  Work—Exercise—The Ladies’ Mile—A Walk to Flagstaff
  Point—Sounds from the Pack—Optical Phenomenon—Dinner—Our Cat
  “Pops”—Occupation during Winter—Mock Moons—“Sally”—The Darkness,   40


  Winter Climate—Preservative Effect of Cold—Falling
  Temperature—Unprecedented Cold—Extreme Low Temperature
  not Unendurable—A Visitor from the Shore—Cold _v._
  Vitality—Sudden Changes—A Breeze from the South—Warm Wind
  Aloft—Danger from East Wind—Dawn—Brilliant Effect of Low
  Sunlight—Lemming—Sunrise—Preparations for Spring—Snow-shoes—Our
  Prospects—Motion of the Floes—A Tide Wave,                         46


  The Sledging Campaign Opens—A Push for the “Discovery”—Petersen
  Breaks Down—Shelter in a Snowdrift—Difficulties in Retreat—A
  First of April Chase—Programme of Spring Sledging—Limited
  Hopes—Departure of Main Detachments—Double Banking—The Camp—A
  Night in a Tent—A Typical Floeberg—The Hare’s Sanctuary—Coat
  of Arms—Castle Floe—Parhelia—Road-finding in the Fog—Mirage—A
  Crevasse,                                                          53


  News from the “Discovery”—Sickness—Petersen’s Death and
  Burial—The Relief of the Northern Detachment—The most Northern
  Grave—The March to 83° N. Lat.—Its Results—The Advance of
  the Season—Anxiety for the Safety of the Western Party—Its
  Return—Two Hundred Miles to the West—Further Efforts Poleward
  Hopeless,                                                          62


  Arctic Summer—Flowers and Butterflies—Feathered Visitors—A
  Strange Shot—Deceptive Game Tracks—The Land Ransacked—No Vestige
  of Man—Nature’s Records—The Raised Beaches—The Break-up—Farewell
  to Floeberg Beach—Running the Gauntlet—Robeson Channel
  Ice-drift—A “Nip”—Walled in by Floebergs—Escape—Re-union with
  the “Discovery,”                                                   69


  Serious News—The North Greenland Detachments—The Missing
  Sledge-crews—Drifting with the Polar Pack—A Forced March of
  Thirty-two Hours—“Chatel’s Grotto” and the “Coal Mine”—Climate
  Past and Present—The Return Southward—A Pool in Kennedy
  Channel—Race against Winter—New Ice—Out Fires—The North Water at
  Last—The “Pandora’s” Depôt—News from Home—Conclusion,              75



     I.—GODHAVN HARBOUR, DISCO ISLAND, JULY 10, 1875,                13



       CREST OF CAPE RAWSON, JULY, 1876,                             28

       “ALERT,” DECEMBER, 1876,                                      37



  VIII.—LUNAR HALOES,                                                44

    IX.—THE DAWN OF 1876. H.M.S. “ALERT” IN WINTER QUARTERS,         50

        BERGS, MARCH, 1876,                                          50

        MARCH, 1876,                                                 56

   XII.—A FLOEBERG, SIMMON’S ISLAND, APRIL, 1876,                    59

  XIII.—ON THE NORTHERN MARCH, APRIL 8, 1876,                        60

   XIV.—THE MOST NORTHERN GRAVE, JUNE, 1876,                         65

    XV.—BACK FROM THE FARTHEST NORTH,                                68

        DISTANCE, AUGUST 20, 1876,                                   80


  Sanderson’s Hope,                                                  12

  Eskimo Boy with Fish,                                              14

  Twin Glacier Valley,                                               18

  Our White Cat “Pops,”                                              19

  Walrus,                                                            20

  Eskimo Tent-Circles,                                               22

  Cape Hawkes,                                                       23

  Cairns on Washington Irving Island,                                24

  View from the Top of Hannah Island,                                25

  Head of Musk Ox,                                                   26

  Dragged at the Heels of a Dog-team,                                31

  A Ravine in the Stratified Ice,                                    31

  Inside the Unifiler House,                                         36

  Building Snow Houses,                                              38

  Effect of Extreme Cold on a Candle,                                39

  Return from a Winter Walk,                                         42

  Examining Thermometer: Minus 73°.4,                                47

  Camp of Sledge Party,                                              56

  The Day’s March Done,                                              58

  Crevasse near Cape Joseph Henry,                                   60

  Mirage, 7th April, 1875,                                           61

  Petersen’s Grave,                                                  64

  The North Coast of Greenland,                                      68

  Running the Gauntlet,                                              73

  Eskimo Bird-Shelter,                                               74

  Chatel’s Grotto,                                                   80

  Allman Bay,                                                        82

  Device on Delf-ware of the Expedition,                             83










     Entering the Arctic Circle—Continuous Daylight—Dispersion
     of the Squadron—Rendezvous at Godhavn—The Lost Norse
     Settlements—Embarkation of Eskimo Dogs and their
     Driver—Ascent of Hills at Disco—The “LYNGEMARKEN”—A
     Paradise for Botanists—Education at Disco—Parting from the
     Valorous—Proven—Sanderson’s Hope—The “North Water”—Northern Limit
     of Human Habitation—Melville Bay—Northumberland and Hakluyt

The arctic expedition of 1875 left England on 29th May, crossed the
Atlantic to Davis Straits in a succession of storms, and entered the
Arctic regions on 4th July. It sailed with orders to “attain the
highest northern latitude, and, if possible, reach the Pole.”

In old times, when voyages were longer than in these days of steam, a
nautical frolic on crossing “the Line” helped to break the monotony of
many a tedious passage. This time-honoured custom is slowly becoming a
thing of the past. When it is gone, there will be little in sea or sky
to make crossing the Equator in any way remarkable. The Tropic Zones
are no better defined, and one can sail into or out of them without
experiencing a single impressive sensation. But the Arctic Circle has
obvious boundaries. A conspicuous change in the ordinary habits of
nature warns the traveller that he is leaving the hospitable realms of
earth behind him, and entering a region full of new experiences. Here
familiar light and darkness cease to alternate, morning and evening no
longer make the day, and in proportion as the latitude increases, day
and night become mere figures of speech.

While our two ships steamed northward along the west shores of
Greenland, the novel charm of constant daylight was felt by every
one. We all had our own ideas of what Arctic summer would be like,
but ideas drawn from books rarely remain unchanged when brought face
to face with reality. Although the passage into perpetual day was of
course gradual, yet it was quite rapid enough to upset all regular
habits. Most of us observed sadly irregular hours, but one energetic
fellow-voyager, bent on making the most of his opportunities, stopped
up for three days at a stretch.

Our squadron consisted of H.M.SS. “Alert,” “Discovery,” and
“Valorous,” the latter vessel accompanying the Expedition as far
as Disco, for the purpose of helping it so far northwards with its
heavy stock of three years’ provisions and fuel. On entering Davis
Straits no one of the ships had the least idea where the others were.
They had been separated in a cyclone on 13th June, and had crossed
the Atlantic independently. Fortunately, however, all three turned
up almost simultaneously off the west coast of Greenland. Four days
before crossing the Arctic Circle, the “Alert” and “Discovery” met
under the rugged coast near Godhaab. As the ships approached, each
anxiously scanned the other to see what damage had been done by the
Atlantic storms. Boats soon passed from ship to ship, and it was
amusing to note how both men and officers of either ship (the writer
included) already placed the firmest faith in their own vessel, and
underrated the seaworthiness of her consort. It was positively quite
disappointing to find that the “Discovery’s” spars were all right,
and that she, like ourselves, had lost but one boat. Of course we
congratulated each other on our good fortune; and good fortune it was,
for our light, beautifully built boats could not be replaced, and few
ships, heavily laden both below and on deck as ours were, would have
passed through such weather without more serious loss.

The deep fiords and treeless valleys of this west coast own a little
known and mysterious history. Nine centuries ago, numerous bands of
Norsemen, led by Eric and his restless sons Leif and Thorwald, found
congenial homes on these lonely shores. For three hundred years or
more their thriving settlements studded the coast; and while their
southern brethren were building Gothic shrines in England, Normandy,
and Flanders, the thirteen bishops of the East and West Bygds reared
humbler fanes at Foss and Gardar, Steinnaes and Solfjall, and many
another spot uncertain now. The sites of the settlements are still
marked by scattered ruins, many of them covered by the encroaching
tide. These, together with a few inscriptions, and a bronze church
bell, are all that remain of the Norsemen. For in the middle of the
fourteenth century the colonies vanished suddenly and for ever. Then
came the dark ages of Greenland; and when the Moravian missionaries
landed in 1721, close to the spot where we met the “Discovery,” a
pagan race from the north-west peopled the coast, and knew nothing
of the Norsemen. But as they sat crouched round their seal-oil lamps
and turf fires in the long winter evenings, they told many a vague
traditionary story of tall fierce men, with fair hair and strangely
long noses, that had gone away no one knew where, northward, or
perhaps to the mountains far inland.

Before the Expedition left England, an arrangement through the Danish
Government had been made for the supply of a suitable number of
Eskimo dogs for our dog-sledges, and information about them was to
be received at the settlement of Disco. That port had been selected
as a rendezvous for the ships in case they should be separated, and
there H.M.S. “Valorous” would transfer the stores she had carried out
for the Expedition. Accordingly, the ships steamed in under the high
buttressed cliffs of Disco Island to the little land-locked harbour
of Godhavn, and anchored off the village of Leively on the afternoon
of 6th July. The “Valorous” had arrived there the day before, and
the three ships of our squadron, surrounded by a crowd of native
kayaks, and with boats constantly passing to and fro, gave the quiet
harbour an unwontedly business-like appearance. Not that Leively is
always in the state of repose in which we found it. Whaling ships not
uncommonly call in on their way to the western fishing-grounds, and
five had visited Godhavn early in that season. At first sight it seems
reasonable to ask, Why had not the Arctic Expedition gone northward as
early as the whaling ships, so as to make the most of the short open
season? But it will be remembered that, in such a channel as Smith’s
Sound, the separation of the ice-pack from its shores only commences
when the formation of the North Water in Baffin’s Bay gives the ice
room to drift, and that in the far northern regions of Kennedy and
Robeson Channels, through which the Expedition hoped to penetrate,
no ice motion could occur, until room had been made for it by drift,
crushing together, or disintegration of the southern floes. Even after
the break-up had travelled far northwards, undue precipitancy would
be disastrous. Much of our precious fuel might be expended in pushing
through, and being checked by ice which, a little later on, would move
down, and leave an uninterrupted passage to the North. Accordingly,
we had plenty of time for all that had to be done at Disco. Every
available space was filled with coal. Casks and cases of provisions
covered the upper deck. Twenty splendid dogs were embarked in charge
of our intelligent and trustworthy Eskimo dog-driver “Fred,” who
was here entered on the books of the Expedition. Chronometers were
rated, and magnetic deflections noted. And the first camping-out was
done by a party to the site of the supposed meteorolites at Ovifak.
After working hours the high basaltic cliffs beyond the harbour were
irresistibly attractive. From the deck of the ship it was easy to plan
routes to the top, but not everyone who tried the climb succeeded. A
bold detour to the left was eventually found the easiest way up, and
a cairn on a noble bluff over the “Lyngemarken” records our visit.
Nothing could be more picturesque than these fine cliffs, bathed in
evening sunlight that caught every pinnacle and ridge, but left the
ravines in shadow. Patches of last winter’s snow, here and there
brilliantly pink with the red snow-plant, lay in the hollows and
water-courses. The green “Lyngemarken,” or heath-field, below is
perhaps the most luxurious spot inside the Arctic Circle, and is well
known as a paradise for botanists. A small stream running through
its centre is said to flow for the greater part of the year. During
our visit its banks were lined with soft green vegetation, bordering
miniature groves of dwarf willow three feet high, and the rocky flats
beyond were rich with purple rhododendron. The Eskimo shooting season
was over, but a few ptarmigan still croaked amongst the neighbouring
rocks; their numbers were too few to reward our sportsmen for the
trouble of climbing after them.

The little settlement is built upon a bare rocky promontory—an island
at high tide—forming the south side of the harbour. It consists of two
or three substantial wooden houses inhabited by the Danish officials,
a few storehouses, and a dozen “igloos,” or mud huts, occupied by
the natives of the place, Eskimo in dress and mode of life, but
often with the slender forms, fair hair, and freckled complexion
that mark European admixture. On some rocks over the centre of the
village stands a little black church, unpretending, but efficient—not
unfairly representing the moral culture of its congregation. Here,
and at all other Danish settlements touched at by the Expedition,
the Eskimo appear to have retained all the virtues that Hans Egede
found amongst their pagan ancestors, when he and his courageous
little band undertook the re-Christianisation of Greenland one
hundred and fifty-five years ago. “Hatred and envy, strife and jars,
are never heard of amongst them,” and “they have a great abhorrence
of stealing.” Leaving them to live by hunting and fishing, as their
fathers did before them, their governors and pastors have succeeded
in giving them a civilised education, without making it a roadway for
European vices. The contrast between their semi-savage appearance and
scholastic accomplishments was sometimes striking. One day a little
fellow some six or seven years of age, clad in sealskin, and with his
straight black hair lying on his shoulders, clambered on board out
of his kayak, with some fresh-caught rock cod for sale, or rather
barter, for we had no money. He happened to come into our wardroom,
and was shown an illustrated book of birds, in the hope that he would
pronounce some of their Eskimo names, but the book chanced to be
Danish, and he surprised us by reading it fluently. We were informed
that every child in both northern and southern Greenland is taught
to read and write, but it is difficult to imagine that there are not
exceptions, for the people are scattered in almost isolated families
and groups amongst the countless rocky islands of the coast. Godhavn
district has two hundred and forty-five inhabitants, distributed
in three settlements fifteen miles apart. Their numbers are fast
decreasing, and in a few years the last pure-bred Eskimo will have
disappeared. Whether the mixed race will be able to hold its own
against the unkindness of Nature appears doubtful. Perhaps Greenland
is fated to again become a land without inhabitant.

The Expedition left Disco on 15th July, and steamed northward between
the island and the mainland. Then, making a short halt at Rittenbenk,
it stood down the Waigat. At a distance it seemed as if the whole
strait was blocked with icebergs; we, however, found broad leads
of water between them, smooth as a mirror, but for an occasional
swell, as some great fragment slipped into the sea with a roar like
a distant park of artillery. There, with the most earnest wishes for
our success, our friends of the “Valorous” bade us adieu. An hour
afterwards we found ourselves cruising about amongst the bergs in a
thick fog. Every now and then a white mass would be seen gleaming
ahead; down would go the helm just in time to avoid collision, and the
sound of the sea in the azure hollows along its sides would scarcely
be gone when the helm was again hard over to clear another.

It was evidently advisable to wait till the fog lifted, and
accordingly the ships were brought up to a berg, and some men
despatched to clamber up and secure an ice anchor; but at the first
blow of the ice gouge, down slid a great shoulder of the berg,
carrying with it one of our men, and nearly overwhelming the boat
in its surge. As the water calmed, blue lumps of ice shot up to the
surface here and there, and presently “Francombe” bobbed up amongst
them swimming vigorously for the boat, chilly, but nothing the worse
for his dive.

Next morning the fog disappeared, and leaving Hare Island on our
left, we stood out to sea. Four days afterwards our stock of dogs was
completed at Proven, a little settlement where neither dogs nor men
seemed over well off for food. Here, too, we embarked the veteran Hans
as dog-driver for H.M.S. “Discovery.” The records of Kane, Hayes, and
Hall have made his name, but not his worth, familiar to every reader.
Undeterred by the fate of two out of the three ships in which he had
served, he again ventured into Smith’s Sound ice. The same evening,
steaming towards the low midnight sun, we passed close under the
magnificent cliffs of Sanderson’s Hope, a perpendicular wall of rock
1000 feet high, cleft by a narrow fiord like the portal of a colossal
ruin. We could not but regret that time forbade us to explore its blue

[Illustration: SANDERSON’S HOPE.]

A mile or two further on, our ships stopped for an hour and secured a
sufficient number of “looms” to supply two dinners of fresh food to
all hands. The slaughter of the poor birds was most unmerciful, but
they made excellent soup and pies, and tasted like hare. Next day,
towing the “Discovery” in order to save fuel, we groped our way in a
dense fog through a labyrinth of rocks into the harbour of Upernivik,
the most northern civilised settlement on the globe. Henceforward
we would be beyond the reach of any regular communication with home;
accordingly, our last letters were landed to await the departure of
the next Danish brig.

1875.—p. 11.

The Danish settlements on the coast of Greenland are divided into two
Inspectorates—a northern and a southern. Godhavn is the head-quarters
of the northern. The view is from the rocks above the little village
of Leively, looking down on the harbour that gives the district its
name. The Lyngemarken cliffs beyond are a fine sample of the southern
shores of Disco. A few houses of Danish officials, some storehouses, a
church, a school-house, and the huts of the Eskimo make the village.

A pair of Eskimo women—unmarried, as may be seen by their red
top-knots—are busy with their laundry work at a pool amongst the
glaciated rocks of the foreground.]

Melville Bay lay before us; its dreaded ice once passed, the
Expedition might safely count on at least entering Smith’s Sound. Our
leader determined to take a direct course, and force a way through
the “middle pack.” For hours not a speck of ice was to be seen. Our
ice quarter-masters, whose experience was drawn from many a whaling
voyage made much earlier in the season, warned us not to be too
hopeful; to every enquiry they shook their heads and answered, “Wait
a bit and ye’ll see ice enou’.” And so we did, but it was worn and
soft, crumbling at every touch, and with broad lanes of water leading
through it in every direction. What it would be if blown together by
wind is another question, but, as we found it, the dreaded middle
pack was simply despicable. Every one was in the highest spirits.
The failure of a bear-hunt did not much disappoint us. Were there
not plenty of bears in the Far North? Side by side, or one or other
leading, the ships passed full speed between the flat floes, from one
placid pool to another, every rope and spar reflected on the water
in a complete inverted ship. We would not have believed that mere
sea could supply such a thoroughly mirror-like surface. Here too we
have our first experience of what sunlight on ice could be. Pink and
metallic, green, pale yellow, and violet, the ice lay, far as the eye
could reach, like fields of mother-of-pearl. Many of us sat up till
the last ice was out of sight, and in the morning we were well in the
“North Water.”

Anyone who looks back through the logs of the old explorers and
whalers in Baffin’s Sea, will be struck with the fact that Melville
Bay used to be looked upon as a sort of very formidable “Pons
Asinorum” at the outset of every voyage. The navigator who had sailed
northward safely enough between the Baffin sea-pack and the long
stream of ice that flows round the coast of Greenland, often found
himself checked by ice, or baffled by wind, when he passed Upernivik
and sighted the “Devil’s Thumb;” or, if he passed into the grasp
of the Bay, he would be paralysed by calms, and the toil of slowly
hauling his ship along the land-ice not unfrequently ended in a hasty
dock-cutting to avoid a nip, a lost season, or perhaps a fatal crush.
In old times the loss of whaling ships in Melville Bay was almost of
annual occurrence; but the introduction of steam as a motive power has
robbed the Bay of its terrors. Whaling disasters are perhaps as common
as ever, but that is only because the fleets of steam-ships which now
annually enter the northern ice are compelled to follow the whale into
seas even more dangerous than Melville Bay.

Here and at many subsequent points of our voyage, where we had
forcible evidence of the value of steam in ice-navigation, we learned
to appreciate the work done by the old sailing expeditions. Much that
was easy to us would have been impossible to them; and often as we
advanced in a perfect calm, or steamed head-to-wind through narrow
leads between wheeling fields of ice, we wondered at the distances
safely navigated by such ships as the “Hecla” and “Griper,” or
“Enterprise” and “Investigator,” along shores exposed to as heavy
Polar ice as any our vessels encountered.

A few Eskimo still inhabit the Greenland shores north of Melville Bay,
cut off from all intercourse with their kind by one hundred miles
of glacier; these, the Arctic Highlanders of Sir John Ross, amongst
whom Kane and Hayes wintered, are undergoing steady diminution. They
appear to have fallen back on the southern parts of their territory,
and are making their last stand in the neighbourhood of Cape York.
Our dog-driver Hans there communicated with his wife’s kindred, and
through him we learnt that the tribe was now reduced to eighty souls.
The object of our visit was to pick up Hans’s brother-in-law, but
he was absent on a hunting excursion. Leaving them to wonder what
brought white men northwards, we continued our course, trying to keep
warm a hope that yet another human community, Norse, or at least
Eskimo, might possibly be found beyond the threshold of the unknown
regions we were so fast approaching. With calm weather and warm sun,
giving us a temperature of 40° on deck, we steamed northwards with the
utmost possible economy of fuel. A fleet of large icebergs lay along
the coast north of Cape York. One time two hundred and thirty were
in sight, many of them islands of glacier a thousand feet thick, and
looking too large to have come from the adjacent coast.

From this time forwards land was never out of sight. Panoramas of
coast-line continually unrolled on one side or the other. A certain
sameness of rock and snow necessarily ran through all, but there was a
sort of speculative pleasure in watching the changing profile of the
next headland, or the gradual opening of some unknown bay. Northwards
from Cape York lay the “crimson cliffs of Beverly,” owing their colour
not to the “red snow” of their glaciers, as in Sir J. Ross’s time, but
to rich lichens covering their brick-red rocks. The brilliant orange
lichens of Cape Dudley-Digges will not be readily forgotten. Passing
between the terraced precipices of Northumberland and Hakluyt Islands,
we reached the most eastern of the Carey Islands on 27th July. Here
a depôt of provisions and a boat were landed, forming the first of a
series of reserves to be deposited along the route northwards, so as
to give some help to our retreating crews, if unhappily the fate of
our predecessors should be in store for us. Going and returning from
the island in our boats we miserably slaughtered ten eider ducks,
swimming about with their young broods. There was no help for it; in
the Arctic region “the pot” is peremptory. Even here, however, we
were not alone in our cruelty. Looking over the side of the boat into
the blue water, numbers of little pink-tipped “clio,” like miniature
daggers, could be seen eagerly chasing and devouring fluttering
black-winged sea-snails almost as large as themselves. Captivity
in a tea-cup did not abate their voracity. A victim was no sooner
introduced than he was pounced upon, caught by strong sucker-armed
tentacles, turned round till the defenceless opening of his shell
was opposite his captor’s mouth, and pulled out by two sets of sharp
hooks, after the manner of a periwinkle with a pin.

[Illustration: ESKIMO BOY WITH FISH.++]


     Classic Ground—A Ramble over the “Doige Mountains”—Foulke
     Fiord—The Mer de Glace—Pack Ice—The First Check—Hayes’ Sound—Twin
     Glacier Valley—Charged by a Berg—Varying Fortunes—Walrus.

Records of our advance were to be deposited at Lyttelton Island, for
the information of a relief ship which would so far follow us if the
Expedition should remain northward for two winters. Accordingly, on
the morning of 28th July, our ships anchored off Reindeer Point,
Port Foulke. Here we were on ground that must always possess a deep
interest for every Arctic traveller. The southern side of our little
bay shut in the winter quarters from which Dr. Hayes had brought his
ship safely home; out to seaward Lyttelton Island was strewn with
remains of the “Polaris;” and Rensselaer Harbour, famed as the winter
quarters of Dr. Kane, was but thirty miles to the northward. A path,
still plainly discernible, led across a gap in the Doige range to the
deserted Eskimo settlement of Etah; and if any further inducement was
required to make the shore attractive, it was supplied by a little
note on our chart, “reindeer plentiful.”

Our time for exploration was limited, for the ships would weigh anchor
on the return of the main party from Lyttelton Island. Leaving the
ship as soon as possible after breakfast, we landed amongst fragments
of shore ice which still lined the little bay, and travelled inland up
a valley completely bare of snow, and green with saxifrage, willow,
and grasses. A rivulet trickled through some marshy ground in its
centre, amongst treacherous islands of rich-coloured velvety moss,
and occasional broad ripple-marked slabs of red sandstone. The whole
ground was covered with footprints of reindeer, but a gentle wind blew
up the valley, and left little hope of sighting them. Climbing the
hills to the northward to obtain a better view, a broad undulating
table-land lay spread out before us, ridges of plutonic rock, like
low walls, traversed the country from east to west, and here and
there marshy pools, some of them almost deserving the name of lakes,
lay in the hollows, and sent little streams winding towards gaps in
the coast cliffs. Beyond and below the cliffs lay Smith’s Sound, an
unbroken expanse of blue, limited westward by snow-clad Ellesmere
Land between Capes Isabella and distant Sabine. The strait was, so
far, quite open and unencumbered by ice, but away to the northward,
where Hayes’ Sound interrupted the outline of the coast, a long thin
line of pack, the first indication of coming troubles, streaked the
horizon. This was bad news to have to report on our return to the
ship, but there was no help for it. We turned our backs on it, and
struck out inland across the muddy flats in the direction of Foulke
Fiord. The Doige Range looked near enough, but an hour’s hard walking
did not bring it much nearer. Two steep ravines had to be crossed,
as well as a stream, which fortunately was in one place bridged by
a deep snowdrift that afforded firm footing across. At length the
precipitous cliffs of Foulke Fiord were reached at a point close above
the deserted settlement of Etah. Looking down into the fiord, large
flocks of little auks were seen perched in black and white lines along
the ledges.

A small ravine intersects the cliff-edge a little eastward from
the “Aukrey,” and on the brow over it we came upon two structures,
evidently the work of man, puzzling enough at the time, but which
we have since learnt to recognise as Eskimo meat _caches_ or safes.
Each consisted of a pile of stones covering in a long rectangular
chamber, left open at one end, but easily closed by a flat stone which
lay close by. Both stood in a conspicuous position on the top of a
little rise, and were surrounded by lemming and fox marks. A mile
further eastward, the cliffs promised a good commanding position for
a view, but the rough and undulating hill-tops took us a good while
to get over. At length the ascent of the last ridge was commenced,
when suddenly a snow-white object appeared over the brow. It was an
Arctic hare, the first we had seen. He was evidently astonished at
the reappearance of his old enemy, man, and it was not till after
he had made a careful examination of us, standing straight up, full
length, on his hind feet, that he concluded we were to be avoided.
Then off he went, running ten or fifteen paces erect, then a bound or
two on all-fours, then erect again, and finally, when he had run some
eighty or one hundred yards, he stopped for another look, sitting on
his haunches like a dog begging. This time we were ready for him; he
presented a steady mark, and his curiosity was fatal to him. On going
to pick him up, we came on a low wall of stones roughly piled, nowhere
more than two feet high, leading from the cliff-edge on the right, for
about eighty yards inland, to a small shallow tarn; it was apparently
some Eskimo hunting contrivance, possibly to assist in driving small
game to a suitable spot over the cliffs. Amongst the rounded boulders
in the margins of the tarn lay a great number of shed antlers of
reindeer, some of them broken and moss-grown, half-buried in the mud;
others bleached white, but evidently of no great age. The tips of
almost all showed marks of having been gnawed by foxes. Some scattered
antlers were found on other parts of the hills, but were always
numerous round the tarns; every one we met with had horns of various
sizes and ages lying about it.

