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At the north pole, or, The adventures of Captain Hatteras online

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employed, it was easy to see that John Hatteras was an energetic



In the first place he had steps cut, by which he climbed to the
top of an iceberg ; from that point he saw it would be easy to

open a path to the southwest ; by his
^ orders an opening was made in the

middle of an iceberg, a task which was
completed by Monday evening.

Hatteras could not depend on his
blasting-cylinders of eight or ten
pounds of powder, whose action would
have been insignificant against such
large masses ; they were only of
use to break the field-ice ; hence he
placed in the opening a thousand
pounds of powder, carefully laying it
where it should be of the utmost ser-
vice. This chamber, to which ran a
long fuse, surrounded by gutta-percha,
opened on the outside. The gallery, leading thereto, was filled
with snow and lumps of ice, to which the cold of the next night
gave the consistency of granite. In fact, the temperature, un-
der the influence of the east-wind, fell to 12.

The next day at seven o'clock the Forward was under steam,
ready to seize any chance of escape. Johnson was charged with
lighting the mine ; the fuse was calculated to burn half an hour
before exploding the powder. Hence Johnson had plenty of time
to get back to the ship ; indeed, within ten minutes he was at his

The crew were all on deck; the day was dry and tolerably
clear ; the snow was no longer falling ; Hatteras, standing on the
deck with Shandon and the doctor, counted the minutes on his

At thirty-five minutes after eight a dull explosion was heard,
much less deafening than had been anticipated. The outline of
the mountains was suddenly changed, as by an earthquake ; a
dense white smoke rose high in the air, and long cracks appeared
in the side of the iceberg, of which the upper part was hurled to
a great distance, and fell in fragments about the Forward.



But the way was by no means free yet ; huge lumps of ice were
suspended u^on the neighboring icebergs, and their fall threat-
ened to close the exit.

Hatteras saw their situation in a flash of the eye.

" Wolston ! " he shouted.

The gunner hastened to him.

" Captain ! " he said.

" Put a triple charge in the forward gun, and ram it in as hard
as possible ! "

" Are we going to batter the iceberg down with cannon-balls % "
asked the doctor.

**No," answered Hatteras. "That would do no good. No
balls, Wolston, but a triple charge of powder. Be quick ! "

In a few moments the gun was loaded.

" What is he going to do without a ball 1 " muttered Shandon
between his teeth.

" We '11 soon see," answered the doctor.

"We are all ready. Captain," cried Wolston.

"Well," answered Hatteras. "Brunton!" he shouted to the
engineer, " make ready ! Forward a little ! "

Brunton opened the valves, and the screw began to move ; the
Forward drew near the blown-up iceberg.


"Aim carefully at the passage!" cried the captain to the

He obeyed ; when the brig was only half a cable-length distant,
Hatteras gave the order,

" Fire ! "

A loud report followed, and the fragments of ice, detached by
the commotion of the air, fell suddenly into the sea. The simple
concussion had been enough.

" Put on full steam, Brunton ! " shouted Hatteras. " Straight
for the passage, Johnson ! "

Johnson was at the helm ; the brig, driven by the screw, which
tossed the water freely, entered easily the open passage. It was
time. The Forward had hardly passed through the opening, be-
fore it closed behind it.

It was an exciting moment, and the only calm and collected
man on board was the captain. So the crew, amazed at the suc-
cess of this device, could not help shouting,

" Hurrah for John Hatteras ! "



Wednesday, the 21st of May, the Forward resumed her peril-
ous voyage, making her way dexterously through the packs and
icebergs, thanks to steam, which is seldom used by explorers
in polar seas; she seemed to sport among the moving masses;
one would have said she felt the hand of a skilled master, and
that, like a horse under a skilful rider, she obeyed the thought of
her captain.

The weather grew warmer. At six o'clock in the morning the
thermometer stood at 26, at six in the evening at 29, and at
midnight at 25 ; the wind was light from the southeast.

Thursday, at about three o'clock in the morning, the Forward
arrived in sight of Possession Bay, on the American shore, at the



entrance of Lancaster Sound ; soon Cape Burney came into sight.
A few Esquimaux came out to the ship ; but Hatteras could not
stop to speak with them.

