Arctic explorers cutting a dock into the stable shore ice using ice saws and long poles to pry the cut ice blocks out
CUTTING A DOCK: When the ships reached a destination the men would cut docks in the relatively stable ice that had formed along a shore. The ice-quartermasters would measure the area needed while others rigged the saw triangles. As soon as the outline was finished teams of men set up their triangles along the edges. When ready each team split their men further: several men pulled down on the ropes hanging down from one side of their triangle’s pulley. Alternating with them, others pushed down on the handles near the top of the saw. (This image shows only one man doing this but there were usually at least 2 men doing this.) The three men who had the job of moving their triangle’s legs had to move them at the exact same time and for the exact same distance. If they didn’t their saw could buckle or even break. If it broke the team gave the member they thought was responsible for this the difficult task of getting the saw end out of the ice while the rest of them set up a replacement. The most skilled AND fortunate teams managed to avoid this problem altogether! While the edges were being cut other men laid out charges (Bickford fuses). As soon as the edges were finished these fuses were lit which caused the ice to break into separate chunks all the way out to the newly cut edges. Then the fun began! Everyone grabbed whatever they could find to pry the blocks out. As was usual amongst these strong-hearted men, they made a game of the sawing, racing each other to finish their section first, then competed to see who could pry out the most blocks.
AUTUMN SLEDGING: In the autumn of 1852 the men of the Belcher Expedition undertook a relatively new innovation in Arctic exploration. This was instigated by Frances Leopold McClintock, the officer in charge of Resolute’s steam-tender Intrepid. After the Resolutes and Intrepids secured their ships in their new docks they loaded their sledges with supplies and set off to create cairns to house these provisions. This gave them the advantage of being able to go that much farther during the following spring as they searched for the Franklin men and the rescuers the Admiralty had previously sent out on HMS Enterprise (Captain Collinson) and Investigator (Captain McClure).
During the autumn sledging, and again during the following spring an summer sledging seasons, the men took all the gear with them they would need en route: tents, cooking pots and food, sleeping bags and a change of clothing. One of the youngsters on Resolute, Mate Richard Roche, kept a private journal. In it he explained the gear they men took with them, disclosing that a change of underwear was optional, and rarely done!
The sledging was arduous work. It may seem that summer sledging would be easier, but this was not really the case. They had to travel with boats they could use as the snow and ice melted. Sometimes their sledges broke through the remaining ice, and the men were soaked up to their waists with freezing water as they trudged onward. This more difficult terrain included spring runoff streams they had to ford, ice-water pools they had to skirt, camps they had to set up where they hoped the runoff wouldn’t break through, clothes and bedding that never seemed to dry out. All the while they searched for any signs of their brothers who had seemingly disappeared without a trace. Fortunately the Resolutes and Intrepids had some success: they found a message during their 1852 autumn sledging that indicated where the Investigator was locked in the ice. McClure had rushed into the Arctic from the west in 1850, without the assistance of the men on Enterprise. By doing so he put the lives of his officers and men at risk. When they became ice bound for a couple years there was no one who could raise the alarm or help them get out. There was a reason the Admiralty sent explorers out with at least 2 ships in company. McClure’s men suffered the consequences of McClure’s haste. Why was he rushing? Was it to find the Franklin Expedition? Or was he more interested in the glory of finding the Northwest Passage before anyone else did? By the time the Resolutes and Intrepids rescued them in the spring of 1853 the Investigators had been on starvation rations for a long time.

Leave a Reply