On reaching the summit we were amply rewarded for our expenditure of
energy. The prospect was truly magnificent. A thousand feet below,
the blue waters of Foulke Fiord lay, rippled with a breeze, under the
richly-coloured cliffs of the opposite shore; further on, the flat
expanse at the head of the inlet, with Alida Lake, and Brother John’s
Glacier of Kane, shaped like a great paw, closed in the valley. Beyond
and above all, a broad white plain, the vast inland ice of Greenland,
lay spread before us. Even at first sight, this sea of ice could not
be mistaken for a frozen sea, for its distant horizon was sensibly
above our level.

The coast of Greenland, like other western shores, is so subdivided by
inlets and fiords, that there are but few places where it is possible
to get a good view over any extent of the _mar de glace_. Three or
four miles off, as we saw it, its surface seems smooth enough, but it
is really so uneven and fissured, that the most persevering attempts
to travel inland over it have penetrated but a short distance,
after three days’ incessant toil. When not checked by labyrinths of
crevasses, the travellers have encountered impassable rivers, flowing
in icy beds, till they plunged in a cloud of mist into fathomless
pits. Enough, however, has been learned to justify the belief, that a
continuous mass of ice, many thousand feet deep, loads the whole of
Greenland, from the land’s end near Cape Farewell, to far north beyond
Petermann’s fiord, where our Expedition traced its outline behind the
coast hills on the shores of the Polar Sea.

The place where we stood afforded an excellent site for a sketch; some
bold rocks over the cliffs and a mellow-tinted herbage—principally
red-tipped three-cleft saxifrage—supplied a good foreground. Our
artistic proceedings were, however, interrupted by the appearance of
a little grey fox, attracted doubtless by the dead hare. He seemed
perfectly aware of the danger he ran, and never exposed more
than his forehead, ears, and eyes over the rocks behind which he had
taken up his position. His skin would have made an acceptable addition
to our collection; and after waiting some time in hope that he would
make a further advance, he was fired at, but missed, and he gave us no
opportunity for a second shot.

JULY 28, 1875.—p. 16.

Foulke Fiord is a narrow ice-scooped inlet in the coast of Greenland,
at the entrance of Smith’s Sound. Hayes made it his winter quarters;
and Rensselaer Bay, where Kane spent his three winters, is close to
the northward. On the shore of the fiord, and under the red granite
cliff in foreground of the picture, a few ruined huts mark the site of
the once populous Eskimo village of Etah—the capital of the “Arctic
Highlanders.” At the head of the fiord an expanse of lake and valley
leads to Brother John’s Glacier of Kane, stretching down in the shape
of a huge paw from the inland ice beyond. This continental ice lies
thousands of feet thick over what little is known of the interior of
Greenland, and looks like a vast frozen sea, but that its level is
sensibly above the horizon.]

It was now high time to get back to the ships, so, shouldering a
specimen pair of reindeer horns and our hare, we took a direct course
across the Doige Range, but found it by no means an easy one, for a
steep ravine had to be crossed, and a rapid knee-deep stream waded,
before the hills of Reindeer Point were reached. On getting to the
ship, we learned that a party of officers from the “Discovery” had
been more successful than we were. Landing at the head of the inlet,
they had searched the valley below Brother John’s Glacier, and climbed
the cliffs on its southern side. There they found three reindeer,
which led them a severe chase across the glacier. They finally secured
one of them, and carried the best parts of the meat to their boat, but
not until one of the most active of the party was so much exhausted,
that it required the united exertions of the others to keep him awake.

The ice seen northwards from the hills over our anchorage at Port
Foulke was met with off Cape Sabine the day after we left, and found
to be altogether impenetrable. It was disheartening to see the ships
come to a complete standstill under steam and sail in the very first
pack-ice we encountered in Smith’s Sound. We were compelled again and
again to return and shelter in a little harbour inside some islands
three miles south of Cape Sabine. Our prospects seemed sufficiently
discouraging. We had only reached the latitude of Dr. Kane’s winter
quarters, and here was an impassable barrier of ice stretching north
and east, as far as we could see from the rocky hills over our harbour
of refuge. Our chances of progress were often discussed sitting round
the table after dinner, and when one of us, hoping to gain support
from opposition, suggested that perhaps we might have to winter here,
it was at first treated as a joke, but after half-a-dozen failures
to advance, the subject was dropped as altogether too serious for
discussion. Four days were spent in fruitless efforts to push through
the tongue of pack stretching into Hayes’ Sound, and we thus got
early experience of the necessity of a continuous coast-line for ice
navigation. At length a fine lead of water opened round Cape Sabine
into Hayes’ Sound. If we could not go north, we might at least go
west, and hold ourselves ready to seize any opportunities for advance
that the unknown waters of Hayes’ Sound might offer.

After three or four hours’ rapid steam and sail, in the line of water
between the floes and shore, the sound was found to subdivide into a
number of narrow inlets. The only available lane of water led into the
first of these. As we passed into it, a strange landmark on the top of
a long hill on its south side attracted our attention. If we had been
in an inhabited latitude, no one would have hesitated to call it a
house. We could only suppose it to be a gigantic and singularly square
specimen of the boulders which here strew the surface of the country.
The inlet did not run far, and we soon found ourselves “brought up”
off a broad valley closed in landwards by the union of two large
glaciers. The ships were secured inside some rocks to wait for the
opening of the ice, which would probably occur next tide. The shores
here were virgin ground, and parties were soon organised to explore
the valley. It was two miles wide at its sea face, and not far from
three in length; precipitous hills rose on either side; along the
centre, a stream from the ice above had cut a water-course, in some
places as much as eighty feet deep, through the soft yellow sandstone.
At the head of the valley, a wall of ice, formed by the junction of
two glaciers, stood across it from side to side. The glacier on the
right terminated in a perpendicular cliff seventy feet high, excavated
along the ground, and with small streams spouting from blue fissures
in its wall; that on the left was parallel with the former, but
rounded off gradually to a sort of glacis covered with a thin layer
of black mud, smelling strongly of decaying vegetable matter. Bunches
of dead heather-like Cassiopea cropped up amongst the stones within
three feet of the sloping face of ice. The stream came down from an
amphitheatre between the glaciers, which, half-a-mile further on, met
in a ridge, caused by the right hand glacier being forced up over the

We were greatly disappointed at finding no game in the valley; there
was not even a ptarmigan or a hare to be seen, though tracks of both
were numerous. Every gap in the banks of the water-course was pitted
with the footprints of reindeer or musk oxen. A number of boulders
strewed the valley, and every one that was large enough had been used
as scratching-posts by musk oxen, as the white wool and brown hair on
and around them testified.

[Illustration: TWIN GLACIER VALLEY.]

A splendid erratic block of red granite, twelve or fifteen feet high,
lay in the south side of the valley, and round it a complete trench
was worn deep into the ground by the foot prints of musk oxen as they
rubbed themselves against it or stood under it for shelter. This glen
was even more fertile than Port Foulke, and would make a delightful
winter quarters for an amateur Arctic Expedition. There was plenty of
willow, with large well-grown leaves, and in many places the ground
was covered with a perfect garden of dwarf flowers; even in the dry
parts of the river bed, patches of purple Epilobium covered the sand.
We could only account for the absence of game by supposing that the
neighbouring valleys were equally rich. An old reindeer antler was
picked up, together with the skull of a bear, and at the upper end of
the valley some remains of Eskimo “igloos” were discovered, with door
posts made of whale ribs.

Our furthest point in Hayes’ Sound was reached two days afterwards,
and, so far as we could see, the peninsula on our right was not an
island. We subsequently saw that it, and the very similar headland
next north of it, were parts of the same land, only separated by a
curve in the coast with a low hill in the centre. We accordingly
ceased to speak of our headlands as Henry and Bache Islands, and
returned to their original titles, Capes Albert and Victoria.

At length the long check at Hayes’ Sound came to an end. Some
southward motion in the ice opened a lead round Cape Albert. It was
at once taken advantage of, and when it closed in again the ships
were well to the north of the Cape, but, unfortunately, completely
imprisoned in close pack drifting steadily southwards, and taking them
with it. There was no fixed point to lay hold on. The long wall of
horizontally banded cliffs was more than a mile off, and, even if we
could have reached it, there did not appear to be any little curve or
hollow where we could have held our own. What little we had won seemed
slipping from us. There was nothing to be done but wait patiently
for the chances of the next tide. “Tea” had been cleared away in the
wardroom, and logs were being written up and journals posted, when we
were startled by sudden orders on deck. “Full speed ahead!” “Clear
away jib!” “Set fore-top sail, top-gallant sail, and foresail!” We
rushed on deck, expecting that a fine lead had opened northwards, but,
lo! the ships were still fast in the pack, and drifting right down
upon an iceberg two hundred yards long and forty feet above water
that crushed through the floes towards us. The “Alert” was directly
in its path. Men out on the ice ahead and astern tried to make way,
and hauled with ice anchors and tackle; full steam and sail failed to
move her. The pack tightened every moment with increasing pressure.
The roar of the crushing ice came nearer and nearer. And as the orders
“Up screw and up rudders” were given, those of us who were useless on
deck went below to see that our messmates’ haversacks were ready to
be flung out on the ice alongside, if our ship’s strong beams should
prove unequal to the crush. In solitary possession of the wardroom,
and quite undisturbed by the excitement on deck, our white cat “Pops”
dozed peacefully in her favourite posture on a chair in front of the
stove. When we went on deck again the critical moment had come. The
stern was clear of the berg, but the bow was in its direct path. The
ice pack, buckling and shovelling in front, caught the fore part of
the ship, and pushed her forcibly sternwards, swinging her half round
into a stream of ice and water sweeping past the berg. The danger was
over, but our jibboom was not four feet from the wall of ice. Such
an opportunity of arresting our southward drift was not to be lost.
Grappling appliances were all ready, and in a moment both ships were
being towed comfortably along in the wake of their old enemy.

[Illustration: OUR WHITE CAT “POPS.”++]

The events of next day well illustrate the uncertainties of ice
navigation. At 2 a.m. the ships had slowly struggled northwards until
they were abeam of Cape Victoria, but there the ice closed in and
“nipped” the ships close inshore under the cliffs. Rudder and screw
were again raised to save them from the dangerous pressure, which
increased till the floes, sliding one under the other, were forced
landwards completely under the ship. At that moment nothing could be
more unpromising than the prospects of the expedition, and yet, twenty
minutes afterwards we were steaming cheerily along through a good lead
towards Franklin and Pierce Bay. By breakfast time we had crossed to
the north-eastern shore of the bay, and found further progress checked
for the time by floes close packed against the rugged headlands to
the north. As the ships were secured to the edge of a broad flat
floe lying between an island and the high conglomerate cliffs of the
mainland, several walrus were seen lying on a fragment of floe about a
mile off. Their flesh would make a most valuable store of food for our
dogs, who had been living almost exclusively on preserved Australian
meat, for they disliked dog biscuit. Accordingly, a whale-boat with
a harpoon gun in her bows was lowered and manned. It was necessary
to make a long detour. New ice forming in the shadow of the cliffs
impeded our progress and rendered a noiseless attack impossible. Our
game, however, paid no attention to the noise we made scraping the ice
with the oars and breaking a road with a paddle. We soon got close
enough to see that there were three of them lying close together.
Occasionally one or other would rear himself slowly up, displaying his
double-lobed head and long gleaming tusks, scratch his side lazily
with his huge flipper, and fling himself down again with a satisfied
grunt beside his slumbering companions. They lay on the edge of a
floe. We steered for the largest of the three, and at length the broad
arrow-head of the harpoon, projecting from the muzzle of the gun, was
within five yards of the beast. Then, with the flash, the steel buries
itself deep in his side, a stream of blood spurts on the snow, and all
three walrus start up and heave themselves upright before plunging
into the water, looking as formidable game as any post-diluvian
sportsman could desire, but evidently too much frightened to attack.
A well-aimed bullet struck our victim’s throat and shortened his
death-struggle. Ere long the drag on the harpoon line slackened, and
the huge carcase was drawn to the surface and towed slowly to the
ship. It measured twelve and a-half feet from nose to tail, eleven
and a-half in girth. The tusks, eighteen inches from gum to point,
gave the creature a savage appearance, but their use was to dig up
the molluscs on which he fed, or to hook himself up on to the ice
floes. The dogs were not alone in their appreciation of fresh meat. We
ourselves found some steaks by no means unpalatable though desperately
tough, and for some days walrus liver figured upon our breakfast-table.

[Illustration: WALRUS.++]


     A Haul of the Dredge—Norman Lockyer Island—Traces of an Eskimo
     Exodus—Midnight on 12th August—Mysterious Cairns—Forcing the
     Tidal Barrier—“Kane’s Open Polar Sea”—Hannah Island—Grant Land
     Reached—Musk Oxen—“Discovery’s” Winter Quarters.

An anxious watch was always kept for any favourable movement of the
ice. But, meanwhile, the broad smooth floe alongside afforded a
tempting exercising ground, whereon, after working hours, some played
football and others took their first lessons in dog-driving. The
ships happened to be secured in a sort of basin fifteen fathoms deep,
but with shallower water all round, so that the bottom was protected
from the scrapings of icebergs. It was evidently a favourable spot
for a haul of the dredge. Our expectations were more than realised.
The net came up full of strange creatures. Here a fish with a sucker
under his chin; there a brittle feather star with long branched arms.
He has to be extracted most carefully from the bag, and supplied
with some cotton to grasp before being consigned to our naturalist’s
ever-ready bottle. Next comes a _Terebratula_, or lamp shell,
anchored by a strange chance to a fossil _Terebratula_ drifted from
some neighbouring rock. Here are pale vermilion-coloured antlers of
_Escharella_, and delicate lacework of _Retepore Polyzoa_, and here,
perhaps greatest prize of all, a little calcareous sponge with a
double frill glistening like spun glass. The dredging operations were
continued far into the nominal night, and, after a little necessary
rest, we started to explore the island. A steep wall of ice-foot
encircling the land disputed our inroad. Clambering up over it, we
were at once struck with the terraced condition of the shores. On the
north side of the island especially, the ridges rose one over the
other in long horizontal waves to the number of twenty or more. Even
on the highest, sea shells were to be picked up. Each ridge was tipped
here and there with little mounds of yellow clay, sometimes in lines
at right angles to the ridges. The shore was very barren; a few little
grey tufts of grass, or Draba, found root in the mounds of yellow
clay, all the rest was small stones weathered into sharp points like

When we reached the northern shores of the island, a number of
conspicuous white objects strewn along the lower terraces excited
our curiosity. They were bones of walrus and seal, much broken
evidently by the hand of man, but fragile and moss-grown with age.
Some long-vanished tribe had doubtless found this lonely island a rich
hunting-ground. The western point of the island was covered with the
foundations of a complete town. In some places mere rings of stones
had served to keep down the edges of summer tents of skins; in others,
rectangular enclosures three yards broad, with excavated floor and
with traces of porch opening seawards, gave unmistakable evidence of
more permanent habitation. Deep carpets of velvety moss found rich
soil in the floors of the huts, which had doubtless been no cleaner
than that of modern Eskimo. A little further inland we came upon a
bird-shelter, such as the natives of Danish Greenland still use to
encourage geese and duck to settle on their shores. It consisted of
four stones piled together like a miniature “Druid’s altar,” so as to
form a chamber large enough to shelter a nest. Generations of eider
duck had been hatched in it in security since the last wild hunter
left the shore. When we found it, it held a deep nest of eider down
with three eggs, fresh, but cold, probably belonging to a duck we had
killed before landing. The traces of former human habitation found on
this island, as well as at other places further northwards, seemed to
be about equally ancient. All told—not of fixed habitation in these
inhospitable lands, but of the exodus of some migrating tribe whose
hunters must have travelled far with their dog sledges if the walrus
and seal were as scarce then as now. No doubt the Arctic Highlanders
who told Kane that an island rich in musk oxen lay far to the north,
had occasionally despatched hunters in that direction; but no mere
hunters would require such a town of huts, nor would they take the
trouble to build on a new site at each visit without disturbing the
circles of stone close beside them. Similar ancient remains have been
found far westward through the Parry group, and have been attributed
to that host which, in the fourteenth century, swept downwards from
the unknown north and annihilated the Norsemen; but in our case the
broken walrus and seal bones, though lichen-grown and evidently very
old, could hardly have lasted five centuries even in an Arctic climate.

[Illustration: ESKIMO TENT-CIRCLES.]

After three days’ detention in Franklin and Pierce Bay, the ships
succeeded in creeping up inshore past Cape Prescott and a broad
glacier-headed bay, which has since been called after Professor
Allman. Every one was on deck as we rounded Cape Hawkes into Dobbin
Bay at midnight on the 12th August, for the scene that was opening
beyond the tall shadow of the cape was one of unusual splendour,
altogether different from such ideas of far Northern scenery as we
had gleaned from books. It has somehow or other become conventional
to represent Arctic skies as dark and lowering, and Arctic day as
little better than uncertain twilight. Nothing could be wider from
the mark, at least during the months that travel by ship and sledge
is possible. Washington Irving Island threw a long shadow towards us
across the lilac-tinted floes and gleaming water-spaces, which broke
into ripples as our iron prow pushed towards them. As we rounded in
close to the island, every telescope was fixed on a strange point on
the top of the bluff standing out clear and sharp against the northern
sunlight. It was either a very odd pinnacle of rock or a cairn, and
that, too, remarkably well placed. We could soon decide, for the back
of the bluff afforded a steep but practicable ascent. The conglomerate
rock of the summit was smoothed off like a mosaic by the action of
some ancient glacier, but near the edges it broke into a succession
of rocky ledges, and on the topmost of these stood the object of our
curiosity—a conical pile of well-packed stones. A second similar one
stood a little lower down to the southwards, both plainly the work of
a painstaking builder. But who was that builder? Not Eskimo. Structure
and site forbade that suggestion. Civilised man had but once visited
this shore, and that was when Dr. Hayes, in the spring of 1861, halted
his tired dogs on the floes beside the island. He did not climb the
bluff, and, besides, such an active sledge traveller would not have
loitered to build a pair of cairns except at some crisis of his
journey, and then he would have referred to them in his Journal. But
the cairns themselves bore witness that they were not the work of any
modern builder. Lichens grow but slowly in these regions. Dr. Scott
found Sir Edward Parry’s cairn untouched by them after thirty-two
years, and the wheel tracks of his cart were fresh as yesterday’s
when, after the same interval, Sir Leopold M’Clintock crossed his
track. These stones, on the other hand, were cemented together by deep
patches of orange lichen—the growth of many generations. We found no
record or scratched stone to tell us the names or fortunes of the men
who had left the cairns as witnesses to us, their successors. Perhaps
some baffled wanderer, whose fate is unknown to fame, had thus marked
his furthest north. There is plenty of room for conjecture. Many have
sailed for the northern Eldorado since Karlsefne, Celtic Norseman,
left his Greenland home and launched his three ships on the first
Arctic Expedition, eight hundred and seventy years ago.

[Illustration: CAPE HAWKES.]

For a week after leaving the island our progress northward was a
constant struggle with the pack. Here, in the broad basin opposite
Humboldt glacier, the Atlantic tidal wave through Baffin’s Sea
terminates, and leaves an icy barrier to mark its limits. Had not
that barrier consisted of much broken floes lying off a continuous
coast-line, it would have been impossible to force any ship through
it; but, aided as we were by the shore, twenty-eight miles were made
good in a week. Never did the prospects of the Expedition seem less
cheering, but we comforted ourselves with the knowledge that the
“Polaris,” a fortnight later in the season, had made her magnificent
run into Robeson Channel without much difficulty. With constant
watchfulness and unremitting labour the way northward was won mile by
mile. Every hour opened up some fresh possibility of advance, or some
new danger to be combated. The tired watch-keepers found little rest
during their short spell below. Almost every one “turned in” without
undressing. The tearing and splintering of the ice along the ship’s
sides, and the creaking and crushing as she charged the floes, made
sleep difficult. “All hands up screw and rudder,” became a familiar
order. And twice during the week it became necessary to cut docks in
the floes to shelter the ships from pressure. On the first occasion,
the heavy ice-saws, swung on tripods and worked by every hand on
board, did their work readily; but on the second day they were found
too short to reach through the thick ice, and nothing but rapid
blasting with gunpowder saved the ships from an overwhelming crush. At
length we found the rising tide flowing—not from the south as it had
done, but from the unknown north. It was the 19th August. The barrier
was past. Pools and lanes of water became more frequent, and on the
21st we steamed through a sea which Morton, leader of Kane’s northern
party, might well call open, for the ice fragments floating in its
intensely green water were not numerous enough to prevent a slight
swell, which gave our wardroom lamps the old familiar swing.


As we pass Cape Constitution, Kane’s furthest, the air, 6° below
freezing, warns us that this year’s navigable season is already far
gone, but the dazzling sunlight ahead shows but little ice save the
film already forming on the sea. Twenty hours’ steam at this rate
would take us beyond where ship had ever sailed. But, alas! “open
seas” inside the Polar ice are disappointingly limited. Fragments of
pack increase in masses, and at length stretch across the channel in
a long white line from shore to shore. But a degree and a-half of
latitude has been gained, and the 81° parallel lies five miles behind
us as the ships are secured between Hannah Island and the grey cliffs
of Bessels Bay. The island is merely a number of gravel mounds forming
a convex breakwater in the entrance of the narrow fiord. Looking
northward from it, Hall’s Basin lay before us, bounded on the right by
Cape Morton and Joe Island, and far away beyond the mouth of Petermann
Fiord the valley of Hall’s Rest and the distant headlands of “Polaris”
Promontory; while to the left, at the other side of the strait, the
snowy cliffs of Grant Land formed the western lintel of Robeson
Channel. There was little time to explore the island. A sketch which
supplies the accompanying engraving was just complete when the signal
for recall flew from the foremast of H.M.S. “Alert.” A lead had opened
to the north-westward; the whole of the ice was in motion, and that
night both ships reached the northern shores of Lady Franklin Straits
before the closing pack barred further progress.

AUGUST 25, 1875—p. 25.

Our first musk ox hunt led us to an isolated hill-top overlooking
the bay in which H.M.S. “Discovery” afterwards wintered. This sketch
was made on the following evening, from the spot where seven of the
herd had fallen. Looking southward across the bay, and beyond Bellot
Island, Lady Franklin Sound extends away to the south-west; and at
the other side of the sound Grinnell Land rises in a line of straight
cliffs, and spreads away towards Cape Leiber on the left, and to the
distant peaks of the Victoria and Albert range on the right.]


It was then midnight and very calm. A well-sheltered bay shut in by
Bellot Island offered a secure harbour, and both ships entered it,
steaming in towards a snow-covered valley at its head. Half-a-mile
inland in the valley lay a cluster of dark objects; through our
telescopes they looked like boulders; but as we watched them,
wondering at their uniform size, they appeared to move. In a moment
there could be no mistake. They were musk oxen, eleven of them in all,
and within easy reach. A hunting party of six was soon organised, and
in a few minutes a boat landed us on this yet untrodden shore. We
separated in three directions, meaning to cut off the retreat of the
animals landwards, but, unfortunately, our left wing engaged the enemy
sooner than we expected, and they made off at a rolling gallop up a
steep glen; two of them, evidently wounded, turned downwards towards
a ravine to the left, but the main body vanished over the brow of a
hill. So many pounds of good fresh meat could not be allowed to escape
without an effort, and accordingly two of us started off up hill on
the track of the game. They had made almost a complete circle, and we
sighted them standing together on a steep isolated bluff nearly over
where we had first seen them. Hidden by a projecting edge of the hill
crest, we scrambled to the top up a slope of stones and snow, and
surprised the beasts not ten yards off. They galloped right and left,
heads down, and sweeping the snow with their long shaggy fur, but fell
fast under the quick fire of our Winchester repeating rifles—murderous
weapons for this sort of work. In less than a minute all seven were
stretched on the snow.

It was now necessary to skin and cut up our victims, but before we
commenced this very disagreeable duty, the reports of rifles in the
valley below induced us to look over the brow. Our comrades had been
reinforced by others from the ships, and a circle of assailants had
closed round the wounded leader of the herd—a splendid bull. He was
making his last stand close to the brink of a deep ravine, gallantly
facing round at the flash of each rifle. He could no longer charge,
but the angry toss of his head showed how dangerous it would be to
close with him. He received no less than twenty-eight heavy Snider
bullets before he fell.

Musk ox hunting is not, as a rule, exciting sport. The skinning and
cleaning of the game, often in a cutting wind and low temperature,
and the carrying of the meat on board the ship, involved a good deal
of labour. Upon a subsequent occasion one of our hunters conceived
the happy idea of making a wounded ox carry his own beef towards the
ship, but the beast resented direction, refused even to be led by the
horns, and finally overthrew his captor, and had to be despatched
incontinently. They rarely attack, and can generally be approached
within rifle range with little trouble. Sometimes, however, they are
unaccountably timid. Animals that have never seen men are said to be
devoid of fear; but our experience does not bear out the statement.
Every beast we met, from the musk ox to the lemming, was afraid of
us. They seemed to take some time to realise that we did not belong
to their world. But having once made up their minds, they showed even
more terror than wild animals usually do.

Each musk ox gave us about two hundred pounds of meat, often most
excellent, but occasionally tainted with the flavour that gives them
their name. We failed to ascertain the source of this characteristic.
It occurs in both sexes and at all ages; and, moreover, it is not
peculiar to the musk ox, for a haunch of reindeer presented to us by
the Governor of Egedesminde possessed the very same flavour. A long
course of preserved food makes most fresh meat acceptable; walrus
and seal became delicacies; owls, foxes, and even skuas are not to
be despised; but genuinely musky musk ox is fit for nothing more
civilised than Eskimo dogs.

[Illustration: HEAD OF MUSK OX.]

According to the programme drawn up for our Expedition before we left
England, the second ship was not to be carried beyond the 82° parallel
of north latitude. The sheltered harbour in which the ships now lay
was 81° 41´, and was in every way suited for the winter quarters of
our consort. Here, accordingly, the first stage of the Expedition
terminated. So far everything we had hoped for had been accomplished.
Depôts to cover retreat in case of disaster had been duly deposited
at the Carey Islands and at Cape Hawkes, and a suitable harbour for
H.M.S. “Discovery” had been found beyond Lady Franklin Strait, in a
higher northern latitude than any human being had yet wintered in.
Much of the navigable season still remained, and though we had all
long ago realised the absurdity of expecting open water in the Far
North, we could not but look hopefully forward to the long stretch of
coast line shown on the charts extending to within 6° of the Pole,
interrupted only by “Army Fiord” and “Navy Opening.”