The peaks of Byam Martin, which rise above Cape Liverpool,
were passed on the left, and they soon disappeared in the evening
mist ; this hid from them Cape Hay, which has a very slight ele-
vation, and so is frequently confounded with ice about the shore,
a circumstance which very often renders the determination of the
coast-line in polar regions very difficult.

Puffins, ducks, and white gulls appeared in great numbers.
By observation the latitude was 74 V, and the longitude,
according to the chronometer, 77 15'.

The two mountains, Catherine and Elizabeth, raised their
snowy heads above the clouds.

At ten o'clock on Friday Cape Warrender was passed on the

right side of the sound, and on the left Admiralty Inlet, a bay

which has never been fully explored by navigators, who are

always hastening westward. The sea ran rather high, and the

waves often broke over the bows, covering the deck with small

fragments of ice. The land on the north coast presented a


strange appearance with its high, flat table-lands sparkling be-
neath the snn's rays.

Hatteras would have liked to skirt these northern lands, in
order to reach the sooner Beechey Island and the entrance of
Wellington Channel; but, much to his chagrin, the bank-ice
obliged him to take only the passes to the south.

Hence, on the 26th of May,
in the midst of a fog and
a snow-storm, the Forward
found herself off Cape York ;
a lofty, steep mountain was
soon recognized; the weather
got a little clearer, and at
midday the sun appeared long
enough to permit an observa-
tion to be taken : latitude
74 i', and longitude 84 23'.
The Forward was at the end
of Lancaster Sound.

Hatteras showed the doctor
on the chart the route he had
taken and that which he was
to follow. At that time the
position of the brig was interesting.

**I should have liked to be farther north," he said, "but it
was impossible ; see, here is our exact position."
The captain pointed to a spot near Cape York.
"We are in the middle of this open space, exposed to every
wind ; into it open Lancaster Sound, Barrow Strait, Wellington
Channel, and Regent's Inlet ; here, of necessity, come all north-
em explorers."

'* Well," answered the doctor, " so much the worse for them ;
it is indeed an open space, where four roads meet, and I don't see
any sign-post to point out the right way ! What did Parry, Ross,
and Franklin do ? "

" They did n't do anything in particular ; they let themselves
be governed by circumstances ; they had no choice, I can assure


you ; at one time Barrow Strait would be closed against one, and
the next year it would be open for another ; again the ship would
be irresistibly driven towards Regent's Inlet. In this way we
have at last been able to learn the geography of these confused

" What a strange region ! " said the doctor, gazing at the chart.
" How everything is divided and cut up, without order or reason !
It seems as if all the land near the Pole were divided in this way
in order to make the approach harder, while in the other hemi-
sphere it ends in smooth, regular points, like Cape Horn or the
Cape of Good Hope, and the Indian peninsula! Is it the
greater rapidity at the equator which has thus modified things,
while the land lying at the extremity, which was fluid at the be-
ginning of the world, could not condense and unite as elsewhere,
on account of slower rotation "{ "

" That may be, for there is a reason for everything, and noth-
ing happens without a cause, which God sometimes lets students
find out ; so, Doctor, find it out if you can."

" I shall not waste too much time over it, Captain. But what
is this fierce wind 1 " added the doctor, wrapping himself up well.

" The north-wind is the common one, and delays our progress."

"Still'it ought to blow the ice toward the south, and leave our
way free."

" It ought to, Doctor, but the wind does n't always do what it
ought to. See, that ice looks impenetrable. We shall try to
reach Grifiith Island, then to get around Cornwallis Island to
reach Queen's Channel, without going through Wellington Chan-
nel. And yet I am anxious to touch at Beechey Island to get
some more coal."

" How will you do that % " asked the astonished doctor.

" Easily ; by order of the Admiralty, a great amount has been
placed on this island, to supply future expeditions, and although
Captain MacClintock took some in 1859, I can assure you there
is still some left for us."

" In fact, these regions have been explored for fifteen years,
and until certain proof of Franklin's death was received, the Ad-
miralty always kept five or six ships cruising in these waters. If


I 'm not mistaken, Griffith Island, which I see in the middle of
the open space, has become a general rendezvous for explorers."

" True, Doctor, and Franldin's ill-ftited expedition has been the
means of our learning so much about these parts."

