Sir William Edward Parry.

Three Voyages for the Discovery of a Northwest Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and Narrative of an Attempt to Reach the North Pole, Volume 1 online

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mean time, the wind had failed our consort when she was a mile and
a half short of this place; and Lieutenant Liddon, after
endeavouring in vain to warp up to us, was obliged, by the ice
suddenly closing upon him, to place her in-shore, in the first
situation he could find, which proved to be in very deep water, as
well as otherwise so insecure as not to admit a hope of saving the
ship should the ice continue to press upon her.

Mr. Fisher found very good sport in our new station, having
returned in the evening, after a few hours' excursion, with nine
hares; the birds had, of late, almost entirely deserted us, a
flock or two of ptarmigan and snow-buntings, a few glaucous gulls,
a raven, and an owl, being all that had been met with for several

A fog, which had prevailed during the night, cleared away in the
morning of the 16th, and a very fine day succeeded, with a
moderate breeze from the westward. In order to have a clear and
distinct view of the state of the ice, after twenty-four hours'
wind from that quarter, Captain Sabine, Mr. Edwards, and myself,
walked about two miles to the westward, along the high part of the
land next the sea, from whence it appeared but too evident that no
passage in this direction was yet to be expected. The ice to the
west and southwest was as solid and compact, to all appearance, as
so much land; to which, indeed, the surface of so many fields,
from the kind of hill and dale I have before endeavoured to
describe, bore no imperfect resemblance. I have no doubt that, had
it been our object to circumnavigate Melville Island, or, on the
other hand, had the coast continued its westerly direction instead
of turning to the northward, we should still have contrived to
proceed a little occasionally, as opportunities offered,
notwithstanding the increased obstruction which here presented
itself; but, as neither of these was the case, there seemed little
or nothing to hope for from any farther attempts to prosecute the
main object of the voyage in this place. I determined, therefore,
no longer to delay the execution of my former intentions, and to
make trial, if possible, of a more southern latitude, in which I
might follow up the success that had hitherto attended our

The station at which the ships were now lying, and which is the
westernmost point to which the navigation of the Polar Sea to the
northward of the American Continent has yet been carried, is in
latitude 74° 26' 25", and longitude, by chronometer, 113° 46'

The place where the Hecla was now secured, being the only one of
the kind which could be found, was a little harbour, formed, as
usual, by the grounded ice, some of which was fixed to the bottom
in ten to twelve fathoms. One side of the entrance to this harbour
consisted of masses of floes, very regular in their shape, placed
quite horizontally, and broken off so exactly perpendicular as to
resemble a handsome, well-built wharf. On the opposite side,
however, the masses to which we looked for security were
themselves rather terrific objects, as they leaned over so much
towards the ship as to give the appearance of their being in the
act of falling upon her deck; and as a very trifling concussion
often produces the fall of much heavier masses of ice, when in
appearance very firmly fixed to the ground, I gave orders that no
guns should be fired near the ship during her continuance in this
situation. The Griper was of necessity made fast near the beach in
rather an exposed situation, and her rudder unshipped, in
readiness for the ice coming in; it remained quiet, however,
though quite close, during the day, the weather being calm and

It was again nearly calm on the 19th, and the weather was foggy for
some hours in the morning. In the evening, having walked to Cape
Providence to see if there was any possibility of moving the ships,
I found the ice so close that a boat could not have passed beyond
the Cape; but a light air drifting the ice slowly to the eastward
at this time, gave me some hopes of soon being enabled to make our
escape from this tedious as well as vexatious confinement. At a
quarter past eight it was high water by the shore; about this time
the ice ceased driving to the eastward, and shortly after returned
in the opposite direction.

At half past eleven P.M., some heavy pieces of the grounded ice,
to which our bow-hawser was secured, fell off into the water,
snapping the rope in two without injuring the ship. As, however,
every alteration of this kind must materially change the centre of
gravity of the whole mass, which already appeared in a tottering
state, I thought it prudent to move the Hecla out of her harbour
to the place where the Griper was lying, considering that a ship
might easily be forced on shore by the ice without suffering any
serious damage; but that one of those enormous masses falling upon
her deck must inevitably crush or sink her.