     The Ships Part Company—Robeson Channel—Strange
     Ice—Lincoln Bay—A Gale—A Rush North—The “Alert” reaches
     a Latitude never before attained by Ship, and enters a
     Polar Sea—Precarious Position—Disappointment—No Land
     to the North—Perennial Ice—Altered Prospects—Autumn
     Sledging—Pioneering—Dog-sledging—Romance and Reality.

On the 26th August the ships parted company, but the beginning of
the voyage was ominous. A quarter of an hour after the “Alert” had
received the last well-wishes of her consort, she grounded on a
sunken rock, and got off again only to be checked within sight of
her starting-point by a close-packed barrier of heavy floes. Two
days afterwards she pushed successfully past Cape Murchison, but
soon afterwards became entangled in a chaos of broken floes of most
formidable proportions, and was forced to take refuge in a shallow bay
with, fortunately, no worse injury than a broken rudder. While the
rudder was being replaced, three more musk oxen were obtained, and,
with our larder thus replenished, we entered Robeson Channel. Heavy
floes completely filled the strait, moving rapidly north and south
with each tide. Sometimes the whole pack would check for a moment
against a projecting point of coast, and then rush on again, leaving
a lane of eddying water filled with broken fragments between it and
the wall-like cliffs. Through this lane, with a precipice of rock and
ice-foot on the left, and square-sided floes gliding irresistibly
past on the right, the path northward lay. It changed continually,
one moment opening out invitingly, and the next closing like the jaws
of a vice. It required the most unwearying watchfulness to advance
through such a lead, especially as the numerous little bays which
had so often enabled us to hold our own further south had now given
place to an almost unindented coast. Late on the afternoon of the
27th we passed a broad inlet, which was identified as Lincoln Bay of
the “Polaris.” Twice we were forced back into its shelter. The second
occasion was after an attempt had been made to force a passage through
the pack away from shore. After an hour’s charging and crushing
amongst heavy blocks, the little patches of water became smaller
and smaller, and the ship became beset amongst broken floes of most
unusual proportions. The level surface of many of them was as high as
the ship’s sides out of water, and their whole thickness little if at
all under eighty feet. The gentlest touch between such floes would be
instant destruction; but, fortunately for us, there was much broken
ice between them, and the ship was able to struggle away from the
larger pieces till some change in the tide allowed her to escape back
to the protecting land.

The first of September was an eventful day for the Expedition. A gale
blew from the south-west, and after it had continued with undiminished
violence for some hours, we could see through the drifting snow, blown
in clouds from the land, that the ice was separating from the shore,
and leaving a lane of water between it and the “ice-foot.” Such a
chance would not come twice, and there was no time to be lost. Under
full steam, and with reefed topsails and foresail, our ship was soon
flying northwards, trusting to chance for security when the floes
would close again. Flying mists of snow left little to be seen but
the black band of water ahead, and the bases of dark, steep cliffs on
the left. We were passing Cape Union, but which of the numerous bold
bluffs had received that name we could not tell. After a few hours, it
was plain that it lay behind us, for the land began to trend to the
westward. At noon the ship still advanced, but at right angles to her
former course. The cliffs of Robeson Channel were past, and what could
be seen of the shore was a low undulating beach fringed by a barrier
reef of grounded icebergs. Our lane of water extended about two miles
along this shore, and then ended at a low point of land, from which
the pack had never moved in spite of the violence of the gale. The
wind was now lessening rapidly, and the floes were closing steadily
and resistlessly inwards. To be caught between them and the wall of
grounded ice would be instant and hopeless destruction.

A mile behind us we had noticed a gap in the barrier of ice. There was
just time to run back and push the ship through it, into the shallow
water between the grounded ice-blocks and the shore, and to make her
fast under the shelter of one of the blocks, when the pack closed in
with a grinding crush that made some of us at least expect to see
ice-barrier, ship, and all pushed high and dry on the beach.

In a few hours it again came on to blow, and this time furiously. The
ice-pack was again driven off shore, carrying part of our barrier with
it, the hawsers holding the ship to hillocks of grounded ice tightened
like bars, and finally, in a fierce gust, snapt, and the ship drifted
outside her shelter, but was again brought up by her anchor. Then the
wind suddenly veered, and drove the ice in on us with alarming speed.
There was no time to turn the ship; struggling sideways and sternwards
through the tide of slush and tumbling ice that raced along the
outside of the barrier, she reached the friendly gap just in time to
be helped in by the closing pack. The roar of crushing ice had already
commenced on the point of land north-west of the ship. It approached
and increased every moment, till the whole beach was in full chorus,
creaking, screaming, and crashing. Under such an enormous pressure the
strongest ship that ever floated would have been reduced to matches in
one minute.

For months afterwards the same harsh sound was to be heard outside
our barrier, till it became familiar and commonplace. It can be very
closely imitated by rubbing dinner plates together. As soon as the
position of the ship ceased to claim immediate attention, many an
anxious look was cast over the chaos of ice beyond in search of the
coast-line to the northwards. The truth broke on us very slowly.
President’s Land was not there. The shore off which we lay curved to
the left in a broad bay, and thirty or forty miles north-west of the
ship the land ended in an abrupt cape. Behind us, and beyond Robeson
Channel, Greenland spread away to the eastward, dwindling off in a
perspective of rounded snow-covered hills, while to the north between
these two lands’ ends there was nothing but an icy horizon.


Where Robeson Channel opens out into the Polar Sea, the cliffs of
Grant Land give place to a more shelving shore. This sketch, made
late in July, 1876, and looking due north across the winter quarters
of H.M.S. “Alert” at Floeberg Beach, shows the poleward prospect from
the last of the cliffs. The coast-line curves away to the west into
Black Cliff Bay, then turns north, and ends in the peaked mountains of
Cape Joseph Henry, the point from which the northern sledge-parties
started. Patches of melting snow, under Cairn Hill on the left, and
under the slaty crest in the foreground (where some pink saxifrage
is still in flower), send rivulets across the mud-flats to the South
Ravine, and help to flood the green one-season ice between the
grounded edge of the perennial pack and the shore. The floes are
mapped out by hedges of hummocks, and look deceptively smooth from
this height.]

The whole sea was covered with floes varying from a few yards to miles
in diameter. Their surfaces were undulating, and assumed peculiar blue
and metallic greens in low sunlight. Small angular spaces between them
were choked with fragments broken from the parent masses, and long
irregular hedges made of similar _débris_ surrounded each ice-field.
These hedges rarely reflected the same tint as the floes; when one
was purple, the other was green, and _vice versa_. It was months
before we realised the full import of this ice. At first it seemed
impossible that the great masses grounded along the shore could be
mere fragments of sea ice we saw spread before us. We mistook them
for icebergs. Like them, they were stratified. They grew in the same
way, only the land is the parent of one, and the sea of the other. The
Polar floes are in fact a floating glacier, and we accordingly called
the fragments floebergs. In this the sea before us differed from
ordinary frozen seas. Baffin’s Bay, for example, renews its ice year
by year. Every summer great part of it is, as we saw it, free from
ice; in autumn, its surface freezes first into a pasty mass, then
into floes nearly as flat as a frozen pond. During the winter, frost
and snow thicken them, and wind piles them into hummocks. Sometimes
part of the ice lasts for more than one year—thus whalers talk of
ice of one or more seasons old. But the floes of the Polar Sea are
perennial. They bear the plainest evidences of great age. They grow
from above, and are stratified by seasonal deposits of snow slowly
converted into ice. Excepting in insignificant spots along shore, the
surface of the Polar Sea never freezes into new floe; it is never
long enough exposed. The only ice of a single season possible here is
a frozen together conglomerate of boulder blocks between the thick
old floes. With this distinction in view, the term “Paleocrystic”
was applied to this “sea of ancient ice.” “Archäiocrystic” would
more exactly represent what we meant, but sounds, if possible, more
pedantic. The age of the floes is a subject for speculation; whether
there is any limit to their thickness is also unknown. It does not in
any way depend on crushing or piling together. They should be thinnest
near land, where they are most frequently broken, and yet there were
several on our beach—Floeberg Beach, as we called it—over eighty feet
in thickness. We met with others floating so high out of water that
they could not be less than two hundred feet deep. When strong winds
and tides occur together during autumn, pools and fissures, crevasses
rather, sometimes form in the edges of this polar-ice cap, but only
those who have seen it can fully appreciate the utter impossibility
of “boring” any ship through this polar pack; a nut-shell would have
as much chance under a steam-hammer as a ship between the closing
walls of such a crevasse. This was the open polar sea we had heard
so much of, but which in truth no one in the Expedition had ever
expected to sail in. What we had not calculated on was the absence of
land northward; and that the coasts shown in the maps were absent was
soon beyond all doubt. Day by day our disappointing position became
plainer. The continuous coast-line upon which every hope depended
was at least not in sight. One chance still remained. Possibly the
land beyond Cape Joseph Henry turned to the northward, and though the
ship had reached the utmost limit of navigation, sledges could travel
along the frozen shore. Depôts pushed far northwards on a continuous
coast-line would yet enable us to reach a high latitude, if that
northward-running coast-line could be found at any reasonable distance
from the ship. Meanwhile, it was plainly necessary to accommodate
our aspirations to the stern negatives before us. The infinite
possibilities of the unknown were no longer at our disposal. We
could no longer cherish little unspoken hopes of rapid success, more
navigable seas, richer hunting-grounds, or milder climate, polewards.
Our ship lay about a hundred yards from the beach, her bows pointed
to the north, her right side against the grounded ice which protected
her, and on her left a space of shallow water stretching to the shore.
Even this space was by no means “open water;” it was, on the contrary,
filled with floating lumps of ice of every size, from that of a
hailstone to that of a house, moving about with every change of tide.
Some of the large ones were troublesome neighbours, and had to be
secured with hawsers to prevent them getting into damaging positions.
One of them, more erratic and less manageable than the rest, was
commonly known as the Wandering Jew. The poet, by-the-bye, who placed
that hero on a piece of polar pack, must have had a prophetic glimpse
of these perennial floes ever drifting slowly round and round the
pole. A few days after the gale the whole space between the ship
and the shore froze hard, and it was possible to walk to land. The
shelving beach was of rough shale, but, like the rest of the land,
was almost entirely covered with snow. Much of the latter was soft
and white, and had fallen recently; but here and there, in sheltered
hollows, hard brown patches had evidently remained through the summer.
Half-a-mile inshore low undulating hills rose to about four hundred
feet. None of them had anything characteristic about them; they were
simply rounded-off banks of brown slate and grey shale, with long
straight slopes of hard snow on their northward faces—splendid places
for headlong “toboggoning,” as we found later on. Nothing could be
more dismal than our new territory. But we still hoped that the
next spring tides might allow the ship to advance a little way into
some more favoured spot before she was finally frozen in for the
winter. Two short excursions had already been made in search of safer
quarters, but the reports they brought back were not encouraging.
There were several bays not far north of the ship, but most of them
were blocked with ice, which had evidently remained unmoved for many
seasons. Under any circumstances, it was perfectly plain that the
ship would be obliged to winter within a few miles of where she lay,
and preliminary exploration of the coast westward, in preparation for
the autumn sledging, could no longer be delayed. Accordingly, three
dog-sledges were got ready to pioneer the road towards Cape Joseph
Henry, to push forward a small depôt, and to search likely-looking
spots for game.

Dog-sledges are to an Arctic Expedition what cavalry is to an army.
They act as the feelers of the advancing force, do the scout work,
carry despatches, keep up communications, and are in fact the Uhlans
of a sledging campaign. Speed is their strong point, but in the long
run dogs are unable to carry their provisions as far as men. They
have, nevertheless, accomplished long journeys in latitudes where the
pick and shovel had not to travel before the sledge, and where an
occasional seal or bear helped out their provender. Looked at from a
distance, there is a deal of romance about dog-sledging. Imagination
immediately pictures the lively galloping team flying along over the
crisp snow, and the comfortably muffled driver, covered with furs,
reclining on the sledge, without a trace of baggage or provisions
to inconvenience him. Alas! one half-hour’s experience of the real
thing is enough to take the whole gloss off the subject. The sledge
is heavily laden with tent and sleeping-bags, provisions, and fuel—an
item not considered by many people, without which even a drink of
water is an impossibility. The driver toils along behind the sledge,
guiding it by its handles as he would a plough, or flogging the dogs
with all his might. Striding along in the deep snow gives him a
peculiar waddling gait universal amongst the Eskimo. His companions
run in front or behind, and keep up as best they can, painfully
panting in the icy air, which sometimes brings blood from the lungs.
When the sledge sticks in the snow, or falls into a crack, or jams
between two lumps of ice, the dogs make one violent effort, and then
stop doggedly till the sledge is lifted out for them. Then the driver
hisses out “Kis, kis, kis,” and the whip encourages any dogs that wont
understand good Eskimo or forcible English, and off they go again. The
Eskimo dog is, as a rule, utterly destitute of the ordinary virtues of
his species. He is simply a wolf that has found slavery convenient.
After the autumn sledging season, we tried hard to rear pups.
Sometimes we got them large enough to toddle about the decks, and the
fat little morsels would begin to answer to their names; but if we
took our eyes off them for an instant, little “Samuel” or “William
Henry” would suddenly disappear, and some near relative would look a
little less hungry than before. When travelling, there is generally
some unpopular individual in the team, and he is snapped at by all
the rest. The dogs pull in the shape of a fan, constantly changing
places, and thus tangling their tails in the traces. One elderly dog,
appropriately called Bruin, had lost his tail in that way; some former
Eskimo master had found it simpler to amputate than to unravel. More
than once dogs were so severely bitten by their fellow-labourers that
they had to be tied up in bread-bags, and carried on the sledge till
they recovered a little. The meat biscuit provided for their diet was
the only thing they would not eat. Hide sledge-lashings or whip-thongs
were luxuries to them. One brute, called Michael, invariably ate his
canvas harness, and upon one occasion ran off with the cook’s metal
ladle, and bit a large piece out of it. With all their faults, our
dogs worked wonderfully hard. Their value to the Expedition can not
be overrated. They could pull at a pinch nearly one hundred pounds
each for a long day’s march. Then when camping-time came, the driver
whistled the signal to halt. A meal of preserved meat was served out
to them, and they coiled themselves down in the snow, and slept with
their bushy tails wrapped round their heads.


Most of our dog-sledging parties found it necessary to secure their
teams during the hours called “night.” This was done by detaching the
united traces from the sledge, and fastening them to a spare tent-pole
pushed deep into the snow. Securing the dogs was not always a simple
matter. Upon one occasion, the officer in charge had loosed the traces
from the sledge for this purpose, when the dogs overpowered him, and
started off at full speed across the floes, dragging him at their
heels. He held on manfully, banging about like the tail of a kite;
if he let go, good-bye to the team. Fortunately, the dogs divided on
either side of an abrupt lump of ice, which checked them effectually,
and put an end to his Mazeppa-like career.



     Exploration to the Westward—Dumb-bell Bay—A Seal—Search for
     Game—Lonely Lake—Fish in the Lake—A Gale—Return of the Boat
     Party—An Opportunity fortunately lost—The Expedition becomes _the
     most Northern_—Depôts sent forward—Frost-bite Range—Attempts to
     communicate with H.M.S. “Discovery”—Unexpected Difficulties—Soft
     Snow—Sunset—Preparations for Winter—The Snow Town—Building Snow
     Houses—Twilight Walk Shoreward.

On the 9th September, a party of four officers and four men, with
three sledges, each drawn by eight dogs, left the ship for the
westward to explore a route for subsequent crews, push forward a small
depôt, and search the country for game. On the first day’s march, our
halt for lunch was ludicrously uncomfortable. A cold wind blew. All
our water-bottles were hermetically sealed by the freezing in of the
rough wooden plugs we had hastily fitted to them. There was nothing
to drink but icy cold raw rum. One or two attempted it, and only
succeeded in half-choking themselves, very much to the amusement of
the rest.

When camping-time came, we found ourselves rounding into a narrow
channel between two fine bays, whose “dumb-bell” shape at once
suggested the title by which they were ever afterwards known. A strong
tide in the narrow passage, representing the handle of a dumb-bell,
had kept a small pool of water from freezing, leaving a hole about
as large as a Trafalgar Square fountain. In this a seal was swimming
about, turning his black shining head and large eyes from side to side
in amazement at our appearance. All was fish that came to our net. He
would at least make a good beginning for our game-bag. He was struck
in the head, and consequently floated; but it was by no means a simple
matter to get him out of the pool, for the ice was thin at the edges,
and an unpleasantly swift-looking current was running below. Fred, our
Eskimo, was equal to the occasion. Spread out flat on the ice, with
a piece of cord in one hand and a batten in the other, he managed to
reach the edge and secure our prize. He was rewarded for his exertions
by a good share of liver for supper; indeed, no one at that time felt
inclined to dispute the delicacy with him, for, by some mistake, our
unpractised cook had fried a little of the blubber with it. The meat
is very dark and rich, and is far from unpalatable; but if the least
bit of blubber is cooked with it, it is exactly like mutton fried in
cod-liver oil. This solitary “floe-rat” was the only seal shot in
the Northern Sea. We had little sleep that night, the novelty of the
circumstances, the low temperature of our beds, and the wind, which
threatened to blow the tent over, kept most of us awake. The dogs
too were behaving in an extraordinary manner. Something evidently
made them uneasy; there was none of the usual snarling and growling
going on. All at once there was a tremendous hubbub. We rushed out,
and discovered that the brutes had scented out the spot where we had
buried and _cached_ our seal. They had succeeded in digging it up, and
not a fragment was left. Fortunately, the skin and blubber were buried
separately, and were still safe. Next morning our party subdivided.
Three travelled forward with the sledges to deposit the depôt as far
as possible northward and westward. Petersen, the Dane, experienced
in snow-house building in Hayes’ Expedition, set about constructing
huts in a position that might be useful to later parties; and two of
us started inland to search for game. The broad flats at the head
of the bay looked promising, but were lifeless. Then we plodded on
over the hills; not even a lemming track was to be seen. A few ridges
were blown clear of snow, and sometimes the lee side of a red granite
boulder would appear above the universal white. We worked towards a
long westward-running depression in the land, hoping that there at
least a little vegetation might exist; but on reaching the last ridge
overlooking it, we discovered that it was filled with a sheet of green
ice, stretching several miles to the westward. The lake—for lake it
was—evidently discharged through gullies in the low hills at its
farther end, and beyond these, twenty miles off, a range of pyramidal
snowy peaks stood out clear and sharp against the calm green sky. When
we stopped to secure a sketch, the lifeless stillness of our lonely
lake was most impressive. No human eye had ever looked upon it before.
And now there was neither bird or beast, or even tiny flower or blade
of grass, to dispute possession.

About a mile from us on the left shore, a small rocky island caught
a gleam of sunshine coming down through a ravine, and flickered
strangely by refraction. The ice afforded easy walking towards it,
but on reaching it we found that a rapidly-freshening wind was coming
off the land, carrying clouds of snow with it, so that a retreat
towards camp was plainly advisable. Before leaving, however, we set
about piling up a few stones to record our visit. Under the edges of
almost the first stone raised we were surprised to find the scattered
vertebræ of a small fish. Some feathered summer visitor had evidently
carried them there from the lake. We bottled the little bones in a
small glass tube, and during two long days’ most careful search for
game, no other vestige or track of living creature was discovered.

Our return to camp was very near being enlivened by an incident.
The wind had freshened so much, and carried such a quantity of
large crystalled snow with it, that it was impossible to travel
except in one direction—namely, straight before it. Fortunately, it
blew directly towards our camp. So we started off across the lake,
knee-deep or more in a flying drift which rustled like dead leaves in
autumn. The ice was not thick even close to shore, for we had fired
a bullet through it to try whether the water beneath was salt or
not, and when we got about half-way across, it began to crack in an
alarming manner, and to yield unmistakably to every footstep. We could
neither stop nor turn back; the only thing to be done was to separate
and shuffle on as fast as possible. The water soaked through cracks in
our footsteps; but we were soon wading in the deeper snow of the land,
and reached camp without further excitement, and thoroughly resolved
to be more careful of untried ice in the future. Starting early next
morning, we made a more extended, but equally fruitless, search for
game. There was neither bird nor beast in the country, and but for a
musk ox skull picked up near the shore we might have supposed that no
living creature had ever visited the land. Punctual to their time, our
sledges reappeared on the morning of the fourth day, having succeeded
in depositing their load of pemmican on the further shore of Black
Cliff Bay. The ice they had travelled over was so insecure in some
places between the shore and the heavy floes that the sledges had
broken through more than once, and the travellers had been wet through
ever since they left us. There was evidently no game to be got, so we
returned to the ship, and on the way back met a strong party hauling
forward two boats in order to deposit them at an advanced point in
readiness for the spring sledging.

Two days afterwards, on 14th September, a wind came from the south
and gradually increased into a violent gale. The ice between the ship
and the land broke up, and the pack again separated from the shore.
The whole air was filled with drifting snow blown from the land, and
flying past in a dense cloud higher than the topmasts. It was only
in the lulls that it was possible to distinguish the shore not one
hundred yards off. The boat party had not yet returned, and we were
not a little anxious about it; but late in the evening a figure was
seen signalling from the beach. A double-manned boat pushed off from
the ship, and, after a tough struggle, pulling in the teeth of the
gale, reached the shore. Then we learnt that the returning crews
had narrowly escaped being carried off by the breaking-up ice, and
were about two miles from the ship dragging an exhausted man on the
sledge, and thoroughly fatigued by their long forced march against
the gale. Assistance was promptly despatched to them; all were soon
brought safely on board. The severity of the weather was not the
only reason why we were anxious that the sledge parties should be on
board. A crisis in our fortunes was approaching, for the pack was
still moving from the shore, and in a few hours it might be possible
to advance the ship a little further westward, and perhaps a mile or
two further northward. As the drifting snow became less thick, and
the weather cleared, we saw that the opportunity had come. Once more
we heard the joyful order to get up steam. The rudder was rapidly got
into its place, but no efforts could get the screw into its bearings.
The fresh surface water entangled about it froze when it was lowered
into the colder salt sea beneath, and while all hands were still
working at it, the pack closed in as tightly as before. We were all
greatly disappointed at the time, but there is now not the slightest
doubt that if H.M.S. “Alert” had advanced two miles to the westward
she would never have carried her crew southward again. It was from
henceforth evident that the ship would have to winter in the spot
where chance had placed her, and every effort was at once directed to
the sledging.

There was no time to be lost; winter was fast approaching; day and
night had again returned. The sun’s dip below the icy horizon to the
north was longer and longer every night, and during the day he skirted
so low above the southern land that even at noon it was already dusk
in our wardroom and between decks. Light fleecy snow fell frequently,
and day by day the temperature declined nearer and nearer to zero;
but nevertheless, no change took place in the outside pack—it still
roared and grated in constant motion. The idea of travelling over it
could not be entertained for a moment, and it was necessary to wait
till the snow of the shores and the new ice of the inlets and narrow
spaces between the pack and shore were hard enough to bear the loaded
sledges. On 22nd September the dog-sledges again started for the north
to ascertain whether Cape Joseph Henry could be crossed or rounded.
And two days later, three eight-man sledges, under Commander Markham,
with Lieutenants Parr and May, left the ship with a heavy load of
provisions and stores, to be deposited at the most northern suitable
fixed point in readiness for the spring campaign. Lieutenant Aldrich
and his dog-sledges returned in fourteen days. He had reached the
Cape, crossing on his way the ring of latitude from which Sir Edward
Parry, the most poleward of our predecessors, had turned back 48 years
before. From a cliff two thousand feet above the polar floes, he had
seen nothing but ice to the northward; but far westward, seventy miles
or more distant, snowy headlands, one beyond the other, extended
slightly northward of the land on which he stood.

This was the worst news we had anticipated. It left the future
undecided. If his telescope had detected the loom of land to the
north, our duty would have been plain, and success at least probable.
If, on the other hand, the coast beyond the Cape ran definitely south,
the clear negative would have allowed us to turn every energy into a
new channel. But now this new-found land must be tracked westward for
many a weary mile, and those distant headlands must be rounded one by
one before we could be certain that the coast-line did not finally
turn polewards, and afford a route which might be followed, if not
next year, at least in the following season.

Wind, insecure ice, and constant falls of snow told heavily against
Captain Markham’s three sledges, but they successfully deposited their
depôt near the Cape, and in such a position that anyone travelling
along the beach could not fail to find it even in fog or storm. On
their way back, part of the ice they had recently sledged over was
found destroyed by the motion of the pack, and it was necessary to
haul the sledges over the summits of the Black Cliffs. There, there
was no shelter from the wind; the temperature fell to 47 degrees below
freezing. That bleak ridge was afterwards known as “Frost-bite Range.”
When, after three weeks’ absence, they reached the ship, the whole
party was in a wretched condition. Their sleeping-bags, robes, and
tent were stiffened into boards of ice, more than twice as heavy as
when they set out; and the twenty-four men and officers had no less
than forty-three frost-bites amongst them, most of them comparatively
slight, but three so severe as to require amputation. While these
sledge parties were laying out the autumn depôts and exploring
northward, others were no less active in another direction.