" Exactly ; for there have been a great many expeditions since
1845. It was not till 1848 that there was any alarm about the
continued non-appearance of the Erebus and the Terror, Frank-
hn's two ships. Then the admiral's old friend, Dr. Richardson,
seventy years of age, went through Canada, and descended Cop-
pemnne River to the Polar Sea ; on the other side, James Ross,
in command of the Enterprise and the Investigator, sailed from
Upernavik in 1848, and reached Cape York, where we are now.
Every day he threw overboard a cask containing papers telling
where he was ; during fogs he fired cannon ; at night he burned
signal-fires and sent off rockets, carrying always but little sail ;
finally, he wintered at Leopold's Harbor in 1848-49; there he
caught a large number of white foxes ; he had put on their necks
copper collars on which was engraved a statement of the position
of the ship and where supplies had been left, and he drove them
away in every direction ; then, in the spring, he explored the
coast of North Somerset on sledges, amid dangers and privations
which disabled nearly all his men. He built cairns, enclosing
copper cylinders with instructions to the absent expedition ; dur-
ing his absence. Lieutenant MacClure explored fruitlessly the
northern coast of Barrow Strait. It is noteworthy, Captain, that
James Ross had among his officers two men who afterwards be-
came celebrated, MacClure, who found the Northwest Passage,
and MacClintock, who found the last remains of the Franklin

" Two good and brave captains, two brave Englishmen ; go on.
Doctor, with this account which you know so well ; there is
always something to be learned from the account of bold adven-

" Well, to conclude with James Ross, I have only to add that
he tried to go fVirther west from Melville Island ; but he nearly
lost his ships, and being caught in the ice he was carried, against
his will, to Baffin's Bay."

He caught a large number of white foxes ; he had put on their necks copper
collars," Page io6.


" Carried," said Hatteras, frowning, " carried against his will ! "

"He had discovered nothing," resumed the doctor; "it was
only after 1850 that English ships were always exploring there,
when a reward of twenty thousand pounds was offered to any one
who should discover the crews of the Erebus and Terror. Al-
ready, in 1848, Captains Kellet and Moore, in command of the
Herald and the Plover, tried to make their way through by Behr-
ing Strait. I ought to say that the winter of 1850-51, Captain
Austin passed at Coniwallis Island ; Captain Penny, with the As-
sistance and Resolute, explored Wellington Channel; old John
Ross, who discovered the magnetic pole, started in his yacht, the
Felix, in search of his friend ; the brig Prince Albert made her
first voyage at the expense of Lady Franklin ; and, finally, two
American ships, sent out by Grinnell, under Captain Haven, car-
ried beyond Wellington Chaimel, were cast into Lancaster Sound.
It was during this year that MacClintock, Austin's lieutenant,
pushed on to Melville Island and to Cape Dundas, the extreme
points reached by Parry in 1819, and on Beechey Island were
found traces of Franklin's wintering there in 1845."

" Yes," answered Hatteras, " three of his sailors were buried
there, three fortunate men ! "

"From 1851 to 1852," continued the doctor, with a gesture of
agreement, " we find the Prince Albert making a second attempt
with the French lieutenant, Bellot ; he winters at Batty Bay in
Prince Regent's Sound, explores the southwest of Somerset, and
reconnoitres the coast as far as Cape Walker. Meanwhile, the
Enterprise and Investigator, having returned to England, came
under the command of Collinson and MacClure, and they rejoined
Kellet and Moore at Behring Strait ; while Collinson returned
to winter at Hong-Kong, MacClure went on, and after three
winters, 1850-51, 1851-52, and 1852-53, he discovered the
Northwest Passage without finding any traces of Franklin. From
1852 to 1853, a new expedition, consisting of three sailing-ves-
sels, the Assistance, the Resolute, the North Star, and two steam-
vessels, the Pioneer and the Intrepid, started out under the orders
of Sir Edward Belcher, with Captain Kellet second in command ;
Sir Edward visited Wellington Channel, wintered in Northumber-


land Bay, and explored the coast, while Kellet, pushing on as far
as Brideport on Melville Island, explored that region without suc-
cess. But then it was rumored in England that two ships, aban-
doned in the ice, had been seen not far from New Caledonia. At
once Lady Franklin fitted out the little screw-steamer Isabella,
and Captain Inglefield, after ascending Baffin's Bay to Victoria
Point, at the eightieth parallel, returned to Beechey Island with
equal unsuccess. At the beginning of 1855 the American Grinnell
defrays the expense of a new expedition, and Dr. Kane, trying to
reach the Pole "

