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Good Words 1860
The Fate of Franklin

(continued from page 116)

On the 12th July, the Fox was off Cape Farewell, the southernmost point of Greenland, and on the 24th, reached the Danish settlement of Godhaab, on the east coast of Davis' Straits, and transferred one of the crew, who had shewn symptoms of diseased lungs, to a vessel about to leave for Copenhagen. At Disco Bay, they secured the services of a young Esquimaux as dog-driver, and a team of dogs, afterwards supplemented at the settlements of Proven and Upernavick, still further to the north. On the 6th August, they arrived at the latter cluster of huts, well known to the readers of Kane's second voyage as the first inhabited spot he reached in his memorable escape from Smith's Strait in 1855. They had on board, as interpreter, Petersen, one of the party who accompanied Kane on that expedition, and whose enthusiasm in the cause had led him to join M'Clintock from Copenhagen, just before the yacht left Aberdeen, and though he had only returned six days previously from Greenland, after a year's absence from his family. Here the last letters for home were landed, and the vessel's head turned seaward.

The drifting ice, which invariably obstructs the passage to Baffin's Bay, was reached next day; and after an attempt to find a middle passage, in the course of which they were once caught in the margin of the floe, and only escaped by the assistance of the screw, it was resolved to look for an opening on the north. On the 12th, they reached Melville Bay, in lat. 79 deg., but found the whole sea to the northward blocked up by the ice. It was too late in the year to retrace their steps with a reasonable hope of reaching Barrow's Straits before the season closed; and in the hope of the autumnal winds drifting southwards the pack, and so opening up a passage, they anchored to a berg, and, after three days' calm, were gladdened by their anticipations being realised, and finding themselves steaming along a widening lane of water through the ice to the north-west. But on the following evening the pack closed in around them, and they were cut off from all power either of advancing or retreating.

The drift next day continued to the north-west, and carried the little vessel, of course, along with it; but on the 20th it ceased, and M'Clintock already began to apprehend the possibility of having to winter in the pack. It was a trying thought; but he could only abide his fate, and resolve, if it was to be such as he feared, "to repeat the trial next year, and in the end, with God's aid, perform his sacred duty."

The next two days they drifted seven miles west-ward, and on the 27th, succeeded in forcing the yacht a mile and a half through the ice. It again closed in upon her, and in the two weeks that followed, they made by drift only twenty-seven miles. On the 13th September, they were within twelve or fifteen miles of comparatively open water, but the pack held them fast.

It was clear, at last, that there was to be no escape till spring, and the preparations for wintering were forthwith begun. They faced the gloomy prospect of more than half a year of absolute inutility with cheerful resignation; and the disappointment which the delay would entail on the highly-wrought expectations of Lady Franklin, appears to have caused more regret than any mere selfish anticipations as to themselves.

A school was opened on board by Dr Walker, the surgeon and naturalist of the expedition, and the spirit of inquiry shewn by his pupils is spoken of by M'Clintock as gratifying in the extreme. This, with the exercising the men in the construction of snow huts, as preparative for their spring travelling, and the hunting the seal and bear, did much to while away the monotonous days of their imprisonment. On the 1st of November, they bade farewell to the sun; on the 30th, the thermometer had descended to 64 deg. below freezing.

On the 4th December, the first death took place on board—the engine driver having fallen down a hatchway, and received such injuries that he died two days afterwards. "A funeral at sea," writes M'Clintock, "is always peculiarly impressive; but this evening, at seven o'clock, as we gathered around the remains of poor Scott, reposing under a union-jack, and read the burial service by the light of lanterns, the effect could not fail to waken very serious emotions." And now, too, a steady drift from the north set in, and, day by day, they became aware that, in their icy prison, they were driving further and further from their destination. In the course of December, they had been carried northwards sixty-seven miles; and when the sun at last appeared above the horizon on 28th January, were close upon the latitude of Upernavik.

They had been aware of very narrow escapes from the rupture of the ice during the darkness that had now passed over; but daylight revealed to them "evidences of vast ice movements having taken place when they had fancied all was still and quiet, and they now saw how greatly they had been favoured, and what innumerable chances of destruction they had unconsciously escaped." By the 1st of March, they were south of the 70th parallel: and on the morning of the 7th, the high lands of Disco were again seen.

But the lanes of water in the pack now began to open, and deliverance seemed near at hand. They had still, however, a perilous race to run before it was gained. While the pack remained entire, they were at least comparatively safe; the danger commenced, in the true sense of the word, when the vessel had to be steered among its shattered and heaving fragments. The month of April was full of days of anxiety and excitement. Gales from the north told severely on the continuity of the ice; and on one occasion a rift was escaped with difficulty. At last, on the 17th, the ship was fairly adrift, and, in a heaving gale, running fast along the narrow channels that opened up to the south and east; but only to be again frozen up on the following day. A week later, and the great swell of the Atlantic was felt for the first time, "lifting its crest five feet above the hollow of the sea, causing its thick covering of icy fragments to dash against each other" and the little bark. "The pack had taken upon itself," as Dr Kane had expressed it, "the functions of an ocean," and, amidst a chaos of contending masses and shattered bergs, they had to steer their course to the open sea.