The programme of our Expedition stipulated that the “Alert,” in order
to keep up communication with her consort, was not to winter more than
two hundred miles from her. An officer and sledge crew belonging to
the “Discovery” had accompanied us northwards with the intention of
returning to their ship as soon as the “Alert” had reached her winter
quarters. We had advanced but sixty miles, and yet the most gallant
and persevering efforts to communicate with the “Discovery” were
again and again unsuccessful. The deep soft snow lying piled against
the cliffs of Cape Rawson and Black Cape barred the way. The men,
buried to their waists in the snow, dug a path for the sledge till the
excavation became a tunnel, and a day’s hard labour could be measured
by a few paces. The last and most determined effort to force a road
southward was undertaken on the 2nd October, but on the 12th the party
returned without having got further than six miles from the ship. This
failure to communicate with the “Discovery” over so short a distance
as only 60 miles was altogether unlooked for, and could not but
suggest uncomfortable reflections. It had been assumed that even two
hundred miles would not interrupt communication between our ships, and
that sledges could travel the whole length of Smith’s Sound to reach a
relief ship, or to deposit despatches at its entrance. Where was the
error in the assumption? Were our men degenerate? Our picked crews,
full of health and strength, and enthusiastic to a man, were equal
to the best of their predecessors. The conclusion was inevitable—the
conditions and not the men were to blame. Within half-a-mile of our
ship, there were many places that would stop the finest crew that
ever drew a sledge. The ice was massive beyond all expectation; but
it was not the ice that stopped our travellers—it was the soft snow.
Some idea of its fleecy lightness may be gathered from the fact that
ten measures of it could easily be pressed into one, and that one
melted into only one-tenth its bulk of water. Everyone noticed the
beauty of its crystals; they were delicate eighteen-rayed stars, rayed
not in one plane, but in all. In British Columbia and other parts of
Canada, when such soft snow interferes with travelling, it is usual
to camp for a day or so—perhaps under a comfortable tree—and, when
the snow has hardened a little, make a firm path for the sledge, or
long tobbogin, by tramping in advance on snow-shoes. But we might
have waited till permanent darkness set in before our snow hardened.
Our sledges, perfect as they were for their own work, were not suited
for land travelling over soft snow; and as snow-shoes had never been
used by Arctic Expeditions, we had but two pairs in the ship. There
are two causes that tend to harden and cake the surface of snow—the
first is wind, and we had comparatively little of that; the second is
a contrast in temperature between the earth below and the air above
the snow. When the lower part of the snow is twenty or thirty degrees
warmer than the upper, evaporation takes place from the one, and
condensation in the other. At Floeberg Beach the earth was permanently
cold. Even in midsummer only a few inches of the surface thawed, and
during the whole winter it remained close to zero, so that it was not
until the intensely cold weather of spring that any marked contrast
was established.


Two days before the return of the last autumn party the sun sank below
the south horizon, not to return for nearly five months. We climbed
Cairn Hill to have a last look at him, but the high land southwards
hid him from view. His refracted rays still lit up the ice of the
northern horizon, but Floeberg Beach and the pack, for a mile outside
the ship, lay in the shadow of the land. Away southwards to the right,
the sides of the Greenland hills caught the sunlight, and through the
gaps in their undulating outline a distant horizontal plain of _mer de
glace_, the northern termination of Greenland’s continental ice, was
yet distinguishable at intervals.

After the return of the depôt detachment from Cape Joseph Henry, the
twilight had darkened so much that further sledging was impossible,
and all hands set about making preparations to encounter the fast
closing-in winter. Firm ice had formed round the ship, and cemented
her to the grounded floebergs on her right; but, in order to guard
against being again blown from shore, she was secured to the beach
by two strong chain cables, supported at intervals by barrels, so
that the heavy metal links should not sink into the ice. The “crow’s
nest” and all the rigging that could be spared were taken down from
aloft and packed away. A thick felty awning was spread overhead
across spars fastened between the masts so as to completely roof in
the greater part of the ship. Then snow was heaped up all round her
black hull as high as the crimson stripe along her bulwarks. But for
her masts and yards she might have been taken for a great marquee,
with stove-pipes coming through at intervals. Her unshipped rudder
was hung across the stern, safe from any ice pressure during
the winter. To enter the ship, one had to pass through a narrow gap
in the snow embankment, near the middle of her left side, ascend two
or three steps, and lift up a hanging door closing an entrance cut
in the bulwarks. The whole of the upper deck was covered with a deep
layer of snow, so as to keep the heat in. Snow passages, with double
wooden doors, self-closing by means of weights, were made over the
two hatch-ways leading down below. The skylights were all covered up.
Lamps and candles had already been in use for some time. By means of
eight stoves, distributed in various parts between decks, and each
burning twenty-eight pounds of coal per day, an average temperature
of forty-nine was maintained through the winter. It was intended to
utilise all the heat by leading the flues along the deck overhead
before they passed up into the outer air; but the horizontal flues
smoked so much that it was necessary to let them pass directly
upwards, and even then they were as smoky as ships’ stoves usually
are. Meantime, the bleak beach opposite the ship was also undergoing
metamorphosis. Boats, spars, blocks of patent fuel, casks, and cans
of stores innumerable had been carried to it from the ship, so as to
increase the habitable space on board. The casks and barrels were
piled into walls, and roofed in with spars and sails, so as to make a
large storehouse to hold everything that could be taken from the ship.
A short distance off, a great pyramid of pemmican, stearine-fuel,
bacon, and other sledging stores rose above the snow. Next came the
preparations for the scientific observations of the winter. The
wooden observatory, on a firm foundation of snow-filled casks, looked
like a bathing-box unaccountably gone astray. Then a whole group
of beehive-shaped snow-houses, each one the temple of some special
instrument, the “Declinometer,” the “Unifiler,” and so on, and a whole
system of catacomb-like passages cut in the deep snow and roofed in,
connected the buildings.

ASTERN OF H.M.S. “ALERT,” DECEMBER, 1876.—p. 37.

During winter moonlight this view of the ship was a familiar one;
for it is from the end of the half-mile marked out for exercise on
the Hoes. The foretopmast has gone to make a roof-tree for the thick
awnings that house in the deck. The crow’s nest and much of the
rigging are packed away till next wanted. The unshipped rudder hangs
across the stern, out of the way of damage from any crushing of the
floes. Snow packed up carefully all round the ship is an all-important
protection against the increasing cold.]

Fortunately, the last gale had so far hardened the snow-drifts in this
spot that snow-house building had become possible. Every few days a
new “house” sprang up. A group of men would come out from the ship,
warmly booted and mitted, carrying shovels and saws, and perhaps a
lantern. They shovel off the loose surface snow, and proceed to mark
out two sets of concentric circles, one slightly larger than the
other, and follow the marks with the saw driven vertically into the
snow. The rings thus sawn out are then cut into blocks about two feet
square. The outer ring of blocks from the larger circles, placed round
the circular pit left by the removal of blocks from the smaller set,
makes the first tier. Then comes the outer ring from the smaller set,
and so on alternately, till a good flat block closes in the top. The
resulting edifice is all in steps, but it is thoroughly substantial,
and will last till midsummer. Thus our town sprang up, and each part
soon received its appropriate name—Markham Hall, Kew, Deptford,
Greenwich, &c., while at a safe distance southward an eccentric
edifice, surmounted by a broom handle to represent a lightning
conductor, acted as magazine and spirit-store.

Long before winter had passed, our town had disappeared as
completely as Nineveh or Pompeii. Only an uncertain mound here and
there projected over the bleak slope of drifted snow. Some of the
storehouses, indeed, were so effectively hidden that they were not
found till after several days’ excavations in the following July.
The great advantage of a snow-house is that it takes its temperature
from the earth, and not from the air. Some of ours were occasionally
as much as forty degrees warmer than the atmosphere, so that an
observer well muffled in furs could remain for four or five hours at
a time watching the swinging magnetic needle, or the progress of some
icy experiment. His meditations would sometimes be disturbed by the
wandering footfall of one of our dogs overhead, sounding strangely
loud and reverberating. The snow was curiously retentive of odours:
a little spirit spilt in one house made it ever afterwards smell like
a gin-palace; another had an unaccountable odour of oysters that
puzzled all our _savans_; but, as a rule, the smell of burnt candle
predominated. The manner, by-the-bye, in which the flame of a candle
gradually sank into a tallowy net-work cylinder afforded a striking
illustration of the still air and low temperature of a snow-house.
In strong moonlight, or after daylight returned, the effect inside
one of our buildings was most peculiar. The snow transmits a subdued
greenish-blue light, such as a diver sees deep under water.


While twilight lasted, many excursions were made landwards, but the
uncertain state of the deep snow made even a short walk a serious
undertaking. In places it lay merely dusted over the ground; in others
in deep drifts, here soft, and there hardened by wind. If we turned to
the north, we soon came to a steep ravine, by no means easily crossed,
winding down from Mount Pullen. All inland was a monotonous waste
of snow, and ten minutes’ walk to the south brought us to another
ravine—a smaller one—which somehow or other acquired the name of the
“Gap of Dunloe.” Here a summer torrent had cut a way under the ice and
snow that half filled the ravine. A few little frozen pools amongst
the boulders was all that remained of the torrent, but its size might
be estimated by the long flat cavern it had washed out under the ice,
lit from above by a number of dangerous “man-holes” opening through
the snow overhead. At the other side of the ravine, the land rose
towards the high capes overlooking Robeson Channel, and afforded very
rough walking, for the vertical slate strata was either smoothed over
with treacherous snow, or stuck up through it in various-sized flat
slabs, making the land look like a vast graveyard. As a rule, however,
there was really nothing to see but interminable snow. Sometimes, when
it was a little overcast, even the distinction between land and sky
was confused, and everything assumed a uniform whiteness. More than
once it occurred to us that our scenery was very simply portrayed: a
spotless sheet of white paper could not be improved upon. Under such
circumstances, it may easily be imagined that the discovery of a hare
track was quite an exciting event. Who could think of returning to
a half-past two o’clock dinner before the track was followed, and
the quarry found! A second hare track was fallen in with on the 29th
October, but after following it for some hours it became plain that
the creature had more than once been within thirty yards, and had
escaped unnoticed in the twilight. The chase was given up, and it
was at any rate a satisfaction to know that at least one live thing
was left to pass the winter in our neighbourhood. There was no use
in trying to hunt after this. That day we had hoped to get something
better than hare, for one of the ice quartermasters had reported that
he had heard wolves howling inland during the middle watch, and wolves
would hardly pay us a visit so far north unless they were driving musk
oxen or reindeer. A long walk on snow-shoes failed to discover any
tracks, and indeed the beasts themselves might have been close at hand
without being seen, for darkness was already stealing over the land.



     End of Twilight—Moonlight—Daily Life in Winter
     Quarters—Condensation—Breakfast—Morning Prayers—Outdoor
     Work—Exercise—The Ladies’ Mile—A Walk to Flagstaff Point—Sounds
     from the Pack—Optical Phenomenon—Dinner—Our Cat “Pops”—Occupation
     during Winter—Mock Moons—“Sally”—The Darkness.

Twilight at mid-day ceased on 9th November; that is to say, the sun
never afterwards came within twenty-eight degrees of the southern
horizon. Such a definition of twilight is as convenient as any other,
and has the advantage of being familiar to some people at least, as
it is that which usually regulates the firing of the morning gun
in garrison towns. After this date nothing but a faint violet glow
towards the south, not bright enough to hide the stars, and that too
lessening every day, marked the whereabouts of the mid-day sun. We
were not at once left in darkness, however, for the moon rose, and for
ten periods of twenty-four hours—one cannot call them days—climbed,
and then declined spirally through the heavens. She again visited us
three times before twilight returned, each time giving us the benefit
of full moon; indeed, without her cheerful visits winter darkness
would have been almost unendurable. During the intervening periods
of darkness, “next moonlight” was looked forward to in much the same
way that schoolboys look forward to holidays. A diagram made by
Captain Nares, and hung up on the lower deck, representing the daily
position of the moon during the absence of the sun, was constantly
consulted. In this far northern region man is as much influenced by
the moon as his celebrated Ascidian ancestor on the tidal beach.
Her advent inaugurates a period of intermittent vitality. Then was
the time to build snow-houses, to collect fresh ice for culinary
purposes, and to repair the banking up of the ship. It was only then
that it was possible to leave the beaten track marked out for daily
exercise, and wade towards Cairn Hill or Flagstaff Point, or toboggin
down Thermometer Hill or Guy Fawkes Hummock. When the moon left us,
exercise collapsed into a monotonous two hours’ routine up and down,
up and down the measured line of preserved meat tins, relieved here
and there by an empty barrel, by way of milestone. A tread-mill would
have been a pleasing exchange, especially if it was made the means of
supplying an electric light during exercise hours.

Anyone acquainted with Arctic literature does not need to be told that
a polar winter cannot be safely passed without strict discipline.
Routine must extend even to the smallest domestic affairs. Some people
would never go to bed, and others would never get up if there was
nothing special to make them; and constant darkness is so enervating
that few, if any, would keep up a steady healthful amount of exercise
without routine.


Morning muster and prayers on deck formed part of the daily routine,
and, while the long darkness lasted, every day began with this scene.
The men are clad in sealskin and cork-soled carpet boots. The deck is
covered in with a deep layer of snow, and snow-houses are built over
each hatchway.]

Let us take a single day as an example of life in winter quarters.
On waking in the morning one’s first sensation is that there is a
chilly spot somewhere amongst the blankets. A drip of condensation
from the cold deck overhead has found its way through the waterproof
or rug spread like a canopy to intercept it. This condensation
is one of the greatest nuisances we have to contend with. Its chief
sources are our breath, evaporation from damp clothes, and culinary
operations, but there are many others. All the oil used in our lamps,
and every candle we burn, is converted into nearly its own weight of
water, and must condense somewhere. It either falls in large drops,
well coloured with candle and lamp smoke, or reserves itself for
warmer weather by freezing in all the nooks and crannies overhead and
at our side. A little press close to the bed holds our summer boots, a
number of glass instruments for chemical experiments, and some spare
candles; but we have just discovered that the whole set of articles
are imbedded in a solid block of ice formed by repeated condensation.
An odour of kindling coal floats into the cabin as the wardroom stove
is lit, and warns us that it is time to get up. Some minutes elapse
before the chilled flue will draw, hence the odour. Toilet is not a
lengthy operation. A tub is a weekly luxury, for water means fuel.
The men have already breakfasted, and are clearing up the decks.
The plates, cups, and saucers are cheerfully rattling on our mess
table, and our next-door neighbour kindly warns us not to be late, as
curried sardine day has come round again. A large mess-tin of cocoa
is simmering on top of the stove, and the baker has treated us to
the unusual luxury of hot rolls. At ten o’clock the men muster round
the tub of lime-juice, mixed with warm water, and each man’s name is
marked off as he drinks his allowance. Then all hands parade on deck
for inspection. Everyone is dressed alike, in yellow sealskin cap and
coat, sealskin or duffle trousers; long carpet boots with thick cork
soles keep the feet well off the snow, and are especially comfortable
over two pair of lambs’-wool socks and a pair of fur slippers. When
the officers have inspected their detachments and reported all
mustered, the chaplain reads the collect for the day and a brief
prayer by the light of an engine-room oil-lamp hung from overhead.
All join in the familiar responses, and the beautiful words of the
prayer for the navy sound more than ever applicable to our special
circumstances. The scene is a striking one. The dim yellow light,
the composed fur-clad men, the awning draped in feathery pendants
of ice, and the trampled snow on deck, make a picture not easily
forgotten (Plate No. 6). Immediately after prayers, all hands are
told off to the work of the day. The declinometer house is closed up
with a snow-drift, and has to be dug out. Ice has to be dug out with
picks from the top of a floeberg, and drawn on a sledge on board to
be melted for drinking, cooking, and washing. The water thus obtained
is only too pure. Frozen sea water, in spite of theory, remains salt,
but the upper strata of the floebergs are pure snow condensed into
ice. Then there are some stores to be drawn on the strong working
sledge from Markham Hall; and the blacksmith and his assistants have
a number of shovels to repair, for, strong as they are, they wont
stand levering out blocks for snow-houses. At one o’clock the men go
to their dinner, and before ours there is yet an hour and a quarter.
We cannot stay on board, for the wardroom is occupied by an energetic
party rehearsing for theatricals. We have just time for a good smart
walk. In a few minutes we are equipped, with long mitts—some people
call them elbow-bags—slung round the neck, and a substantial muffler
tied sash-wise over one shoulder as a reserve in case of necessity.
On first going into the open air, there is a faint odour like that of
green walnuts. It is difficult to say what is the cause of it; it is
not always noticeable, and does not coincide with the darkest staining
of the ozone tests. The measured half-mile is already full of figures
tramping along, some singly, some in pairs, some fast, others slowly,
but all keeping to the beaten track, for elsewhere the snow is soft
and the ice is hillocky.

Let us, for sake of variety, take advantage of the waning December
moon, and visit Flagstaff Point. It is only a mile and a-half
northwards, but the deep snow will keep us beyond our time unless
we wear snow-shoes. The sloping shore hills are barred with
“sastrugi”—wind-made ridges of snow—but the abrupt scooped-out
rifts between them are smoothed over with fleecy powder in gentle
undulations like the swell of a sea. The crests of the snow waves
are often marked with long sinuous lines of black dust blown from
uncovered spots. A short alpenstock is useful to feel the way. We
carry no arms, for we are beyond the region of the sea bear. The
fierce creature depicted on our crockery (p. 83) is altogether out
of place; but then every one supposed when we left England that the
far north was chiefly characterised by abundance of bears, brilliant
auroræ, icebergs, and Eskimo. The point is marked by four barrels
supporting a flagstaff. Beyond it lies a seemingly level plain,
between a wall of pack-ice and the mouth of our north ravine. The
temperature is 67° below freezing; but it is perfectly calm, and not
too cold to rest for a moment or two.


In this icy wilderness there is an overpowering sense of solitude,
which adds greatly to the weird effect of moonlight on the floebergs,
fantastically-shaped and vague. There is complete silence, but it is
broken every now and then by sudden unearthly yells and shrieks from
the still moving pack, harsh and loud as a steam siren, but unlike
anything else in art or nature. As we return to the ship our attention
is caught by a brilliant star, so close to the rough and indistinct
horizon that it looks as if some one was carrying a lantern on the
floes. As we watch it, it moves, at first but a little, but afterwards
in long curves like the sweep of a goshawk. It took us some time to
find out that the motion was an optical delusion, most distinct when
no other stars were near.

The cheery sound of the first dinner gong has brought every one in off
the ice; and as we enter the ship, we find a group of our messmates
brushing each other down with a housemaid’s brush, for one must be
careful not to carry any snow into the warmth below. A lantern lights
the way into a snow-hall built over the hatchway. We open the inner
door, a rush of cold air precedes us down the ladder, and we descend
in a cloud of vapour like an Olympian deity. For a moment the changed
atmosphere and a suspicion of tobacco smoke makes us cough, and the
glare of lanterns and lamps dazzles. There must be no delay in taking
off our sealskins; they are already moist with condensation, and a
cold steam streams from them to the floor. Little lumps of ice on the
eyelashes and brows soon melt, but a solid mass cementing beard and
moustache together resists even warm water for a time. Hair about the
mouth is a nuisance in the Arctic regions, and everyone keeps close
cropped. Our vice-president’s two sharp taps on the table announce
grace; he will wait for no one when the soup is cooling, and quite
right too. Our dinner is the same as the men’s: a piece of salt meat
left from yesterday _rechauffé_, preserved meat—there is a discussion
whether the pie is mutton or beef—preserved potatoes, and preserved
onions; we shall have carrots to-morrow. Lime juice replaces beer, for
the latter has become a rare luxury, reserved for birthdays and other
state occasions. Presently some one throws a good conversational fly;
if it is very successful, a brisk controversy follows. The subject is
immaterial, all are more or less exhausted, and none is proscribed
except theology. It is wonderful how many subjects became theological
before the end of the winter. We have laid in a small stock of wine,
which allows us to have two glasses of sherry or Madeira with dinner.
When that is disposed of, conversation flags, and the table is soon
cleared. As soon as the cloth, which looks as if it had been used
before, is removed, our white cat springs upon the table, and seats
herself in the centre with all the assurance of a spoiled pet. It is
not a little strange that both she and “Ginger,” her sister, forward
in the men’s quarters, as well as the Eskimo dogs, and even “Nellie,”
the black retriever, suffered from epileptiform fits. Before winter
was over, Pops got so strangely feeble that she could not spring upon
a chair without several efforts; but when summer came, and we got her
a little fresh meat, she recovered perfectly, and returned with us in
safety to England. After dinner was a quiet time to write up journal,
to read, or to work at some experiment or observation. Certain
instruments had to be registered every hour, and sometimes even every
ten minutes, day and night, and fair registers of such observations
occupy not a little time. One or two who have work to do at night put
in a couple of hours’ comfortable sleep before tea is announced at six
o’clock. Then follows school on the lower deck. When it is over, and
the officers have dismissed their pupils, the musician of our mess,
whose good fellowship is equal to his skill, treats us to a little of
his exhaustless fund of music. Strange to say, our piano still keeps
excellent tune in spite of the heavy seas that swept the wardroom
crossing the Atlantic, and many a severe freezing since. A game of
chess, or a rubber in the captain’s cabin, concludes the evening.


The warmth and comfort inside the ship were a strong contrast to the
chill loneliness outside. In the snug lamplight of the wardroom, with
a journal to be written up, or a book from the well-stocked shelves
behind the door, it was easy to forget that only a few planks and a
bank of snow shut out a thousand miles of darkness and deadly cold.]

We were all prepared for a long and monotonous winter, and each
one, according to his proclivities, had drawn out for himself a
lengthy programme of improving study. One would read through Alison’s
“History of Europe,” another would master Italian, a third preferred
German; others chose music, and would learn the banjo, or, if the
mess preferred it, the tambourine. But the historic programme only
was carried out. Most of us found that our time was more than
occupied with notes and observations of Arctic Nature that we might
never have another opportunity of making. There was the electric,
magnetic, microscopic, thermal, and chemical states of earth, air,
ice, and water, and a hundred other pressing questions, that made
us regret we had not spent our whole lives in preparation for our
unlimited opportunities. Then there was other work that could not be
postponed. It was above all things necessary to ascertain the exact
position of our winter quarters, so that the geographical discoveries
of the Expedition—the coast-lines passed by the ship as well as
those traversed by sledges—might be fastened down to at least one
fixed point. For this purpose, many careful observations of moon and
stars were required, and the officer who had accepted the duties of
astronomer had no easy time of it. He and his assistant spent many a
chill hour watching the occultation or transit of some star or planet.
The observatory is necessarily open to the air; snow-wreaths festoon
its walls and corners. Every breath freezes on the metal and glasses
of the telescope; even the vapour from the observer’s eye quickly
clouds the lens. His assistant, utterly unrecognisable under a pile of
furs and mufflers, stands shivering beside him, carefully keeping a
chronometer from the cold, for neither watch nor chronometer will work
in the temperature of Arctic night.

The weather during winter was, as a rule, so calm and clear that
observations on the stars could be made almost at any time; but it
was not a little remarkable that, even at the clearest times, some
icy dust, too fine to be called snow, was always falling. On the
27th December, for example, it was so clear that a star of the third
magnitude less than three degrees from the northern horizon could
be satisfactorily observed. And yet, in twelve hours, a glass plate
exposed on top of a neighbouring hill collected a quantity of little
crystals equal to nine tons per square mile. These crystals, not to be
confounded with icy dew formed on the plate itself, were altogether
too small to be seen with the naked eye; but there was no difficulty
in using a microscope, even in the lowest temperatures, except that
the mercurial reflector was soon destroyed by the cold. It was when
these crystals assumed their simpler shapes, and were abundant in the
air, that the moon appeared decked in those halos and crosses known as
_paraselena_, or mock moons. Twice in December we had good examples of
them. Upon each occasion the moon appeared in the centre of a large
and luminous cross, surrounded by two circles plainly distinguishable
between us and the snow-clad land. The cross swayed and trembled with
every breath of air, and vanished altogether when wind disturbed the
tissue of falling crystals; but the halos were more permanent. Plate
No. 7 gives a better idea of them than any verbal description. It is
a reproduction of a sketch made early in the morning of the 11th of
December. Our long-lost wanderer, Sally, absent since 15th October,
when she was left by a sledging party near Sickle Point, had just put
in an appearance, and may be seen in the foreground intensely watching
the proceedings of two officers engaged in measuring the holes with a

[Illustration: PLATE VIII.—LUNAR HALOES.—p. 44.

This is a sketch, from the floes alongside the ship, of an unusually
distinct Paraselena that appeared on 11th December, 1875. The haloes
and cross round the moon are caused by the passage of her light
through a tissue of impalpably minute needle-like crystals of ice
slowly falling through the atmosphere. The snow-covered hills of
Floeberg Beach are in the background, and in the foreground two
officers are measuring the arc with a sextant, while the long-lost
Sally looks on. In summer the sun was often surrounded by a similar
meteor, but intensely dazzling, and tinted with colours like an
outside rainbow.]

_A propos_ of Sally, her adventures might make a canine romance. She
was a young, rather unsociable, grey-coloured Eskimo dog, that formed
one of Lieutenant Aldrich’s team in his autumn sledge-journey into the
“untrodden north” and past Cape Joseph Henry. Like several others, the
cold and hard work were too much for her, and she broke down utterly.
The more “fits” she had, and the feebler she got, the more she was
set upon and bitten by the stronger ones. It was impossible to delay
the sledge, and there was nothing to be done but either shoot the
poor beast, like a canine comrade a few days before, or adopt a less
merciful course and leave her on the floes, with a faint hope that she
might revive and limp home after the sledge. It was late in September
that Sall was thus cast adrift. On 22nd of October the men of Captain
Markham’s party fell in with her, still lingering about the spot where
she had been abandoned, very lean and hungry, but too wild or too
feeble to follow them back to the ship. From that time she was written
down in the roll call as “expended.”

Week after week of cold and storm and darkness passed, and
everyone felt quite certain that poor Sall had gone to the happy
hunting-grounds. It is accordingly easy to imagine that her
reappearance on 11th December caused a decided sensation. Even her
old comrades could not believe their eyes, but growled and stared at
the gaunt prodigal that sat wolf-like on a snow hillock, and howled
dismally in the moonlight. Ever afterwards she was a changed dog.
She grew large and strong, and her character became ambitious and
overbearing. When she set her mind upon anything, she got it, whether
it was an empty box to sleep in, or a neighbour’s pup for supper. She
became the favourite of the “king dog” of the pack (dogs soon learn,
and never forget which is master), and would feed between his paws.
But after a while she learnt to beat her lord, and finally usurped
his throne, and led the pack in work or play, though Salic law is
generally observed amongst Eskimo dogs. When the Expedition returned,
she was given to our trusty Eskimo Fred, who knew how to value her.
Some of us would have liked to have shown her in England, but it would
have gone hard with the first cab horse she caught sight of.

The “Alert” in her winter quarters at Floeberg Beach was 142 days
without the sun—a week longer than the “Polaris,” and a month longer
than any previous English expedition. Throughout the whole time the
difference between noon and midnight was hardly appreciable, but a
long period of slowly lessening twilight preceded actual night. Our
darkest time occurred between moon-set on 18th December, 1875, and
moon-rise on 4th January, 1876, though indeed the periods preceding
and following it were scarcely lighter. Many a time, as we stumbled
blindly along at daily exercise, we discussed the question whether
our noon was really as dark as an English moonless night. The general
impression was that it was not so dark. The universal snow husbanded
what little light there was, and sometimes looked almost as if it
was self-luminous. Although the sun was further off on the 23rd
December, that was not the darkest day, for the moon was not far below
the horizon. That day at noon it was just possible to count lines 3
millimetres wide when not more than 4 millimetres apart.

