Rescue of HMS Investigator's men


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.

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 return with 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.”

To be continued…

By Elizabeth Matthews

Leading authority on HMS Resolute

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