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Onboard Activities

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” 

Categories
Onboard Activities

“THE ARCTIC ANTHEM”

WRITTEN BY GEORGE FREDERICK McDOUGALL

In the Illustrated Arctic News, produced onboard HMS Resolute during our galant ship’s very first Arctic winter, of 1850-1851, the Editors George McDougall and Sherard Osborn published McDougall’s Arctic Anthem. You can sing it in your head, or actually out loud, to the tune of the British National Anthem “God Save the Queen”. Americans can sing it to the melody of “My Country Tis of Thee” which is the same. (I quote the first verse in the front of my non-fiction manuscript which I am still sending around to agents!) I have made bold the words that might need definition, with their explanations below. Here are all the verses:

God bless the Resolute,
A ship of good repute,
And all her crew!
Make her victorious,
Over old Boreas,
Whene’er he’s uproarious,
Our consorts too.

Of Button’s Balloons, a store,
We have sent on a tour’
Franklin to cheer!
From toil, we’ll not refrain,
To release his crew from pain,
And return with them again
To friends sincere.

Let this our winter be,
From every care, quite free,
Health to us all!
Don’t let old Zero’s tricks,
perplex the brave Arctics,
Nor let for want of sticks,
Sylvester* fall.

Let us return once more,
To England’s happy shore,
Never to roam!
May we ne’er want for prog,
Or what is better – Grog,
To keep all our lives agog,
Till we reach home.

EXPLANATIONS:
Boreas is the Greek God of the North Wind and Winter
consorts: Austin’s 3 other ships 1850-1851 Intrepid, Assistance & Pioneer.

George McDougall, Master on HMS Resolute 1852-1854, wrote the Arctic Anthem about Resolute

Button’s Balloons: The Austin Expedition released many balloons to which were attached, according to McDougall, thousands of slips containing the expedition’s whereabouts. On 12 September 1852 Kellett dispatched a balloon “with 800 papers attached to a tail of quick-match. The balloon disappeared in a north-westerly direction.” (McDougall’s Eventful Voyage of HMS Resolute, p. 127) McDougall noted that he was unaware of any of the “many thousand slips” scattered in every direction were ever picked up.
Zero’s tricks: I’m not sure what McDougall meant. Any ideas anyone?
Sylvester*: This word has an asterisk next to it the Illustrated Arctic News with this explanation: “The name of the inventor of the warm air stove”. The Admiralty equipped all their Arctic search vessels with this device.
prog: short for “progress” made to rhyme with Grog
Grog: defined in Admiral Smyth’s The Sailor’s Word Book (edited by our story’s Edward Belcher) “a drink issued in the navy, consisting of 1 part of spirits diluted with 3 of water…as the water onboard in olden times was very unwholesome it was necessary to mix it with spirits…”

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Onboard Activities

ARCTIC RIDDLE & SAYING

From the Illustrated Arctic News (October 1850 edition) come the following saying and riddle. The 1850 Austin Expedition consisted of 4 of the 5 ships sent under Edward Belcher two years later in 1852: Assistance, Resolute, Intrepid and Pioneer. The only ship missing was North Star. She was added as a depot ship for Belcher’s men, which the Admiralty ordered him to keep on Beechey Island so she could be utilised as a rendezvous point in addition to being a place for additional supplies to be landed.
Its important to know these four ships’ names to understand this saying McDougall placed in the October 1850 news letter:


A good Pioneer must be a Resolute man.
Few men, however Intrepid, but have felt the want of Assistance.

This following query speaks for itself:
Q: Why should we in our present position be considered very knowing?
A: Because there is nothing green about us!

As I noted a couple of days ago, the explorers searching for the lost Franklin men used a variety of occupations to get themselves through the long Arctic winters. After setting up their winter camps almost all of them participated in theatre performances in one way or another. Some worked on the scenery and costumes, others diligently practiced their lines. In 1852 the Resolutes appointed Captain Henry Kellett to be the head of their theatre committee, and McDougall wrote about the theatre preparations in The Eventful Voyage of HMS Resolute:

“All has been hurry and bustle for the last fortnight, in preparing scenes, decorations, dresses, etc for the theatre. In addition to being a committee man, I was obliged to take on myself the responsible offices of scene painter and dressmaker; the former was sufficiently difficult in consequence of the want of proper materials; to remedy which we were obliged to have recourse to soot, blacking, chalk, etc.