The 28th was perhaps our darkest day. In order to retain some idea
of what the darkness was, we took a rough “Letts’s Diary” out on the
floe at noon, and tried to read the advertisements printed in large
type at the end. It was necessary to remain out some ten or fifteen
minutes in order to get accustomed to the darkness; and of course, if
one had any idea of what the advertisements were beforehand, the test
did not apply. The words “Epps’s Cocoa,” in type nearly half-an-inch
long, were easily read, but the “breakfast” in small type between them
was utterly illegible. It was just possible to spell out “Oetzmann”
in clear Roman type five-sixteenths of an inch long; and after much
staring at the page, held close before the eyes, we managed to make
out “great novelty” in type one-fourth of an inch long. Of course the
test depended as much upon the eyes as upon the darkness; but it was
at any rate a comparative one which would enable those who tried it to
recall the darkness of their winter noon.

The line below will give an idea of the size of type


We have since found that such type is legible on clear moonless nights
in England.


     Winter Climate—Preservative Effect of Cold—Falling
     Temperature—Unprecedented Cold—Extreme Low Temperature
     not Unendurable—A Visitor from the Shore—Cold v.
     Vitality—Sudden Changes—A Breeze from the South—Warm Wind
     Aloft—Danger from East Wind—Dawn—Brilliant Effect of Low
     Sunlight—Lemming—Sunrise—Preparations for Spring—Snow-shoes—Our
     Prospects—Motion of the Floes—A Tide Wave.

As the absence of the sun lengthened, so the cold increased.
Arctic Expeditions have almost invariably registered their lowest
temperatures in February and March, the months in which the earth
is coldest even in England. The darkness and the low temperature of
winter do not occur together: the cold, indeed, belongs rather to
spring than to winter. In our case, it was not till after darkness had
left us and dawn was well advanced that the state of our thermometer
became a subject of general interest.

We did not expect an unusually cold winter. Maps marked the “pole
of cold” far south of our position, and it seemed likely that the
great polar sea, though much the reverse of open, would make our
winter warm. The thermometer stands were conspicuous objects as we
came out from the ship to the floes. The first was supported on a
barrel and snow pedestal only seventeen feet from the ship, so as to
be convenient for hourly or half-hourly registration. Then came the
self-registering thermometer, elevated on a tripod about thirty yards
from the ship. Others were placed on the floe near shore, and on a
hillock close to the beach.

It may be said to be always freezing in the far north. Even in a warm
summer day, when the air is perhaps 40° Fahrenheit, flakes of ice
rise up from the cold sides of the floebergs, and in the shade float
in a thin pellicle on the water in the ice-cracks. Meat exposed to
the air keeps all the year round, and for many months our rigging was
decorated with sides of musk ox and carcases of mutton. In connection
with the keeping of meat, it is worth while to mention that a piece
of musk ox meat, exposed for six months in the rigging, and sealed
up in the cold air, remained, very unexpectedly, unchanged when the
temperature rose, and was exhibited perfectly fresh three months after
the Expedition returned to England.

The temperature of the air sank permanently below freezing in the
middle of August before we had reached winter quarters, and continued
below for nine months. Fifty-four degrees of frost were registered
during the October sledging. In November, mercury froze and the spirit
thermometers fell to forty-five below zero (_i.e._, 77° of frost). The
lowest in December was one degree colder. Then hopes of a warm winter
were given up, and we watched the spirit shrink degree after degree
past the coldest recorded by our predecessors. January’s lowest was
58°.7; February brought 66°.3 below zero; but on the third of March,
three days after sunrise, the unparalleled temperature of 73.7 degrees
below zero was indicated by our Kew-corrected thermometers, and for
many hours the temperature remained more than one hundred degrees
below freezing.

[Illustration: EXAMINING THERMOMETER: -73.4°.]

As a general rule, people look upon extreme cold as the most
characteristic and most insupportable part of Arctic service, but
this is altogether a mistake. It is not nearly as trying as the long
darkness, and both are insignificant compared to the social friction
of the confined life—a friction which would be unbearable if the men
and officers had not been accustomed to habits of discipline, and
inured to the confinement and restraints of “man-of-war” life. The
hardships of mere low temperature are by no means unendurable. In
comfortable winter quarters, and with plenty of dry warm clothing, we
found the extremest cold rather curious and interesting than painful
or dangerous. An icy tub on an English winter morning feels colder
to the skin than the calm Arctic air. Cold alone never interrupted
daily exercise. It was possible to walk for two or three hours over
our snow-clad hills, in a temperature of one hundred degrees below
freezing, without getting a single frost-bite, or perceptibly lowering
the temperature of the body. It is possible even to perspire if one
works hard enough. The fact is, only the face and lungs are really
exposed, and neither appear to suffer from it. Our experience led
us to think that men, thoroughly prepared, might safely encounter
far lower temperatures. Many a time, as we sat round the stove on
the main-deck discussing the events of the day and the state of the
weather, the relative merits of Arctic cold and tropic heat were
warmly canvassed. Several of both our officers and men had lately
returned from the Ashantee campaign, and they could speak with
authority. There was one thing clear—one could sometimes get warm in
the Arctic, but never get cool on the Coast.

If the intense cold was more endurable in winter quarters than some
of us had anticipated, it was altogether a different thing camping
out away from the ship on a sledge party. Then, with food and clothing
limited by the sledge-weights, with no warmer bed than a snowdrift,
and no possibility of changing ice-saturated clothes, cold, far less
than that experienced in winter quarters, becomes a real hardship, and
its miseries can hardly be exaggerated.

During the period of intense cold, we amused ourselves with many
experiments on its effects on various substances. Ordinary spirit,
such as brandy or rum, froze into crystalline paste. Even the alcohol
in our astronomer’s spirit levels acted sluggishly. Glycerine became
as hard as soap; mercury remained frozen for ten or twelve days at a
time. Everyone knows the danger of handling metal at low temperatures.
The danger depends greatly upon the state of the hand; if it is at all
moist or soft, it will adhere, and soon be dangerously frost-bitten;
but if quite dry, we could, for experiment sake, take a mitt off and
turn the brass handle of our outer door without experiencing anything
more serious than a sudden sting, which was like neither heat nor
cold. It was even possible to melt a small fragment of mercury on the
naked palm without leaving a trace of injury.

We had few opportunities of noting how the lower animals bore the
cold. Our Eskimo dogs evidently suffered much at times, but never
learnt to use a snow-kennel built to shelter them. Some of the bitches
had sumptuous apartments constructed for them on deck, in the vain
hope that comfort would make them more careful of their offspring. One
old dog, Master Bruin, who had no tail to coil round his neck when
he went to sleep, and was perhaps more susceptible to cold on that
account, discovered that the magnetic observatory was warmer than the
star-lit side of a hummock, and would willingly have taken up his
quarters there if it had been allowed. Nellie, the retriever, always
took her daily exercise, but slept between decks in the warmth. Pussy
paid one visit to the deck just to see what Arctic winter was like;
but she hopped about shaking one foot after another, and sneezed so
incessantly that she seemed in danger of choking, and had to be taken
below again.

Neither rats nor mice had come north with us. Three of our useless
carrier pigeons had reached winter quarters alive, fluttering round
the ship and perching on the frozen rigging, but none survived
long. It was in the depth of winter, when the land seemed utterly
lifeless and deserted, that the first living inhabitant of Floeberg
Beach presented himself on board our ship. Midnight was past, and
one officer alone lingered beside the main-deck stove, watching the
red light flickering on a much-weathered musk ox skull that had been
picked up on shore and was now being dried before the fire. Suddenly
he falls on his knees and stares intently at the bone, then rushes to
the naturalist’s cabin, and reappears with that gentleman lightly clad
in scarlet flannel, and bearing the first bottles and specimen boxes
that came to hand. A little black spider, revived by the warmth, had
crept out of a small hole in the skull, but retreated again before he
could be bottled. Two weary hours elapsed ere he reappeared, but the
watchers were at length rewarded, and he was triumphantly captured,
packed away, dated, and labelled in the naturalist’s store, commonly
known as “South Kensington.”

At that time we had an unreasoning impression that no live thing
could endure actual reduction to the temperatures of Arctic night.
But cold is by no means so deadly. The mosquitoes, butterflies,
and dragon-flies of brief Arctic summer are assuredly not all new
arrivals. A good example of vitality in the vegetable kingdom
was afforded by the wheat left at “Hall’s Rest” by the ill-fated
“Polaris.” In spite of the cold of five winters, it was still alive
when we found it. Sown at Discovery Bay, it germinated freely, and, as
I write, some of it carried home with the ships promises to reproduce
itself in a fair crop of bearded “Polaris wheat.” Even at the Polar
Sea, and in the midnight of winter, the air holds spores of
moulds, and many of them grew rapidly when carried into the warmth
inside the ship. It is hard to say what temperatures would kill such
primitive organisms—in fact, so far as our little experience goes, Sir
William Thomson’s “moss-grown fragment of another world” might have
carried the germ of terrestrial life safely enough through the chills
of stellar space.

The temperature of winter was by no means steady; on the contrary, its
progressive fall was interrupted by many sudden rises.

In ordinary cold weather the sky was wonderfully clear, and the
weather wonderfully calm. Many a time, as we walked at daily exercise
up and down our half-mile of shadowy snow, with nothing to look at
but the stars, the whole sky was absolutely vapourless, from the
pole star in the zenith to Orion or the three stars of Aquila just
skirting along the horizon. Sometimes a faint fleecy mist, hardly
distinguishable from one of our feeble auroras, would pass overhead;
but round piled-up masses of cloud, such as are common in southern
skies, were never seen.

A change rarely came unexpectedly. Often for days beforehand “mare’s
tail” clouds, with a hard wavy outline, would float up against the
faint moonlight in the southern sky, and spread themselves into wings
and fingers over Robeson Channel. Then, with a sudden gust from the
south, and a mist of flying snow from the land, the temperature
would rise. Mercurial thermometers would thaw, and soon register as
faithfully as spirit instruments beside them. After a while the wind
begins to come more and more from the westward. The thermometers
remain high, but the wind feels piercingly cold wherever it can find
a way inside our sealskins. While the storm lasts, it is impossible
to go outside the ship. Whirling snow hides everything. Even on
deck exercise is uncomfortable, for powdery snow floats in through
every chink in the carefully-closed tent-like awnings. Notes on the
instruments on shore have to be suspended, for no one could force
a way as far as the beach through the darkness and whirlwind of
drifting snow; and if they could, they would find the observatories
so buried that it would take several hours to dig out their doorways.
Even the thermometers within seventeen feet of the ship were not
always easily registered. Upon one occasion the officer in charge
of the meteorological work had to confess himself beaten, after two
determined attempts to reach and register them. In twenty-four hours
or more the storm lessens, and gradually dies away to a gentle breeze
from the northward; and with it the temperature declines, until it is
as cold or colder than before.

A striking change of this sort came in December. From thirty-five
degrees below zero, the thermometers rose rapidly with a gusty
southerly wind till the temperature reached the freezing-point. This
strangely warm wind cannot have travelled far in contact with the
frozen earth, for it was being rapidly cooled. The quick changes,
with every puff of wind, suggested the advisability of trying what
the temperature was in the air overhead, and it was discovered that
the higher we climbed up the rigging the warmer it got. The main-top
was three degrees warmer than the deck at the same instant, and a
thermometer secured high aloft in the cross-trees actually registered
+ 36°—a temperature which can hardly be accounted for by supposing
that the wind was warmed by passing over pools of open water in
Robeson Channel or Smith’s Sound.

At times, when the air was undergoing rapid changes of this sort,
it was striking to find that, by boring a hole into the ice with
an auger, it was possible to get down past zero, and reach the
temperature of yesterday or last week before coming to + 28°.3, the
steady temperature of the Polar Sea beneath.

Although such warm southerly breezes sometimes occurred, our winter
was on the whole marvellously calm. During its earlier months, the
wind was anxiously watched. Our safety depended entirely upon its
direction. A north-easterly wind might force the whole polar pack with
irresistible pressure upon our unprotected shore. Many parts of the
beach bore witness to the effects of such pressure in former seasons.
Vast blocks of ice, thousands of tons in weight, had been forced high
upon the shore, pushing up redans of mud, sand, and shells before
them. It was not pleasant to contemplate the enormous force which had
accomplished such work, and might any day repeat it. And our autumn
efforts to reach the “Discovery” gave us poor encouragement for a
march southward from a crushed or stranded ship.

Towards the end of January a pale violet light made its appearance
over the southern horizon. It was at first only noticeable at noon,
and the glow was so faint that stars shone brilliantly through it.
It heralded the returning sun, and every one watched it hopefully.
It and the increasing cold were the two staple subjects for every
conversation. Day by day the faint noon-light imperceptibly increased,
till, in the first week in February, a tender greenish glow succeeded
the violet, and for an hour at noon we could fairly call it twilight.

[Illustration: PLATE IX.—THE DAWN OF 1876. H.M.S. “ALERT” IN WINTER
QUARTERS.—p. 49.

Dawn in the latitude of Floeberg Beach is a
season rather than an hour, and the growing brightness skirts round
the whole horizon almost impartially. This is a sketch very early in
March, looking north at midnight. At the time it was made, the spirit
thermometers on the small stand, and on the tripod seen to the left of
the ship, registered -70° Fahrenheit. The outlines were made without
much difficulty, with a pencil pushed through two pairs of worsted
mitts. The colours were laid on in the warmth and candle-light between
decks, and verified by repeated trips into the cold. In regions where
wind could crush the ice together, or where open water existed to
leeward, Arctic ships have more than once been blown to sea with the
ice of their winter quarters; and, as a precautionary measure, our
ship was secured to shore by chain cables, raised at intervals on
casks to prevent them sinking into the ice.]


Nowhere is it more true that “the low sun makes the colour” than
in the Arctic regions. The ice and snow, that are wearily white in
midsummer, glow with all sorts of opaline tints in the sunrise light
of March. The sketch is from amongst the floebergs to seaward of the
ship. The sides of the berg in the centre have been worn into columns
and alcoves by the surface floods of some former summer; but it has
since been forced higher on the beach, and into shallower water.
Snow-drifts fill up all the gorges and ravines amongst the bergs, and
are in some places so hardened by wind and infiltration of sea-water,
that tidal motion cracks and fissures them, especially round the
grounded bergs.]

If any part of Arctic life deserves the sentiment and romance that
have been lavished on it, it is returning daylight. However practical
and matter-of-fact a man may be, a long spell of Egyptian darkness
will make him glad to see daylight again, and he may well be excused
a little unnecessary emotion at the dawn of the pale young year.
With us the day and the year were all but the same. When daylight
was once established there was no more real night, though the sun
made thirty-seven more and more shallow dips below the horizon before
rising spirally through the heavens in perpetual day. Winter was our
night, and the morning and the evening were spring and autumn. As
February advanced, we began to have light enough to walk about on
shore. Up to this time we had laboured under two disadvantages that
had not oppressed our predecessors—namely, the extra noon darkness and
the softness of the snow. Both together rendered it utterly impossible
to indulge in exercise except along the well-trodden half-mile, with
empty meat tins for guide posts, or backwards and forwards to the
shore along the track of the sledges carrying stores to and from
“Markham Hall.” It was not till we were able to walk about a little
at noon that we got impatient of the darkness, and began to realise
its length and intensity. The transition from darkness to daylight was
like recovery from a long and somewhat delirious illness.

As the light increased, the sky displayed all the colours of the
rainbow, from rosy red at the horizon to cold violet overhead, and the
ice, borrowing the spectrum sky tints, assumed hues of indescribable
delicacy and beauty. A few hundred yards ahead of the ship some acres
of floe had stranded and split into bergs with narrow lanes between
them. The cliff-like walls afforded convenient sections of the ice,
where its varying saltness and its strange lines of “air dust” could
be favourably examined. Accordingly, these narrow clefts were well
explored, and in them especially the low light produced most magical
changes of opaline colour. Such effects are unsketchable. Form
there was none, but while the low light lasted the tints of the ice
vista were incredible—a brilliant transformation scene would look
commonplace and natural beside them.

Our walks were not carried very far from the ship before we discovered
that other animals had begun, like ourselves, to take advantage of the
returning daylight. Even while the darkness was at its greatest, men
carrying lanterns to and from the water-berg or the shore occasionally
noticed the little lines of curved scratches left by lemming. What the
little creatures could have been doing out on the floes we could not
understand; their tracks usually led into deep cracks and fissures
of the ice. Perhaps they found warmer quarters near the water. After
daylight one could hardly walk half-a-mile on shore without coming
across their burrows—little circular tunnels leading long distances
under the snow, either to saxifrage pastures, or to warm nests made of
grass that must have taken them a long time to collect. Sometimes we
came across them sitting near their burrows. They were about the size
of a small rat, almost tailless, and as yet in their yellowish white
winter fur. Later on, ermine tracks were met with, but they were much
less common. They were generally found pursuing lemming, but upon one
occasion it was quite plain that the ermine had followed a hare. Of
course whoever met a hare track was bound to follow it. Three hares
remained in our neighbourhood; they lived in burrows in the snow five
or six feet long; two were shot, but the third would never allow us
within rifle range.

On 29th February the sun rose, but those who climbed to Cairn Hill
to see him were disappointed. The high flat land southwards shut him
from view. On the 2nd of March, however, when we mustered as usual
by sledge crews on the floes beside the ship, bright sunlight lit up
the tops of the higher floebergs and shone on the upper parts of the
ship’s rigging. The Greenland mountains were already pink, and as the
sun approached the gap between them and Cape Rawson, half his orb was
seen for a moment by a few who climbed the rigging to look for it; the
others thought they could well wait another day after waiting so long.

The month after sunrise was a busy time for all hands, for there
was much to be done before the whole strength of the Expedition was
diverted to the sledging campaign.

Although there was broad daylight outside the ship, the work inside
had still to be done by lamp and candle-light. In one place a group
of figures might be seen surrounded by open packing-cases, carefully
weighing out sledging-rations, and dividing the daily allowances in
little bags made of fancy calico intended for theatrical purposes; in
another an officer and the captain of his sledge might be seen filling
a large gutta-percha box with the stores to be placed in depôt for his
return journey. Everywhere through the ship men were busy with needle
and thread making many small improvements in the fit of their duffle
suits or holland overalls; some were adding linen leggings to their
mocassins, others strengthening the soles with thick soft leather cut
from the top of their fishermen’s boots. The general sledging outfit
was of course rigorously adhered to, but each man made such small
changes in the fit of his clothes as his autumn experience suggested.

During the darkness the snow had hardened considerably; in many places
a sledge now travelled readily where it would have sunk out of sight
in the autumn, and as early as the 28th February an exercise party
travelling with a dog-sledge to the south reached in a few hours the
spot from which our autumn sledges had returned baffled after a ten
days’ struggle towards the “Discovery.”

But the snow was not hardened everywhere. There were many drifts
and patches along the shore that were not easily crossed except
on snow-shoes. With these, travelling over smooth snow was easy,
and a man could even pull along another seated on a small sledge,
faster than a third could wade beside them. No Arctic expedition had
hitherto used snow-shoes, though the Germans three hundred miles
south of us on the east coast of Greenland had found it necessary
to extemporise rough substitutes during the winter. Some of our men
made two excellent copies of a well-worn pair presented by Dr. Rae
to one of our officers. These were at times most useful, but much of
our travelling was over snow and ice so rugged that no one, however
expert, would have attempted snow-shoeing.

Constant preparation for the sledging soon superseded the winter
evening routine. School was suspended, and the theatrical season
closed on 24th February with a very successful burlesque written by
our chaplain. On the following Thursday the weekly lectures were
concluded by an address from the captain on the sledging work we were
about to undertake, and on the prospects that lay before us. Those
prospects were not promising, however we looked at them; they were
no more encouraging than when we first rounded Cape Rawson and saw
no land to the northwards. The very first elements of success were
absent, but it was still possible that the land might trend to the
north somewhere beyond Cape Joseph Henry. It was possible, too, that
sledges journeying northward over the floes might reach some land
where depôts could be left, and which might next year serve as a fresh
base for poleward sledges.

A few in the ship cherished a third hope, founded on the character of
our ice. It seemed not unlikely that if sledges could penetrate that
zone of the floating ice-cap which had been fractured year after year
by contact with the shores, they might reach a broad mass of almost
continental ice rounded into hills and valleys by ages of summers, but
not offering insuperable obstacles to poleward travel.

If the floes had not been in rapid motion all the autumn, and if Sir
Leopold M’Clintock’s method of pushing forward sledges on depôts
deposited in the autumn could have been applied to the polar pack, we
might start from the land with fair hopes of practical success. But,
as it was, our sledges would have to leave shore carrying _all_ their
fuel and provisions, and therefore greatly limited in point of time,
for no men can drag more than between forty and fifty days’ provisions
and fuel, together with tent, bedding, cooking-gear, and sledge. The
system of supporting sledges was still applicable. By it additional
sledges would fall back from the main party when say one-third of
their provisions were expended, retaining a third to return on, and
filling up the advancing sledges with the remainder.

We were by no means certain that the motion of the floes would not
even now prove a serious obstacle. Even as late as January they were
heard roaring and crushing in the darkness to seaward, and their
pressure forced our protecting floeberg somewhat shoreward, cracking
and buckling up the floes, and heeling the ship over four degrees.
For months, however, little sign of motion had been apparent except
at tidal periods, when it sometimes came with curious suddenness,
as if the tide wave had all at once overcome the resistance of the
ice that bound it. For example, the morning of the 12th of March was
beautifully calm and still, and few but those whose special duty it
was knew that a high tide was due that day. I was engaged picking out
some stones grooved and scratched by ice-motion from an overturned
“floeberg” not far from the ship, when suddenly a curious faint sound
came from the north-west, at first a dull, indistinct hum, but in a
moment it grew nearer and louder, like the rush of a railway train.
Then, as it swept down along the beach, the ice cracked visibly in
every direction with a sharp rattle like musketry, and a loud rush of
water under the floes came so suddenly and unexpectedly that I ran to
the top of the berg with a vague idea that the ice was breaking up.
But in a moment the tide wave had passed off to the south-west, and
all was still again.


     The Sledging Campaign Opens—A Push for the “Discovery”—Petersen
     Breaks Down—Shelter in a Snowdrift—Difficulties in Retreat—A
     First of April Chase—Programme of Spring Sledging—Limited
     Hopes—Departure of Main Detachments—Double Banking—The Camp—A
     Night in a Tent—A Typical Floeberg—The Hare’s Sanctuary—Coat
     of Arms—Castle Floe—Parhelia—Road-finding in the Fog—Mirage—A

The failure to communicate with H.M.S. “Discovery” in the autumn had
to some extent disarranged our plans. Communication was absolutely
necessary to ensure co-operation, and the sooner it was effected the
better, for our consort had as much sledging work to get through as
she could possibly complete in the season.

Robeson Channel had to be crossed, and the rugged northern shore of
Greenland explored in search of land poleward. Petermann’s Fiord
had not yet been traversed, and Lady Franklin Sound might possibly
open northwards, and afford a favourable route for the “Discovery’s”
sledge-crews to penetrate as far as the shore of the Polar Sea.

The short travelling season in the far north is limited on the one
hand by the lingering cold of winter, and on the other by the summer
thaw of the surface snow and the renewed motion of the ice. As soon,
therefore, as travelling was at all possible, a dog sledge was got
ready to carry despatches to our sister ship. Two energetic young
officers and Niel Petersen the Dane were detailed for this duty.
On the morning of 12th March everyone in the ship gathered on the
floes to see them off. Their team of nine dogs carried the “Clements
Markham” down the smooth ice of our exercise mile at a gallop, and in
a few minutes the red and white sledge pennant with its crossed arrows
was lost to sight amongst the hummocks off Cape Rawson.

Three days passed in preparing the ship for spring, and the low
temperature and strong wind made us think anxiously of our absent
messmates, but we never for a moment supposed that they would suffer
anything more than the recognised hardships of sledging in bad weather.

On the evening of the third day, our heavy winter awning had just been
taken down from over the deck, and the men were coming inboard after
their day’s work, when some one caught sight of the dog sledge coming
back to the ship. There were but two men running alongside, and they
came on silently, without the usual joyful signalling that marks a
returning party. Poor Petersen lay on the sledge, marvellously changed
in three days, mottled with frost-bite, and apparently dying. His
companions had succeeded in carrying him back to the ship only just in
time. They themselves were much fatigued, and their fingers raw with
frost-bites incurred in attempts to restore Petersen’s frozen limbs.
When they had slept, as only tired men can, we heard their story.

They had not been a day away when Petersen found he had greatly
overrated his strength, and became unable to assist in the heavy work
of guiding the sledge along the steep incline under the cliffs,
lowering the dogs and sledge down precipitous places, and hauling
them up again. Next day he was badly frost-bitten, for a cramped and
enfeebled man cannot long resist strong wind and a temperature of
minus 34°. It was impossible either to proceed or retreat without
risking his life, and the breeze freshened, so that they could not
pitch the tent. The only course left was to dig a pit in the snow,
which was, fortunately, somewhat hardened by the wind. So they at once
set about shovelling out a hole, and when it was six feet deep they
excavated it below till they got a space eight feet square. It took
six hours’ hard labour before they were able to move Petersen, wrapped
up in the tent and tent robes, into it, and cover the top closely in
with the sledge and drifting snow. But once well covered in, and the
sledge lamp lit, they had the satisfaction of seeing the temperature
rise to 7° above zero. But Petersen could not be warmed. They made
tea for him—he could not take it; pemmican disagreed with him; and a
little soup was made from the Australian meat carried for the dogs. By
turns they chafed his limbs for hours at a time, and thawed his frozen
feet under their own clothes, Eskimo fashion, then swathed feet and
hands in their flannel wrappers, and lay close on either side trying
to warm him; but in a very short time, although he said his feet were
warm and comfortable, they were found frozen so hard that the toes
could not be bent, and the whole process had to be gone through again.
For a day and a night they struggled in this way against the fatal
cold, and then, fortunately for them, the wind lessened, and leaving
provisions and fuel, dogs’ food, and all that could be dispensed with,
behind, they took the only course open to them, and struck out for
the ship. The only possible road was the one they had come, and it
was rugged in the extreme. On the left rose high cliffs banked with
treacherous snow, and on the right rounded and broken ice piled in
towers and pinnacles upon the shore. In some places round headlands
it was utterly impossible to get the sledge safely past with the man
and tent robes lashed on it, and one had to help him round as best he
could, while the other held in the eager dogs and tried to guide the
sledge. The poor brutes were so anxious to get back to the ship that
constant halts were necessary to disentangle their harness, no easy
task with frost-bitten fingers. The last headland was the worst. In
spite of every effort the sledge slipped sideways, then upset, and
rolled down into a deep ditch, turning over three times as it went,
and dragging the dogs after it. When it was at length got out, a
comparatively smooth road lay before them, and they drew up alongside
the ship, most thankful that their comrade was still able to recognise
the friends that crowded round him. For days the poor fellow lay in
a very uncertain state. Severe amputations were unavoidable, but he
rallied wonderfully for a time, and when the main detachments of
sledges left the ship we bade him a hopeful good-bye.

