As you can see I actually took a 2 day break over Christmas, despite saying I would only take Christmas Day off. Yesterday I gathered together some interesting tidbits about Resolute’s 1855 Christmas. Without a doubt this was her 2nd most adventurous holiday of her entire life! From my Resolute (concisely) page you know James Munroe Buddington was the Connecticut whaler, working for the New London whaling firm of Perkins and Smith, who found the abandoned HMS Resolute still afloat in Baffin Bay during September 1855. This whaling season hadn’t been kind to the George Henries, and here is a passage about it from my new manuscript:
“Buddington and his crew encountered storm after storm after storm. The hunting wasn’t any good either. Ice completely blocked Cumberland Sound, and only sixteen days after leaving home [29 May 1855] floating ice stove in George Henry’s port bow and knocked out her stem. Although most of the damage was above the waterline, they still needed repairs urgently, and Buddington headed east for Holsteinsborg (now Sisimiut), Greenland. En route they found dense pack ice completely blocking Davis Strait, and Buddington had to sail along its edge. Five days later quickly moving, sharp-edged flow ice severely mangled the George Henry’s cutwater (the forward edge of her prow and gripe, where the stem and keel are joined). Now, when they needed even more extensive repairs, their ability to actually arrive at Greenland was in serious doubt….On the 15TH [July], with the repairs finished, Buddington headed west hoping to manoeuvre into the pack. But the ice was still too solid to penetrate, so he steered George Henry north,along Greenland’swest coast, hoping to hunt in Disco Bay. Arriving there on 31 July, the hunting was terrible. They only caught halibut and four humpback whales, which yielded the very meagre reward of 184 barrels of oil.”
After Buddington got stuck in the pack, his lookout spotted Resolute, and he decided to investigate the ship. He helped to pump her out and found she still held water. Considering his very meager haul so far, Buddington decided to sail Resolute to his homeport for salvage. Here’s another passage from my new manuscript: “Splitting his crew, he left Quayle in charge of the George Henry with fourteen men, and took ten with him to Resolute. Using George Henry’s charts (surveyed by Beaufort’s men and produced by the British Admiralty) Buddington drew an outline of the American coast on a piece of foolscap. He took this, his lever watch, a quadrant, and a wonky unreliable compass with him to the Arctic discovery ship. But he knew it was his years of experience and extensive knowledge of these waters which would get him home. Though it would be prudent and safer for them to sail in company, Buddington advised Quayle to make his own way home if the ships got separated.”
Unfortunately they did get separated. The new American Resolutes encountered even more storms, which forced them far to the south and almost to Bermuda, where Resolute’s former captain Kellett was stationed. But the worst problem they encountered was becoming dangerously close to running out of drinking water. I write about their entire trip home in detail in the manuscript, but to shorten this blog entry a bit I am jumping ahead now to just before Christmas. The George Henry arrived home first:
“The usual holiday joy of the local whaling families must have been tainted by worry as they kept an anxious vigil for Resolute. Finally, on Little Christmas Eve, after 63 stormy days at sea, Buddington dropped anchor at Groton, his hometown. Groton’s residents had suffered dearly during the Revolutionary War and was still strongly anti-British. Most of the local patriots had been killed resisting the British advance on the heights above their town where 164 militia and local men had been manning Fort Griswold. The Yankee traitor, Benedict Arnold, led his soldiers in a two-pronged attack, using half to take Fort Trumbull still under construction on the New London side of the Thames. Then, splitting the rest he used half to scale the heights and attack Fort Griswold, while the remaining men fought their way directly into Groton. The patriots fought hard to repulse the attack on Fort Griswold, but, after its American commander, Lieutenant Colonel Ledyard, surrendered his sword, the British murdered him with it then slaughtered the entire garrison of 88 men and boys. “James Buddington’s mother, Esther Hill, was only eight days old when James’ maternal grandfather, Samuel Hill, was killed at Fort Griswold. In 1830 the town had erected a 127-foot monument to memorialise the sacrifice made by their slain martyrs, but now this British exploration ship rocked at anchor, directly in its shadow. Now, after the War of 1812 seriously damaged the local whaling and commercial fishing industries, here wasn’t much sympathy for Britain in the area, particularly as anti-British sentiments about recruitment spread across the country. With Resolute anchored in their harbour, local feelings would’ve quickly hardened against any British attempts to reclaim her.”
Tempers were already frayed enough between the two countries without any additional stress being added…but that part of Resolute’s eventful story is best saved for another day. (Again…from my manuscript:) “On Christmas Eve Buddington crossed the Thames River to New London. By the time he passed the lighthouse the pier was awash with men and women. Holding their torches high, they welcomed the brave whalers who had sailed the Arctic discovery ship to their home just in time for Christmas.”
The story of Resolute’s arrival will continue tomorrow, with additional insights made by one of the followers of my FaceBook “HMS Resolute History and News” page!
So far in this blog we have covered Lieutenant Pim’s rescue of McClure and the Investigators, McClintock’s long search and Mecham’s sledging trip. When Mecham returned to HMS Resolute it was mid summer. We haven’t covered yet Lieutenant Hamilton’s sledging search, so this is where we will focus our attention now. During his trip search parties from Belcher’s ships Assistance and Pioneer overlapped and joined Hamilton’s team. As always, quotes from the explorer’s letters and reports are in italics. From my manuscript:
Before the expedition split at Beechey, Belcher and Kellett created a rendezvous point at Latitude 77°N, Longitude 105°W for the men from the Western and Eastern branches of the expedition to deposit and share information. Kellett had given Hamilton his charts, the account of the Investigators’ rescue, and Investigator’s journal of proceedings to exchange for Belcher’s despatches. On his second trip Hamilton set out to search the northern reaches of Melville Island via Hecla and Griper Bay. Taking Hope out for 54 days, from 27 April – 21 June, his team covered 663 miles. Including several experienced Arctics, his men were George Murray, Quartermaster; Robert Hoile, Sailmaker; William Silvey, Ice Quartermaster; William Colville, Blacksmith; Thomas Wilson, AB; John Coghlan, AB; David Ross, Corporal Bombardier Royal Marines. McDougall, with several men on Erin, accompanied Hamilton until 2 May, setting up cairns before heading back to Resolute.
On his second day Hamilton met Roche returning from depositing supplies at Cape Mudge. Roche gave him directions to the depot, and a ‘very acceptable present’ of a muskox shoulder he’d been hauling. During his first few days Hamilton made good progress, reaching Roche’s Cape Mudge cairn on the 4TH. But then the coast was covered in three feet of snow, making it difficult to trace, particularly since it was devoid of any prominent points or features. Mist and fog slowed their progress, and their runners kept breaking through the ice. However, at long last on Friday the 13TH, they,
…took advantage of this fine day to dry our wet clothes and robes, also to wash our hands, face, and feet in snow, which is more refreshing than a stranger to the process would imagine. Obtained very good sites.
On 16 May, after a considerable snowfall in the night, the glare completed blinded Hoile, and partially blinded several others. Hamilton used a concoction of…
…drops of wine of opium into the men eyes, and [bathed] the eyeballs with weak spirits and water. A remedy for snow blindness I have generally found efficacious.
After dinner three days later they were astonished to hear footsteps outside their tent, and to welcome an unexpected guest, Commander George Richards. En route to Resolute, he found Hamilton’s sledge tracks and followed them for three miles to their camp. Richards told Hamilton about a cache of muskox at Latitude 76°, 33 minutes N, Longitude 104°, 50 minutes W, where he could also find Belcher’s new orders. Richards also said he’d parted ways with Osborn only the day before, and Hamilton could overtake him if he hurried. Richards then headed directly for Resolute, and Hamilton took his satellite sledge with Hoile and Ross to catch Osborn. They found the cairn containing muskox and dispatches, but hurrying on too quickly Hamilton capsized on a hummock and broke his sledge. He took off swiftly, alone on foot, reaching Osborn at 09:00 on 21 May, much to Osborn’s surprise. Osborn sent his carpenter’s mate back to help repair the broken sledge, but the resourceful Hoile, in only two hours, had already effected a temporary repair and was well on his way towards them. The carpenter used a new set of poppets he’d made from a spare batten to make a more permanent repair.
Hamilton, Osborn and their men, reached the depot containing Belcher’s new orders on 28 May. Hamilton picked up these despatches, gave Osborn Investigator’s journal, Kellett’s charts and his account of the Investigator rescue, then set off that evening, rejoining his men on 3 June. They were heartily glad to begin their homeward trek. While Hamilton was away, they’d killed a deer and four ptarmigans, making a good celebratory feast for their reunion.
Hamilton deviated from his outward route only once to examine his namesake, Hamilton Island, then reached Cape Mudge on the 14TH. The deep and muddy sludge made their progress extremely slow, but they all reached Resolute safely on 21 June.
