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Arctic Christmases 1850 & 1852

1850: Onboard HMS Resolute they celebrated Christmas with a call to “Let our Arctic Christmas rival its predecessors. Although nature here denies us the accustomed decorations for his reception, let us give the old Father [Christmas] a rich jolly welcome, and I’ll warrant we shall receive an ample return.” (Arctic Miscellanies, p. 145)

The Illustrated Arctic News December 1850 Christmas Day


In the Arctic Illustrated News that same year McDougall wrote:
“Christmas Day in Latitude 74° North…has the merit of being a novelty, although we must plead guilty to being like most other people sufficiently old fashioned, to prefer spending it at Home…we ‘Mariners of England’ shall have to do fun 1850 as we have done before, namely spend a merry Christmas and a Happy New Year amongst those jolly mortals called Shipmates…It is true no gentle hand rests on ours, no laughing child clambers on our knee…We… rejoice in the unfaded beauty of her who never spoke a word unkind…Such can only be found in that one bright spot – an Englishman’s Home! Yet our chair will be there, and our name will not be forgotten. God be thanked we have each our consolation. We rejoice in the hope that they are happy, they gladden with the thought that we are doing our duty.

“And so we will, gallant Friends! Thanks to Her Majesty’s Roast Beef and plum pudding – our Christmas in spite of Emperor Zero must be a jovial one, and we can best insure a happy entrance to the coming Year, by drawing still closer the bonds of friendship which unite us to our Brother Arctic Navigators.”

1852: When the Belcher Expedition was divided at Beechey Island during the autumn Belcher took his flagship, HMS Assistance, and steam tender, Pioneer, up the Wellington Channel. Kellett sailed westward with HMS Resolute and steam tender Intrepid. Although similar, the Christmas celebrations unfolded a bit differently in each camp. Onboard HMS Assistance and Pioneer the men marked the Winter Solstice with the opening of their theatre. They passed the evening of the shortest day by attending the Pioneers’ performance of Hamlet, followed by the Assistances’ ‘much admired comedy’ of The Scapegrace.

The Queen's Arctic Theatre 1852 onboard HMS Assistance, under the patronage of Captain Sir Edward Belcher. and manager Commander Richards

Onboard HMS Assistance on Christmas Day Belcher wrote about what had happened in the middle of the night: “At midnight certain sounds of music, not customary, were noticed near my cabin door, and permission to enter having been granted [there followed the recitation of] a Christmas Ode…


A Christmas Piece
Awake! Awake! The Old Year’s going,
Time flies a pace;
Awake! Awake! The New Year’s coming,
To take the old one’s place.

Arise, arise, good shipmates all,
And do not danger fear;
Arise, arise, good shipmates all,
To welcome the New Year.

God bless our brave old Commodore,
And our good Commander too;
Not forgetting all our Officers
And our true and gallant crew!

Sleep on again, and on your brows
May soft repose be seen!
Sleep on again, while in our lay
We’ll sing, God bless the Queen!”
(Last of the Arctic Voyages, by Edward Belcher, vol I p. 189-190)

Onboard HMS Intrepid on 23 December 1852 the Intrepids welcomed the men from HMS Resolute to their performance of “a series of tricks in legerdemain, interspersed with songs, recitations, etc. Captain McClintock and Lieut. Pim had, with the most praiseworthy zeal and forethought, gone to considerable expense in providing amusing tricks which were entrusted to Mr. Krabbe…

“Nothing could have gone off with greater eclat than the entertainments of the evening; the laughter and surprise were at times intense, particularly when the qualities of the “inexhaustible bottle” were, top the intense delight of the recipients of its contents, proved to be something beyond mere fiction…

“Christmas Day has at length arrived and many were the expressions of good will and friendship interchanged. The Intrepids with their usual hospitality, provided luncheon; and, after a walk for an appetite, all the officers of the squadron met at 5 pm in the gun-room of the Resolute and sat down to a substantial dinner. Besides other delicacies, there was a splendid piece of roast beef (killed in April), an Arctic hare, and a noble paunch of Arctic Venison weighing twenty-one pounds. The latter was the favourite dish, and called forth the unqualified praise of all present. The evening was spent agreeably over a new and amusing game (called ‘Quack’) introduced by Lieutenant Mecham.

“I had almost forgotten to say, the men had an extra allowance issued, and at 1 pm sat down to good fare, the various tables being decorated with transparencies, flags, and devises of various descriptions alike appropriate and tasteful.” (Eventful Voyage, p. 170)

God bless them everyone!
The RESOLUTE Blog will return on 26 December 2020

A follower on my Facebook page added this information about “Zero’s tricks”:
You asked if anyone had any inking about what the reference to “Zero’s Tricks” may be alluding to. This may, or may not, be an explanation. Card games were, as they are now, very popular with seafarers who have a lot of time on their hands at night. There are a number of old card games where, if you do not have anything to give even a hint of a winning bidding hand ( a hand like a fist some of us call it), you may go to the other extreme and bid “Zero Tricks” – which means, you know you are really up against it, but reckon you can strategically lose every hand ! That is not as easy as it sounds as, if your opponents can make you win even just once, you are ‘dog tucker’ and incur a massive penalty deduction in points. Mind you, if you miraculously succeeded in losing every single play, your points reward is greater than going “full no trumps” 

By Elizabeth Matthews

Leading authority on HMS Resolute

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