The "young ice" had increased to the thickness of an inch and a
half on the morning of the 23d, and some snow which had fallen in
the night served to cement the whole more firmly together. On a
breeze springing up from the westward, however, it soon began to
acquire a motion to leeward, and at half an hour before noon had
slackened about the ships sufficiently to allow us to warp them
out, which was accordingly done, and all sail made upon them. The
wind having freshened up from the W.N.W., the ships' heads were
got the right way, and, by great attention to the sails, kept so
till they had got abreast of Cape Providence, after which they
were no longer manageable, the ice being more close than before. I
have before remarked that the loose ice in this neighbourhood was
heavy in proportion to the floes from which it had been broken;
and the impossibility of sailing among such ice, most of which
drew more water than the Hecla, and could not, therefore, be
turned by her weight, was this day rendered very apparent, the
ships having received by far the heaviest shocks which they
experienced during the voyage. They continued, however, to drive
till they were about three miles to the eastward of Cape
Providence, where the low land commences; when, finding that there
was not any appearance of open water to the eastward or southward,
and that we were now incurring the risk of being beset at sea,
without a chance of making any farther progress, we hauled in for
the largest piece of grounded ice we could see upon the beach,
which we reached at six P.M., having performed six miles of the
most difficult navigation I have ever known among ice. The Hecla
was made fast in from eighteen to twenty feet water close to the
beach, and the Griper in four fathoms, about half a mile to the
westward of us.

The situation in which the ships were now placed, when viewed in
combination with the shortness of the remaining part of the
season, and the period to which our resources of every kind could
be extended, was such as to require a more than ordinary
consideration, in order to determine upon the measures most proper
to be pursued for the advancement of the public service, and the
security of the ships and people committed to my charge. Judging
from the close of the summer of 1819, it was reasonable to
consider the 7th of September as the limit beyond which the
navigation of this part of the Polar Sea could not be performed,
with tolerable safety to the ships or with any hope of farther
success. Impressed, however, with a strong sense of the efforts
which it became us to make in the prosecution of our enterprise, I
was induced to extend this limit to the 14th of September, before
which day, on the preceding year, the winter might fairly be said
to have set in. But even with this extension our prospect was not
very encouraging: the direct distance to Icy Cape was between
eight and nine hundred miles, while that which we had advanced
towards it this season fell short of sixty miles.

By Mr. Hooper's report of the remains of provisions, it appeared
that, at the present reduced allowance (namely, two thirds of the
established proportion of the navy), they would last until the
30th of November, 1821; and that an immediate reduction, to half
allowance, which must, however, tend materially to impair the
health and vigour of the officers and men, would only extend our
resources to the 30th of April, 1822; it therefore became a matter
of evident and imperious necessity, that the ships should be
cleared from the ice before the close of the season of 1821, so as
to reach some station where supplies might be obtained by the end
of that, or early in the following year.

By the same report, it appeared that the fuel with which we were
furnished could only be made to extend to a period of two years
and seven months, or to the end of November, 1821; and this only
by resorting to the unhealthy measure of both crews living on
board the Hecla during six of the ensuing winter months.

The ships might be considered almost as effective as when the
expedition left England; the wear and tear having been trifling,
and the quantity of stores remaining on board being amply
sufficient, in all probability, for a much longer period than the
provisions and fuel. The health of the officers and men continued
also as good, or nearly so, as at the commencement of the voyage.
Considering, however, the serious loss we had sustained in the
lemon-juice, the only effectual antiscorbutic on which we could
depend during at least nine months of the year in these regions,
as well as the effects likely to result from crowding nearly one
hundred persons into the accommodation intended only for
fifty-eight, whereby the difficulty of keeping the inhabited parts
of the ship in a dry and wholesome state would have been so much
increased, there certainly seemed some reason to apprehend that a
second winter would not leave us in possession of the same
excellent health which we now happily enjoyed, while it is
possible that the difficulty and danger of either proceeding or
returning might have been increased.