At Resolute, Kellett had finished his detailed report on 7 May. It began in autumn 1852…
16 MARCH 2021 Today we continue on from the previous post as we follow Mecham’s spring sledging party after the celebration of William Humphrey’s 21 years of service. [From my manuscript:]
On Mecham’s third day they reached Fife Harbour, but couldn’t find the depot until they’d dug through several layers of snow and ice. Once uncovered they took pemmican and 2 casks of food for Nares to deposit in further depots. They next picked up more pemmican from the Winter Harbour Cairn, where a storm forced them into tents for several days: ‘…everyone very much cramped; tent most miserable. Crew amusing themselves with occasional songs and most amusing yarns.’ On the 11TH travel resumed overland across Dundas Peninsula. The terrain was challenging, but the weather fine and clear and they were able to dry out all their clothing, bedding, and tents. Three days later, at the Lidden Gulf Coast Cairn they re-provisioned the sledges with 45 days’ supplies, and collected 100 pounds of coal they’d found in abundance. When they headed NW for Barry Bay the bright sun caused some men to complain of painful eyes. Mecham gave them ‘wine of opium’ but by the evening of the 17TH most of the men were so affected by snow blindness Mecham switched to night travel, and placed the snow blind men at the rear, keeping their eyes bandaged and following those in front. For two nights they were able to use their sails again, and the sledges ran at a great pace over smooth, bare ice. However, this made the sledges difficult to control, and at times the racing sledges were dragging the men along behind them. When they reached the shore they headed SW, arriving at Cape Hoare on the 20TH.
Mecham’s magnetic compass was now virtually useless, as it showed Cape James Ross as being to the NE-by-E when in reality it was to the SW. The men, though gaining in general strength, now began to suffer various health issues: Thomas West got blistered shoulders, and John Bailey suffered so greatly from swelling in his legs he was unable to stand. Mecham stopped to make camp. By 25April Bailey was able to walk, though his leg was sore and swollen. Only three days later, however, he had to ride again. They arrived at Warring Bay in four days, then headed WNW along the base of a high range of steep cliffs. Unfortunately, on the 28TH the sledges couldn’t mount the immense hummocks, especially the one carrying Bailey. Nares found a lookout on a high cliff, where he could see the hummocks extended all the way to the headland and were virtually impassable. So the following day they skirted them by hiking along the shore and by the 30TH they had passed the worst.
Splitting his party on 3 May, Mecham left Nares to complete the depots and cairns along the coast, then headed westward across Kellett Strait and Crozier Channel with the rest of his men…
17 March 2021 St. Patrick’s Day Captain Henry Kellett was an Irishman from County Tipperary. The closest towns to his home, Clonacody, were Fethard to the north and Clonmel to the south. There were many Irish serving in the British Royal Navy, and several of them were involved in the searches for Franklin and his men… [From my manuscript:]
“The rescue of the Investigators was a thoroughly Irish affair. McClintock, from Dundalk, County Louth, had left the message at Winter Harbour for McClure when part of the Austin Expedition. McClure, from County Wexford, then found McClintock’s message in 1852. His reply was found by Mecham, from Cove, County Cork, in the autumn of 1852, and it was Mecham’s Irish captain, Henry Kellett, hailing from County Tipperary, who sent this relief party. In 1853 almost ⅛ of the Royal Navy were Irish, and a disproportionate number of them were Arctic explorers.”
So Happy St. Patrick’s Day to one and all!
23 March 2021 Blog Post Today we return to the remarkable spring sledging journey of First Lieutenant George Mecham, after he split his party in May 1853:
From my manuscript: “Skirting the southern coast of Eglinton Island they reached Cape Hay on Prince Patrick Island’s southern coast. Mecham climbed an outcrop and saw the coastline to the NE was buried in deep snow. He left a depot of eight days’ supplies to facilitate its later exploration, then, the weather having turned fair and warm, the men offloaded their heavy winter clothing, making each sledges 290 pounds lighter. Mecham then headed W along the southern shore, strewn with almost impassable hummocks which slowed their pace again. On the 12TH, upon inspection, Mecham found the hummocks were seriously damaging the sledges: he had 19 broken rivets on his runners alone. However, after effecting temporary repairs, they carried on.
The season was changing, and they all noticed the game around them was increasing dramatically. One daily count was seventeen reindeer, scores of ptarmigan, and two bears (who wisely took off in the opposite direction). Whenever they could they set their sails, and on the 19TH they reached the shoreline which turned toward the north. On Queen Victoria’s birthday, the 24TH, Mecham gave the men an extra half gill of rum to celebrate. Despite the earlier increase in game, it was scarce again along this monotonous shoreline, and they started running short of food. Their dog, Buffer, was sadly reduced to just licking clean the pannikins for his sustenance.
The next day, Mecham took the boat off his sledge, placed the game traps and all their remaining gear under it, fixed a flag to it, and left it behind. Taking only the tent, stove, fuel and food, his sledge weight was now down to 65 pounds per man. With renewed effort they set off again to the NE. The traveling continued being slow, difficult, and filled with obstacles. It was so tiring many of the men fell asleep, snoring loudly, before their meals were even ready. By 28 May Mecham only had nine days’ provisions left, and he was 150 miles from his last depot.
[He wrote] ‘Had the country been at all favourable for game I should certainly persevere to the NE for another day or two, but that not being the case, particularly as these northerly winds have set in with the change of moon, [I have] determined to steer across the land to the southward. Trusting that my supposed longitude is relatively correct, I shall endeavour to make the coast a little to the westward of Wolley Bay, by which I may escape the high and steep land seen in the vicinity of Walker Inlet.’
He led his men back to the boat and supplies, then headed across country under sail at a brisk walk. In fact the sails were driving them along at such a pace they had to occasionally heave to in order to catch their breath. This clear run ended on 30 May when they again confronted rough terrain, and they had to take their sails down. The next day they made camp at the head of Walker Inlet.
While hunting in the surrounding ravines Mecham was standing on top of a steep bank when it suddenly collapsed and he fell thirty feet. Fortunately the snow was deep and soft, and he sustained no injuries. Others went out hunting, returning to camp with most welcomed fresh meat and fowl.
Interestingly, when Mecham tried trekking into the interior, the men were so completely disoriented by no longer seeing the sea they couldn’t figure out where they were. Even though Mecham told them their location they were so completely flummoxed they didn’t believe him, and broke out into arguments.”
28 March 2021 (1853 Mecham’s sledging trip continued from my manuscript) …The following night Mecham shot a buck deer which made a great feast for all…By 4 June the bay opened out and they could see Eglinton Island. Mecham led his men NE to pick up their provisions from the cairn they had filled earlier. Continuing along the unexplored shore the men still hoped for some evidence of Franklin or Collinson, but found nothing. The following day Mecham saw a hump in the snow which he thought might be a cairn, and upon getting closer he picked up sledge tracks. After digging through the snow, and opening the cairn he discovered it was one of McClintock’s. Mecham was a bit put out by this, because he had been looking forward to exploring land unseen by European eyes.
Disappointed, Mecham headed east toward Melville Island. At Eglinton Island he discovered more of McClintock’s month old records. After climbing a cliff to peer over the fog and mist which had suddenly surrounded his party, Mecham discovered he couldn’t see Melville Island at all. Despite this, he led his men across Kellett Strait and reached it on the 11TH. There he found another McClintock cairn. When the weather cleared it was almost too hot for the men to sleep inside the tents during the day, and by 12 June they started sleeping on a sail outside. Even the nights were so warm the men stripped to their flannel long underwear when hauling the sledges.
With the snow melting Mecham’s men were knee deep in water in many places. On the 14TH they reached a Nares cairn alarmingly surrounded by wolf tracks. It was undisturbed, however, and contained a notice saying Bailey’ health was improving. The men took welcomed provisions, bathed for the first time since leaving the ship, then shared a veritable feast.
What had been a dull and monotonous coast was now alive with streams and the calls of ptarmigans, plovers, and geese. Mecham rested the men for a day, then set out around 19:30 the following evening. The melting ice was making their travel almost impossible, but they continued on trudging through deep water and wading through thick sludge. When Mecham’s sledge broke in two while crossing a hummock they had to use a Spanish windlass to pull the broken parts together, lash them securely with hide, then strengthen the sides with spare battens. Luckily, the following day they hoisted their sails and didn’t have to pull the sledges at all. Turning eastward along Melville Island’s southern coast they approached Warrington Bay, but there deep sludge forced them inland onto bare earth where they couldn’t pull their sledges. Disappointingly, they had to return to the compressed ice hummocks along the shore.
The southern coast of Melville Island was deeply indented, but Mecham had to search its entirety to be certain he didn’t miss any evidence of the lost men. On 21 June the weather warmed up enough that the precipitation was rain, not snow. This made travel worse by increasing the number, size, and force of the streams racing down to the sea, where the ice was covered with 14 inches of water. On the 23RD Mecham wrote:
‘The water here is…covered with strong young ice, which together with the sharp wind occasioned great pain to the feet and ancles [sic], also ruination to the boots.’
It took his men eleven hours to cover only 22 miles. On a positive note, game was more plentiful and their hunting successful. In one morning they shot 3 hares, and killed two muskox. While some men built another cairn and filled it with supplies, Mecham walked the shoreline and discovered they would soon have to haul their sledges across torrential rivers and through water four feet deep.