" But he did not succeed," cried Hatteras with violence, " and
thank God he did not ! What he did not do, we shall ! "

" I know it, Captain," answered the doctor, " and I only speak
of it on account of its connection with the search for Franklin.
Besides, it accomplished nothing. I nearly forgot to say that the
Admiralty, regarding Beechey Island as a general rendezvous,
ordered the steamer Phoenix, Captain Inglefield, in 1853, to carry
provisions there ; he sailed with Lieutenant Bellot, who for the
second, and last, time offered his services to England; we can get
full details about the catastrophe, for Johnson, our boatswain,
was eye-witness of this sad affair."

" Lieutenant Bellot was a brave Frenchman," said Hatteras,
"and his memory is honored in England."

" Then," resumed the doctor, " the ships of Belcher's squadron
began to return one by one ; not all, for Sir Edward had to
abandon the Assistance in 1854, as McClure had the Investigator
in 1853. Meanwhile Dr. Rae, in a letter dated July 29, 1854,
written from Repulse Bay, gave information that the Esquimaux
of King William's Land had in their possession different objects
belonging to the Erehus and Terror; then there was no doubt
possible about the fate of the expediton ; the Phoenix, the North
Star, and the ship of Collinson returned to England ; there was
then no English ship in these waters. But if the government
seemed to have lost all hope, Lady Franklin did not despair, and
with what was left of her fortune she fitted out the Fox, com-
manded by MacClintock; he set sail in 1857, wintered about where
you made yourself known to us, Captain; he came to Beechey


Island, August 11, 1858; the next winter he passed at Bellot
Sound; in February, 1859, he began his explorations anew; on
the 6th of May he found the document which left no further doubt
as to the fate of the Erehas and Terror, and returned to England
at the end of the same year. That is a complete account of all
that has been done in these regions during the last fifteen years ;
and since the return of the Fox, no ship has ventured among
these dangerous waters ! "

" Well, we shall try it ! " said Hatteras.



Towards evening the weather cleared up, and land was clearly
to be seen between Cape Sepping and Cape Clarence, which juts
out to the east, then to the south, and is connected to the main-
land on the west by a low tongue of land. There was no ice at
the entrance of Regent s Sound ; but it was densely massed be-
yond Leopold Harbor, as if to form an impassable barrier to the
northward progress of the Forward.

Hatteras, who, although he carefully concealed his feelings, was
exceedingly annoyed, had to blow out a way with powder in order
to enter Leopold Harbor ; he reached it at midday, on Sunday,
May 27th ; the brig was securely anchored to the large icebergs,
which were as firm, solid, and hard as rock.

At once the captain, followed by the doctor, Johnson, and his
dog Duke, leaped out upon the ice and soon reached the land.
Duke leaped about with joy ; besides, since the captain had
made himself known, he had become very sociable and very
gentle, preserving his ill-temper for some of the crew, whom his
master disliked as much as he did.

The harbor was free from the ice which is generally forced there
by the east-wind ; the sharp peaks, covered with snow, looked
like a number of white waves. The house and lantern, built by



James Ross, were still in a tolerable state of preservation ; but
the provisions appeared to have been eaten by foxes, and even by
bears, of which fresh traces were to be seen ; part of the devas-
tation was probably due to the hand of man, for some ruins of
Esquimaux huts were to be seen on the shores of the bay.

The six tombs, enclosing six sailors of the Enterprise and the
Investigator, were recognizable by little mounds of earth ; they
had been respected by all, by both men and beasts.

On first setting his foot on this northern earth, the doctor was
really agitated ; it would not be easy to describe the emotions
one feels at the sight of these ruined houses, tents, huts, supplies,
which nature preserves so perfectly in cold countries.

" There," said he to his companions, " there is the spot which
James Ross himself named Camp Refuge ! If Franklin's expedi-

tion had reached this spot, it would have been saved. Here is
the engine which was taken out and left here, and the furnace
which warmed the crew of the Prince Albert in 1851 ; everything
remains as it was left, and one might fancy that Kennedy, her
captain, had sailed away from here yesterday. This is the launch
that sheltered them for some days, for Kennedy was separated
from his ship, and only saved by Lieutenant Bellot, who braved
the cold of October to join him."