A herd of musk-oxen being seen at a little distance from the
ships, a party was despatched in pursuit; and Messrs. Fisher and
Bushnan were fortunate in killing a fine bull, which separated
from the rest of the herd, being too unwieldy to make such good
way as the others. He was, however, by no means caught by our
people in fair chase; for, though these animals run with a
hobbling sort of canter, that makes them appear as if every now
and then about to fall, yet the slowest of them can far outstrip a
man. In this herd were two calves, much whiter than the rest, the
older ones having only the white saddle. In the evening, Sergeant
Martin succeeded in killing another bull; these two animals
afforded a very welcome supply of fresh meat, the first giving us
three hundred and sixty-nine, and the other three hundred and
fifty-two pounds of beef, which was served in the same manner as

[Footnote: The total quantity of game obtained for the use of the
expedition during our stay upon the shores of Melville Island,
being a period of nearly twelve months, was as follows: 3 musk
oxen, 24 deer, 68 hares, 53 geese, 59 ducks, 144 ptarmigans:
affording 3766 pounds of meat.]

It was gratifying to me to find that the officers unanimously
agreed with me in opinion that any farther attempt to penetrate to
the westward in our present parallel would be altogether
fruitless, and attended with a considerable loss of time, which
might be more usefully employed. They also agreed with me in
thinking that the plan which I had adopted, of running back along
the edge of the ice to the eastward, in order to look out for an
opening that might lead us towards the American Continent, was in
every respect the most advisable; and that, in the event of
failing to find any such opening after a reasonable time spent in
search, it would be expedient to return to England rather than
risk the passing another winter in these seas, without the
prospect of attaining any adequate object; namely, that of being
able to start from an advanced station at the commencement of the
following season.

At three P.M. we were abreast of Cape Hearne; and, as we opened
the bay of the Hecla and Griper, the wind, as usual on this part
of the coast, came directly out from the northward; but, as soon
as we had stretched over to Bounty Cape, of which we were abreast
at eight P.M., it drew once more along the land from the westward.
The distance between the ice and the land increased as we
proceeded, and at midnight the channel appeared to be four or five
miles wide, as far as the darkness of the night would allow of our
judging; for we could at this period scarcely see to read in the
cabin at ten o'clock. The snow which fell during the day was
observed, for the first time, to remain upon the land without
dissolving; thus affording a proof of the temperature of the
earth's surface having again fallen below that of freezing, and
giving notice of the near approach of another long and dreary

At seven P.M., a fog coming on, we hauled up close to the edge of
the ice, both as a guide to us in sailing during the continuance
of the thick weather, and to avoid passing any opening that might
occur in it to the southward. We were, in the course of the
evening, within four or five miles of the same spot where we had
been on the same day and at the same hour the preceding year; and,
by a coincidence perhaps still more remarkable, we were here once
more reduced to the same necessity as before, of steering the
ships by one another for an hour or two; the Griper keeping the
Hecla ahead, and our quartermaster being directed to keep the
Griper right astern, for want of some better mode of knowing in
what direction we were running. The fog froze hard as it fell upon
the rigging, making it difficult to handle the ropes in working
the ship, and the night was rather dark for three or four hours.

At a quarter past three on the morning of the 30th, we bore up to
the eastward, the wind continuing fresh directly down Barrow's
Strait, except just after passing Prince Leopold's Islands, where
it drew into Prince Regent's Inlet, and, as soon as we had passed
this, again assumed its former westerly direction; affording a
remarkable instance of the manner in which the wind is acted upon
by the particular position of the land, even at a considerable
distance from it. The islands were encumbered with ice to the
distance of four or five miles all found them, but the Strait was
generally as clear and navigable as any part of the Atlantic.