Despite such setbacks Mecham’s party reached Bushman Cove by 27 June. There they examined another McClintock cairn located next to the remnants of a cart left by Sir Edward Parry in 1820. Mecham returned McClintock’s documents to the cairn while the men set up camp. The next day they camped at Nares’ main depot, which contained a good quantity of lime juice and fresh vegetables. The best items Nares left in this cairn were new leather boots for each man so they could replace the remnants of theirs that had rotted away, leaving most of them nearly barefoot. Nares also left a cart that had wheels instead of the sledge runners. With bare ground increasing daily this should have been a welcomed relief. However, after they had loaded all their traps in the cart they…
‘…were obliged to unload again and proceed with half the traps. The country here is a perfect swamp, the wheels sink down to the axel trees in the mud; so that we are hardly able to move the cart along, and occasionally it drags off our boots. [At 11:00 we] pitched the tent and lunched; sent the crew back with cart for the remaining traps. P.M. Went on to examine the road beyond; found no improvement, but it is intersected with deep and rapid streams. At the large ravine the stream is about fifty yards wide, four feet deep, and running with great fury. Built occasional cairns as guides for tomorrow’s route. [At] 6: cart arrived; encamped. The men dead tired. Raining hard all the afternoon…[after the night’s rest] 8: started with cart, carrying half our traps. 8:30. It stuck fast in a swamp close to a snowy patch. Loaded the sledge and proceeded, winding about to keep on small patches of snow, which obliged us to go over about four times the distance; indeed we were put to a wits’ end to get along at all.’
Mecham found the most hazardous aspect of crossing the fast rivers was breaking through weak surface ice and being suddenly immersed in four feet of rushing water, soaking them to their armpits…
10 April 2021 blog post:
[From my manuscript]…On 3 July Mecham finally reached Winter Harbour, and encamped on the site of Sir Edward Parry’s observatory. Mecham deposited their charts of discovery under the big sandstone boulder where the Investigator had left their information. Mecham also found the notification of the Investigators’ rescue.
On Wednesday the 6TH at 13:00, after 91 days covering 1,173 miles, 785 of which were new discoveries, the Mecham party arrived alongside the Resolute.Kellett was away surveying, but the remaining officers welcomed them home with flags flying. The weary travellers were heartily cheered by their ships’ companies. Mecham wrote to Kellett:
[I am] deeply grateful to the Almighty for the preservation of our health and strength during this journey. We much regretted our unsuccess [sic] in its primary object; but on our arrival at the lagoon depot, I with pleasure read your letter relating the success of another party of our shipmates in the discovery of HMS ‘Investigator’and the safe arrival of them all onboard the ‘Resolute’; also the general welfare which had attended all the parties detached from the expedition in execution of your orders…The amount of game procured, together with the care displayed by James Tullett in issuing the provisions and fuel, would have enabled me to have extended the journey for several days longer had I not been stopped short by finding the coast had been searched by Captain McClintock. In justice to the men of my party, I beg to refer you to my chart, which will I feel convinced, show the amount of labour it cost them in tracing a coast exposed for such an extent to heavy old pack [ice]. The constant wet traveling and swampy state of Melville Island during the summer was equally labourious. Throughout the journey their conduct excited my warmest admiration. We all arrived onboard in excellent health, though I regret to say Charles Nisbett had lost the sight of his right eye since the 10TH of June.
After Roche returned to Resolute from Pim’s Investigator rescue mission, Kellett began strength training the men while carpenter Dean completed the finishing touches on the captain’s sledge, HM Sledge Erin. (All of the sledges had names, flags and mottos.) Kellett had the men haul gravel on their sledges to the ships. Not only did this increase their strength but, with the new ballast in the holds, it also prepared the ships for sailing later in the summer.
Additionally, Kellett distributed extra travelling clothes to the men. Roche recorded some thoughts about his in an unpublished journal:
“For a short party of twenty or thirty days, the spare drawers, flannel shirt, one pair of stockings, one pair of wrappers, towel and soap, may be dispensed with…I never wore myself a single particle of cloth whilst traveling, a suit of chamois leather answered the purpose of keeping out the wind and was not near so heavy….In the severest cold two pair of woollen drawers and one pair of duck overalls are quite sufficient…In the warm months one pair of drawers and the chamois drawers will be ample. In lieu of the thick flannel waistcoat a thin chamois leather waistcoat worn outside two thick flannels with or without a shirt, over which in cold weather [one can add] a duck overall jumper. On the feet one pair stockings, one pair blanket wrappers, boot hose and moccasins soled with leather [were] the usual ‘rig’ of the travellers. With these I used to wear a pair of sealskin boots (hair inside) soled with leather. I found these very comfortable. They seldom required cleaning inside. and I never had cold feet with them.”
He did not have cold feet, but I would hazzard a guess that very few of his shipmates got within a few feet of him if they could help it! In their shared tents they may have fallen asleep quickly to avoid the results of Roche’s cut-back wardrobe.
Word Press seems to have lost my last update, so I am redoing it here Sunday 7 March 2021, from my manuscript:
On the morning of departure day, 4 April, Kellett raised a flag on Dealy Island’s summit, then the officers joined him for a large breakfast. Afterward everyone assembled on the ice. The sledges, arranged in divisions, pointed toward their directions of travel. With flags fluttered in the breeze Kellett gave a rousing speech, followed by enthusiastic cheering. He wasn’t an overly religious man but after the cheering died down he offered a prayer.
McClintock and De Bray led the largest team, headed NW for Hecla and Griper Bay. McClintock’s Star of the North, carried a smaller satellite sledge. McClintock’s men were: Captain of Sledge George Green, Ice Quartermaster; Henry Giddy, Bo’s’u’n’s Mate; John Salmon, Fo’c’sle Captain; Royal Marine Privates John Hiccles and Jeremiah Shaw; Richard Kitson, John Drew (replacing Thomas Hood) and Richard Warne, Able Bodied Seamen.
McClintock’s orders from Kellett were to carefully examine the NW coasts…
‘…for traces of the missing, and depositing records in conspicuous places for the combined purpose of a search for traces of Sir John Franklin, and of depositing notices in conspicuous places as to where supplies are left (for any parties that might reach such positions from Captain Collinson’s [ships]…you will keep ample notes, or remarks on the new coast you will have to travel along, a journal of your proceedings, and obtain data for putting on paper the coast or islands you may discover. To assist the memory in protracting your walking journey (and future navigators), you will name on your skeleton chart all capes, bays, islets, &c, if possible, from something characteristic of themselves. On the same chart you should lay off daily the true course you have been steering, and the estimated distance you have marched, leaving for your return the correction of this dead reckoning by the astronomical observations you may be enabled to obtain, and without sacrificing to them time might be occupied in marching. Possessing as you do the same opinion with myself, that yours is a most important direction for search, I feel confident that your personal exertions will be equal to the importance of your mission, and that those under your command will vie with each other in seconding you. It now only remains for me to assure you of the deep interest I feel for your own personal welfare and success, as well as of those under your command.‘
De Bray had the sledge Hero and eight men: Captain of the Sledge John Cleverly, Gunner’s Mate; James Miles, Leading Stoker; Samuel Deane, Carpenter’s Mate; Alexander Johnstone, Steward; William Walker, Stoker; Robert Ganniclift and Thomas Hartnell, Able Bodied Seamen.
In De Bray’s orders Kellett indicated his high regard for McClintock, an active officer…‘…whose example you will do well to follow… and I feel assured that from the zeal you have manifested in the equipment of your sledge as well as in the other matters connected with traveling, you will do great credit to the distinguished service to which you belong.’
Kellett accompanied McClintock for seven days, with Erin, and Richard Hobbs, William Johnson, Frederick Brooke, William Kluth, James Cornelius, Thomas St. Croix and John Halloran to create a cairn of supplies…
Hamilton headed to NE Melville Island, then he would circle round to Hecla and Griper Bay, with George Murray, Ice Quartermaster; William Colwill, Blacksmith; Royal Marine David Ross, Abraham Surry, Cooper. Joseph Bacon, cook, and Able-Bodied Seamen John Coglin and Thomas Wilson on the sledge Hope. So few men remained the departing men could hardly hear their enthusiastic cheers. Mecham and Nares, heading due west, had the advantage of a favourable easterly wind and raised their sails. The other teams had to struggle without help from the wind gods. As a result, after traveling nine hours, McClintock’s team only covered 10 ½ miles. By the evening the weather improved, but rough terrain, ‘cheerless and forbidding in the extreme…’ dashed their high hopes the next morning. When a northerly wind worked itself into a full gale on the 6TH, it caused the temperatures to drop to -10°F, blowing right into their faces and the snow reduced their visibility to only 20 – 30 yards. The men struggled to erect their tents in deep snow drifts. They remained in them for four days, where -11°F and cramped conditions meant…
‘...our sleeping bags and furs [were] very wet, the snow-drift having penetrated from without, and the condensed vapour from our provisions, our breath, and the evaporation from our bodies, from within.‘
The gale ended on the 11TH allowing the men to spread their bags and furs in the bright sunshine. When they broke camp they found the snow had filled the deep ravines making their work much more difficult and dangerous. But the intrepid explorers carried on and eventually reached their autumn cairns. These men navigated hummocks and ravines, battling thick fog and raging snow storms while the rugged terrain chewed up their wooden sledges, keeping the carpenters busy. To augment their diet they hunted muskox and reindeer, hares and ptarmigan, which boosted both their strength and morale.
On 11 April Kellett and his men returned to camp, where the remaining Resolutes and Intrepids had spring cleaned and repaired both ships. Although Kellett had set his shoulder to many an arduous task over the past 30 years, he admitted sledge hauling was the most difficult labour he’d ever undertaken. Working along side his men had given him greater sympathy for them, and valuable insight into the effort required. Seeing his willingness to pitch in increased the men’s regard for Kellett too.
