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

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peditions which determined the shape of North Somerset. The
weather was clear enough for them to see the deep ravines sur-
rounding the bay.

The doctor and Johnson were probably the only ones who took
any interest in these deserted countries. Hatteras, always study-
ing his charts, talked little ; his silence increased as the ship
drew southward ; he often went upon the quarter-deck, and there
he would remain for hours, with folded arms, gazing absently at the
horizon. His orders, when he gave any, were short and quick.
Shandon maintained a cold silence, and drawing more and more
into himself, he had nothing more to do with Hatteras than was
officially required ; James AVall remained devoted to Shandon,
and modelled his conduct after that of his friend. The rest of
the crew waited for whatever might turn up, ready to make the
best use of it for their own profit.' On board there was none of
the unanimity which is so necessary for the accomplishment of
gi-eat things. Hatteras knew this well.

During the day two whalers were seen making toward the
south ; a white bear, too, was saluted with a few rifle-shots, but

apparently without success. The captain knew the worth of an
hour at that time, and refused permission to chase the animal.


Wednesday morning the end of Regent Channel was passed ;
the angle of the west coast was followed by a deep curve in the
land. On examining his chart, the doctor recognized Somerset-
House Point, or Point Fury.

" There," he said to his usual companion, " there is where ^he
first English ship was lost that was sent to these seas in 1815, in
Parry's third voyage ; the Fury was so much injured by the ice
in her second winter, that the crew were obliged to abandon her
and to return to England in her companion, the Heclay

"A good reason for having another ship," answered Johnson;
" that is a precaution which polar explorers should not neglect ;
but Captain Hatteras was not the man to burden himself with a
companion ! "

" Do you consider him rash, Johnson 1 " asked the doctor.

" I ? 0, I don't say anything of the sort. Dr. Clawbonny ! But
see those piles there, with fragments of a tent hanging to them."

**Yes, Johnson, it is there Parry unloaded all his ship's sup-
plies, and, if my memory serves me right, the roof of the hut he
built was made out of a mainsail covered by the running-rigging
of the Furyr

"That must have changed a good deal since 1825."

"Not so very much. In 1829, John Ross kept his crew safe
and sound in this light building. In 1851, when Prince Albert
sent out an expedition, this hut was still standing ; Captain Ken-
nedy repaired it nine years ago. It would be interesting to visit
it, but Hatteras is unwilling to stop."

"And he is probably right, Dr. Clawbonny; if in England
time is money, here it is safety, and for the delay of a day, of an
hour even, the whole voyage might be rendered useless. We
must let him do as he pleases."

On Thursday, June 1st, the Forivard sailed diagonally across
Creswell Bay ; from Point Fury the coast rises in steep rocks
three hundred feet high ; towards the south, it is lower ; a few
snowy summits are to be seen, of a regular shape, while others,
more fantastic, were hidden in the clouds.

During that day the weather grew milder, but cloudier; they
lost sight of land ; the thermometer rose to 32 ; a few water-


quail were to be seen, and flocks of wild geese flew toward the
north; the crew laid aside some of their thick clothes; they
began to be aware of the approach of summer in the arctic

Toward evening the Forward doubled Cape Garrj^, a quarter of
a mile from the shore. The lead marked ten to twelve fathoms,
and they bore along the shore to Brentford Bay. In this latitude
they were to find Bellot Sound, a sound which entirely escaped
the notice of Sir John Ross in his expedition of 1828 ; his charts
indicated an unbroken coast-line, with the least irregularities in-
dicated with the utmost care ; hence it is to be supposed that
when he passed by the entrance of the sound, it was completely
closed with ice and so could not be distinguished from the land.

This sound was really discovered by Captain Kennedy in an
excursion made in April, 1852 ; he named it after Lieutenant
Bellot, as '' a just tribute," as he said, " to the important services
rendered to our expedition by the French officer."



As Hatteras drew near this sound he felt his anxiety redoub-
ling ; in fact, the success of his expedition was at stake ; so far he
had done nothing more than his predecessors, the most successful
of whom, MacClintock, had consumed fifteen months in reaching
this spot; but that was little, indeed nothing, if he could not
make Bellot Sound ; being unable to return, he would be kept a
prisoner until the next year.

