My last blog post took us up to the New Year’s Eve celebrations onboard Resolute and Intrepid. Picking up from where we left off, we begin just a few days into the new year of 1854. From my manuscript:
Only two days into the new year Intrepid’s Royal Marine Thomas Hood died. He was one of the experienced Arctics, and McClintock knew him well because they’d traveled together in 1851 on a ninety day sledge journey during the Austin Expedition. He’d been ill for a long time with a chest complaint and died after suffering a heart attack. While his shipmates had expected his death, they still saw it as an ill omen for the new year to begin with his funeral. In his will he left five pounds and all his clothes to his friend, Jeremiah Shaw, who had nursed him through his illness. He left everything else to his sister.
By 18 January, Kellett had thirty-five men on the sick-list, two of whom suffered with psychological issues. Miertsching’s observation indicated how much stress the overcrowding was causing.
Nothing out of the ordinary occurs except that, often, especially on the Resolute, Captain Kellett is compelled to resort to severe rebuke and punishment to keep his unruly crew in order.
One month to the day after Hood’s death Intrepid’s Ice Quartermaster James Wilkie also died. Nicknamed ‘Stoneman’, he was only thirty-six, and left a wife and three children. He was also an experienced Arctic, having served with Hood twice, during the 1848-1849 Ross Expedition, and in the 1850 – 1851 Austin Expedition. McDougall wrote about them in his journal, noting both were respected for their strength and endurance. Stoneman’s funeral took place on the same day the sun reappeared, a difficult juxtaposition of feelings of loss and sadness, against relief. Even the well-attended lecture series couldn’t lift the cloud of gloom these deaths left behind.
The next two lectures were McDougall’s history of Arctic exploration, and Nares’ talk about mechanics. Gradually the men shook off their despondency, and began preparations for the new season. Kellett told the Investigators he was sending them to Beechey Island in the spring, so they could sail home at the first opportunity. This gladdened their hearts:
This was cheering news to all of us, for we are heartily sick of living on these two ships, and although we have a journey of fifty German miles on foot over the ice before us, we will rejoice on the day of our departure. (Miertsching)
By now the Resolutes and Intrepids were as happy to hear this news as the Investigators. Antipathy was particularly strong about Miertsching, who kept pestering them with his religious beliefs. Sailors had a long-standing prejudice against parsons onboard, and a Moravian Brother was too close to a parson for comfort. Miertsching had some followers, called the ‘pietistic Investigators’, but his hosts shied away whenever he tried engaging them in religious conversations. The explorers weren’t non-religious: their writings were frequently interspersed with Biblical references and verses, and appreciation for God’s work as they saw it manifest in the beauty of the worlds they sailed in. But sailors were a very independent lot, and they didn’t care for someone telling them how, or what, they should believe. They also liked to keep to their routines: Sundays were reserved for full dress inspection, Divine Services, and a reading of the Articles of War. That was the extent of their interest in religious formalities.
On 12 April 1854 the first party of Investigators left Resolute and Intrepid led by Dr. Armstrong and Pim. Before their departure Kellett commended the Investigators for their discipline and good conduct. McClure led the second group east two days later, followed by Hamilton taking Kellett’s report to Belcher detailing their successful rescue of the ungrateful Investigators.
We must catch up with the events on HMS Assistance and Pioneer, and to do this we have to back track to the summer of 1853, and to do that I will begin another blog post.