The 19th Century Discovery
At the beginning of this century many secrets of the sea still remained
unrevealed to man. The north coast of America and the Arctic Ocean beyond
were still plunged in mysterious darkness. Cook in several places had advanced far
into the Antarctic Ocean, but a wide area still lay open to the adventurous seaman.
Many coasts, many groups of islands scattered over the vast ocean,
awaited a more accurate survey, and would no doubt have remained unexplored for longer
time, if gold, as in former times, had still been the sole magnet which attracted the
seafarer to distant parts of the world. But fortunately science had now become a power
which inspired man, without any prospect of immediate profit, with the same great expense
and the same great danger.
The Arctic Navigators
We shall begin with a short history of Arctic discovery and afterwards
continue towards the South Pole. In spite of the unsuccessful efforts of a Frobisher,
a Davis, a Hudson, and a Baffin, England had never given up the hope
of discovering a northern passage to India, either direct across the Pole,
or round the north coast of America. It had been one of the chief objects of Cook's
third voyage to find a sea-path from Behring's Straits to Baffin's or Hudson's Bay.
Some years yerlier we see Captain Phipps renewing the old attempt to sail
direct to the Pole (1773), but, like his predecessor Hudson, he reached no
farther than the northern extremity of Spitzbergen, where his vessel, surrounded by
mighty ice-blocks, would have perished but for a timely change of wind.
This drive back damped for a time the spirit of discovery; but hope
refreshed again when it became known that Scoresby, on a whaling expedition in the Greenland
seas in 1806, had attained 81' N. lat. and thus approached the Pole to
within 540 miles. No one before him had ever reached so far to the north, and an open sea
tempted him mightily to proceed, but as the object of his voyage was strictly commercial, Scoresby
felt obliged to sacrifice his inclinations to his whaling duty and to steer again to the
During the continental war, England indeed had little leisure to
prosecute discoveries in the Arctic Ocean but not long after the conclusion of
peace in 1818 two expeditions were sent out for that purpose.
Captain Buchan, with the ships "Dorothea" and "Trent,"
sailed with instructions to proceed in a direction as due north as might be possible
through the Spitzbergen Sea. Having after much difficulty gained lat. 80' 34'north
in that polar archipelago, he was compelled to withdraw and try his fortune off the
western edge of the pack. Here however a tremendous gale, threatening every moment to
crush the ships between the large ice-blocks persuaded the bold experiment of dashing
right into the body of the ice, a practice which has been used by whalers in extreme
cases, as their only chance of escaping destruction.
After the storm, by setting more head-sail and risking to lose the
masts already battered with the great pressure, the vessels splitting the ice were finaly
released from their perilous situation. Unfortunately the "Dorothea" was
found to be completely disabled. A short time at Fairhaven in Spitzbergen was spent
to do the necessary repairs, and even then she was unfit for any farther service than the
voyage of return to England. Franklin volunteered to prosecute the
enterprise with the "Trent" alone, but the Admiralty Orders
opposed such a proceeding, and the vessels returned home in company.
Meanwhile Captain John Ross, with the "Isabella" and "Alexander,"
had proceeded to Baffin's Bay, but instead of exploring Smith's, Jones's,
and Lancaster Sounds, which later voyages have proved to be each an open channels
to the Polar Sea, he contented himself with Baffin's assertion that they
were enclosed by land, and, after having thus fruitlessly accomplished the circuit of the
bay, returned to England.
With Parry's first expedition, which took place in the following year of 1819,
the epoch of modern discoveries in the Arctic Ocean, may be said to begin. Sailing
right through Lancaster Sound, he discovered Prince Regent Inlet, Wellington
Channel, and Melville Island. Then the ice was rapidly gathering, the vessels
were soon beset, and, after getting free with great difficulty, Parry was only too
glad to turn back, and settle down in Winter Harbour. It was no easy task to attain
this dreary port, as the canal two miles and a third in length had first to
be cutt throuhg solid ice of seven inches, newerless this was accomplish in three
days. The two vessels were immediately put in winter trim, and everything done to make the
ten months' imprisonment in those Arctic solitudes as comfortable as possible.
It was not before the 1st of August that the ships were able to leave Winter
Harbour. Parry once more stood boldly for the west, but no amount of skill or
patience could penetrate the obstinate masses of ice. Finding, the barriers absolutely
invincible he gave way, and, steering homeward, reached London on November 3, 1820
Franklin's Overland Expedition in 1821
At the same time Franklin, Richardson, and Back, with two English sailors and a
troop of Canadians and Indians, were penetrating by land to the mouth of the Coppermine
River, where they planed to make boat voyage of discovery along the coasts of the Icy
Ocean. The travellers started from Fort York, in Hudson's Bay, on the
30th of August, 1819, and after a voyage of 700 miles up the Saskatchewan,
reached Fort Cumberland, where they spent the first winter. The next found them 700
miles further on their journey, entrenched during the extreme cold at Fort Enterprise.