McClintock and Hamilton parted ways on 13 April. McClintock and De Bray continued heading NW and Hamilton, after depositing provisions, turned back south. Hoisting sails had its own dangers…”
9 March 2021 Blog Post: 1853 spring sledging continued, from my manuscript (italicised passages are quotes within my ms):
“Sometimes the wind was too strong: one day a sledge turned turtle three times. When McClintock reached the Camp Nias Cairn the provisions, thankfully, were still in good condition. McClintock took apart Captain Parry’s nearby 1822 monument to check for any recent records. Finding none he left the usual notices, and then headed toward Cape Fisher. Once again a gale forced them to make camp, though this time for only one day. The 17TH was calm and they continued towards the cape, making good time until two days later when their sledges started falling apart.
Out of 68 rivets in my sledge, 32 were found broken and 14 rivets were broken in the Hero, in fact, all the rivets in the dead flat of both sledges are gone, but near the extremes where there is little or no spring in the runner they are as firm as ever.
McClintock and De Bray reached Cape Fisher on 19 April at midday. The ice there was much easier to traverse. They saw a herd of 15-16 muskox, but all the wily beasts escaped. The following day they had better luck and McClintock shot a bull. His two female companions remained with him, resolutely facing the men. In order to carry away the dead ox the Intrepids had to chuck stones at them to drive them off.
As the days lengthened, and the bright sunshine began melting the snow, the danger of snow blindness grew. McClintock would soon have to begin night traveling. Passing Grassy Cape, the men made good progress sledging on the easy and level shore ice. They reached the most northwesterly point of Melville Island on the 30TH at Sandy Point, after which the coast lead off to the SW. Sadly, Thomas Hood’s health began deteriorating: he had severe pain in his side and began spitting blood. On 1 May McClintock made the difficult decision to send Hood back to Resolute, and the following day De Bray and several others departed with him on Hero. En route Stoker John Coombs, having been in perfect health, suddenly sank to the ground and was dead before anyone could reach him. De Bray wrapped his body in canvas and continued east, arriving at Resolute midday on 18 May.
Meanwhile McClintock continued south. By 5 May he was just north of Terrace Cape where he sent Star of the North to search Ibbett Bay. Then, taking six days’ supplies with his small satellite sledge, and Giddy and Drew, McClintock headed south into much rougher terrain, hoping to cross paths with Mecham. The small sledge allowed him more manoeuvrability as he headed toward Cape Terrace. From the top of a hill on the following day McClintock named the bay below him Purchase Bay, for Intrepid’s senior engineer. Continuing south McClintock built another cairn on a conspicuous spot, leaving a message for Mecham. Then, finding no traces of any missing men, his team headed north again and on the 8TH camped near Ibbett Bay. Crossing it McClintock met the rest of his men led by Green on Star of the North, who reported finding no Franklin or Collinson traces anywhere around the bay. The men feasted on McClintock’s fresh muskox in such quantity that, had they been back home they…
…couldn’t eat half so much…as they can here, and even if they could, they would be ashamed to do so.
The reunited team travelled toward Cape De Bray, reaching their depot on the 11TH at 03:15. After resupplying, they headed across the strait toward unexplored land. Their heavily laden sledges and newly fallen snow made headway extremely difficult. When McClintock checked the weight on Star of the North he found, to his horror, each man was hauling 65 pounds over the 215 pound limit. He helped unload half the gear, took the sledge four miles ahead, where they offloaded the rest. Returning to the provisions left behind, they reloaded and brought them forward. Continuing this time consuming process they gradually made their way across the strait hauling manageable weight…
11 March 2021 Spring Sledging 1853 continued:
The men hauling their sledges used up a great deal of fuel. From the Arctic Blue Books we can see an example of what the men were eating:
“We now consume a kettle full of stewed venison for supper, and ⅔ of a pound of pemican each for breakfast, besides a pint of chocolate; we also have ¾ pound of bacon for luncheon, and ¾ pound of biscuit daily. The kettle is capable of holding 13 pints of water, and is always crammed full of meat for supper, yet, this we consider a ‘light meal’ when divided amongst the nine of us. If we had the fuel to cook with, we wouldn’t restrict ourselves, now the fresh meat is abundant; and I think still more liberal allowance than we enjoy at present would be beneficial to the men.“
By mid May McClintock was exploring along the coast of Prince Patrick Island, and some smaller islands along its northern shore. From my ms: “When [McClintock] arrived at Resolute and Intrepid on 18 July [he and his men had] been away an unprecedented 105 days, covering 1,408 miles averaging 10½ miles daily, of which 768 miles were new territory. McClintock didn’t, however, connect with Mecham or Nares, who were completing their own extraordinary journeys.”
First Lieutenant George Mecham had the sedge Discovery, and was away for 91 days, from 4 April to 6 July. Born in 1828 in Cove, County Cork Mecham was an Irishman like Kellett . His men were James Tullett, Bo’s’un’s Mate; John Weatherall, A.B.; Charles Nisbett, A.B.; James Butler, A.B.; William Manson, A.B.; William Humphries, Private Royal Marine; Samuel Rogers, Private Royal Marine. Discovery carried 40 days’ provisions and 100 days’ equipment, and Kellett’s orders for Mecham were to complete:
…the most persevering and extended search along the SW coast of Melville Island for our missing countrymen, or traces…you will take command of HM Sledge Discovery, manned with seven men, and…Perseverance also manned with seven men…[and] will proceed to Winter harbour, and from thence across the land to Lidden Gulf, following the coast of Melville Island westerly as far as practicable, returning to this ship without fail by 15th of July…You and Commander McClintock are both marching west…[and if you meet with] time and provisions left…you will consult with him, and do what you think best for the advancement of the object of our mission…Yourself being a veteran in Arctic traveling, and also some under your command, I have great expectations from your journey; I feel confident that you will attempt anything for the good of the service you are about to be employed on.
12 March 2021 Blog Post: Kellett always made his men feel valuable members of the team. His orders to Nares, who was young and inexperienced, are a perfect example of Kellett’s leadership style:
[From my manuscript] George Nares was in charge of Perseverance. His men wereThomas Joy, Ice Quartermaster; Thomas West, Captain of the Main Top; George Kelly, Captain of the Fore Top; James Le Patsurel, Captain of the Hold; William Griffiths, A.B.; William Bailey, Private Royal Marine. Perseverance was out 58 days, until 1 June. Nares completed a detailed survey of Cape Bounty and environs on his return, brought back the game he’d hunted en route. Kellett’s orders included morale boosting words:
‘Lieutenant Mecham…in the autumn, spoke so highly of your exertion, zeal, and care of your party…[I am] confident that you will ably and efficiently second him in this very important line of search.‘
What follows is another example of Kellett’s ability to manage his men. His way filtered down through the ranks, as his officers tended to treat the men in their charges in similar ways:
[from my manuscript] If the parties crossed paths Kellett didn’t place Mecham under the command of the superior officer, instead he trusted Mecham and McClintock to reach agreement together on a way forward. Departing on 4 April and heading SW, and steering for Cape Bounty, Mecham and Nares searched the entire south coast of Melville Island, thick with bays and inlets. They then crossed the same strait as McClintock had, to explore the southern area of the newly named Prince Patrick Island. The deep snow made for heavy traveling, and unlike the parties heading due west, Mecham’s team couldn’t use their sails this first day. That afternoon James Butler fell from the hauling ropes to collapse in exhaustion. However, like a true Brit, he revived after a rest and a cup of tea. On the second day they raised their sails. After making camp, Mecham issued grog all round to celebrate William Humphries’ 21 years of naval service.
26 February 2021: To do otherwise McClure’s fiction would fall…McClure was an ambitious man. He had engineered his solo entrance into the Arctic by ignoring Kellett and pretending he really thought his superior officer, Collinson on HMS Enterprise, who led their two ship Franklin search expedition, was already ahead of him. His whole situation, which was now endangering and killing his men, was based on pretending. He couldn’t stop pretending now, or it would all be for naught. To be facing rescue from the man he had dismissed in 1850 just added irony to the mix.
McClure left first for Resolute with a small party, then Pim set off on the morning of 8 April. The Investigator’s surgeon, Armstrong, intercepted him out of earshot of his traveling party, and engaged him in a long conversation. Then Pim headed for Domville’s camp at Cape Dundas, arriving on the 14th. After he told Domville about the abysmal conditions onboard Investigator Pim sent Domville back to Resolute alone to make the quickest time. Unbeknownst to him Domville would catch up with McClure and they would arrive at Resolute together. Back at Investigator the weakest men set out on the 15th, instead of McClure’s original intended route to the eastern Arctic, he kindly let them instead sledge to Resolute. This would still be a phenomenally difficult trek.
