I love this image of HMS Resolute making her way across sun-spangled Arctic waters. It has nothing to do with Christmas, since by December the Resolutes and Intrepids, along with the other men in the Belcher Expedition and the indigenous Arctic peoples, had already said goodbye to the sun. Their long, dark winter was upon them, but now, as then, keeping the memory of light ever present in our hearts is the best remedy for surviving the darkest of times…
Today I am continuing on from my earlier post about Resolute’s 1855 Christmas: Much later in his life (on 28 November 1906 and only 2 years before he died) James Buddington described the scene that greeted him as he arrived in New London. His memory was beginning to fade and he contradicted the contemporary accounts in 1855 of George Henry’s arrival before Resolute’s subsequent return:
“It was one of the worst winters I ever experienced – either up north or here. They told me they had uncommonly fine weather…until a few days before I arrived. If they had, I never met it. It was bitter cold. In those days the snow came down and stayed. No one went out without having ears covered. The men wore shawls outside of their coats and the women, and the men, too, used to put stockings on outside their shoes to keep them from slipping. “When I got into the harbour the news spread and there was the shore crowded with folks wondering what the ship was. I had our colours flying, of course, but, out of politeness to the Britisher, I had his flying, too. “The harbour froze over solid the very night the Resolute lay there, about opposite Fort Trumbull, with the George Henry on the west side. I used to say that the Resolute brought the ice with her. Crowds came out on the ice and visited her. [the river froze so solid] the folks used to walk across to Groton, and horses and teams went over, well ladened, too. No winter ever like it before or after.”
I have taken this from my new manuscript, quoting from For Oil and Buggy Whips by Barnard L. Colby, P. 80. Sadly, although Mr. Colby has a great deal of valuable information about New England whaling in this well researched book, his account of Resolute’s story has a number of inaccuracies in it. Over the years I have encountered quite a few mistakes, largely…but not exclusively…on the internet. I am creating a page as part of this website where I can correct the mistakes I find.
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!
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)
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.
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”
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.
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…”
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.
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.
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!”
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!
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.
“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