During the summer of 1821 they accomplished the remaining 334
miles, and on the 21st of July commenced their exploration of the Polar Sea in two
birch-bark canoes. In these, brittle shallops they skirted the desolate coast of the American
continent, 555 miles to the cast of the Coppermine, as far as Point Turnagain,
when the rapid decrease of their provisions and the shattered state of the canoes
imperatively compelled their return.
Then began a dreadful land-journey of two months, accompanied by all
the horrors of famine. They were glad to satisfy their hunger with scraps of roasted
leather or burnt bones, from prey which the wolves might have abandoned. On reaching the Coppermine
a raft had to be framed, a task accomplished with the utmost difficulty by the
exhausted party. One or two of the Canadians had already fallen behind, and never
rejoined their comrades, and now three or four sank down, and could proceed no farther. Back,
with the most vigorous of the men, had already pushed on calling help from Fort Enterprise.
Richardson, Hood, and Hepburn volunteered to remain with the disabled
men, near a supply of the rock-tripe, while Franklin pursued his journey with the
others capable of bearing him company.
They found the Fort Enterprise completely deserted and a note
from Back stating that he bad gone in search of the Indians. Some cast-off
deer-skins and a heap of bones sustained their flickering life-flame. After eighteen
miserable days, they were joined in their dreary quarters by Richardson and Hepburn,
the sole survivors of their party. At length, when on the point of sinking under
their sufferings, three Indians sent by Back brought them timely succour. After a
while they were able to join this valuable friend, and the following year brogth them
safely back to England.
Parry's Sledge-journey to the North Pole
We can pass over Parry's second and third voyages, undertaken in the years 1821
and 1824, which were consumed in fruitless endeavours to penetrate westward, the
first through some unknown channel to the north of Hudson's Bay, the second through
Prince Regent's Inlet; but his last attempt to reach the North Pole, by boat
and sledge-travelling over the ice, is definitively worth of notice. His hopes of success
were founded on Scoresby's descriptions, who had seen ice-fields so free from
either fissure or hummock, that, had they not been covered with snow, a coach might have
been driven many leagues over them in a direct line, But when Parry reached the
ice-fields to the north of Spitzbergen lie found them of a very different nature,
composed of loose rugged masses, which rendered travelling over them extremely fatiguing
The strong flat-bottomed boats-amphibious constructions, half sledge,
half canoe, expressly built for an amphibious journey over a region where solid ice was
expected to alternate with pools of water, had frequently to be unloaded, in order
to be raised over the intervening blocks or mounds, and repeated journeys backward and
forward over the same ground were the necessary consequences. In some places the ice took
the form of sharp pointed crystals, which cut the boots like perknives. Iin others,
sixteen or eighteen inches of soft snow made the work of boat-dragging both rationing and
tedious. Sometimes the men were obliged, in dragging the boats, to crawl on all-fours, to
make any progress at all, and one day, when heavy rain melted the surface of the ice, four
hours of vigorous effort accomplished only half a mile.
Yet in spite of all these obstacles they toiled cheerfully on and on,
until at length the discovery was made, that while they were apparently advancing tonvards
the Pole, the ice-field on which they journeyed was moving to the south, and thus
rendering all their exertions fruitless. Yet though disappointed in his great hope of
planting his country's standard on that unattainable goal, Parry had the glory of
reaching the highest latitude (82' 45) ever attained by man.
Before this adventurous voyage, Franklin, Richardson, and Back,
forgetful of their long life and death struggle with famine (1819), had once more (1825)
bent their steps to the north. This time they chose the mouths of the Mackenzie for
the starting point of their discoveries, and having separated into two parties, proceeded
to the east and west, and explored 4000 miles of unknown coast.
In 1829 Captain John Ross, having, for a loner time
vainly solicited government to send him out once more on an Arctic expedition, was
enabled by the charity of a private individual, Mr. Felix Booth. He purchased a
small steamer christened "Victory". The selection of the vessel was
unlucky and very unpractical for paddle-boxes sticking among ice-blocks. The veteran
commander was fortunate to be accompanied by his nephew, James Ross, who with every
quality of the seaman united the ardour and knowledge of the most devoted naturalist.
He it was who discovered the peninsula which in compliment to the
patron of the expedition was named Boothia Felix; to him also we owe the discovery
of the Magnetic Pole. But the voyage is far more remarkable for its
unexampled continuity during a space of five years.