Having now traced the ice the whole way from the longitude of 114°
to that of 90°, without discovering any opening to encourage a
hope of penetrating it to the southward, I could not entertain the
slightest doubt that there no longer remained a possibility of
effecting our object with the present resources of the expedition;
and that it was therefore my duty to return to England with the
account of our late proceedings, that no time might be lost in
following up the success with which we had been favoured, should
his majesty's government consider it expedient to do so. Having
informed the officers and men in both ships of my intentions, I
directed the full allowance of provisions to be in future issued,
with such a proportion of fuel as might contribute to their
comfort; a luxury which, on account of the necessity that existed
for the strictest economy in this article, it must be confessed,
we had not often enjoyed since we entered Sir James Lancaster's
Sound. We had been on two thirds allowance of bread between ten
and eleven months, and on the same reduced proportion of the other
species of provisions between three and four; and, although this
quantity is scarcely enough for working men for any length of
time, I believe the reduction of fuel was generally considered by
far the greater privation of the two.

As it appeared to me that considerable service might be rendered
by a general survey of the western coast of Baffin's Bay, which,
from Sir James Lancaster's Sound southward, might one day become
an important station for our whalers, I determined to keep as
close to that shore during our passage down as the ice and the
wind would permit; and as the experience of the former voyage had
led us to suppose that this coast would be almost clear of ice
during the whole of September, I thought that this month could not
be better employed than in the examination of its numerous bays
and inlets. Such an examination appeared to me more desirable,
from the hope of finding some new outlet into the Polar Sea in a
lower latitude than that of Sir James Lancaster's Sound; a
discovery which would be of infinite importance towards the
accomplishment of the Northwest Passage.


Progress down the Western Coast of Baffin's Bay. - Meet with the
Whalers. - Account of some Esquimaux in the Inlet called the River
Clyde. - Continue the Survey of the Coast till stopped by Ice in
the Latitude of 68¼°. - Obliged to run to the Eastward. - Fruitless
Attempts to regain the Land, and final Departure from the
Ice. - Remarks upon the probable Existence and Practicability of a
Northwest Passage, and upon the Whale Fishery. - Boisterous Weather
in Crossing the Atlantic. - Loss of the Hecla's Bowsprit and
Foremast. - Arrival in England.

The wind continuing fresh from the northward on the morning of the
1st of September, we bore up and ran along the land, taking our
departure from the flagstaff in Possession Bay, bearing W.S.W.
five miles, at half past four A.M.

The ice led us off very much to the eastward after leaving Pond's
Bay; and the weather became calm, with small snow towards
midnight. In this day's run, the compass-courses were occasionally
inserted in the logbook, being the first time that the magnetic
needle had been made use of on board the Hecla, for the purposes
of navigation, for more than twelve months.

On the morning of the 3d we passed some of the highest icebergs I
have ever seen, one of them being not less than one hundred and
fifty to two hundred feet above the sea, judging from the height
of the Griper's masts when near it.

The vegetation was tolerably luxuriant in some places upon the low
land which borders the sea, consisting principally of the
dwarf-willow, sorrel, saxifrage, and poppy, with a few roots of
scurvy-grass. There was still a great deal of snow remaining even
on the lower parts of the land, on which were numerous ponds of
water; on one of these, a pair of young red-throated divers, which
could not rise, were killed; and two flocks of geese, one of them
consisting of not less than sixty or seventy, were seen by Mr.
Hooper, who described them as being very tame, running along the
beach before our people, without rising, for a considerable
distance. Some glaucous gulls and plovers were killed, and we met
with several tracks of bears, deers, wolves, foxes, and mice. The
coxswain of the boat found upon the beach part of the bone of a
whale, which had been cut at one end by a sharp instrument like an
axe, with a quantity of chips lying about it, affording undoubted
proof of this part of the coast having been visited at no distant
period by Esquimaux; it is more than probable, indeed, that they
may inhabit the shores of this inlet, which time would not now
permit us to examine. More than sixty icebergs of very large
dimensions were in sight from the top of the hill, together with a
number of extensive floes to the northeast and southeast, at the
distance of four or five leagues from the land.