From my manuscript: “…the weakest Investigators departed under Cresswell’s command on 15 April…All 29 suffered from advanced scurvy, including assistant surgeon Piers…When two Investigators collapsed, Cresswell ordered them walk alongside their sledge instead of pulling it. Everyone had to double up on their drag-ropes when they encountered hummocks, being too weak to pull their sledges over. On 22 April, just as they sighted Melville Island, they discovered one of their number was missing:
[From Cresswell:] ‘It was a poor fellow who showed symptoms of mental imbecility…[They] sent back to search for him, and found him in a pond of melted snow. From that time great difficulty was experienced in getting him along; he was always throwing himself on the snow to lie down; they dared not put him in one of the sledges, as already the weight was great enough for their enfeebled party, with one man totally unable to walk…’
During extremely fine weather and visibility, the men back at Dealy Island camp saw their own black dots moving in the distance, which [were] Domville and McClure’s party. Eager to hear their news, the officers hurried out to them…The rest of the Investigator group arrived throughout the afternoon, and the Resolutes and Intrepids were grateful at least now their efforts hadn’t been in vain. They’d saved a full ship’s compliment from a torturous death. To mark this, Kellett used red ink for this section in his letter to Barrow:
‘This is really a Red-letter day in my voyage and shall be kept as a Holy Day by my Heirs and Successors for Ever. At 9 o’clock of this day our lookout man made the signal for a Party coming in from the Westward. All went out to meet them and assist them in…Dr. Domville was the first person I met. I cannot describe to you my feelings when he told me that Captain McClure was amongst the next party. I was not long in meeting him and giving him many hearty [hand] shakes.’
At 18:00 the Investigators sat down to their first full meal in years. Though impatient to hear their stories Kellett allowed no one to pester them until they’d eaten their fill.”
-To be continued on Monday 1 March 2021-
By 30 April 1853 the sledging party of Investigators, whom McClure had originally ordered to cross the entire Arctic, were still en route to HMS Resolute. On this day, to their great surprise, they saw two men headed their way. They turned out to be Pim and another Resolute. They helped them sledge the final miles, arriving at Resolute on 3 May. The difficulty the Investigators had managing this 160 mile trek proved, if proof was needed, that most of them would not have survived a death march to Beechey Island.
Despite having had his men on starvation rations for a long time, McClure continued to claim to Kellett that he did not need rescuing. From my manuscript: “Although McClure continued asserting he needed no rescue, Kellett knew his true measure, and listened with his eyes instead of McClure’s words. Within only a day or two Kellett had to put several Investigators onto Resolute’s sick list due to their continued deterioration, graphically contradicting McClure’s written answers to Kellett’s queries…Wisely, Kellett put little trust in McClure’s report, and sent Domville back to Investigator to do a detailed medical survey of the remaining men. As Armstrong noted later in his journal, referring to McClure’s distain for Kellett’s advice to wait for Collinson, Kellett had already had a… ‘…specimen of our diplomatic skill in Behring’s [sic] Strait, in 1850 – the remembrance of which, may, doubtless, have influenced him, in receiving Captain McClure’s verbal report of our state of health and efficiency with great caution, as he had ample reason to distrust us. (Dr. Armstrong’s emphasis)
Kellett knew three ships’ companies would have to vie for space onboard Resolute and Intrepid if he ordered McClure to abandon Investigator, and that the bitterly disappointed captain would be living cheek-by-jowl with the object of his distain. But these considerations didn’t dissuade Kellett, whose only object was to preserve the lives of as many men as he could. Kellett told McClure that if Domville found 20 men fit enough to stay on Investigator, and only if they volunteered to stay, would he refrain from ordering McClure to abandon the ship. McClure was now nothing more than a supernumerary onboard Resolute, and this time he would have to obey Kellett, who said:
‘To make the Passage [via sailing] would be highly creditable, and redound to the national honour. It is only, in my opinion, now that the existence of the Passage is actually known, a second consideration to that of the safety of your crew.‘
On 21 May Domville and McClure arrived back at Investigator. During divisions the following morning Domville read aloud Kellett’s orders concerning the medical survey and call for any volunteers to stay. Unfortunately, there were only four such volunteers, and McClure didn’t take this well. Carpenter George Ford recorded in his journal what McClure said, then did:
‘every man had done his duty, and if he wouldn’t volunteer we were to bear it in mind it would be thought no disgrace whatever as we had done all that was expected of us but as it would contribute to the honour of our country to get the ship home, if 20 men on the examination from the doctor of the Resolute [were] found fit to stop they may volunteer, if not it would be no dishonour…[When I] told him that under the present circumstances [I] would rather go home, he told me in a harsh tone I had deceived him & ‘you can go, Sir. I’ll not keep you’…On leaving the ship he addressed all hands saying that what they had done was barely their duty & that barely, as they were going to desert their ship & captain & [he] repeated several times that all hands had barely, barely done their duty…a pretty yarn to tell people about to undertake to travel [to the Resolute] & half-starved.’
When Domville began his survey, on Monday 23 May, he found the men were suffering from scurvy, some in its most advanced stages. In his medical judgement he felt no one would be capable of sailing Investigator within a year if they stayed. Domville confirmed the abandonment. The crew prepared their ship by reducing the standing and running rigging, battening down all hatches: leaving her a fit refuge for Collinson, should he find or need her.”
2 March 2021 Blog Post Today I am ending my review of Kellett’s rescue of McClure and the men from HMS Investigator with the following short passage from my manuscript. Then tomorrow I will resume recounting the Resolutes’ and Intrepids’ spring searches for the Franklin Expedition (HMS Erebus and Terror) and Collinson and his men (HMS Enterprise).
“When determining who should receive the reward for finding the Northwest Passage, McClure lied to the Select Committee saying his men were in perfect health, and he had sufficient food onboard to maintain them for another year. At least Kellett acted honourably and selflessly with the health and wellbeing of the Investigators uppermost in his mind. McClure’s later account of his ‘discovery’ of the Northwest Passage, all on his own, amounts to nothing more than a whitewash of the true story of Investigator. And, of course, he completely omitted the role Kellett played in keeping almost all of the Investigators alive, thereby enabling them to complete the passage.”
At last we have the wifi up and running reliably, though this took quite a bit longer than expected. It feels good to return to HMS Resolute’s blog page! I was recounting Kellett’s rescue of McClure and his Investigators from Mercy Bay, to which I shall now return using passages from my new manuscript:
“Pim began training his men in February, using long walks to build up their strength. His orders were to sledge to Mercy Bay on the northern coast of Banks Island. If he didn’t find the Investigators there, he was to head down the coast along the Prince of Wales Strait to Nelson’s Head at the island’s most southern tip. Along their entire route they were to keep an eye out for Collinson and his Enterprises. Kellett ordered Resolute’s Dr. Domville to accompany Pim, then immediately returnwith a report on the Investigators’ medical condition.
Pim left camp on Tuesday 10 March 1853. But, after covering less than a mile, his large sledge broke while descending an ice hummock, and he sent Roche and all the dogs back to camp for a replacement. Just after Roche arrived at Resolute a severe gale, which created huge snowdrifts, delayed his departure for six days. When Roche finally caught up with Pim about five miles south of Cape Bounty, Pim sent him ahead to Point Hearne to build a cairn of supplies and then return to Resolute. Encountering another gale on the way Roche wrote in his journal:
‘This, my first essay at traveling, was not a very agreeable one, not withstanding my having dodged the first gale so nicely. The patented spirit lamps were a dead failure…the engineers repairing them afterwards found they had been put together in a most rascally manner…We had preserved meats all the cruise and I must say that I didn’t fancy them at all.’
This short entry indicated just how successful the Resolutes and Intrepids had been in their hunting, which allowed them to eat only fresh or freshly frozen meats while onboard.
Pim’s party made slow but steady progress. Overcast weather diminished their visibility, making it difficult to discern advantageous routes, but on 29 March an easterly wind cleared the sky and they raised sails. Their good fortune didn’t last. When John Barrow broke a runner crashing down a glassy hummock Pim sent Domville back to Cape Dundas with it telling him, ‘Remain there snuggly encamped behind some hummock and await my return.’ Pim then took the James Fitzimans in all due haste with every dog and two men. As he crossed Melville Sound both the weather and the state of the ice improved.” To be continued tomorrow!
(“Tomorrow” was pick-up-our-new-puppy day, so I am returning to the rescue of the Investigators today, Monday, instead!)
On my birthday, 6 April, but 101 years before I was born, McClure and a couple of his men were looking for a place in the solid ice for the location of the grave for their shipmate Boil, who had recently died of scurvy and dysentery. While they were engaged in this endeavour one of the Investigators came running to them, pointing toward a black spec on the horizon…
“At first their spirits rose thinking about the possibility of muskox for dinner. However, as the black dot got closer resembled a man running towards them. McClure thought it might be one of his men being chased by a polar bear, but the other Investigators saw more dots running towards them and cried out…‘They are men!’
If so, they must be Inuit. Might they share their precious winter food with starving men? The Investigators held their collective breath until one of the strangers, with such a blackened face they had absolutely no doubt he was an Inuit,‘…began [to] screech and throw up his hands.’
McClure demanded, ‘In the name of God, who are you?’ as the stranger stepped forward, he uttered words which ran through the Investigators like an electric shock:
‘I am Lieutenant Pim, late of the Herald, now of Resolute. Captain Kellett is with her at Dealy Island.’
Could they dare believe in miracles? The carpenters working on Boil’s coffin and the men digging his grave dropped their tools where they stood. Onboard Investigator the weak men rose from their sickbeds and jockeyed with the healthy to get to the deck quickly to see what wonderment was causing such excitement, clearing the lower deck within minutes. Other Investigators ran toward their deliverers. Some, not trusting their own eyes, actually touched the Resolutes’ faces to make sure they were real.”