Hence he took upon himself the care of examining the coast ;
he went up to the lookout, and on Saturday passed many hours

The crew were all acquainted with the situation of the ship ;
an unbroken silence reigned on board ; the engine was slackened ;
the Forward ran as near shore as possible ; the coast was lined


with ice which the warmest summers could not melt ; a practised
eye was needed to make out an entrance through them.

Hatteras was comparing his charts with the coast-line. The
sun having appeared for a moment at noon, Shandon and Wall
took an observation, the result of which was at once told him.

There was half a day of anxiety for all. But suddenly, at about
two o'clock, these words were shouted from aloft,

" Head to the west, and put on all steam."

The brig obeyed at once, turning to the point directed; the
screw churned the water, and the Forward plunged under a full
lead of steam between two swiftly running ice-streams.

The path was found ; Hatteras came down to the quarter-deck,
and the ice-master went aloft.

" Well, Captain," said the doctor, " we have entered this famous
sound at last ! "

"Yes," answered Hatteras; "but entering is not all, we have
got to get out of it too."

And with these words he went to his cabin.

" He is right," thought the doctor ; " we are in a sort of trap,
without much space to turn about in, and if we had to winter
here ! well, we should n't be the first to do it, and where others
lived through it, there is no reason why we should not ! "

The doctor was right. It was at this very place, in a little
sheltered harbor called Port Kennedy by MacClintock himself,
that the Fox wintered in 1 858. At that moment it was easy to
recognize the lofty granite chains, and the steep beaches on each

Bellot Sound, a mile broad and seventeen long, with a current
running six or seven knots, is enclosed by mountains of an esti-
mated height of sixteen hundred feet ; it separates North Som-
erset from Boothia ; it is easy to see that there is not too much
sailing room there. The Forward advanced carefully, but still
she advanced ; tempests are frequent in this narrow pass, and the
brig did not escape their usual violence ; by Hatteras's orders,
all the topsail-3'ards were lowered, and the topmasts also ; in
spite of everything the ship labored fearfully ; the heavy seas

kept the deck continually deluged with water ; the smoke flew


eastward with inconceivable rapidity ; they went on almost at
haphazard through the floating ice ; the barometer fell to 29 ;
it was hard to stay on deck, so most of the men were kept below
to spare them unnecessary exposure.

Hatteras, Johnson,
and Shandon remained
on the quarter-deck, in
spite of the whirlwinds
of snow and rain ; and
the doctor, who had
just asked himself what
was the most disagree-
able thing to be done at
that time, soon joined
them there; they could
not hear, and hardly
could they see, one an-
other; so he kept his
thoughts to himself.

Hatteras tried to
pierce the dense cloud
of mist, for, according
to his calculation, they
should be through the
strait at six o'clock of
the evening. At tliat time exit seemed closed, and Hatteras was
obliged to stop and anchor to an iceberg ; but steam was kept up
all night.

Tlie weather was terrible. Every moment the Forward threat-
ened to snap her cables ; there was danger, too, lest the moun-
tain should be driven by the wind and crush the brig. The
officers kept on the alert, owing to their extreme anxiety ; be-
sides the snow, large lumps of frozen spray were blown about by
the hurricane like sharp arrows.

The temperature arose strangely in that terrible night; the
thermometer marked 57 ; and the doctor, to his great surprise,
thought he noticed some flashes of lightning followed by distant



thunder. This seemed to corroborate the testimony of Scoresby,
who noticed the same phenomenon above latitude 65. Captain
Parry also observed it in 1821.

Towards five o'clock in the morning the weather changed with
singular rapidity ; the temperature fell to the freezing-point ; the
wind shifted to the north and grew quiet. The western opening
of the strait could be seen, but it was entirely closed. Hatteras
gazed anxiously at the coast, asking himself if there really were
any exit.

Nevertheless, the brig put out slowly into the ice-streams,
while the ice crushed noisily against her bows ; the packs at this
time were six or seven feet thick ; it was necessary carefully to
avoid them, for if the ship should try to withstand them, it ran the
risk of being lifted half ot of the water and cast on her beam-ends.

At noon, for the first time, a magnificent solar phenomenon
could be observed, a halo with two parhelions ; the doctor ob-
served it, and took its exact dimensions ; the exterior arc was
only visible for about thirty degrees each side of the horizontal
diameter ; the two images of the sun were remarkably clear ;
the colors within the luminous area were, going toward the out-
side, red, yellow, green, faint blue, and last of all white, gently
fading away, without any sharp line of termination.