The first season had a fortunate termination. On the 10th of August,
1829, the "Victory" attained Prince Regents Inlet, and reached
on the 13hs the spot where Parry on his third voyage had been obliged to abandon
the "Fury." Of the ship itself no traces remained, but the provisions
which had providently been stored up on land were found untouched. The solid tin boxes had
effectually preserved them from the voracity of the white bears, and the flour, bread,
wine, rum, and sugar were found as good after four years, as on the day when the
It was to this discovery, that Ross owed his following
preservation, because how else could he have passed four winters in the Arctic waste?
On the 15th of August Cape Garry was attained, the most southern
point of the inlet which Parry had reached on his third voyage. Fogs and drift-ice
considerably retarded the progress of the expedition, but Ross, though slowly,
moved on, so that about the middle of September the map of the northern regions was
enriched by some 500 miles of newly discovered coast. But now winter broke in with all its
Arctic severity, and the "Victory" was obliged to seek refuge in Felix
Harbour, where the useless steam-engine was thrown overboard as a nuisance, and the
usual preparations made for spending the cold season as agreeably as possible.
The following spring, from the 17th of May to the 13th of June, was
employed by James Ross on a sledge journey, which led to the discovery of King
William's Sound and King William's Land; and during which he penetrated
so far to the west, that he had only ten days' provisions for a return voyage of 200 miles
through an empty wilderness.
After an imprisonment of full twelve months the "Victory"'
was set free on the 17tli of September, 1830, and proceeded once more on her
discoveries. But the period of her liberty was short indeed. After advancing three miles
in one continual battle against the currents and the drift-ice, she again froze fast on
the 27th of the same month.
In the following spring we again see James Ross extending
the circle of his excursions and hoisting the British flag upon the site of the Northern
Magnetic Pole, which, however moves from place to place within the glacial zone.
On the 28th of August, 1831, the "Victory,"
after a second imprisonment of eleven months, was warped into open water, and, after
having spent a whole month to advance four English miles, was again enclosed by the ice on
the 27th of September.
But seven miles in two long years! According to this measure, there was
but little hope indeed of ever seeing Old England again the only chance left was to
abandon the vessel and to reach Baffin's Bay by open boats, and get a homeward passage in
some whaler. Accordingly the colours were nailed to the mast-head of the "Victory"
and then Officers and crew took leave of the ill-fited little vessel, on the 23rd of
April,1832. Captain Ross was deeply moved on this occasion, becaus, after
having served forty-two years in tlhirty-five different ships, this was the first he had
ever been obliged to abandon as a wreck.
Provisions and boats had now to be transported over long tracts of
rugged ice, and as their great weight made it impossible to carry all at once, the same
ground had to be traversed several times. Terrific snow storms retarded the progress of
the wanderers. During the first month of their pilgrimaue through the wilderness, although
they had travelled 329 miles, they only gained thirty in a direct line.
On the 9th of June, James Ross, accompanied by two men and with
a fortnights provisions, left the main body to ascertain the state of the boats and
supplies at Fury Beach. Returning, they met their comrades on the 25th of June with
news that they had found three of the boats washed away but enough still remained for
their purpose, and that all the provisions were in good condition.
On the 1st of July the whole party arrived at Fury Beach, where
after having repaired the weather-worn boats, they set out again on the 1st of August,
and, after much buffeting among the ice in their frail shallops, reached the mouth of the
inlet by the end of the month. But here they were doomed to disappointment because after
several fruitless attempts to run along Barrow's Strait, the obstructions from the
ice forced them to haul the boats on shore and pitch their tents.
Barrow's Strait was found from repeated surveys to be one
impenetrable mass of ice. After lingering here till the third week in September, it was
unanimously agreed that their only resource was to fall back again on the stores at Fury
Beach, and spend their fourth winter in that dreary solitude. Here they sheltered
their canvass tent with a wall of snow, and setting up an extra stove made themselves
tolerably comfortable until the increasing severity of the winter made them perfect
prisoners. Scurvy now began to appear, and several of the men fell victims to the scourge.
Their diminishing food gave them but little hope of surviving another year.
It may be imagined how anxiously the aspect of the sea was watched
during the ensuing summer, and with what beating hearts they at length embarked on the
16th of August. The spot which the year before they had attained after the most strenuous
exertions was soon passed, and slowly winding their way through the ice-blocks with which
the inlet was encumbered, they now saw the wide expanse of Barrow's Strait open
before them. With spirits invigorated by hope they push on, alternately rowing and
sailing, and on the night of the 25th rest in a good harbour on the eastern shore of Navy
Board Inlet. "A ship in sight! " is the joyful sound that awakens them early
on the following morning; and never have men more hurriedly and energetically set out,
never have oars been more indefatigably plied. But the elements are against them, calms
and currents conspire against their hopes, and to their inexpressible disappointment the
ship disappears in the distant haze.
But after a few hours of suspense the sight of another vessel lying to
in a calm relieves their despair. This time their exertions are crowned with success; and,
wonderful! the vessel which receives them on board is the same "Isabella "
in which Ross made his first voyage to these seas.