24 February: (the rescue of McClure continued) Pim’s greeting may seem rather odd…until you know a bit more about the history between Kellett and McClure. Pim had been serving under Kellett on HMS Herald, surveying the Pacific coasts of North and South America. When Kellett became one of the very first officers sent by the Admiralty to look for the Franklin Expedition in 1848, and was ordered to head north, to what would become Alaska, Pim was still serving onboard Herald. A year later Pim was present when McClure, on Investigator, charged headlong into the Canadian Arctic alone, against Kellett’s advice and without the companionship of his superior officer, Collinson (on Enterprise). Talk about McClure probably ran through the men on Herald and it was, most likely, uncomplimentary (to say it mildly).
Pim, though on a mission to rescue as many of the Investigators as possible, seemingly could not resist letting McClure know, right off the bat, that he had the measure of the man…and knew about the shenanigans McClure had pulled to get his ship into the Arctic unaccompanied. If all McClure had been interested in was the glory of discovering either Franklin or the Northwest Passage, Pim was letting him know that he knew McClure was now paying for that glory, as were all of McClure’s men. In my manuscript I wrote:
“[After ignoring Kellett’s advice, and…] By hurrying on in this impulsive and precipitous manner, the ambitious McClure achieved independent command for his Arctic search, while trying to lay on Kellett’s shoulders any blame for negative consequences. McClure effectively split Collinson’s two-ship expedition into two one-ship expeditions, thereby putting all the Investigators and Enterprises in greater danger.”
After all the Resolutes arrived at the Investigator: “Shocked at the Investigators’ conditions, the Resolutes watched them draw lots for the evening meal, which consisted of a pannikin of tea and a very small biscuit. Seeing this ‘…their manly cheeks became moistened with tears.’ The following morning Pim was equally shocked at the meagre fare the Investigators shared for breakfast: merely a weak cup of cocoa without sugar and a moiety of bread… ‘…his feelings overcame him; he rushed to his sledge…brought a large piece of bacon, placed it before us, and gave us the only breakfast we had known for many a long day.’ This reaction so touched Armstrong [McClure’s surgeon] he subsequently wrote: ‘The remembrance of this, and his other acts of kindness to us then, will I hope, never be effaced from our recollection.’ “Pim conveyed Kellett’s order for a medical report on the Investigators’ health which Domville had to take immediately to Resolute, unless the Investigators needed urgent medical care. Pim’s instructions were to request McClure’s intended movements, quantity of provisions, and any information he had about Enterprise. Since Domville wasn’t there, McClure compiled the medical report himself with his own spin. Armstrong, Investigator’s surgeon, noted in his journal McClure never asked him to corroborate anything, and only learned Kellett had requested a medical report after he was home and read the Parliamentary Papers…
During the few days Pim remained onboard he helped however he could. He also shared the major world events of the past three years, and the Investigators devoured every detail. Extremely reluctant to admit he needed Kellett’s help, McClure had spun the tall tale he had intended to continue searching eastward. To support this fiction he continued having his weakest men prepare their sledges. The only impact Pim’s arrival had was on their destination, McClure sent them on their own to Resolute instead of the eastern Arctic. He also ordered the Investigators remaining onboard to stay on starvation rations, even though their rescue was at hand. To do otherwise his fiction would fall.”
“By spring 1853 McClure and the Investigators were in real trouble. After leaving Kellett in 1850, McClure had navigated around the southern coast of Banks Land, then north into the Prince of Wales Strait. After reaching the end of Prince of Wales Strait, McClure sledged westward onto Banks Land, arriving at its highest point on the 26TH, naming it Point Russell. His discovery consisted of his merely gazing north across Melville Sound to Dundas Peninsula on Melville Island in the far distance. He neither sledged nor sailed across, just bragged in a letter to his uncle he’d ‘discovered’ the Northwest Passage, “You will, I am certain, be very happy to learn that the Northwest Passage has been discovered by the Investigator, which event was decided on the 26th of October, 1850…” It was too late in the season to send men to the Winter Harbour Cairn to leave messages, but should’ve at first opportunity in spring ’51, especially if he truly believed Collinson was there ahead of him. Had he done so sledging parties could’ve relieved him in summer 1851.
On 14 August 1851 Investigator broke free, and McClure retraced his passage down the Prince of Wales Strait, and sailed around Banks Land’s west coast, but the pack ice defeated them in Mercy Bay on 24 September. During autumn 1851 McClure put his men on ⅔ rations, and then further reduced the food to ½ rations in December. By the end of January 1852 McClure flogged three of his half-starved men for stealing some of Mongo, the dog’s, grub. Finally, in April 1852, McClure took a party of Investigators, including John Calder, Captain of the Fo’c’s’le, to Winter Harbour, reaching it in 18 days. [There he learned about provisions which had been left in a cairn too far away for him to access.]…McClure returned to Investigator on 9 May 1852. Learning about provisions too far away to collect must have been demoralising. But…he never uttered a word of complaint, no matter how dismal the circumstances…To his credit, McClure exhibited a great deal of this during the following disheartening months….
“By January 1853 conditions deteriorated further: one of the crew was in such mental torment he had to be restrained to keep him from injuring himself or anyone else, and the ship’s baker received 2 dozen lashes on his bare back for stealing meat, flour, and dough, having eaten bits whilst preparing a meal. As the provisions got ever shorter, and more cases of scurvy presented, Calder recalled they were in a bad way, saying ‘Things looked pretty bilious.’ McClure even rationed the candles, which caused the extremely hungry men to endure fourteen days of winter darkness with only enough tallow to illuminate a total of eighteen hours. The school was closed despite having been so popular earlier, leaving the Investigators to sit in darkness with nothing to distract them from their gnawing hunger. This blackness contributed to the mental deterioration of the starving men.
Desperate times called for desperate measures, and McClure devised a contingency plan for the spring which he would put into action if Investigator was still solidly encased in ice. He decided to split his men, keeping twenty of the strongest onboard Investigator, and sending away those too weak or ill to last another winter. Half of these would head for Prince Royal Island’s cairn of supplies and boat, then head south to the Mackenzie River. The other half he’d send east to Port Leopold on Somerset Island near Baffin Bay, where Ross had left a boat in 1833. McClure expected these men to either sail for Britain or meet another ship which would carry them home.
Even to the casual observer it was obvious that McClure was sending these Investigators on a death march. McClure’s plan, however, wasn’t designed to save them, but to give the Investigators remaining onboard the strongest chance of survival, including himself…[He decided to] put the traveling men on full rations for a month before their expected departure in mid-April. This helped raise their spirits a bit, and fill out their gaunt faces; but did little to alleviate their underlying debility. Ironically, the men McClure proposed sending away seemed happy at the prospect while those staying behind appeared despondent. When one veteran earmarked for the death march was interviewed in his old age he said they were all quite certain they were going to die on the march, but they preferred to die trying to get out rather than dying doing nothing and just waiting in Investigator for the inevitable.
On 5 April, one of the crew, Boil, died of dysentery and scurvy…Despite Boil’s death McClure ordered the Investigators to load their sledges.
Across the strait, Resolutes had started their spring travels, including the use of dogs. Kellett had brought his ever faithful dog with him to the Arctic. Napoleon, called Naps for short, was an Irish retriever and a favourite amongst the men. Even McClintock had a soft spot for him. Although he would remain a steadfast proponent of man-drawn sledges McClintock supported Kellett’s decision to pick up dogs for pulling teams when they were still at Lively. After one was lost, the remaining dogs were: Lion, the team leader; Jenny, Skaings, Oosky, and Sophie, named after one of the women from Lively who had joined the men for their impromptu ball. Both Sophie and Jenny had had litters of pups in the late autumn of 1852, four of which survived. The dogs soon proved their worth on the trip to the Investigator.
Lieutenant Bedford Pim was tasked with contacting the Investigator in March 1853. His sledge was John Barrow and his men were Joseph Parr, gunner’s mate; Joseph Gibson, carpenter’s mate; William Hannan, able seaman; John Silvey, ice quartermaster; and able seamen Thomas Northhouse, John McClean, and Henry Richards. They expected to be gone for 41 days, until 19 April.
Anticipating a need for medical help, Kellett selected Dr. Domville to go too with the James Fitzimans, expecting to be away 41 days, 10 March – 14 April. His men were Robert Haile, sail maker; Emanuel Bidgood, able seaman, and five dogs. They were to be assisted by Roche’s satellite sledge, Beauty, which had the very appropriate motto ‘my God is my rock’. He’d be away for only ten days with James Cornelius, bo’s’n’s mate; Philip Thomas, fo’c’l captain; Royal Marine Sergeant Richard Hobbs; and able seamen Thomas Manson, William Power, William Culver, George Bell, William Savage; five dogs and one puppy. Pim began training in February, using long walks to build up their strength…”
To be continued next week when we have wifi at our new home!
The hearty explorers fighting to keep their spirits up throughout the dark months of the winters remind me of how we are all trying to keep our spirits up through our dark Covid winter. From my new manuscript: “Between Christmas and New Year’s Eve the men and officers resumed daily chores including working on their spring traveling gear. The carpenters rigged an electric telegraph between the ships so, even in the worst of snowstorms, they could stay in contact with each other. Midweek Nares gave his lecture about wind. On New Year’s Eve, Kellett invited the officers to his cabin for supper, where they toasted the health and happiness of their wives and sweethearts, families and friends. At midnight everyone from both ships gathered at the highest point of Dealy Island where they raised a flag and set off two rockets.