The doctor remembered Thomas Young's ingenious theory
about these meteors ; he supposed that certain clouds composed
of prisms of ice are hanging in the air ; the sun's rays falling on
these prisms are refracted at angles of sixty and ninety degrees.
The halos can only be formed in a clear sky. The doctor thought
this an ingenious explanation.

Sailors, who are familiar with northern seas, consider this
phenomenon a forerunner of heavy snow. If this should be the
case, the position of the Forward was very critical. Hence
Hatteras resolved to push on ; during the rest of that day and
the next night he took no rest, but examined the horizon through
his glass, entering every inlet, and losing no opportunity to get
out of the strait.

But in the morning he was compelled to stop before the im-
penetrable ice. The doctor joined him on the quarter-deck.
Hatteras led him clear aft where they could talk without fear
of being overheard.

" We are caught," said Hatteras. " It 's imj^ossible to go

" Impossible % " said the doctor.

" Impossible ! All the powder on board the Forward would
not open a quarter of a mile to us."

" What are we to do ] " asked the doctor.

" I don't know. Curse this unlucky year ! "

" Well, Captain, if we must go into winter-quarters, we '11 do it.
As well here as anywhere else ! "

" Of course," said Hatteras in a low voice, "but we ought not
to be going into winter-quarters, especially in the month of June.
It is demoralizing, and bad for the health. The spirits of the
crew are soon cast down during this long rest among real suffer-
ings. So I had made up ray mind to winter at a latitude nearer
the Pole."

" Yes, but, unluckily, Baffin's Bay was closed."

" Any one else would have found it open," cried Hatteras ;
" that American, that "

"Come, Hatteras," said the doctor, purposely interrupting
him, " it 's now only the 5th of June ; we should not despair ;


a path may open before u^ suddenly ; you know the ice often
breaks into separate pieces, even when the weather is cahn, as if
it were driven apart by some force of repulsion ; at any moment
we may find the sea free."

" Well, if that happens, we shall take advantage of it. It is
not impossible that beyond Bellot Strait we might get north-
ward through Peel Sound or MacClintock Channel, and then "

" Captain," said James Wall, approaching, '*the ice threatens
to tear away the rudder."

" Well," answered Hatteras, " never mind ; I sha' n't unship it ;
I want to be ready at any hour, day or night. Take every pre-
caution, Mr. Wall, and keep the ice off ; but don't unship it, you

"But" began Wall.

" I don't care to hear any remarks, sir," said Hatteras, severely.

Wall returned to his post.

" Ah ! " said Hatteras, angrily, " I would -give five years of my
life to be farther north ! I don't know any more dangerous place ;
and besides, we are so near the magnetic pole that the compass
is of no use ; the needle is inactive, or always shifting its direc-

" I confess," said the doctor, " that it is not plain sailing ; but
still, those who undertook it were prepared for such dangers, and
there is no need to be surprised."

"Ah, Doctor ! the crew has changed very much, and you have
seen that the officers have begun to make remarks. The high pay
offered the sailors induced them to ship ; but they have their
bad side, for as soon as they are off they are anxious to get back.
Doctor, I have no encouragement in my undertaking, and if I
fail, it won't be the fault of such or such a sailor, but of the ill-
will of certain officers. Ah, they '11 pay dearly for it ! "

" You are exaggerating, Hatteras."

" Not at all ! Do you fancy the crew are sorry for the obsta-
cles we are meeting] On the contrary, they hope I shall be
compelled to abandon my plans. So they do not murmur, and
when the Forward is headed for the south, it will be the same


thing. Fools ! They imagine they^, are returning to England !
But when I 'm turned towards the north, you will see a differ-
ence ! I swear solemnly that no living being shall malie me
swerve from my course ! Give me a passage, an opening through
which my brig can go, and I shall take it, if I have to leave
half her sheathing behind ! "

The desires of the captain were destined to be satisfied in a
measure. As the doctor had foretold, there was a sudden change
in the evening; under some influence of the wind, the ice-fields
separated ; the Forward pushed on boldly, breaking the ice with
her steel prow; all the night they advanced, and towards six
o'clock they were clear of Bellot Strait.