"How," writes M'Clintock, "can I describe the events of the last two days. It has pleased God to accord us a deliverance in which His merciful protection contrasts—how strongly!—with our own utter helplessness, as if the successive mercies vouchsafed to us during our long winter and mysterious ice-drift had been concentrated and repeated in a single act. Thus forcibly does His great goodness come home to the mind." Knowing well that near the edge of the pack the sea would be very heavy and dangerous, he had yet taken advantage of a favourable wind to run what he well calls his ice-tournament, and make an effort for escape. A few hours after the wind failed, and the vessel had to trust to her steam-power alone. By this time the swell of the ocean, covered with countless masses of ice and numerous large berg-pieces, to touch one of which latter must have been instant destruction, was rising ten feet above the trough of the sea. The shocks became alarmingly heavy; it was necessary to steer head on to the swell, which was sufficient to send the waves in showers of spray over an iceberg sixty feet high, as they slowly passed alongside. Gradually, as the day wore on, the swell increased into a sea; but still, as by magic, they escaped all contact with any but the young ice, and, by the afternoon, found the latter become more loose, and clear spaces of water visible ahead. They steered on at greater speed—received fewer, though still more severe shocks—had room at length to steer clear of the heavier pieces—and at last, at 8 p.m. on the 25th, " emerged from the villanous pack, and were running | fast through straggling pieces into a clear sea. The engines were stopped, and Mr Brand (the engineer, and the only one since the death of Scott able to work them) permitted to rest, after eighteen hours duty."

"Throughout the day," says M'Clintock, "I trembled for the safety of the rudder and screw. Deprived of the one or the other, even for half an hour, I think our fate would have been sealed. . . . On many occasions the engines were stopped dead by ice checking the screw; once it was some minutes before it could be got to revolve again. Anxious moments those ! After yesterday's experience, I can understand how men's hair have grown gray in a few hours. Had self-reliance been my only support and hope, it is not impossible that I might have illustrated the fact. Under the circumstances, I did my best to insure our safety, looked as stoical as possible, and inwardly trusted that God would favour our exertions. What a relief ours has been, not only from eight months' imprisonment, but from the perils of that one day ! Had our little vessel been destroyed after the ice broke up, there remained no hope for us. But we have been brought safely through, and are all truly grateful, I hope and believe."

During the 242 days in which they had been imbedded in the ice, they had been carried southwards no less than 1385 miles, the longest drift ever known. They now steered for Holsteinborg, a port of Greenland; and, after a short stay to take in provisions, began again to coast southwards to their old quarters in Melville Bay, which, after more than one hard battle with the ice, and a narrow escape of leaving their vessel on a reef of rocks near Buchan Island, on which she ran aground, they reached on the 19th June, two months earlier than in the previous year. The passage across Baffin's Bay to the mouth of Lancaster Sound was still one of extreme difficulty, in the course of which the imprisonment of last year seemed more than once likely to be their fate again; but, on the 16th July, they were fairly over, and " dodging about in a tub of water" off Cape Warrender.

The ice still blocked up the whole of Lancaster Sound, and three weeks were devoted to a visit to Pond's Bay, some seventy miles further north, and to a close interrogation of the Esquimaux tribes in the vicinity, as to some rumours of wrecks reported to have taken place in their neighbourhood, but which it was ascertained were unfounded. On the 9th of August they were again off Lancaster Sound, now comparatively open; and, two days later, anchored off Beechey Island, where, as already mentioned, Franklin spent his first winter.

On the 16th, the Fox sailed from Beechey Island for Peel Channel, by which it was hoped that an access might be gained to Victoria Strait, on the shores of which, the expected traces of the Erebus and Terror were to be sought. For two days this route was pursued without interruption; but on the evening of the second, the disappointed crew beheld in their front a sheet of unbroken ice, extending from shore to shore. Hot daring to lose a moment in what would most probably have been a fruitless attempt to force a passage, the vessel's head was again turned, and the last chance of an access by the parallel estuary of Prince Regent's Inlet and Bellot's Strait, reported to form a passage to the open water on the west, tried by their now doubly-anxious commander. The crisis of the voyage was fast approaching. "Does Bellot Strait really exist? If so, is it free from ice?" They reached its mouth on the 20th, and found locked ice streaming out of the opening. The next day they had forced their way half through, but the lock to the west was so consolidated, that though seventeen days were spent in repeated efforts, and they were at last enabled on the 6th September to steer right through the passage, all further progress was at last abandoned as hopeless, and the yacht, on the 28th, made secure for the second winter in a little creek on the northern shore. "To-day we are unbending sails and laying up the engines, uncertainty no longer exists, here we are compelled to remain; and if we have not been so successful in our voyaging as a month ago we had good reason to expect, we may still hope that Fortune will smile upon our more humble, yet more arduous pedestrian explorations—'Hope on, hope ever!'"

(To be continued.)

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