The Resolutes and Intrepids greeted New Year’s Day with a band of flutes and fifes, accordion, drum, tambourine and triangle. The warmth of the celebrations was in direct contrast to the falling temperature: the lowest reading yet ushered in the new year. On 2 January 1853 the mercury froze, and by the 4TH the thermometer stood at -48°F. McDougall cheered the men by giving his geology lecture in a humorous manner. (Anyone who’s capable of making such a dry subject funny must be quite a wag.) On 14 January the Intrepids entertained everyone again with songs and recitations, accompanied by conjuring tricks and followed with a gunroom supper. On 1 February, after much anticipation the Arctic Theatre Royal reopened with two plays: King Glumpus, performed by the officers, and Raising the Wind, performed by the men. De Bray recalled in his journal he had never been so cold as when he performed in ladies’ clothes with his feet in thin satin slippers. The costumes of Miss Durable and Peggy in Raising the Wind were truly admirable; all the articles were manufactured onboard, from the stays of number eight canvas, and laced with marline, to the black silk mantle and hood, with its crimson silk lining vying with the rouge on their cheeks. Miss Durable was perfection’s self, barring the ankles…Peggy was also capital, as far as costume and appearance went, and could she only have remained still, would perhaps have been the better of the two; but alas! There was a certain swagger and rolling in her gait, which would have brought down roars of applause…but certainly didn’t add to the ladylike appearance of a lovely, retiring, and accomplished girl yet in her teens, particularly when backed by a hitching up of the frock with both hands, as sailors occasionally do to the waistband of their trousers.
King Glumpus by John Barrow, Jr. followed an interlude of songs and recitations. The ‘women’ in this play wore masks and extravagant dresses, complete with bustles. McDougall’s ‘…faithless spouse [De Bray] wore a bloomer costume, such as is…worn by decoy bar girls in London as an inducement to very young men to expend a certain amount of capital in a glass of beer.’ [From McDougall’s Eventful Voyage of HMS Resolute]
Many thought Nares’ Queen, complete with coronet, could’ve been mistaken for Boadicea. The men truly suffered for their art: even within five feet of the stove the temperature was -5° F. The ‘women’ felt it the most and drank hot whiskey punch to keep warm. Off stage their unladylike postures included extending their legs over the heating stove. After the last curtain-call the officers dined in Intrepid’s gunroom, and the men’s supped in the mess.
After the carpenters dismantled the stage, the men returned to spring sledging preparations. The shoemakers made boots, the sailmakers robes and tents; each man made his traveling costume. The lectures resumed with McDougall’s about Arctic exploration, Nares’ lecturing on mechanics and how pulleys and levers work. Men studied various subjects alone like navigation and maths. One noble soul planned to read the whole ten volume Encyclopaedia, but gave up after the first two. Some men played games of draughts (checkers) and chess; and of course, Kellett required daily exercise. No Arctic hardship was more strongly felt than the loss of light for months. The plays, work, lecture games, exercises,…all lightened that burdensome darkness.”
30 January 2021 blog post carries on from above: The Resolutes and Intrepids spent the rest of the dark winter attending lectures and preparing their travelling gear, while Kellett and McClintock organised the spring sledging parties. Over the course of the spring and summer they would spread across Melville Island, painstakingly searching every coastal indentation for any signs of the Franklin men, or Collinson and his Enterprises. However, the very first sledging party Kellett would send out was going to find McClure and his men on Investigator. He hoped they were still where their 1852 message had said they were. This is a passage from my manuscript which describes the finding of that message in autumn 1852: “Most excitingly, Mecham and his men arrived at camp six days after Pim with great news. After being away twenty-two days laying out cairns, Mecham found a cylinder from McClure under a sandstone boulder. Containing a chart of his discoveries, it informed whomsoever found it the Investigators were wintering in Mercy Bay. With no updated materials Kellett correctly assumed they were still there. Resolutes and Intrepids wanted to leave immediately, but, because it was too late in the season, Kellett made the extraordinarily difficult decision to keep everyone in camp. McClure’s Investigators would have to survive till spring before receiving help from him. Kellett vowed to send the very first team to Mercy Bay in spring.”
McClure and his men were indeed still in Mercy Bay, and their plight was worsening by the hour. In tomorrow’s blog I will address McClure’s efforts to find Franklin and their desperate situation, and following that how Kellett rescues them in the spring of 1853.
During the winter of 1852-1853 Captain Kellett took daily walks with his second in command Lieutenant Commander McClintock (HMS Intrepid). I note in my ms: “McClintock described his captain as a ‘very communicative and pleasant companion, in full sympathy with all of [my] ideas and plans.’”
Since I did not blog about Resolute’s 1852-1853 theatre performances earlier, only those on Assistance, this is what I wrote about the winter activities in my manuscript, beginning in November:
“The Resolutes elected Kellett as head of their Theatrical Committee, a role he gladly took up, serving with Domville and McDougall. The Resolutes began rehearsals in preparation for their first performances after the sun disappeared. The Theatre Committee also oversaw the stage’s completion on Resolute’s main deck, the organisation of a series of lectures to be given by the officers and men, and a series of classes taught by those willing to share their knowledge and expertise to those willing to learn. McDougall gave the first talk on the history of Arctic expeditions during the 1800s, and taught eight students the principles of navigation. Kellett lectured about astronomy: outlining its history from the earliest times, including the many theories which led to astronomers’ current expertise. Domville gave two talks about chemistry, surprised that almost all of the Resolutes and Intrepids attended. He illustrated his points with simple experiments, and concluded with how thermometers and barometers work. Nares lectured about winds: how they are created, including monsoons, land and sea breezes, and the Tradewinds…
“The Resolutes and Intrepids willingly attended the lectures and classes, but their greatest enthusiasm was reserved for the eagerly anticipated theatre performances, the highlight of the season’s activities. Much hard work went into learning lines, and the imaginative creation of costumes and scenery. McDougall was Resolute’s primary set designer and painter, and in charge of creating costumes. Finding the ensembles for the female parts significantly difficult to make, even though some items had been brought from Britain for this purpose, he had to rely on his considerable ability to improvise…
“Finally, on 23 November, the great day came to raise the curtain on Resolute’s Arctic Theatre Royal, the first in that region since Parry’s 1822 performance. After a quickly devoured early supper, the actors completed their finishing touches: the ‘ladies’ shaved, and De Bray applied their makeup, which consisted of magnesium to whiten their faces, and Chinese rouge to bring some colour back onto their cheekbones. Kellett was given the best seat in the house: an armchair set against the mainmast with a canopy made from flags and Kellett’s family coat of arms. Resolute’s and Intrepid’s officers sat in the front row.
“The evening began precisely at 18:30 with the orchestral performance, consisting of six fifes, an accordion, a drum and a triangle. Dressed as the Hyborean King, Dr. Domville read out McDougall’s prologue in a strong voice: ‘Tis now some two and thirty years ago, This region of eternal ice and snow Was first discovered by one Edward Parry, Who near this spot eleven months did tarry; Icebound as you are now, like you in hope Next season’s summer sun the ice might ope. Their coming here I deemed a great intrusion, And thought to cover all with dire confusion: Frostbites I sent, and covered them with scars; They murmured not, but laughed, like jolly British tars. I then forgave them, for I couldn’t feel resentment, ‘Gainst men who midst privation had contentment. You’re welcome for their sakes, I can’t dissemble, For you, your persevering predecessors do resemble In everything-including killing deer and even my musk-oxen You cooly shoot, and then with musket knock ‘em Down: their carcasses next skin and bear off, Whilst not a particle of meat I get a share of. But I o’erlook it all. You see I’ve come today To join you as of old in forwarding the play. Well! ‘tis a splendid house, quite equals Parry’s, And far surpasses that of Mr. Barry’s Houses of Parliament, for you I see don’t need The ventilating process used by Doctor Reid. And Brothers, for such we are by common consanguinity, Let’s live as such, in constant unanimity. Take exercise, be cheerful, and care throw aside, Cold, darkness, and monotony you may thus deride: For even here that cherub sweet, with heart both kind and soft, The life of Jack holds dear; she’s watching now-aloft! Last spring a herald from the Tehoutschi’s king Told me this season to my realms would bring A ‘Resolute’ and ‘Intrepid’ band, and bid me tell it, In order to surprise his friend, their leader-Captain Kellett.’ [A bell rang] ‘But hark – a bell! Ah! That’s a hint to close my long oration; They’re anxious to appear, my friends, to gain your approbation; But remember they’re beginners, for I know they’ve fondly reckoned, On your kindness to gloss lightly o’er the faults of Charles the Second.‘
“The first of the two plays was the historical drama Charles II…A group serenaded the audience during the intermission with amusing songs, followed by the programme’s second half: the comedy, Who Speaks First…When the final curtain fell, chorus followed chorus of heartfelt cheers over the pounding of profuse clapping. Everyone stood and removed their hats for a rousing rendition of ‘God Save the Queen’, then all fell upon the refreshments that Kellett had provided. Though the temperature was 0°F, having a most powerful effect on the ‘women’ in their petticoats, nonetheless McDougall opined they would’ve been well received on any London stage.”
After the theatre was packed away and December began I continued… “Now the men began looking forward in earnest to Christmas, which was soon upon them. By Christmas Day, in both ships, the men had decorated their mess tables with flags and festive centrepieces, and Kellett and McClintock ordered the men extra food allowances. The Intrepids hosted the luncheon for all the officers, which consisted of muskox, hare, ptarmigan and reindeer. Everyone dug in with gusto. Afterward the Resolute officers prepared the evening dinner. At 17:00 they gathered in Resolute’s gunroom for an even more elaborate feast, which included roast beef and Arctic hare. However, the twenty-one pound haunch of Arctic venison was everyone’s favourite. After dinner they played Mecham’s game called Quack. No details survive about this, but they apparently had a grand time playing it with their enjoyment, no doubt, heightened by their consumption of alcohol-based festive drinks.”