But great was Hatter as's anger at finding the way to the north
closed ! He was able to hide his despair ; and as if the only open
path were the one of his choice, he turned the Fqrward towards
Franklin Sound. Being unable to go up Peel Sound, he deter-
mined to go around Prince of Wales Land, to reach MacClintock
Channel. But he knew that Shandon and Wall could not be
deceived, and w^ere conscious of the failure of his hopes.

Nothing especial happened on the 6th of June ; snow fell, and
the prophecy of the halo came true.

For thirty-six hours the Forward followed the sinuosities of the
coast of Boothia, without reaching Prince of Whales Land. Hat-
tei-as put on all steam, burning his coal extravagantly ; he still
intended to get further supplies on Beechey Island ; on Thursday
he arrived at Franklin Sound, and he still found the way north-
ward impassable.

His position was a desperate one ; he could not return ; the ice
pushed him onward, and he saw his path forever closing behind
him, as if there were no open sea where he had passed but an
hour before.

Hence, not only was the Forward imable to go toward the
north, but she could not stop for a moment lest she should be im-
prisoned, and she fled before the ice like a ship before a storm.

Friday, June 7th, she arrived near the coast of Boothia, at the
entrance of James Ross Sound, which had to be avoided because
its only exit is to the west, close to the shore of America.



The observations taken at noon showed them to be in latitude
70 b' 11", and longitude 96 W 45" ; when the doctor heard this
he examined his chart, and found that they were at the magnetic
pole, at the very point where James Ross, the nephew of Sir
John, came to determine its situation.

The land was low near the coast, and it rose only about sixty
feet at the distance of a mile from the sea.

The boiler of the Forward needed cleaning; the captain an-
chored his ship to a field of ice, and gave the doctor leave to go
ashore with the boatswain. For himself, being indifferent to
everything outside of his own plans, he shut himself up in his
cabin, and studied the chart of the Pole.

The doctor and his companion easily reached land ; the first-
named carried a compass for his experiments ; he wanted to test
the work of James Ross ; he easily made out the mound of stones
erected by him ; he ran towards it ; an opening in the cairn let
him see a tin box in which James Ross had placed an account of
his discovery. No living being had visited this lonely spot for
thirty years.

At this place a needle
suspended as delicately as
possible assumed a nearly
vertical position under the
magnetic influence ; hence
the centre of attraction was
near, if not immediately
beneath, the needle.

The doctor made the
experiment with all care.
But if James Ross, owing
to the imperfection of his
instruments, found a decli-
nation of only 89 50', the
real magnetic point is found
within a minute of this spot. Dr. Clawbonny was more for-
tunate, and at a little distance from there he found a declination
of 90.


" This is exactly the magnetic pole of the earth ! " he cried,
stamping on the ground.

"Just hereV asked Johnson.

" Precisely here, my friend ! "

" Well, then," resumed the boatswain, " we must give up all
the stories of a magnetic mountain or large mass."

"Yes, Johnson," answered the doctor, laughing, "those are
empty hypotheses ! As you see, there is no mountain capable of
attracting ships, of drawing their iron from them anchor after
anchor, bolt after bolt ! and your shoes here are as light as any-
where in the world."

" But how do you explain "

" There is no explanation, Johnson ; we are not wise enough
for that. But what is mathematically certain is that the mag-
netic pole is at this very spot ! "

" Ah, Dr. Clawbonny, how glad the captain would be to say as
much of the North Pole ! " -

" He '11 say it, Johnson ; he '11 say it ! "

" God grant it ! " was the answer.

The doctor and his companion raised a cairn at the spot where
they tried their experiment, and the signal for their return being
made, they returned to the ship at five o'clock of the evening.



The Forward succeeded, though not without difficulty, in get-
ting by James Boss Sound, by frequent use of the ice-saws and
gunpowder ; the crew was very much fatigued. Fortunately the
temperature was agreeable, and even thirty degrees above what
James Boss found at the same time of year. The thermometer
marked 34.

Saturday they doubled Cape Felix at the northern end of King
William's Land, one of the smaller islands of northern seas.



At that time the crew became very much depressed ; they
gazed wistfully and sadly at its far-stretching shores.

In fact, they were gazing at King William's Land, the scene of
one of the saddest tragedies of modern times ! Only a few miles
to the west the Erebus and Terror were lost.