They told him of his own death, and could hardly be persuaded that it
was really he and his party who now stood before them.
Thus when Back, volunteered to lead a relief expedition in quest
of Ross, 4000 pounds were immediately raised by public subscription to defray the
expenses of the undertaking. While deep in the American wilds Back learned
the object of his search had safely arrived in England, but, instead of returning home,
he decided to trace the unknown course of the Thlu-it-scho, or Great Fish River,
down to the distant outlet where it pours its waters into the polar seas. It would take a
volume to recount his adventures in this wonderful expedition.
MClure, Kane, M'Clintock
The account of Arctic discovery have gronwn into distinctness on the map. Passing over
Simpson's wonderful boat-voyage along the northern shores of America, which led to
the discovery of 1600 miles of coast (1837-1839), and Rae's important
researches on Melville Peninsula (1846, 1847), I proceed to the last expedition of Sir
John Franklin. The veteran seaman left England in the sixtieth year of his age,
once more to try the northwestern passage. But since his last despatches, dated from the Whalefish
Islands, Baffin's Bay, July 12th, 1845, months and months, and then
years and years, elapsed without bringing any tidings of his fate. Collinson and MClure,
Penny and Inglefield, Kane and Bellot, and so many other worthies, went out to search
for the "Erebus" and "Terror," and in spite of all their
efforts mystery still overhung the ill-fated expedition. Thenl M'Clintock raised
the veil and informed world how miserably most of the gallant seamen perished in those
The search for Franklin is a page in history of which a nation
may well be proud. Had Franklin been ever so successful, he could not possibly have
achieved so much for Arctic discovery as his loss gave rise to. To the disasters of his
voyage we owe the knowledge of all the coasts of that intricate conglomeration of islands
which faces the Pole, and of all the channels.
South Polar Expeditions
The series of modern South Polar expeditions was opened in 1819 by
Smith's casual discovery of New South Shetland. Soon afterwards a Russian
expedition under Lazareff and Bellinghausen discovered in January, 1821,
in 69' 3' south lat., the islands Paul the First and Alexander, the most
southern lands that had ever been visited by man.
The year after, Captain Weddell, a sealer, penetrated into the icy sea as far
as 74' 15' south lat. three degrees nearer to the pole than had been attained by the
indomitable perseverance of Cook. Swarms of petrels animated the sea, and no ice
impeded his progress, but as the season was far advanced, and Weddell apprehended
the dangers of the return voyage, he steered a again to the north.
In 1831 Biscoe discovered Enderby Land, and soon afterwards Graham's
Land, to which the gratitude of geographers has since given the discoverer's name.
Then follows Balleny who in 1839 revealed the existence of the group of
islands called after him, and of Sabrina Land (69' south lat.)
About the same time three considerable expeditions appear in the
southern seas, sent out by France, the United States, and England.
Dumont D'Urville discovered Terre Louis Philippe (63' 30' south lat.) in
February, 1838, and Teirre, Adelie (66' 67' south lat.) on the 21st
of January, 1840.
Almost on the same day, Wilkes, the commander of the United States
exploring expedition reached a coast which he followed for a length of 1500 miles, and
which has been called Wilkes' Land, to commemorate the discoverer's name. But of
all the explorers of the southern frozen ocean, the palm unquestionably belonos to Sir
James Ross, who penetrated farther towards the Pole than any other navigator
before or after, and followed up to 79' south lat. a steep coast, whose enormous glaciers,
stretched far out into the sea.
In 77' 5' south lat. he witnessed a magnificent eruption of Mount
Erebus. The enormous columns of flame and smoke rising two thousand feet above the
mouth of the crater, which is. elevated 12,000 feet tbove the level of the sea, combined,
with the snow-white mountain-chain and the deep blue ocean, to form a scene, the
magnificence of which seemed to be enhanced by the reflection that no human eye had ever
witnessed its beauty, as most likely none will ever witness it again. As all the efforts
of the gallant leader to penetrate still farther to the south were baffled by a mighty
ice-barrier he yielded to the invincible obstacles of nature, and returned to more genial
climes. It is worthy of notice, that Sir James Clark Ross had accomipanied Parry
on his sledge-expedition to the North Pole, and thus acquired the unique
distinction of having approached both poles nearer than any other man.
Scientific Voyages of Circumnavigation
The wonders of oceanic life have first been shown in a more distinct light by the
labours of Chamisso, Meyen, Lesson, Darwin, Gray, Hooker, Robinson, Dana, &
co., who accompanied Kotzebue, Freycinet, Fitzroy, Ross & co., on their
world-encircling course; and numerous coasts and groups of islands, situated in the
remotest seas, and formerly only superficially known, have been accurately measured and
traced on the map by hydrographers who took part in those far-famed voyages.
Back to Maritime Discovery