Henry Grinnell’s involvement in Resolute’s story is frequently misrepresented. Some accounts even say he is responsible for proposing the 1856 resolution in Congress for the US to buy Resolute from the Perkins and Smith whaling firm, refurbish her at a USN yard, then send her back to England as a gift. His role in the Franklin searches in general is also one that gets represented differently in various sources. So my next blog posts will be about him, his role in the Franklin searches, and his involvement in the life of HMS Resolute.
In 1850 Grinnell pledged $5,000 towards an American search expedition to find Franklin. After a poor response to a public subscription he increased this pledge to $10,000. Eventually he used $30,000 to buy the two ships Advance andRescue.However, the rest of the expedition’s costs fell upon the US Congress. On the recommendation of President Zachary Taylor, Congress provided naval personnel, and covered their pay, food and equipment costs. This American Expedition shared with the British 1850 Austin Expedition the discovery of Franklin’s 1846 winter camp on Beechey Island. Both Advance andRescue and their crews came home safely. The ships were then returned to Grinnell. Although he put his capital at risk, in effect Grinnell’s financial contribution was exactly $0,000, and the American taxpayers footed the rest of the bill. He reaped the benefit on both sides of the Pond during his lifetime for being a philanthropic person and forever by having this 1850 expedition named after him as the 1st Grinnell Expedition to search for Franklin. For many years after this suited his financial shipping industry interests, which included whaling.
I mentioned earlier that Barnard Colby’s For Oil and Buggy Whips, (Mystic, Connecticut, Mystic Seaport Museum, Inc.) 1990, is an excellent book on the whaling captains of New London, Connecticut. I used it as a source for the background on the men involved in forming Perkins and Smith, the whaling firm Buddington worked for, and as one of my sources for the history of the New England whaling industry. I also used it as one of my many sources about Buddington’s 1855 voyage on the George Henryand the circumstances surrounding his discovery of HMS Resolutein Davis Strait. My more recent research, however, has shown his account to be quite wrong, although I must stress that his research on the rest of New London whaling is very good. On page 78, Colby begins recounting Buddington’s voyage by saying he left New London on 20 May, my research shows he departed on May 29th. Having begun the trip on the wrong date, Colby’s dates get consecutively worse throughout his account on pp 78-79. He mentions the damage the George Henrysustained 16 days into their trip, which I also have, but in my ms this date is 14 June, then I agree they headed to Greenland for repairs. He then says, after their repairs, still in June, they caught whales is Disco Bay then headed home. Buddington wasn’t actually headed home quite yet, and he wasn’t in Disco Bay until 31 July. The following is what really happened with the George Henrybefore finding Resolute. (an excerpt from my new ms:)
“Five days along the pack, on the 19th [June], quickly moving, sharp-edged flow ice severely mangled the George Henry’s cutwater (the forward edge of her prow and gripe, where the stem and keel are joined). Now, when they needed even more extensive repairs, their ability to actually arrive at Greenland was in serious doubt. They had to make their way very carefully to be able to reach Holsteinsborg for repairs.
In early July the George Henry arrived at Holsteinsborg, Greenland. On [July] 15th, with the repairs finished, Buddington headed west hoping to manoeuvre into the pack. But the ice was still too solid to penetrate, so he steered George Henrynorth, along Greenland’s west coast, hoping to hunt in Disco Bay. Arriving there on 31 July, the hunting was terrible. They only caught halibut and four humpback whales, which yielded the very meagre reward of 184 barrels of oil. [Having begun the voyage on the wrong date, Colby skates over this part of Buddington’s trip. But we do come close to the same information about the whaling being very meager indeed on this trip, though he has the George Henries rendering 188 barrels of oil in June rather than 184 in August.]
Early on 20 August Buddington left Disco and sailed southwest…By late summer the warmer water always flowed up from the south, sweeping north along Greenland’s coast and melting the floe in the eastern part of Davis Strait. The pack ice could still be frozen solid, however, in the middle of the Strait and along Baffin Island’s coast, although Buddington was expecting the summer sun and warmer waters to have begun breaking it up. They made good progress sailing southwestward in open water, covering approximately 50 miles each day for three days. On the 23rd [August] Buddington saw four ships off his starboard bow, solidly frozen in the pack.The following day Buddington lost sight of them…He then boldly steered George Henry into the pack. Over the next few days Buddington manoeuvred approximately 40 miles into it…[on the 28 August] the ice firmed up around George Henry, and two days later they were solidly frozen in…”
Tomorrow I will continue correcting a few points in For Oil, and add some extra information. Still on page 78 of For Oil and Buggy Whips, Colby admits he has conflicting information about when and how Buddington discovered Resolute. Stay tuned!
Carrying on from yesterday’s blog posting we find ourselves on the George Henry and coming up on the memorable day when James Munroe Buddington found the abandoned HMS Resolute.Colby says Buddington was headed home to New London in June when he saw a ship in the distance. In reality it was in August that Buddington headed SW toward home. From my new manuscript:
“They made good progress sailing southwestward in open water, covering approximately 50 miles each day for three days. On the 23rd [August] Buddington saw four ships off his starboard bow, solidly frozen in the pack.The following day Buddington lost sight of them as he continued towards [the SW]. He then boldly steered George Henry into the pack. Over the next few days Buddington manoeuvred approximately 40 miles into it…On the 28th [August] Buddington first saw land…[but then] the ice firmed up around George Henry, and two days later they were solidly frozen in…
On 10 September…climbing the rigging to examine the state of the ice, Buddington paused halfway to the maintop when he saw a large, three masted ship to the SW, about ten miles away….he suspected she was in distress, because she was almost ashore…was listing badly to port, and he’d received no responses to his repeated signals. If any able-bodied crew were onboard they would’ve responded…” [The following is an 1855 contemporaneous quote from Buddington which I use in my ms.] ‘We kept gradually nearing one another, although I couldn’t exactly say what caused the thing to come about, except, perhaps the ship may have been struck by a counter current from Davis Straits and driven towards us in that manner. For five days we were in sight of one another and continued to drift toward each other.’ [Colby says on p.78, ‘Captain Buddington maneuvered (sp) the George Henry as near the craft as he deemed advisable, and only his skill prevented his own vessel from being chopped to pieces by the grinding ice of the ice field which surrounded the vessel in the distance.’ This was not correct: the George Henry was already solidly frozen into the pack ice and was drifting with the flow as was the mysterious ship.]
Returning to my ms: “As the movement of the ice brought the ships closer to each other, something in the mystery ship’s rigging made Buddington suspect she was British. But he couldn’t think of any British ship unaccounted for in the vicinity of the Davis Strait. Finally, on the 15th Buddington sent his first mate John T. Quayle, second mate Norris Havens, and two boat steerers, George E. Tyson and Alexander Tillinghurst to investigate. [This is my correction of Colby’s book, wherein he does admit he had found conflicting stories about what happened next.] Tyson claimed 20 years later in his book he saw the ship first, and had to persuade a reluctant Buddington to let men go investigate. He even had to help his shipmates get onto her deck! Perhaps the popularity of the story once the newspapers reported it prompted Tyson to make these false claims. But some of the information he disclosed in the book was accurate, and therefore valuable… Boarding the mystery ship the George Henries found seven feet of water in her hold, and discovered the heavily ice-encrusted port side exterior was what forced her to list so badly. When they went below they groped their way in the dark until they kicked the captain’s cabin door open and lit some candles. Gazing around they beheld an eerie scene. Decanters and tumblers, still holding wine, were sitting on the table around the mizzen mast, where the captain and his officers had placed them after their last toast before abandoning their gallant ship. Tyson wrote: ‘It was a strange scene to come upon in that desolate place. Some of my companions appeared to feel somewhat superstitious, and hesitated to drink the wine, but my long and fatiguing walk made it very acceptable to me, and having helped myself to a glass, and they seeing it did not kill me, an expression of intense relief came over their countenances, and they all, with one accord, went for that wine with a will; and there and then we all drank a bumper to the late officers and crew …’ As they drank the wine the George Henries glanced around the cabin, and noticed everything: beams, books, clothes, and instruments, were covered in mould. Then the captain’s discarded epaulets on the table shed some light on the mystery ship’s identity: these were the epaulets worn by a British naval officer. Soon, astonishingly, other evidence in the cabin convinced them they were onboard HMS Resolute. But how could she possibly be the same ship that had been abandoned seventeen months ago, and 1,200 nautical miles away? This was incomprehensible! A ship simply couldn’t survived such a journey without divine providence. How had she not been crushed? How had she not run aground? How had she not been smashed against rocky headlands as she rode the current, still encased in ice, through Lancaster Sound and into Davis Strait? As they pondered these mysteries, the George Henries lit a fire in the captain’s stove. The combination of its heat, their exhaustion, the ingestion of much wine and rum caused them to fall into a deep, sound asleep.” At this point our narratives about the salvage of HMS Resoluteare in accordance with one another. On page 79 Colby’s account of our gallant ship in the Arctic is again very inaccurate. But that is another topic altogether.