“The dress-making business was, indeed, extremely puzzling, particularly in the ladies’ department; but success attended our enterprising efforts, and although much criticised, elicited warm expressions of admiration.” p.158-159

When the Resolutes opened their theatre in the winter of 1852, the Theatre Royal, Melville Island had not taken place since 1820, when Captain Parry opened it! Now in 1852, Captain Kellett provided the after play refreshments, then McDougall commented further:

“Amateur theatricals are seldom subjected to severe criticism…but here, where the dreary darkness of an Arctic winter affects the mind and body in no small measure, where the the temperature is at zero on the stage (no joke in petticoats), besides having to depend on our own resources, where is the man who could look on such performances with too critical an eye?” p. 162

Once their play was over, and they had toasted good health to one and all with Kellett’s spirits (of one kind or another!) they dismantled the stage and began their preparations for Christmas. In tomorrow’s blog I will detail some of those Christmas preparations as they unfolded onboard HMS Resolute in 1852.

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Onboard Activities

WINTER SOLSTICE

Onboard HMS Resolute during the Belcher Expedition in 1852 George F. McDougall wrote about the hardest aspects of wintering in the Arctic. He put his pen to paper to write about his feeling on this day, the Winter Solstice, 21 December of 1852. I think we can all agree with at least some of what he expressed:

“The advent of the shortest day (the 21st) was welcomed with feelings of pleasure by all on board, for it was the turning point of the winter, when, although the temperature might reasonably be expected to increase in severity, the light, -that great and blessed gift of the Almighty- would gradually increase to a continued day of several months’ duration.
Indeed, of all the discomfort attendant on wintering within the Arctic Circle, none perhaps is so much felt as the absence of light, which changes the aspect of nature, by throwing a veil of gloom alike o’er hill and dale, and affects in a slight degree the human body, it is also injurious to the mind; the temper becomes irritable, the mental energies impaired, and the habits of some gloomy and solitary. But the sweet and soothing influence of memory, assisted by bright hopes for the future, tend to sustain the spirits, under the chilling influence of a position at once novel and unnatural, amidst eternal ice and snow…

p. 168 The Eventful Voyage of HMS Resolute.
Illustrated Arctic News, October 1850. Although this image wasn’t created to commemorate the dreams the sailor’s night watchman would be interrupting during December, it reminds me of Clement Clarke Moore’s poem ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’, when the children are all tucked into their beds, and dreaming of sugar plums!

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!

“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid! on, Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!”

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.

His eyes-how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose!

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!”

A Christmas Carol poem
Categories
The Books!

K. O. MATTHEWS’ ORIGINAL ART

My husband, Kim Matthews, collaborated with me on my HMS Resolute work by designing the covers for my 2007 novel mentioned in my previous post.

Original artwork of Kim Orde Matthews of HMS Resolute's men setting off on a sledging trip to search for Sir John Franklin in 1852
Full Back cover of my Maritime Historical Fiction retelling of HMS Resolute’s story
detail of K. O. Matthews' original cover art for Elizabeth R. Matthews' novel "From the Canadian Arctic to the President's Desk: HMS Resolute and How She Prevented a War"
Detail of K. O. Matthews’ sketch of HMS Resolute’s men setting off sledging to search for Sir John Franklin in 1852
Categories
Onboard Activities

Finally the RESOLUTE BLOG begins!

In 1855 HMS Resolute had the best Christmas Eve any ship has ever had! Throughout her life December was a busy month for Resolute anyway. Between 1850, when she joined the Royal Navy, and 1855 she hosted some great evenings full of entertainments and learning. Sometimes she hosted lectures and other times seasonal theatre performances. McDougall & Osborn’s 1850 “The Illustrated Arctic News” included this image of her most recent performance. Everyone seems to be enjoying the festive event!

God Bless Them Everyone!

Theatre performance on HMS RESOLUTE 1850

SPEAKING OF CHRISTMAS: This is such a busy time of the year! One would think in these days of Covid we would have fewer things to do to prepare for feast days. But this hasn’t been the case in my house. Here is a suggestion for a Christmas present, just in case you have a history or maritime buff in your family who won’t mind waiting a few extra days to receive the perfect gift! My 2007 novel is available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. IF, however, you prefer a Kindle version you will have to wait a bit longer. I am currently negotiating with the publisher for a Kindle version to become available in 2021.

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“From the Canadian Arctic to the President’s Desk HMS Resolute & How She prevented a War” is set against a Christmas quilt by Deborah Connor