While occupied in attending to the soundings, soon after noon, our
astonishment may readily be conceived on seeing from the masthead
a ship, and soon after two others, in the offing, which were soon
ascertained to be whalers, standing in towards the land. They
afterward bore up to the northward along the edge of the ice which
intervened between us, and we lost sight of them at night. It was
now evident that this coast, which had hitherto been considered by
the whalers as wholly inaccessible in so high a latitude, had
become a fishing station, like that on the opposite or Greenland
shore; and the circumstance of our meeting so few whales in Sir
James Lancaster's Sound this season was at once accounted for by
supposing, what, indeed, we afterward found to be the case, that
the fishing-ships had been there before us, and had, for a time,
scared them from that ground.

It was so squally on the morning of the 5th that we could scarcely
carry our double-reefed topsails, while, as we afterward learned
from the fishing-ships, which were in sight at daylight, there was
scarcely a breath of wind at a few leagues' distance from the
land. We coasted this low shore, as we had done in the preceding
voyage, at the distance of two or three miles, having from
twenty-three to twenty-nine fathoms water. We here met with
another of our fishing-ships, which proved to be the Lee, of Hull,
Mr. Williamson, master; from whom we learned, among other events
of a public nature which were altogether new to us, the public
calamity which England had sustained in the death of our late
venerable and beloved sovereign, and also the death of his Royal
Highness the Duke of Kent. Mr. Williamson, among others, had
succeeded in getting across the ice to this coast as high as the
latitude of 73°, and had come down to this part in pursuit of the
fish. One or two of the ships had endeavoured to return home by
running down this coast, but had found the ice so close about the
latitude of 69½° as to induce most of the others to sail back to
the northward, in order to get back in the same way that they
came. Mr. Williamson also reported his having, a day or two
before, met with some Esquimaux in the inlet named the River Clyde
in 1818, which was just to the southward of us. Considering it a
matter of some interest to communicate with these people, who had,
probably, not been before visited by Europeans, and that it might,
at the same time, be useful to examine the inlet, I bore up, as
soon as I had sent our despatches and letters on board the Lee,
and stood in towards the rocky islet, called Agnes's Monument,
passing between it and the low point which forms the entrance to
the inlet on the northern side.

At six in the evening of the 6th, being near the outermost of the
islands with which we afterward found this inlet to be studded, we
observed four canoes paddling towards the ships; they approached
with great confidence, and came alongside without the least
appearance of fear or suspicion. While paddling towards us, and,
indeed, before we could plainly perceive their canoes, they
continued to vociferate loudly; but nothing like a song, nor even
any articulate sound, which can be expressed by words, could be
distinguished. Their canoes were taken on board by their own
desire, plainly intimated by signs, and with their assistance, and
they at once came up the side without hesitation. These people
consisted of an old man, apparently much above sixty, and three
younger, from nineteen to thirty years of age. As soon as they
came on deck, their vociferations seemed to increase with their
astonishment, and, I may add, their pleasure; for the reception
they met with seemed to create no less joy than surprise. Whenever
they received a present or were shown anything which excited fresh
admiration, they expressed their delight by loud and repeated
ejaculations, which they sometimes continued till they were quite
hoarse and out of breath with the exertion. This noisy mode of
expressing their satisfaction was accompanied by a jumping, which
continued for a minute or more, according to the degree of the
passion which excited it, and the bodily powers of the person who
exercised it; the old man being rather too infirm, but still doing
his utmost to go through the performance.

After some time passed on deck, during which a few skins and ivory
knives were bought from them, they were taken down into the cabin.
The younger ones received the proposal to descend somewhat
reluctantly, till they saw that their old companion was willing to
show them the example, and they then followed without fear.
Although we were much at a loss for an interpreter, we had no
great difficulty in making the old man understand, by showing him
an engraved portrait of an Esquimaux, that Lieutenant Beechey was
desirous of making a similar drawing of him. He was accordingly
placed on a stool near the fire, and sat for more than an hour
with very tolerable composure and steadiness, considering that a

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Online LibrarySir William Edward ParryThree Voyages for the Discovery of a Northwest Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and Narrative of an Attempt to Reach the North Pole, Volume 1 → online text (page 11 of 21)