Five days passed before the weather became calm enough for a second
attempt southward, but on the 20th the dog-sledge again started for
the “Discovery.” The settled weather that favoured our travellers this
time, enabled us to take active measures to prepare our sledge crews
for their coming work. Each day a pair of crews left the ship for
practice with their sledges, and thus a store of pemmican, bacon, &c.,
was deposited at Black Cape to help forward the Greenland division of
sledges from the “Discovery.”

Before breakfast on 1st of April a man came down with a report that
a large white animal had just been seen a quarter of a mile from the
ship. This seemed a very extraordinary piece of news, for our walking
parties had scoured the whole country, sometimes as much as thirteen
hours away from the ship, without finding even a track of game, and
had as yet brought nothing on board except one small white feather
from the breast of a ptarmigan or snowy owl.

The general opinion at first sight was that the date added a peculiar
significance to the story, but at any rate it was advisable to lose
no time in seeing whether the mysterious animal was sufficiently
“materialised” to leave any tracks. Accordingly two of us took our
rifles, and sure enough we found a large wolf track at the spot
indicated. For hours we patiently followed the marks. They took us
a long circuit shoreward. There appeared to be three animals, but
we could not be certain, for the track often doubled on itself. All
at once an unpleasant suspicion flashed across us—could it be that
anything had happened to our travellers, and that we were following
their dogs in mistake for wolves? The tracks were very large,
measuring as much as six inches long by four and a-half wide, and
the centre nails were long, and turned outwards. While we debated,
our suspicions were set at rest by a loud howl, not as prolonged as
a black Canadian wolf’s, but wolfish certainly, for there was no
mistaking the fierce misery of the note. He had caught sight of us,
and, as usual with his species, given a view halloo. Presently we saw
him, three hundred yards off—a gaunt, yellowish white beast—cantering
along at a swift slouching gait. When we stopped, he stopped. We lay
down, and one of us rolled off on the snow out of sight, and made
a long detour in hope of surprising him, but he seemed to know the
range of our rifles to a nicety, and at length we saw him canter off
southwards unharmed by the long shots we sent after him. As we walked
back, we could not but wonder what had induced wolves to come north
into a desert where for miles and miles there was not so much as a
stone above the snow. The mystery was soon explained. Tracks of four
hunted musk oxen were found a couple of miles off. No doubt the wolves
had driven them from some southern feeding-ground. They travelled so
rapidly that our hunting party despatched after them failed even to
catch sight of them.

The discovery that there was some game in the country was a very
cheering one. If it was not a land flowing with milk and honey, it
was at any rate not so bad as it might be, and we went back to our
sledging preparations with a hope that we should fall in with either
the wolves or the oxen during our travels.

The weather was now sufficiently settled to warrant the departure
of the main travelling parties. It was arranged that they should
consist of two separate divisions of eight-men sledges. Lieutenant
Aldrich, with the sledge “Challenger,” would explore the shore to the
north-west in search of land trending northward. He would be supported
by Lieutenant Giffard’s sledge, the “Poppie,” which would travel with
the “Challenger” to a distant point, re-provision her there, return
to Floeberg Beach, and then carry out depôts of food and fuel for the
“Challenger’s” homeward journey.

The northern division, under the command of Captain Markham, would
consist of his sledge, the “Marco Polo,” and Lieutenant Parr’s, the
“Victoria,” supported by the “Alexandra,” commanded by Mr. White,
and the writer’s own sledge, the “Bulldog.” In addition to these, a
four-man sledge led by Briant, a petty officer of H.M.S. “Discovery,”
would help us forward for three or four days. The routes of both
detachments lay together as far as Cape Joseph Henry. At that point
the northern parties would replenish their stores from the supporting
sledges and from the large depôt of pemmican placed there in the
autumn, then, leaving the land, endeavour to force a passage due
northward over the floes. Meantime, a depôt for their return would be
carried out by the “Bulldog,” and left at some suitable spot at Cape
Joseph Henry. Owing to the impossibility of depositing autumn or,
indeed, any other depôts, sledge-travelling _away from a coast_ has
never yet been carried to any distance. We looked upon this attempt
in the light of a more than doubtful experiment. It nevertheless
promised a higher northern latitude than the coast-line route. When
we compared notes amongst ourselves after we had started, one or two
thought that N. lat. 86° might be attainable, but the majority drew
the line at 85°.

[Illustration: CAMP OF SLEDGE PARTY.]

On the morning of 3rd April all hands mustered for the last time on
the floes beside the ship. The final preparations were complete,
and our seven heavily-laden sledges lay ranged in a line, with
their knotted drag-ropes stretched on the snow. When every point in
their dress and outfit had been carefully inspected, the men closed
together, and joined heartily in the short service read by the
chaplain. All felt the serious nature of the work they were about to
undertake, but nevertheless looked forward to it eagerly. Then the
order was given, and the sledge crews took their places—fifty-three
men and officers in all. A little group of twelve only remained by the
ship, every one of them regretting that it was not their duty to share
hard work and exposure with their messmates. With three cheers the men
took leave of their comrades and of the gallant little ship that had
so well sheltered them, and the whole detachment moved forwards. The
last to leave us was the Captain. He walked on a little while with
each sledge, giving us a few words of advice or encouragement before
he bade us God-speed.

LOOKING SOUTH, MARCH, 1876.—p. 50.

Quarter of a mile north of the “Alert” a field of polar floe had
been pushed on shore, and split up into a number of floebergs, with
lanes and streets between them. This view of our winter quarters was
obtained from the top of one of the fragments. Beyond the ship Cape
Rawson may be seen forming the western portal of Robeson Channel,
while away across the strait the snowy hills of Greenland make the

For a mile or more the sledges crept slowly along in the same order as
they had started, dragging through the snow with much difficulty. The
whole depth of the runners buried in the soft snow made them pull, as
one of the men said, “like a plough with a cart-load on it.” The two
leading sledges pulled the heaviest, though the weight per man was
about equal in all. They carried specially-built boats, wonderfully
light in proportion to their size, weighing respectively 740 and 440
lbs., but difficult to manage, because they distributed the weight
over the whole length of the sledge. Every time a sledge stuck, it
took a united effort with a “One, two, three, haul!” to start it
forward again. Soon, in order to save the men, it became necessary to
double-bank the sledges—that is to say, two crews pulled one sledge
forward and then walked back for the other. Even the sledges without
boats pulled very heavily. We could not but confess that the
labour was harder than we had expected, but if others had gone through
it we could. Crews loaded with exactly the same stores as ours, and
pulling the same 240 lbs. a man, had accomplished all the longest
journeys on record. Every ounce of weight on each of the seven sledges
had been carefully thought over. Not so much as an unnecessary screw
was carried. The sledge-rifle, for example, had four inches cut off
its barrel and all the brass-work removed from its stock. Both men
and officers knew that no reduction was possible unless the number
of days’ travel was curtailed, or some other change made in the
well-tried arrangements of their successful predecessors. On one
point, however, our parties deviated from precedent. Tea instead of
rum for lunch was most decidedly an improvement.

We camped early on the first day’s march. The spot selected was a
little bay inside one of the curious hook-shaped promontories of the
coast. The process of camping is a simple one. When camping-time
comes, an officer goes on in advance and selects a flat piece of
snow—a spot where it is soft for about six inches down is best. Then
the sledge halts. Everything is unpacked. The cook of the day lights
up his stearine lamp under a panful of snow for tea. The tent, with
its poles already secured in it, is pitched, with its door away from
the wind, and secured by ropes to the sledge at one end, and to a
pickaxe driven into the snow or ice at the other; then a waterproof is
spread over the snow inside, and over it a robe of duffle, a material
like close blanket. The sleeping-bags and haversacks are next passed
in, and the men, beginning with the innermost—for there is not room
for all at once—change their snow-saturated moccasins and blanket
wrappers for night pairs carried in the haversack. Moccasin, worsted
stockings, and blanket wrappers all pull off together, frozen hard
into one snowy mass about the foot. Meantime others are “banking up”
snow all round the tent outside. Nothing adds more to the warmth of
the tent than thorough “banking up.” In about an hour from the time
of halting, every one, except the cook, is packed inside his bag.
All wear close-fitting Berlin wool helmets, enclosing head and neck,
and leaving only the face exposed; the men call them “Eugénies,” for
they were the thoughtful gift of the Empress. The cook soon gives
notice that tea is ready, and each man sits up in his bag and gets his
pannikinful, softening his biscuit in it as it cools to a drinkable
temperature. After tea comes half-a-pound of pemmican—a peppery
mixture when one’s lips are blistered with hot and cold pannikins,
and cracked with sun and frost. An ounce of preserved potato is
warmed up with it, and greatly improves its flavour. When the cook
has trimmed his lamp for the morning, and scraped out the pannikins,
his duties are over, and he changes his foot coverings, wriggles into
his bag, and squeezes himself down next the door. Finally, about half
a wine-glassful of rum with a little water is served out all round.
This, however injurious under other circumstances, helps to tide over
the chilly moments when one’s frozen clothes melt, and acts much as a
bellows does to a feeble fire. The heads soon disappear into the bags,
and everyone goes to sleep as fast as the cold and cramp in his feet
and legs will let him.

The hardships of sledging are made up of innumerable small worries.
For the first two or three days we were all plagued with cramp; we
could hardly bend up our knees to tie a moccasin or put on a foot
wrapper without being obliged to kick out suddenly, overbalancing
ourselves and our neighbours into a general mêlée, like a row at
Donnybrook Fair. When the men began to get warm in their bags, muffled
remarks about the cramp gradually gave place to smothered snores that
would last till morning, and then the performers would wake with a
firm conviction that they had never slept at all. On our first night
of spring sledging the temperature fell to minus 35°, and many lay
awake with the cold. Four nights afterwards it was nearly ten degrees
colder, but the tents were better banked up and the under robes and
coverlet better laced together; some of us, moreover, had discovered
that turning the mouth of the bag under and lying on it greatly
increased the warmth. The officer is the outside man at the end of the
tent away from the door. It is his duty to call the cook the first
thing in the morning. It is no easy thing to wake at the right hour
when the sun shines impartially all the twenty-four. The watch is
often consulted two or three times before five o’clock comes. Then the
cook turns out, lights his lamp, has a pipe, sets some snow melting,
and scrapes down cocoa for breakfast; afterwards he walks in over his
sleeping companions, and brushes down the snowy festoons of frozen
breath hanging from the tent.

[Illustration: THE DAY’S MARCH DONE.]

Cocoa and pemmican are disposed of soon after seven. The frozen
blanket wrappers and moccasins that have served for a pillow have to
be got on again, and about eight the sledge is again ready to start.
Packing is cold work, and everybody is anxious to be off and get up a
little warmth with exercise.

In our next day’s march we visited the snow-house built by Petersen
in the autumn, and found its roof level with the snow. A fox had
taken up his quarters in it, and made very free with the dog biscuit.
That night we camped near a conspicuous mass of ice on the shore of a
small island. The spot afterwards became a well-known landmark. Partly
by accident, and partly because the striking piles of ice made a
definite point to march for, the numerous shorter sledge parties often
halted there for lunch or camp. Upon one such occasion the drawing
reproduced in this book was obtained (Plate No. 12). The floeberg
itself was not a very large one, but it afforded an excellent example
of the structure of polar floe. We could not but wonder what enormous
force had pushed it upwards on the sloping beach till its flat upper
surface stood forty feet above the floes around it. The lower half was
made of what may be called conglomerate ice, the upper was stratified
with the usual white and blue layers—white where the ice was spongy
with air-cells, blue in the denser layers between. High overhead might
be seen a section, in olive-tinted ice, of what had once been a summer
pool, and on top of all, like sugar on a cake, lay last season’s snow,
slowly condensing into ice.


The great stratified masses of salt ice that lie grounded along the
shores of the Polar Sea are nothing more than fragments broken from
the edges of the perennial floes. We called them floebergs in order to
distinguish them from, and yet express their kinship to, icebergs—the
latter and their parent glaciers belong to more southern regions.
Partly because it was a conspicuous point to push on for before
halting for lunch, the floeberg on Simmon’s Island became a familiar
landmark in the many trips of the supporting sledges across Black
Cliff Bay; and the chill hour while tea was preparing was often spent
in speculating on the enormous force required to push the huge square
mass so high on shore.]

A day’s march beyond the island and its floebergs we came to a spot
where many traces of game had been seen in the autumn, but after a
long search, while the sledges halted to take in a depôt of pemmican,
we only found one hare track, and it led down over the crest of an
inaccessible cliff, so we returned to camp empty-handed. During the
night we reflected that it was a pity to lose nine pounds of fresh
meat without another effort; so in the morning, while the sledges were
packed, we walked along the floes to a point under where the tracks
had been lost, and by carefully searching the crest of the cliff with
a telescope the tracks were discovered and traced downwards, along
narrow ledges and abrupt slopes, to a sheltered nook, half way down
the cliff, that looked utterly inaccessible to anything but a bird.
There, in her sanctuary, poor pussy sat, in fancied security, till
the rifle brought her tumbling downwards to the floes just as the
last sledge reached the spot. This solitary hare was the only fresh
food procured by our northern sledge-crews. From henceforth they were
beyond the limits of game, and in this one condition our parties
differed widely from those whose precedent they were attempting to
follow. The longest journeys ever accomplished were made by Sir
Leopold M’Clintock and Lieutenant Meecham. The former obtained
forty-six head of game, including eight reindeer and seven musk oxen;
the latter no less than seventy-seven head, including nine deer and
four oxen.

Our party was now reduced to six sledges. The seventh returned, as
had been arranged, carrying with them a man who had been an invalid
since the day after leaving the ship. From this point the road lay due
northward over floes half-a-mile wide, with hedges of hummocks between
them. The surface looked smooth enough, but it was only a crust over
soft snow, and broke under one’s weight into slabs most uncomfortable
to travel over. Nothing can exceed the monotony of sledge-travelling.
Day after day the same routine is gone through; day after day the
same endless ice is the only thing in sight. A dark stone projecting
above the snow on a cape we were approaching was the only coloured
thing in sight for two whole marches, and it had a most disagreeable
fascination for our eyes. In order to compensate for this blankness
of scenery, every man had been advised to decorate the back of his
holland overall with such devices as seemed good to him. Accordingly
the back view of our sledge-crews was an extraordinary spectacle.
One man’s back bore a large black anchor with the motto “Hold fast,”
another displayed a complicated hieroglyphic savouring of Freemasonry.
Here was a locomotive engine careering over a beautifully green sod,
and on the next back a striking likeness of the Tichborne claimant
bespoke the bearer’s admiration for the “distressed nobleman.” Here,
again, was an artistic effort which had cost its author many a week
of painstaking execution, but neither he nor anyone else could tell
what it was. Union-jacks, twelve-ton guns, and highly mythical polar
bears, were of course common. These decorations were most useful in
identifying the various men—no easy matter when all were dressed
alike, and every face was swollen and blistered with sun and frost,
and blackened with stearine smoke.

On 7th April, some difference of temperature in the still air treated
us to a display of mirage. Almost all day long, as we marched
forwards, the conical mountains of Cape Joseph Henry raised themselves
up in pale shadow against the sky, and spread out into great flat
table-lands, spanning the valleys with bridges, and constantly
flickering into new shapes.

[Illustration: PLATE XIII.—ON THE NORTHERN MARCH, APRIL 8, 1876.—p. 60.

On the sixth day’s march of the united northern and western parties
from the ship, this sketch was outlined in pencil while the sledges
passed across a floe, little if at all under one hundred and fifty
feet in thickness. Like most heavy floes, its edges were piled with
rubble ice, cemented and smoothed off with snow-drift, showing
a perpendicular wall outside, but sloping inside to the general
undulating surface. The easiest road lay right across it, and with
the aid of picks a natural gap in its walls was soon converted into
a practicable path. The united crews of the “Bulldog” and “Marco
Polo” are hauling the latter sledge down through the gap, while the
“Challenger’s” and “Poppie’s” have just reached the spot with the
first of their sledges.]

On the seventh day’s march we crossed a floe so much raised above its
fellows that it got the name of “The Castle.” Its surface was about an
acre in extent, and, judging from its height over the water, it could
not be less than one hundred feet—perhaps one hundred and fifty—in
thickness. It was walled in all round by lines of _débris_, piled upon
its edges and cemented together with snow, perpendicular outside, but
sloping inwards, so that the inside looked like a vast saucer. The
easiest road for the sledges lay right across it. Several breaches
occurred in its walls, and with the aid of picks they were soon made
practicable. A sketch made as the boats passed across represents a
scene familiar to many of our sledge parties, for “Castle Floe” was
subsequently crossed on no less than thirteen separate occasions
(Plate No. 13).


Sunlight amongst the ice is often very beautiful, but at the same time
very inconvenient. It had already peeled our faces, now it attacked
our eyes. Every crystal of snow reflected a miniature sun, and the
path of the rays seemed literally sown with gems, topaz and sapphire
generally, but here and there a ruby. Similar colours, but with a
curious metallic lustre like oil on water, tinted the fleecy clouds
overhead, and the sun itself was almost always surrounded by circles
similar to those seen round the moon in winter, but exquisitely
rich and brilliant in rainbow-hued colour. No painter could hope to
produce the faintest resemblance to such effects. The light was in
fact altogether too bright for mortals, and we could only face it
with goggles on. The gem-like gleams especially produced a quick pain
in the back of the eye that considerably lessened their æsthetic
effect. The officers, who have to travel well in advance and climb
hummocks to find a road for the sledges, cannot wear goggles
continuously; vapour from the eye freezes on the inside of the glass,
and it requires the keenest sight to detect differences of level and
distance in the white blank of the prospect. On our eighth day’s
journey a faint mist took away all shadow from the ice, and though a
man might be seen several hundred yards off, it was quite impossible
to tell whether the next step was up or down, into a hole, or against
a hummock. That day, pioneering was done rather by touch than sight.
When the fog lifted, we found ourselves close to Cape Joseph Henry,
and next forenoon the depôt left there in the autumn was transferred
to the advancing sledges.

Half-a-mile northward from the depôt, a bank of snow, evidently the
accumulation of ages, sloped down from a small hill to the sea. In
one place a great slice of the bank had broken bodily from the mass
above, leaving a deep crevasse. This was bridged over and completely
concealed, except in two places, where the roof had fallen in and
exposed its perpendicular walls of green ice streaked with layers
of earth and sand. The bank was in fact a miniature “discharging
glacier,” the only one yet met with on this coast. A few yards below
the openings, the bridge was strong enough to bear the heavily-laden
sledges of the western parties. Their course lay through the valley
to the left, for though the snow on shore was in many places soft
and deep, a short cut across the isthmus promised better travelling
than the crush of floes round the cape. The prospects of the northern
party were less encouraging. Looking northward from the hill over the
crevasse, an icy chaos spread to the horizon. Mirage every now and
then raised lines and flakes of distant pack into view, but all as
rough and rugged as the ice-floes at our feet.

The detachments separated on 11th April. We of the supporting sledges
bade both good-bye with three cheers, and watched them slowly wind
out of sight amongst the hummocks, the one to the westward, the other
poleward; and as we retraced our steps on the return journey, their
“One, two, three, haul!” came faintly to us across the ice.

[Illustration: MIRAGE, 7TH APRIL, 1875.++]


     News from the “Discovery”—Sickness—Peterson’s Death and
     Burial—The Relief of the Northern Detachment—The most Northern
     Grave—The March to 83° N. Lat—Its Results—The Advance of the
     Season—Anxiety for the Safety of the Western Party—Its Return—Two
     Hundred Miles to the West—Further Efforts Poleward Hopeless.

Meantime, our friends in the “Discovery” had passed the winter in
not a little anxiety about our fate, Their efforts to communicate
in autumn were no more successful than ours, and as spring slipped
by and no news came, the suspense increased. Could it be that the
“Alert” had penetrated beyond the range of communication, or that any
disaster had happened to her? It had been arranged that at the latest
a party would reach the “Discovery” from her before the 1st April,
and now March was nearly gone. News, however, was close at hand. The
dog-sledge, “Clements Markham,” had gallantly fought its way southward
past the steep cliffs of Robeson Channel, and when, on 24th March,
its crew rounded Cape Beachy and left the last of the cliffs behind
them, they knew their troubles were over. Next day they came to a
recent sledge-track, and the dogs at once struck out like hounds on a
fresh scent. The last promontories were soon passed, and as Discovery
Bay opened out, a cheer from the galloping sledge brought a crowd
of figures racing from the ship to meet it. In a moment all were
shaking hands in a storm of questions. Where was the “Alert”?—had she
passed “Navy Opening” or got to “President’s Land”?—and what were the
prospects polewards?

The arrival of the dog-sledge was a signal for the immediate departure
of the “Discovery’s” sledging parties. A dog-sledge was despatched
south-eastward to “Hall’s Rest” to ascertain how far the stores left
by U.S.S. “Polaris” could be utilised. Then two eight-men sledges, the
“Sir Edward Parry” and the “Stephenson,” under Lieutenant Beaumont
and Dr. Coppinger, started for the north coast of Greenland, calling
at Floeberg Beach on their way, and being there joined by Lieutenant
Rawson’s sledge, the “Discovery.” They left the “Alert” on 20th April,
and two smaller sledges helped them across Robeson Channel, and then
left them to follow the rugged coast that we could see stretching
far eastward to Cape Britannia. Another division of sledges, with
Lieutenant Archer and Sub-Lieutenant Conybeare, pushed northward
through Lady Franklin Sound, hoping to find it opening northward like
Robeson Channel, and perhaps affording a smooth and direct route to
the shores of the Polar Sea for next year’s parties.

The “Discovery” had passed a winter little, if at all, less severe
than ours, but in one respect she had been more fortunate. No less
than thirty-three musk oxen were secured in the autumn, and thus a
supply of good fresh meat was issued twice a-week during the winter.
Her routine and amusements were almost identical with our own, but we
heard with surprise of her skating rink, and of dramas performed in
a snow-built theatre on shore, where a temperature many degrees below
zero obliged the actors to appear muffled to several times the size of
ordinary stage heroes.

After a short rest, our dog-sledge returned to the “Alert,” and
reached her just a day too late to give the western and northern
parties news from the “Discovery.” She was then at once despatched to
pioneer a “high-road” to Greenland across the narrowest part of the
channel in advance of the “Discovery’s” detachment. From this time the
arrival and departure of sledge-crews was a matter of daily occurrence.

Numerous supporting sledges, now travelling invariably in the hours
called night, arrived from Greenland or Cape Joseph Henry, filled up
with stores, and left again, each fully occupied with its own work,
and only catching an occasional glimpse of what the others were doing.

It was while all were thus actively employed that sickness—the one
sickness of the Arctic regions—appeared amongst us. No one with
medical experience of the disease can read the sledge journals of
former expeditions without recognising numerous indications of scurvy.
Our parties, more than five hundred miles north of where Franklin
was lost, and in an unexpectedly colder and more lifeless climate,
had no greater safeguards than their predecessors. Accordingly, each
sledge-crew that returned to the ship showed fresh examples of the
exhaustion, swollen and sprained ankles, stiff knees, and bruised
and painful legs, only too familiar to Arctic travellers. Petersen,
already maimed by frost-bite, was its first victim. He died on 14th
May, and on the 19th the few remaining on board carried him to his
grave. A spot on the top of a small hill, half-way between the beach
and the beacon on Cairn Hill, was chosen, because a long heavy slab,
suitable for a tombstone, lay there. The ground was frozen as hard as
rock, and it took three days’ hard work with pick and gunpowder to
dig a grave three feet deep. The slab, afterwards rough-hewn by his
messmates, and an oaken tablet covered with brass, marks where he lies.

[Illustration: PETERSEN’S GRAVE.]

As the season advanced, signs of approaching summer began to appear.
On 19th May, the temperature, for the first time in nine months,
rose above freezing. Icicles formed from the projecting angles of
the floebergs—and it may here be remarked that icicles, though very
common in Arctic pictures, are rare in reality, for they only form
in the brief interval between winter and summer, and last but a week
or ten days. Signs of returning life began to multiply. A sledge
party, returning from Cape Joseph Henry on 21st May, brought in two
ptarmigan, snow white, but for one solitary brown feather on the hen.
On 4th June, one of us found a little brown caterpillar creeping on
some uncovered stones, and saw a flock of birds that looked like
knots. In some places the snow was softening into discoloured patches,
in others it was gradually leaving the ground. Light snow often fell,
but the tiny star-shaped crystals evaporated without wetting the brown
slate of the hill-tops. There was as yet no water in the ravines, but
it was plain that the thaw was at hand. A sledge party that got back
to the ship on 7th June experienced very unsettled weather, and had
to wade through a good deal of soft slushy snow sometimes knee deep.
The travelling season was fast drawing to a close, and our extended
parties had evidently little time left for their return. Just before
tea-time on 8th June, those of us who happened to be on board were
startled by hearing Lieutenant Parr’s voice in the captain’s cabin.
He had come alone, and we soon heard his tidings. The whole northern
detachment was broken down with scurvy, and could not reach the ship
without assistance, and that must be immediate. Five men were already
helpless on the sledges. He had left them near Cape Joseph Henry,
twenty-two hours before, and had marched in the whole way.

There was neither time nor occasion to hear more. Every soul capable
of pulling at once got orders to man relief sledges. A dog-sledge,
laden with immediate necessities, started in advance to cheer them
with the news that help was near.