" A brave and excellent officer he was," said Johnson. " I
knew him."

While the doctor eagerly sought for traces of previous winter-
ings there, Hatteras busied himself with collecting the scanty
fragments of fuel and provisions which lay there. The next day
was devoted to carrying them on board ship. The doctor ex-
plored the whole neighborhood, never going too far from the brig,
and sketched the most remarkable views. The weather gradu-
ally grew milder; the snow-drifts began to melt. The doctor
made a tolerably large collection of northern birds, such as gulls,
divers, molly-nochtes, and eider-ducks, which resemble ordinary
ducks, with a white back and breast, a blue belly, the top of the
head blue, the rest of the plumage white, shaded with different


tints of green ; many of them had already plucked from th.,.
bellies the eider-down, which both the male and the female devote
to lining their nests. The doctor also saw great seals breathing
at the surface of the water, but he was unable to draw one.

In his wanderings he discovered the stone on which is en-
graved the following inscription :

[E I]



which marks the passage of the Enterprise and Investigator; he
pushed on to Cape Clarence, to the spot where, in 1833, John
and James Ross w^aited so impatiently for the ice to thaw. The
earth was covered with the skulls and bones of animals, and
traces of the dwellings of Esquimaux were to be seen.

The doctor thought of erecting a cairn at Leopold Harbor, and
of leaving a letter there to indicate the passage of the Forward
and the aim of the expedition. But Hatteras formally objected ;
he did not wish to leave behind him any traces which might be
of use to a rival. In spite of all he could say, the doctor was
obliged to yield to the captain's will. Shandon was ready enough
to blame this obstinacy, for, in case of accident, no ship could
have put out to the aid of the Forward.

Hatteras refused to comply. Having completed his prepara-
tions on Monday, he tried once more to go to the north through
the ice, but, after dangerous efforts, he was obliged to descend
again Regent's Channel ; he was utterly averse to remaining at
Leopold's Harbor, which is open one day and closed the next by
the unheralded motion of the ice, a frequent phenomenon in
these seas, and one against which navigators have to be ever on
their guard.


If Hatteras kept his anxiety from the others, he was at heart
very anxious ; he wanted to go northward, and he was obliged to
retreat to the south ! Where would that bring him % Was he
going as far back as Victoria Harbor in the Gulf of Boothia,
where Sir John Ross wintered in 18331 Should he find Bellot
Sound free at this time, and, by going around North Somerset,
could he ascend through Peel Sound 1 Or should he, like his
predecessors, be caught for many winters, and be obliged to con-
sume all his supplies and provisions %

These fears tormented him; but he had to decide; he put
about and started for the south.

Prince Regent's Channel is of nearly uniform width from Leo-
pold's Harbor to Adelaide Bay. The Forward went rapidly
through the ice, with better fortune than many other ships, most
of which required a month to descend the channel, even in a bet-
ter season ; it is true that none of these ships, except the Fox,
had steam at their command, and were obliged to do their best
against frequent unfavorable winds.

The crew seemed overjoyed at leaving the northewr regions ;
they had but a slight desire to reach the Pole ; they were alarmed
at Hatteras's plans, for his reputation as a fearless man inspired
them with but little confidence. Hatteras tried to make use of
every opportunity to go forward, whatever the consequences might
be. And yet in these parts, to advance is all very well, but one
must also maintain his position and not run the risk of losing it.

The Forward went on under full steam; the black smoke
whirled in spirals about the sparkling summits of the icebergs ;
the weather was changeable, turning from a dry cold to a snow-
storm with inconceivable rapidity. Since the brig drew but little
water, Hatteras hugged the west shore ; he did not want to miss
the entrance of Bellot Sound, for the Gulf of Boothia has no other
entrance towards the south than the slightly known sound of the
Fury and the Hecla ; hence the gulf would be impassable, if Bel-
lot Sound were missed or found impracticable.

By evening the Forward was in sight of El win Bay, which was
recognized by its high, steep cliffs ; Tuesday morning Batty Bay
was seen, where, on the 10th of September, 1851, the Prince



Albert anchored for the winter. The doctor examined the coast
with interest through his glass. From this point started the ex-

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Online LibraryJules VerneAt the north pole, or, The adventures of Captain Hatteras → online text (page 8 of 17)