The sai-lors of the Forward were familiar with the attempts
made to find Franklin, and the result they had obtained, but
they did not know all the sad details. Now, while the doctor
was following on his chart the course of the ship, many of them.
Bell, Bolton, and Simpson, drew near him and began to talk with
him. Soon the others followed to satisfy their curiosity ; mean-
while the brig was advancing rapidly, and the bays, capes, and
promontories of the coast passed before their gaze like a gigantic


Hatteras was pacing nervously to and fro on the quarter-deck ;
the doctor found himself on the bridge, surrounded by the men
of the crew; he .readily understood the interest of the situation,
and the impression that would be made by an account given
under those circumstances, hence he resumed the talk he had
begun with Johnson.

" You know, my friends, how Franklin began : like Cook and
Nelson, he was first a cabin-boy; after spendhig his youth in long



sea-voyages, he made up his mind, in 1845, to seek the Northwest
Passage ; he commanded the Erehus and the Terror., two stanch
vessels, which had visited the antarctic seas in 1840, under the
command of James Ross. The Erehus, in which Frankhn sailed,
carried a crew of seventy men, all told, with Fitz-James as cap-
tain ; Gore and Le Vesconte, lieutenants ; Des Vceux, Sargent, and
Couch, boatswains; and Stanley, surgeon. The Terror carried sixty-
eight men. Crozier was the captain ; the lieutenants were Little,
Hodgson, and Irving ; boatswains, Horesby and Thomas ; the sur-
geon, Peddie. In the names of the bays, capes, straits, prom-
ontories, channels, and islands of these latitudes you find memo-
rials of most of these unlucky men, of whom not one has ever again
seen his home ! In all one hundred and thirty-eight men ! We
know that the last of Franklin's letters were written from Disco
Island, and dated July 12, 1845. He said, "I hope to set sail
to-night for Lancaster Sound." What followed his departure
from Disco Bay ] The captains of the whalers, the Prince of
Wales and the Enterprise, saw these two ships for the last time in
Melville Bay, and nothing more was heard of them. Still we can
follow Franklin in his course westward ; he went through Lan-
caster and Barrow Sounds and reached Beechey Island, where he
passed the winter of 1 845 - 46."

" But how is this known % " asked Bell, the carpenter.

" By three tombs which the Austin expedition found there in
1850. Three of Franklin's sailors had been buried there: and,
moreover, by a paper found by Lieutenant Hobson of the Fox,
dated April 25, 1848. We know also that, after leaving winter-
quarters, the Erehus and Terror ascended Wellington Channel as
far as latitude 77 ; but instead of pushing to the north, which
they doubtless found impossible, they returned tow^ards the
south "

" And that was a. fatal mistake ! " uttered a grave voice.
"Safety lay to the north."

Every one turned round. It was Hatteras, who, leaning on
the rail of the quarter-deck, had just made that solemn re-

" Without doubt," resumed the doctor, " Franklin intended to


make his way to the American shore ; but tempests beset him,
and September 12, 1846, the two ships were caught in the ice, a
few miles from here, to the northwest of Cape FeHx ; they were
carried to the north-northwest of Point Victory ; there," said the
doctor, pointing out to the sea. " Now," he added, " the ships
were not abandoned till April 22, 1848. What happened during
these nineteen months 1 What did these poor men do 1 Doubt-
less they explored the surrounding lands, made every effort to
escape, for the admiral was an energetic man ; and if he did not
succeed "

" It 's because his men betrayed him," said Hatteras in a deep

The sailors did not dare to lift their eyes ; these words made
them feel abashed.

" To be brief, this paper, of which I spoke, tells us; besides,
that Sir John Franklin died, worn out by his sufferings, June
11, 1847. All honor to his memory ! " said the doctor, removing
his hat.

The men did the same in silence.

" What became of these poor men, deprived of their leader,
during the next ten months ] They remained on board of their
ships, and it was not till April, 1848, that they made up their
mind to abandon them ; one hundred and five men survived out
of the hundred and thirty-eight. Thirty-three had died ! Then
Captains Crozier and Fitz-James erected a cairn at Point Victory,
and left their last paper there. See, my friends, we are passing

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Online LibraryJules VerneAt the north pole, or, The adventures of Captain Hatteras → online text (page 9 of 17)