It was advisable to follow Lieutenant Parr’s footprints, for, once off
the track, the distressed party might easily be passed. He had called
at Snow-house Point, hoping to find lamp and matches that would enable
him to get a drink in the tent pitched there to assist returning
parties, but a wolf had gnawed the tent ropes, and it lay flat on the
snow. Near Castle Floe the tracks crossed and re-crossed in a complete
maze, for there he had all but lost his way in a treacherous fog. A
short halt was necessary to rest and feed the dogs, then we pushed on
as before. At length, twenty-three hours after leaving the ship, we
caught sight of a figure seated beside a loaded sledge, and resting
his head upon his hands; then two others staggered up, helping a third
between them; and a moment after, six men slowly emerged from among
the hummocks dragging up a second sledge. The wind blowing from them
towards us prevented them hearing our first shout, but they soon saw
us, and with a faint cheer limped forward, poor fellows, to meet us.
For a time our hearts were in our throats, and no one could speak
much. Hardly one of them was recognisable. The thin, feeble voices,
the swollen and frost-peeled faces and crippled limbs, made an awful
contrast to the picked body of determined men we had seen march north
only two months before. Four lay packed amongst the tent robes on the
sledges—only four, for one had died soon after Parr left them. He was
a private in the marine artillery, and belonged to the “Victoria”
sledge. Poor Porter—George, as the men called him—had been one of the
strongest and most energetic of the party. They had dragged him on
the sledge thirty-nine days—others had been on longer—and his death
greatly depressed both crews. They buried him deep in the ice
not far from their camp, and had made one day’s march southwards when
we met them. The place was only a mile off, so, when the wants of the
survivors had been attended to, we walked back to see it. Sunlight
streaming through low clouds of drifting snow made it difficult to
see far, but we soon recognised the little mound on the side of a
floe-hill. A rough cross, made of a sledge-batten and a paddle, and
with a text written on it in pencil, stood at the head. They could do
no more for him. Perhaps the sketch reproduced in this book (Plate No.
14) may serve as a humble memento of our shipmate’s grave, the most
northern of any race or of any time.

[Illustration: PLATE XIV.—THE MOST NORTHERN GRAVE, JUNE, 1876.—p. 65.

A little mound of ice on the side of a floe-hill, and a rough cross
made of a sledge batten and a paddle, mark our shipmate’s grave—the
most northern of any race or time.]

The first symptoms of scurvy appeared amongst the men only a few days
after the auxiliary sledges had quitted the party on the northward
march; and before the expenditure of half their provisions obliged
them to turn back, they had three men on the sledges, and half the
detachment crippled with stiff knees. Instead of finding the floes
increase in width as they left the land, they met with nothing worthy
of the name of floe. Their road lay across endless hummocks of crushed
fragments, piled on each other and drifted over with snow. One half
the party worked in advance, slowly hewing a road with their pickaxes.
The remainder toiled after them, hauling up each of the three sledges
in turn. On 12th May they reached their most northern point, north
latitude 83° 20´ 26´´, a little less than four hundred miles from the

Considering the helpless state of the majority, we could not but
think them most fortunate in being able to regain the land before
even the strongest of them lost the strength and courage that carried
their message to the ship. Looking at them as they staggered feebly
along, panting at every breath, we forcibly realised the probable
fate of those large parties from Franklin’s ships that remain to
this day unaccounted for. Since reaching the depôt at Cape Joseph
Henry, the men had had ample supplies of lime juice, and nothing
now remained but to carry them to the ship before the disruption of
the pack. Immediately after falling in with them, the dog-sledge
had been sent back again to carry the news of their whereabouts to
the relief parties led by the Captain, and in a few hours it again
reappeared, carrying a pleasant surprise for the invalids—four Brent
geese, swinging by the necks from the back of the sledge. A camp, to
break the journey to the ship, had been formed at a little bay in
Black Cliffs, where the geese had been shot, and in a few minutes two
of our invalids that could best bear the journey were packed on the
sledge, and whirled off towards it behind the willing dogs. The main
relief parties were soon in sight—two sledges, manned in great part
by officers, Captain Nares himself pulling in the drag-ropes of the
leading sledge. Thus reinforced, three marches carried the whole party
back to the ship. The first instalment reached her by dog-sledge on
12th June. Next day, when Flagstaff Point was rounded, and the yards
and masts of the ship were again in view, the “Marco Polo” sledge went
in front. Her officer and three men had throughout steadily refused to
be treated as invalids, and now, hoisting their sledge pennant and the
Union Jack they had so gallantly carried to the most northern point
ever reached by land or sea, they led the way alongside the ship.

Such results as were obtained by the northern party have been greatly
lost sight of in the painful interest connected with the cause of the
scurvy, a subject which it would be altogether improper to enter upon
here. But the effort to penetrate across the polar pack has proved
other facts besides the necessity for a change in sledge diet. The
attempt was never a hopeful one, but if it had not been made, no one
would have been satisfied that it was impossible. If the men had been
able to march as far every day after the scurvy appeared as they did
before it—in other words, if the scurvy had not broken out—they would
have reached only twenty-seven miles further north. The Pole lay 435
miles from their most advanced depôt. Their total distance marched
was 521 geographical miles, so that under impossibly favourable
circumstances—if they had been able to travel in a perfectly straight
line, pulling a single sledge, and with ice as smooth as a lake, they
would have succeeded in reaching the Pole and half-way back again, a
conclusion which would be neither satisfactory nor instructive. If
a comparatively unbroken ice-cap exists, and if its surface affords
better travelling than its broken margin, it is possible that some
future expedition may yet find it lying nearer Cape Joseph Henry,
and travel over it to 84° or 85°, but certainly not to the Pole. The
broken condition of the floes is inexplicable; perhaps a small island
or bank exists to the northward. Those who choose to think so have two
facts to hang their faith on: a hare track was found thirty miles from
the land, and the depth of the Polar Sea at the furthest camp was only
seventy fathoms.

When the northern party arrived on board the ship, they found her very
different to what they had left her. The thawing snow had been thrown
off her upper deck, and the banking up round her sides had almost
disappeared. A deep pool of not very clean water lay all round the
ship, and in order to get on board it was necessary to cross a bridge
some twenty feet long made of poles and planks. The tide rose and fell
in this pool, showing that the ice in which the ship was imbedded was
actually supported like a bridge between the shore and the floebergs;
in fact, so fixed was the ship that, when the snow banking sank a
little more, the tide might be seen rising and falling against the
torn and ragged planking of her sides. Other pools of water lay on
the floes, especially in the neighbourhood of floebergs. Cracks, too,
were opening in every direction, and though there was as yet no motion
in the pack, it seemed as if it only wanted a strong wind to set it
grinding and roaring as it did in autumn. This state of affairs,
together with the two following even more important considerations,
made us very anxious about Lieutenant Aldrich and his crew. He had a
good store of lime juice laid out in depôt for his return journey,
but, with the experience of the northern party before us, we could
hardly hope that his crew would be free from scurvy when they reached
it. And again, we knew, from the reports of his auxiliary sledge, that
he had penetrated far to the westward across an absolute desert of
deep snow, which, if once softened, would effectually bar his return,
and cut him off from assistance.

In many places round the ship the snow was softening rapidly, so much
so that spots once hard enough to walk on were now totally impassable.
Even snow-shoes, which had proved most useful on the march to the
rescue of the northern party a week before, now balled so much under
the heel, and shovelled up such a weight of slush, that they could not
be used.

On clear days the depôt at Cape Joseph Henry was visible with a good
glass from the top of Cairn Hill. As long as it could be seen we knew
that the party had not reached it, and a most anxious watch was kept
on the little flickering miraged spot. Up to the 18th June no change
occurred, and then Lieutenant May and his indefatigable dogs went
off to try and find some trace of the missing party. On the 25th the
suspense came to an end. It was Sunday morning, and shortly after
service the news came from Cairn Hill that both Aldrich’s sledge and
the dog-sledge were in sight. The two tents pitched on the floes near
Mushroom Point could be made out plainly. They were evidently encamped
for the day as usual. Their homeward march would not begin till
evening, so at 7 p.m. everyone that could left the ship to meet them.
Rounding a low point, we came on them suddenly. The “Challenger” led
the way with colours flying and sledge-sail set. Her officer and the
last man left of his crew—a stalwart, light-hearted teetotaler—hauled
in her drag-belts. One man, unable to walk, lay muffled on the sledge,
the others kept up as best they could, taking turns on the dog-sledge.
They had turned back from a point two hundred and thirty geographical
miles to the westward, and had travelled, there and back, over seven
hundred miles of coast-line, but had found no shore leading poleward.
On their outward journey, as they passed each successive cape,
another and another came into view, till, on rounding a headland in
north latitude 83°.7, they found the shore-line bending off to the
southward. At this spot, since called Cape Columbia, a slaty cliff
sloping downward to the floes formed the most northern point of the
new world. For miles on either side the shore was lifeless, but
there on the slope of the cape, amongst the stones and snow, they
found a little Arctic poppy, with its tiny yellow petals withered
into lines and folds of green. Beyond Cape Columbia it was sometimes
hard to tell where the land ended and the frozen sea began; here and
there, banks of sand and gravel were bare of snow, but when you dug
into them with a pick there was deep ice beneath. On the left lay a
monotonous, snow-clad shore rising into irregular mountain groups,
and on the right, perennial floes, worn into mounds and valleys.
They still followed the shore-line, till, on their forty-fifth day’s
journey, they found themselves further south than the winter quarters
of the ship. Then they came to the limit of their provisions. There
was only enough left to carry them back to their farthest depôt.
And so, recovering in succession each of the little piles of stores
deposited on their outward journey, they retraced their footsteps
along this shore that no other human eyes than theirs had ever looked
on. For a week before the dog-sledge met them their state was even
worse than we had feared. The snow that bore them on their outward
way had softened; every step sank a different depth in it, sometimes
to the knee, sometimes to the waist. The men broke down one by one,
strength and appetite failed them, and every motion of their swollen
and stiffened limbs was an agony. They would haul the sledge five
or six yards forward, and then stop for want of breath. With fifty
miles of bottomless snow before them, it was no wonder some of them
began to think their prospects hopeless, and wanted to be left behind
rather than burden the others with their weight. But the sight of the
dog-sledge put new life in the party. Its four strong men and six
plucky dogs soon got them over their difficulties. Now they were safe
and close to the ship, and knees grew straighter than they had been
for many a day; those who could walk at all required an order to keep
them on the dog-sledge. There was amongst them an ex-member of the
“Bulldog” sledge, who had impressed himself specially on his former
sledge-mates by one peculiar trait—he never could see a joke till
hours after it was made, and then his sudden roars of laughter would
sometimes wake the whole crew from their first sleep. The poor fellow
was now amongst the worst, but he insisted on being helped into the
drag-belts, and staggered alongside the ship in harness. Thus ended
the spring sledging.

For another month hunting parties scoured the land, and two sledges
tried to find an overland route to the “Discovery” in case our ship
should suffer in the disruption of the pack; but so far as the
“Alert” was concerned, the exploring work of the year was over. Of
the “Discovery’s” proceedings we yet knew little. We had heard that
Lady Franklin Sound had proved a mere inlet. No news had reached us
from the North Greenland detachment, but the shore that we could see
from our mast-heads and from the hills of Floeberg Beach was long and
deeply indented, and its extreme limit at Cape Britannia was far to
the east, but little to the north.

The summer disruption of the pack was now evidently close at hand,
and it was therefore necessary to come to an immediate decision
about the future. We had men in both ships who had passed many
winters in “whalers,” and they were unanimously of opinion that the
“Alert” had little if any chance of ever leaving her winter quarters.
Those with knowledge of naval Arctic work thought otherwise. The
“break-up,” when it did come, would probably give us a choice of three
alternatives—namely, to advance, to stay where we were, or to retreat.
As for advancing, in some very favourable season we might perhaps
get the ship about twelve miles further westward and five further
north, but this was the very utmost that could be hoped for; and for
all purposes of northward extension our present position was just as
good. Any advance along the shores of Greenland was utterly out of the
question, for the eastward motion of the pack threw its chief pressure
on that shore. What, then, would another year at Floeberg Beach enable
us to accomplish? Assuming, against all precedent, that our crew
would completely recover and be as strong as ever they were—assuming,
too, that the whole force of the Expedition, guided by the experience
already gained, could be launched northwards over the floes, there
could even then be no hope whatever of adding one degree to our north


Under such circumstances, retreat, if possible before the relief ship
was despatched from England, became a duty. There was one objection
to it that was often joked about, but of course never seriously
entertained—“The public will not be satisfied unless you stay one or
two more winters, or at least lose a ship.” We little knew how very
near we should be to doing both.


On June 14th, the northern detachment, with the relief sledges sent
to its assistance, returned to the ship from its ten weeks’ march
over the polar floes. The detachment had started northward seventeen
strong, but only four remained able to pull in the drag-belts, and of
these one was the officer in command. Frost-peeled and sun-burnt, with
stiffened knees, and faces and clothes stained with stearine smoke,
these four led the way alongside the ship, flying the Union Jack they
had carried a month’s hard march beyond every predecessor.]


     Arctic Summer—Flowers and Butterflies—Feathered Visitors—A
     Strange Shot—Deceptive Game Tracks—The Land Ransacked—No Vestige
     of Man—Nature’s Records—The Raised Beaches—The Break-up—Farewell
     to Floeberg Beach—Running the Gauntlet—Robeson Channel
     Ice-drift—A “Nip”—Walled in by Floebergs—Escape—Reunion with the

Summer at Floeberg Beach was an affair of weeks, almost of days. The
turning-point came silently and quickly—not in quite the demonstrative
fashion some of us expected, with an abrupt bursting forth of ravines
and a general rush of torrents to the sea, but still suddenly.
Three-fourths of the snow disappeared as if by magic, and the dark
patches of bare land grew broader and broader every day. In some
places the earth passed at once from frozen rock to dust; in others
marshy spots formed, and there the whole ground was cut up into
the hexagonal bosses that form a very striking feature in Arctic
foregrounds. A view of Floeberg Beach from Cape Rawson (Plate No. 4),
sketched on 18th July, gives an idea of how the land looked in summer.
Even near the shores it is never altogether free from snow. Permanent
drifts lie in the hollows, and from the crests of the cliffs at Cape
Rawson a great bank several hundred feet in height sloped downward
to the “mud flats” below. Trickling streams cut their way vertically
down through the snow or flow in tunnels under it, then wind across
the marshy flats, and end in some of the ravines that intersect
the land like Lancashire “cloughs.” For great part of the year the
ravines are merely more or less deep grooves in the monotonous
undulating whiteness, but in summer they hold brown foaming torrents
rushing between steep undermined banks of snow, quite unfordable if
deeper than the knee. These are the rivers of the country, but they
cannot run out to sea, like ordinary streams; the grounded pack-edge
prevents them; so they expend much of their energy in destroying the
green one-season’s ice, filling the lagoon between barrier bergs and
beach. The snow was no sooner off the land than the flowers were in
bloom—not very gorgeous specimens certainly, but still flowers, and
with more than their share of tender sentiment, as might be seen
by many bright little nosegays gathered for our invalids by the
rough hands of messmates. First came close clumps of magenta-tinted
saxifrage, with scarcely a trace of a leaf, and fading as fast as it
bloomed; then tiny yellow _Drabas_, and white coltsfoot, and woolly
willow catkins; and later, when the sorrel leaves, each as large
as a sixpence, began to get red and tasteless, the yellow poppies
appeared, and with them the delicately-tinted strawberry-like flowers
of _Dryas octopetala_. Plants were of course few and far between—for
example, four men searching all day could just gather one plateful
of the valuable sorrel. All, too, were on the most Liliputian scale,
seldom more than an inch above ground, but with immensely long roots.
Sometimes, as we sat sketching or picking sorrel, a mosquito or two
would present themselves, but they did not bite like their brethren
of the Greenland settlements. A small sort of dragon-fly was not
uncommon near pools, and now and then a small brown butterfly, an
_Argynnus_, or, more rarely, a yellow _Colias_, would flit by, looking
somewhat incongruous amongst the rocks and snow. Birds soon became
comparatively plenty; graceful grey tern fluttered about over cracks
in the floes, and dipped into the pools for the little shrimps that
came to the surface; flocks of knots, exceedingly wild and quick of
wing, were commonly seen wading about in marshy places. A pair of
snowy owls reared a brood on the cliffs of the north ravine. The
parents supplied an excellent dish, and the young ones were made pets
of. One of them, called “Mordecai” on account of his Asian profile,
became a great favourite in consequence of his quaintly gluttonous
habits. A few king-duck and Brent geese chose Grant Land as a safe
nursery for their coming broods. Stringent game laws were enacted, in
order that they might not be frightened away before they had made up
their minds on the subject. We altogether underrated the sagacity of
these creatures. Birds accustomed to winter perhaps on our own shores
would of course be familiar with man, but we hoped they might take us
for Eskimo armed with bows and arrows, and we were not at all prepared
for their accurate knowledge of the range of Eley wire cartridge in
our Guy and Moncrieff “central fires.” All were not so well informed,
however. One day, an officer wandering about the “mud flats” was
brought to a standstill by the extreme stickiness of the ground, and
was endeavouring to extract his boot from a muddy place, where it
had stuck fast, when a pair of geese, impelled by most convenient
curiosity, flew round him once or twice, and lit within a hundred
yards, then, stretching out their necks straight in front, walked
deliberately up till there was less risk of missing than of blowing
them to fragments. These birds no doubt come north in search of safety
for themselves and their broods during the nursing season, for the
moulting of both parents, just before the young are able to fly,
leaves them peculiarly defenceless. Later on, when the Expedition was
on its way southward, two of our sportsmen encountered a large flock
thus deprived of their pinions, and secured no less than seventy birds
in fourteen shots.

_A propos_ of shooting, the following curiously improbable personal
incident is perhaps worth narrating:—One evening, shortly before the
ship broke out of winter quarters, I took my rifle and went shoreward
to try and find a hare, but, after a long search, was returning
unsuccessful, when I happened to discover a king-duck swimming about
in a small lake; there was little chance of hitting her, but she would
at any rate give an excuse for a shot. After trying for twenty minutes
to get within moderate range, it was plain that there was nothing for
it but to walk straight up through the crunching snow; but the bird’s
patience was exhausted, and she rose on the wing a good hundred yards
off. In sheer annoyance and chagrin I fired, when, most unexpectedly,
out flew the feathers and down fell the duck. On going to pick her up,
marvelling greatly at the Munchausen-like luck of the shot, and hoping
that the hole was not through the best part of the bird, what was
my amazement to discover that she was not only alive, but perfectly
unhurt. Turn her over how I would, there was not a speck of blood on
the feathers, or a scratch on any part of the body. At last the secret
was discovered; the bullet had clipped the pinions off one wing, and
the fall had stunned the bird. She afterwards lived some time in
captivity in a hen-coop, and laid two eggs.

We had not spent many days roaming over our newly uncovered lands,
before we began to suspect that tracks of game were, in our part
of the Arctic regions at any rate, extremely misleading. On the
way northward, whenever the ship came to a standstill amongst the
floes, men and officers often made hurried visits to the shore, and
invariably came off with the stereotyped report that “traces of game
were numerous and recent.” We found so many traces and so little
game that the phrase acquired an inverted meaning, and passed into a
proverb, but the discrepancy remained unaccounted for. At Floeberg
Beach tracks of game were certainly numerous enough. The hard frozen
mud at the margins of every pool showed footprints of birds, often
so sharp and distinct that “rubbings” with pencil and paper were
easily made of them, and sometimes in relief where dust had filled
the impression and ice evaporation afterwards lowered the mould. In
some places tracks of musk oxen were abundant, and of every size,
from the little round footprints of calves to the broad hoof-marks of
full-grown animals; but there was absolutely no way of telling when
or in what numbers the game had been there. Once frozen, a footprint
may last indefinitely, especially if protected by snow; and, for aught
we could prove to the contrary, some of the tracks may have been as
old as the celebrated mammoth frozen up in the Siberian mud. On 5th
July, however, those who contended that the tracks were practically
fossil were confounded by the appearance of three musk oxen on a
hill-top beyond the north ravine. Their discoverer instantly sent off
news to the ship, and, very judiciously, waited patiently till the
arrival of assistance rendered their escape impossible. A few mornings
afterwards, a fine bull walked innocently down to the beach near the
ship, and was forthwith slaughtered. Being a good specimen, and close
at hand, he was transferred to the naturalist, and he now represents
his species in the British Museum.

All through the earlier weeks of July the pack gave warnings of
approaching disruption. Decided motion first occurred on 16th, and
on 21st the old familiar sound of “breaking plates” came from the
offing, and with a loud crack the ship suddenly righted herself from
the heel towards shore, which had slowly increased during the winter.
Nevertheless, as long as it remained calm no important movement was
likely to occur, except at high tide. We were, therefore, still able
to extend our hunting expeditions to several days from the ship. It
was not the search for game only, exciting as it was, that made these
late trips interesting. Our hunters enjoyed a privilege that has
rarely fallen to the lot of any discoverers in either past or recent
times—they traversed a shore never before trodden by the foot of man.
Everywhere south of the steep cliffs of Robeson Channel some vestiges
of humanity were discoverable; a broken sledge-runner, a chipped
flint, or a musk ox bone broken to extract the marrow, told us that
wandering Eskimo had been before us; but from the cliffs northward
all traces ceased—no savage hunter had ever disturbed the ice-borne
boulders of Floeberg Beach to fasten down his tent of skins, or form a
rough hearth for his travelling camp, and no sledges but our own were
ever launched towards the icy horizon beyond—

    “We were the first that ever burst
      Into that silent sea.”

Yet though there was no trace of man or his doings, Nature had left
deeply significant records of her own to tell the history of the
land. The neighbourhood of the ship was rich in such evidences. No
one could walk over the broad “mud flats” half-a-mile inland from the
ship without being convinced that the land had risen from the sea at,
geologically speaking, no very distant period. Shells similar to those
still living in the sea two hundred feet below lay strewn in abundance
on the fine sand. Here a pair of valves, enormously thickened to bear
the crush of ice, there a whole bed of slighter shells, still covered
with their brown filmy skins, and connected by their gristly hinges.
The mud itself was so salty, that where it dried in the sun a white
briny coat formed on its surface. Stems and roots of laver sea-weeds
were sometimes picked up, but the most interesting and eloquent
witnesses of the past were the splinters and logs of drift-wood that
lay imbedded in the mud, or scattered along the crests of these raised
beaches. The wood was easily recognised by the microscope as the wood
of pine trees, and though probably very many centuries old, was often
so apparently fresh as to smell woody when cut. It was not for us to
conjecture when or where that wood had grown, or how it had drifted to
its present elevated site; but we could not help thinking that it told
of a time when the shores, though perhaps far more deeply laden with
glaciers, were washed by a less ice-bound sea.

At one o’clock in the morning of 23rd July, the pack broke from the
shore under the influence of a strong wind, and left pools of water
outside our barrier bergs, but the ice still crushed close on Cape
Rawson, and when the wind lessened, all closed in. Again, on the
evening of 26th a space of water formed outside the bergs, and in
order to be ready when an opportunity for a rush southward should
offer, we set about breaking a channel through the floes between the
ship and the nearest gap in the wall of grounded bergs. The ice was
far too thick for even our longest and heaviest ice-saws, but with
the aid of three hundred pounds of gunpowder, judiciously disposed
in torpedoes made of tin cans and lime-juice jars, it was shattered,
piece by piece, and as each mass broke off and floated free, it was
pushed out to seaward by the united efforts of the whole crew wielding
levers and ice-poles.

While we lay waiting for a path southward to open, we could not but
look forward to the ordeal before us with a good deal of anxiety. Once
round Cape Rawson, there would be no turning back. Thirty miles of
shelterless cliff must be passed before we reached Lincoln Bay, and
for the whole of that distance the ship would have to run the gauntlet
through a mere fissure between a perpendicular wall of ice-foot, and a
moving, irresistible mass of floe eighty feet and more in thickness.
If fortune did not favour us, the destruction of the ship was certain,
and every preparation was made to meet such an eventuality. Provisions
and sledges were piled on deck ready to launch on the floes, and
notes and sketches and carefully-selected specimens were packed into
the smallest possible bundles, so that they could be pushed hastily
into a pocket if it should be necessary to desert the ship. Early
on the morning of 31st, an unusual sound awoke us; a strong breeze
whistled and sung in the rigging overhead, and a low vibration, like
the bass notes of an organ, filled the ship. It came from our heating
boilers—steam was being got up. On deck one glance round told us that
the time had come. A long black canal of water skirted the coast as
far as we could see towards Cape Rawson, and the rush through it must
be made now or never. Screw and rudder were already down in their
places, and the sails “bent,” ready to be loosed. A few strong charges
of gunpowder shook the ship from her icy bed. The order “full speed
ahead” was given. The screw flung a stream of foaming water over the
ice, and the ship moved slowly forward into the channel blasted for
her. Then, as she swung round under steam and sail through the narrow
portal in the wall of bergs, we caught our last glimpse of Floeberg
Beach. Shadows of clouds chased each other down over the brown slopes.
The headstone of Petersen’s grave stood out like a solitary human
figure, and a piece of canvas fluttered on a pole over “the doctor’s
garden,” where mustard and cress were just beginning to appear above
ground. Our tall cairn on top of the hill remained in sight for a few
minutes longer, then the bend of the coast shut it from view. At full
speed we flew past the well-known headlands so often painfully rounded
with tired crew and heavy sledge, past the ice-rounded rocks of Cape
Rawson, the tower-like buttresses of Half-way Cliffs, and the dark
precipices of Black Cape; but before we got to Cape Union our career
was cut short—the angle of a floe lay right across our narrow path,
and we had to wait in anxious inactivity till the next tide moved it
off and let us slip past. All that night and next morning, the floes,
closing in behind us, literally hunted us along the coast from one
little hollow of the ice-foot to another. Over and over again the ship
had to be pushed and wriggled through desperately narrow gaps to avoid
the closing floes behind her. Several times there was so little space
to pass that our boats, hoisted high up at the davits, scraped along
the perpendicular wall of ice-foot. The accompanying etching is from a
sketch made near midnight on 2nd August, looking back along our track,
but no sketch can convey an idea of the chief feature of the scene—the
majestic and irresistible motion of the ice-fields.


Two days later, when we lay walled in by bergs in “Shift Rudder Bay,”
we could look back past Cape Beechey into the strait from which we had
escaped, and watch the tight pack of ice islands streaming south from
Robeson Channel into Hall’s Sea, without the distracting influence
of immediate danger, and we one and all came to the conclusion that,
as an impressive example of magnificent and imposing force, no other
natural phenomena could equal it. Our little vessel went very near
leaving her bones on the shores of this same bay. When we reached it,
the ice was closing in. A line of grounded bergs lay along the beach,
with a gap in it just large enough to admit the ship. Into this we
thrust her, feeling thankful for so good and opportune a shelter, but
unfortunately the gateway of our castle had no portcullis to close
behind us, the ice followed us in, and, foot by foot, forced the ship
up on the ice-foot, heeling her over and damaging her rudder. At four
in the morning the pressure suddenly relaxed, and the ship fell two
feet, but remained imprisoned. For days not a patch of water was to be
seen, though the whole pack moved south with one tide and halted with
the next. On 8th August it blew a gale, and the ice swept past with
increased speed. One large, dome-shaped fragment of polar floe crushed
through our gateway, and though it grounded long before getting near
the ship, the pressure behind was so enormous that it continued to
advance, shovelling round lumps of ice as big as a house on either
side of it, and rising out of the water as it did so, till it came
against the side of the ship. Now we were nipped in earnest. First
a rattle on deck, exactly like a hail-storm overhead, as the pitch
cracked and flew out of the seams; then a crunch as the ship yielded,
then an interval, and then another horrible vibrating crunch—for
downright unpleasantness, not even the tear of a shot through a ship’s
timbers can compare with such a sound—but the decks did not buckle
up under our feet, and the sides did not collapse. The “Alert” was
evidently not fated to be destroyed in that way. Nevertheless, when
the crush ceased, her position was far from comfortable; she was
raised four feet by the stern and completely imprisoned in a citadel
of bergs, apparently as hopelessly walled in as she well could be.
There might be oceans of water outside, but how was she to get out?
One chance only remained. It might be possible to make our jailor
berg float by digging off the whole top of it; so all hands set to
work, and for three days all that gunpowder, pick, and shovel could do
was done. Time was everything, for the tide fell lower every day. At
last our enemy gave up the fight, floated up, turned partly over, and
sailed out through the gate, considerably smaller than when he came
in. Victory came just in time; the ice opened before us across the bay
and down the coast. Ice navigation is never very rapid work, every
mile has to be fought for. We were only twenty-five miles from the
“Discovery,” but it took two days of sleepless activity to accomplish
that distance, and it was late on the evening of the 11th when we
rounded Distant Cape and caught sight of our sister ship.

[Illustration: ESKIMO BIRD-SHELTER.]


     Serious News—The North Greenland Detachments—The Missing
     Sledge-crews—Drifting with the Polar Pack—A Forced March of
     Thirty-two Hours—“Chatel’s Grotto” and the “Coal Mine”—Climate
     Past and Present—The Return Southward—A Pool in Kennedy
     Channel—Race against Winter—New Ice—Out Fires—The North Water at
     Last—The “Pandora’s” Depôt—News from Home—Conclusion.

There were no joyful demonstrations when the “Alert” steamed across
Discovery Harbour and anchored beside her consort. Congratulations
were misplaced in the face of the news which had reached us while we
yet lay imprisoned at Shift Rudder Bay—news so serious that we could
think or speak of little else. The last of the “Discovery’s” sledge
parties had not returned.

Leaving their ship on the 6th of April, 1876, and re-provisioning
their sledges from the “Alert” on the 20th, her parties had crossed
over Robeson Channel to the south-eastward, and reached the Greenland
coast at a point twelve miles north of the spot where Hall’s cairn and
record marked the most northern position attained by the sledges of
the American Expedition. The “Discovery’s” crews may therefore be said
to have begun their sledging where their gallant predecessors left
off. The shore led to the north-east, and was piled with ice. Their
path lay along banks of drifted snow, so steep that it was necessary
to dig a groove for the landward runner of the sledge, to prevent it
slipping down into the trenches and moats cut by the wind round the
piles of sea-ice. These trenches were sometimes forty feet deep. When
they were thirty-four days out from their ship, they arrived at the
end of the continuous land, and here their last supporting sledge
turned back, and left Lieutenant Beaumont’s sledge, the “Sir Edward
Parry,” to proceed alone. Islands with steep cliffs lay before them,
separated by broad fiords. Looked at from the cliffs above them, the
fiords promised good travelling, for inside the line of heavy polar
floes their surface was one level sheet of snow. But, unfortunately,
the treacherous snow was soft. Sledge and men sank deep at every step.
Pulling out each foot was like pulling off a boot, and sometimes the
men preferred to creep on hands and knees rather than attempt to walk.
Their ankles swelled and knees became stiff. Not a vestige of game of
any sort cheered their journey. On their forty-fifth day out they had
crossed the third and broadest of the fiords, and their waning stock
of provisions warned them to return. For many days fog and constant
snow closed in their prospect, but from a mountain nearly four
thousand feet high they got a view of Cape Britannia and the islands
about it far to the north-east, nearly in north latitude 83°.

The disorder which had weakened us, did not spare them. On their
outward journey James Hand had been taken ill, and sent back with the
supporting sledge. Poor fellow! he only lived to reach Polaris Bay.
On the twelfth day of the homeward march a seaman named Paul fell
helpless in the snow, and had to be carried on the sledge. Four days
afterwards another took the place beside him. Soon every day added to
the number of the sick, and when the party was yet forty miles from
the depôt at Polaris Bay, but two, one of whom was the officer, were
left to pull the others on, one by one. The advance of the season
increased the misery of their position. Thawing snow fell constantly
and soaked their clothes, a storm blew down their tent, and they could
only spread the canvas over their sick sledge-mates and crouch under
the edge, wet through and sleepless, for days at a time. At this
stage, most opportune and unexpected relief reached them.

The auxiliary and Petermann Fiord parties camped at Polaris Bay
fortunately divined their condition, and two officers, with Hans the
Eskimo, took a dog-sledge northward to meet them. With this aid the
invalids were soon carried into camp, but help came too late for
one of them; a few hours after reaching camp, Charles Paul was laid
beside his messmate, not far from the grave of Captain Hall of the
“Polaris.” The tents were pitched near a small wooden hut left by the
Americans. Its roof had been disturbed by the wind, but the stores
of ham, molasses, lime-juice, biscuit, and pemmican packed inside
were serviceable, in spite of the five years they had lain there. A
mattress found there made a luxurious bed for one of the invalids, and
the members of the little colony made themselves as comfortable as
circumstances would permit, while they waited for the sick to recover
sufficiently to travel across to their ship, Hans meantime keeping
them well supplied with seal meat. The dog-sledge carried news of
their state across, and the assistance which arrived soon afterwards
enabled a first detachment to leave on 29th July and reach the
“Discovery” without difficulty.

The party remaining behind consisted of Lieutenant Beaumont, Dr.
Coppinger, and seven men. The invalids amongst them were rapidly
gaining strength; another week, if the floes would only last so long,
would leave them strong enough to attempt the march, and it was
arranged that they would push across the pack on the 4th of August at
the latest.

This was the last that was known of the party.

It was nine in the evening of the 11th when the “Alert” steamed into
Discovery Harbour, and up to that date nothing had been seen of
the missing men. The recent storms and the break-up of the ice had
made an awful change in their prospects. The floes, scored with the
sledge-tracks of twenty-one journeys, had moved off to the south, and
a tumbling, heaving mass of polar pack now filled the strait from
shore to shore.

Look-out parties had already been despatched to the mountain-tops
overlooking the strait, and we anxiously watched for the flag that
would announce the discovery of the sledge-crews. With a vivid
recollection of the Robeson Channel drift before us, we could not
calmly contemplate the possibility that they had already started and
been swept off south in the breaking-up pack. In such a case sudden
destruction would be a merciful fate. There was still hope that they
had not yet left the shore, and that if one of the ships could be
forced across they might be rescued. Accordingly the “Alert” was got
ready. Such of her men as were not yet strong enough for the roughest
work were transferred to the “Discovery,” none but working hands were
kept on board, and all our little valuables—journals, specimens, and
so forth—were handed over to safe keeping.

On the night of the 12th and morning of the 13th the attempt was made,
but the full steam power of the ship was utterly helpless against the
ponderous ice. It was simply impossible to bore even one half-mile
into a pack of such proportions, and we were obliged to turn back and
wait for a chance opening. Some hours before we made this attempt,
a messenger had come down the hill with a report that the two tents
had been made out with the telescope still pitched on the shore of
Thank God Harbour, Polaris Bay. The signalman even thought he could
distinguish figures passing to and fro between them, but the wish was
father to the thought: we afterwards learnt that neither tents nor men
were there; the party had really left that shore five days earlier,
and embarked on the most extraordinary journey of this, or indeed of
any other expedition.

They had made every preparation to leave on Friday, 4th August, but
when that day came, the weather suddenly changed, and storms of snow
and wind made travelling impossible. It blew hard all that night, and
Saturday morning brought no change; everything beyond a few yards from
the tents was hidden in drifting mists of fog and snow. Thus for four
days they lay weatherbound. At length, on the morning of the 8th, the
sun shone through the clouds, and the wind lessened, till towards
evening it fell quite calm. But as the fog and mist cleared away and
let them see farther and farther across the channel, they saw that all
was changed. Miles of water spread between them and the white line of
pack that lay under the edge of the fog.

This was well, for water is easier to travel over than ice. Their
boat was soon launched and packed with necessary stores, and by tying
empty spirit tins to the sledge they converted it into a raft and
towed it behind. They had to be very careful, for the gunwale of
their heavily-laden boat was only three inches out of water. Fortune
favoured them, several good leads of open water were found amongst the
floes, and by half-past two o’clock next afternoon they had pulled
their boat and sledge through water-spaces and over floes to within
ten miles of the opposite shore, then, tired with the long journey,
and well satisfied with the progress made, they camped on a broad
piece of old floe. The men were soon in their bags and asleep, but
their leader had noticed a slight change in the appearance of the
coast, and an unpleasant suspicion kept him wakeful. Once and again
he crept out of the tent to have another look at the familiar bays
and headlands. There was soon no doubt about it, the outline _was_
changed, and they were further off. While they slept, the floe was
fast carrying them back the way they had come. They must instantly
start again, and by hard marching make up for the loss. They were
soon under way, and all night toiled on over one floe after another,
through pools and lanes of water, across spaces of broken rubble,
and pasty bottomless sloughs of neither ice nor water. For fourteen
hours they held out, then the men could do no more, rest and food were
absolute necessities, but, on camping, they found to their dismay
that the drift had been faster than their march, and they were four
miles further off than when they started. Eleven hours slipped by in
sorely needed but sorely begrudged rest, and when they next started
the full danger of their situation was plain to all. They could no
longer see into Lady Franklin Sound. The headlands of Cape Lieber had
already hidden Miller Island, and were fast closing past Discovery
Bay and Bellot Island. They were gliding helplessly into Kennedy
Channel, and their provisions were already far spent. On holding a
short consultation, it was resolved to relinquish any attempt to
outmarch the drift of the pack, and that the only chance of safety lay
in making a push across the drift for the nearest point of land, and
never stopping till they reached it.

It was eight in the evening when they once more moved forward on this
final effort, and for nine hours they made fair progress, but then a
change came, a strong wind sprang up against them and hurried the pack
still faster away from shore. Presently the floes, forced by both wind
and tide, began to move with alarming violence, wheeling and turning
in a most perplexing way, so that the men over and over again crossed
their own track. They were now sixteen hours on the march, and every
hour the land looked more distant, but they still fought on, with
every thought concentrated on hurrying on at full speed. If they had
stopped to consider it, there was not at this time the faintest human
possibility of reaching the land against the ice-drift. But their
misfortunes had reached a climax; at one in the afternoon of the 11th
the wind veered to the opposite direction, and came on to blow hard.
The wheeling and tossing of the floes greatly increased, but the fatal
drift was checked. Providence had given them this chance, and they
one and all determined to make the most of it, so, redoubling every
effort, they pushed on for the land. Some fell asleep as they pulled
in the drag-belts, and when they reached the edge of the pack and
launched their boat, others slept at the oars. But finally, at seven
in the morning of the 12th of August, land was reached, and they flung
themselves down on the beach at Cape Lieber after an unprecedented
march of thirty-two consecutive hours. When they had rested at this
point, they had but to cross Lady Franklin Strait to reach the ships.
The distance was about twelve miles, and the floes comparatively
stationary. One march brought them more than half-way over, and just
as they began the second, shouts and cheers coming to them across the
ice heralded the arrival of a strong party from the “Alert.” They had
been seen by our look-outs, and were all soon on board, and never were
guests more welcome. Next day, 15th August, they reached their own
ship, after an absence of no less than 130 days.

Both ships were now free to voyage southward as soon as the ice would
let them leave Discovery Harbour. Bellot Island formed a sort of
natural breakwater, and kept the floes outside, so that the bay all
round the ships was often almost clear of ice, but beyond the island
the pack showed little disposition to let us through. In Lady Franklin
Strait, promising-looking lines of water wound amongst the floes in
many directions, but they were only ⏟ shaped cracks thawed wide at
the surface, and mere fissures six or eight feet under water. Looked
down on from the cliffs of the island, they marbled the white floes
with veins of green, very different from the inky blackness of real
leads. But that the rapid approach of winter made escape less likely
every day, we were well content to wait our opportunity, for there
were many places in the neighbourhood of the “Discovery’s” winter
quarters that we of the “Alert” were anxious to see. First amongst
these was the coal seam discovered by her naturalist, Mr. Hart. This
was only about four miles off amongst the hills to the north, but,
unfortunately, in such an inaccessible position that little more than
a few pounds weight of the fuel could be brought down to the ship.
Coal so far north was such a curiosity, and the fossils found near it
told such a strange story, that everyone wanted specimens, and there
was no difficulty in getting up a strong party to visit the “mine.” So
one morning a large boat-load of eager geologists, armed with picks
and hammers, crossed the mouth of the harbour. Like the “breakwater”
of Bellot Island, the spot where we landed bore traces of a visit from
Eskimo at some very far-off time. A collection of stones marked by
fire, splinters of burnt drift-wood and fragments of bones broken to
get the marrow out, told plainly of some wandering hunter’s camp-fire.
Half-a-mile further on, one of our party picked up a fragment of a
human thigh-bone, brown and weather-worn and gnawed by foxes. Strange
to say, we could not find any other part of the skeleton.

Striking inland, we passed through a number of valleys with steep
rocky walls and a flat floor between, like railway-cuttings on a large
scale, and at length reached a little stream winding eastward towards
the channel. Following it down a short distance, we found it entering
a gorge, with mountains a thousand feet high on either side. Soon the
only way to advance was by wading amongst the boulders in the bed of
the stream, with overhanging walls of black rock on either side, so
close that we could almost touch both with outspread hands. No wonder
the “Discovery’s” autumn sledge-crews had found this a rough road.
Finally, the ravine ended in a very unexpected manner. A vast bank of
snow and ice sloped across from mountain to mountain, and the stream
disappeared under it and into an icy cave. We followed the stream,
and found ourselves in Chatel’s Grotto, so called after a blue-jacket
in the autumn sledge-party that had pronounced it a most comfortable
camping-place. The roof was of white ice, streaked with veins of
sand, and groined into all sorts of fantastic shapes. An opening
overhead let in some rays of light through festoons of icicles as
thick as a man’s body. On either side curious sloping shelves of ice
projected out over the stream. It was decidedly a picturesque spot,
and if the water in which we stood had not been so intensely cold, we
might have taken longer time over our sketch. Here we were close to
the coal-seam, but the worst part of the road was yet to come. The
stream passed out of the far end of the grotto through a dark tunnel,
so low that we had to stoop to avoid knocking our heads against the
ice of the roof, and so dark that we were obliged to feel our way
along by the sides, stumbling and floundering amongst the pools and
boulders. Presently, however, light shone through at the other end,
and we emerged into a continuation of the gorge. A bend of the stream
brought us to the spot we sought. Right and left rose two great
mountain slopes, with the rivulet running between them. The lower
twenty or thirty feet of the right bank was a perpendicular wall of
coal, streaked with yellow sulphurous lines. The surface had become
brittle by exposure to the weather, but a few blows of a pick revealed
a depth of shining black fuel, to all appearance as good as any we had
on board.

[Illustration: CHATEL’S GROTTO.]

Everyone was differently impressed by the great store of mineral
wealth that lay before us. “What a pity we cannot get up a company and
issue shares!” said one. “How comfortably we might winter alongside
of this!” thought another; and a third, making a free use of the
scientific imagination, pictured to himself the conditions which
must have existed when this coal was waving forest, and wondered how
the trees managed to live through the long darkness of winter. That
they did live and flourish on this spot there was abundant proof.
Mere drift-wood has before now been mistaken for evidence of Arctic
vegetation, but here there could be no such error. It was only
necessary to cross the stream a little lower down, and split open the
soft, dark slates of the opposite cliff, to find the leaves of ancient
forests as perfect as when they fluttered down from the stems that
bore them. The commonest were those of a cone-bearing tree allied to
the great Wellingtonias of Western America, but leaves like aspen
and poplar were not unfrequent. How different the climate must have
been when these trees grew! Now, there is no forest within a thousand
miles, and in the whole land the nearest approach to a tree is the
dwarf willow, not three inches high, sheltering its tiny stem in the
crevices amongst the stones.

Though the discovery of this coal-bed was most important in a
scientific point of view, it was of no practical use to us. If any
other expedition ever passes through Smith’s Sound, we may be sure it
will not be forgotten. There it remains, an inexhaustible reservoir of
force, ready for anyone who can invent a new method of travelling to
the Pole.

While our two ships lay waiting for a chance of escape from Discovery
Bay, we began to be impressed with the fact that it was one thing to
decide on the return of an expedition from a point so far north, and
quite another to accomplish it without a second winter. Even yet the
ships were farther north than any of their predecessors had wintered.
Where many a good ship had failed, ours might not succeed. We were yet
one hundred and ninety miles north of where Kane was at last compelled
to abandon his ship. The “Polaris,” a steamer at least as well fitted
for ice-work as either of our ships, left her ribs and timbers more
than two hundred miles to the south. British expeditions entangled in
the ice of the Parry Group had more than latitude to contend with,
but the “Resolute” was abandoned 280, the “Investigator” 450, and
the “Erebus” and “Terror” 700 miles to the south of our position.
The strong set through Smith’s Sound was greatly in our favour, but
nevertheless two hundred miles of ice-choked channel lay between us
and the head of Baffin’s Sea, and beyond it Melville Bay would still
separate us from the most northern Danish settlement. Young ice was
already forming where the floes were still, and a little more delay
would compel us to pass an objectless, inactive winter where we were,
and trust to next year for a better chance of return. No one in either
of our ships had at this time a doubt of our success, but nevertheless
such considerations had their weight. There was accordingly a general
feeling of relief on board when, on the evening of 18th August, the
officer of the watch reported that Captain Nares, who had as usual
climbed to the top of the island, was holding out both his arms as
a signal to get up steam in both boilers. The gate of pack to the
southward showed some signs of opening, and we might get through by
pushing amongst the broken ice between the floes. But the inertia of
the fragments was too much for the ships even charging at full speed,
and we were forced back to the shelter of the island with the second
rudder badly damaged.

DISTANCE, AUGUST 20, 1876.—p. 81.

As the ships returned southward, they steamed through a large
“polynia,” or water-space, in Kennedy Channel. It was on a still
night, late in August, and the ice-locked sea was calm enough to be
the veritable “Peace Pool.” A few last fragments of polar floe lay
here and there in the water, strangely reflected, and a dovekie swam
beside one of them. Far away to the east, between Franklin and Crozier
Islands, Cape Constitution rose above a faint line of pack. It was
Kane’s farthest point. From its base, Morton, looking on another such
polynia, had naturally enough reported an open Polar Sea. The sea was
open now as far southward as could be seen from the crow’s nest, and
yet both ships were in difficulties before morning, and a hundred
miles of Smith’s Sound pack still separated them from the North Water
and from home.]

Better fortune awaited the next effort, and on the morning of the
20th the ships fought slowly across Lady Franklin Strait. Cape Baird
and Cape Leiber were passed in comparatively open water, then the ice
became less and less, and as midnight approached we were astonished to
find ourselves nearly sixty miles on the homeward journey, and still
steaming full speed. The scene we passed through just at this time
was one not easily forgotten. Under the cold yellow light of northern
afterglow, Kennedy Channel lay open as far as we could see, a sheet of
mirror-like water in that absolute calm peculiar to ice-locked seas.
There was some low mist at the other side of the channel, probably
floating over pack; through it we could distinguish the islands named
after Franklin and Crozier, and between them rose Cape Constitution,
the bold headland from which Morton had looked upon Kane’s open Polar
Sea (Plate No. 16). As we stood on deck attempting to preserve some
record of the tender tints of sea and sky in water-colour, a last
fragment of heavy pack floated by, and the only dovekie we had seen
for many a day swam beside it.

“Open water as far as the eye can reach” really means nothing more
than that there are no ice-fields within three or four miles, and yet
on that limited fact alone voyagers have more than once reported that
they might have sailed to the Pole or near it. The open sea off Cape
Constitution was a mere pool. Before morning both ships were arrested
in dense pack, and forced to retreat for shelter to a narrow inlet
with steep shelving sides. We were just moored to some pieces of
grounded ice, and were congratulating ourselves on the security of our
refuge, when a fragment of drifting floe caught against the “Alert”
and pushed her on shore under a steep ice-foot at the very top of high
tide. As the water fell, her bows were left high and dry on the beach,
so that a man might have crept under the front of her keel, and she
fell over so much on her side that a total capsize down the sloping
beach seemed not impossible; but when the tide rose again she righted,
and the whole crew, straining vigorously on the capstan, dragged her
off from her perilous position.

From this point southward to the entrance of Smith’s Sound the return
of the Expedition was one monotonous struggle with the ice. Day
after day the ships pushed onward between the floes and the shore in
whatever openings the changing tide made for them, sheltering behind
every projection of the coast. In the far north there are very few,
if any, true icebergs, but opposite the Humboldt Glacier we again
encountered them, and often found a refuge from the pack amongst
groups grounded near shore.

Our progress southward was a race against rapidly approaching winter.
Snow fell in large quantities, and lay in thick paste on the water in
cracks and pools. One by one the headlands passed on our northward
voyage were rounded, and day by day new ice grew thicker and our stock
of fuel dwindled. There several attempts were made to force a way past
Cape Hawkes, and when we did succeed, the bay beyond was found full of
new ice, so thick that the whole power of our engines could not push
through. It cracked here and there before the ships, but soon brought
both to a standstill, and the order was given to put out the fires.

The bay in which we thus found ourselves arrested was afterwards
called after Professor Allman. It is an indent in the western
coast-line of Kane’s Sea, immediately north of Hayes Sound. It is five
miles wide, and at its head we could see a large glacier pouring in
two streams round a snow-covered hill, and fronting the bay in a line
of icy cliff. Snow lay deep on the mountains on either side, and it
still snowed constantly; decks and rigging were covered; a more wintry
prospect could hardly be conceived. It was already beginning to grow
dark in the evenings, and lamps and candles were again in use between
decks. But for a certain disappointment in being checked when we had
made up our minds to return, few on board our ships were unwilling
to face another winter. Here, two hundred miles further south, it
would be a very different affair from the last. Release from the ice
next season could be looked forward to as a certainty, and even with
a stock of coal lessened by the exigencies of a second winter it
would still be possible to escape from Smith’s Sound. If the ships
could be got into shelter near the deserted Eskimo hunting-grounds of
Norman Lockyer Island, we should probably get plenty of game. Almost
all our invalids were again in good health, and when spring came the
smooth floes would make the exploration of Hayes’ Sound a pleasure
trip. Moreover, if a second winter was unavoidable, there was another
reason—a somewhat ignoble one perhaps—why it would not be unwelcome.
The advance of pay liberally granted by the Admiralty before sailing
was not yet defrayed, and if we reached England this year almost all
the men would still be in debt to the Crown, and sailors naturally
prefer to land with a little money in their pockets.

[Illustration: ALLMAN BAY.]

We were not fated, however, to spend another season in the ice. Some
motion in the floes occurred on 6th September, and the opportunity was
not let slip. The remains of the coal were once more drawn upon to
light the engine fires, and the ships were soon pushing through the
thin floe towards some water-spaces near Norman Lockyer Island. The
“Discovery” led the way, for the shape of her bow enabled her to glide
up on the ice till her weight broke down through it, and she thus
advanced with a sort of pitching movement.

Next day the whole south was dark with storm clouds. If the wind came,
it would soon clear the channel. It did come, but only as a gentle
breeze; its work was done before it reached us, and the gateway of
Smith’s Sound lay open. The swell coming from the south told of a long
stretch of open water. Our leader might at last come down from his
post in the “crow’s nest,” his almost sleepless vigil was over, for
his two ships were once more safe in the “North Water.”

As it grew dark on the night of the 9th September, Cape Isabella, at
the western side of the entrance of Smith’s Sound, came into view.
We knew that this was one of the points where letters might perhaps
have been deposited for us, and the ships were hove-to under the wild,
steep rocks, while a boat was called away to search the depôt. It soon
left the ship, and disappeared in the dusk. Fearing disappointment, we
tried to persuade ourselves that there was really very little chance
of letters being left at this particular spot. After a while the boat
reappeared. We could scarcely dare to hope, but in a few minutes
bundles of letters and newspapers were being eagerly distributed. The
gallant little “Pandora” had been working hard for us, and Captain
Allen Young had thoroughly carried out the kindly service volunteered
by him.

With news but four months old on board, and only Melville Bay and
the Atlantic between us and home, we felt that the Expedition was
practically concluded. Melville Bay had been so rarely visited at this
late season of the year that hardly anything was known about it. To
our surprise we found it altogether free from pack-ice, a rolling sea
of comparatively warm water, very green in colour, and swarming with
microscopic animal life.

Our coal at last came to an end, and for fourteen days strong
head-winds baffled us; day after day the two ships beat about in fog
and storm, through fleets of icebergs that would have made us very
uncomfortable if we had not learnt implicit confidence in our officers
of the watches. Finally the weather moderated, and we reached Disco
on 25th September. Every Eskimo that came on board looked like an old
friend. We were most kindly received by all the inhabitants, from the
Danish Inspector, who shared his small stock of coal with us, to the
young urchins that kept us supplied with delicious fresh fish. Poor
people! they were more in need of help from us than we were from them.
The season had been a bad one, and scurvy was very prevalent both
at Disco and Egedesminde. Even the little children looked miserably
withered and weak, and we were glad to have some little remains of our
mess stock to serve out amongst them.

At Disco we bade good-bye to our two trusty dog-drivers, Hans and
Fred, and on 2nd October the Expedition set sail for England. The
voyage home was one succession of gales; the Flying Dutchman himself
could hardly have experienced worse weather. The ships soon lost
sight of each other, and to complicate matters the “Alert’s” rudder,
which had never been strong since its last crush in the ice, gave
way completely, and left her to make for the nearest port as best
she could. On the 27th October she reached Valentia, and two days
afterwards her consort, the “Discovery,” anchored in Bantry Bay.


   │ Transcriber's Note:                                               │
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   │ The original spelling, hyphenation, and punctuation have been     │
   │ retained, with the exception of apparent typographical errors,    │
   │ which have been corrected.                                        │
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   │ Ambiguous hyphens at the ends of lines were retained.             │
   │                                                                   │
   │ Punctuation and spelling were made consistent when a predominant  │
   │ form was found in this book; otherwise they were not changed.     │
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   │ Mid-paragraph illustrations have been moved between paragraphs    │
   │ and some illustrations have been moved closer to the text that    │
   │ references them. The List of Illustrations paginations were       │
   │ changed accordingly.                                              │

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