Resolute’s 1853 Winter Camp

After the previous post about Resolute’s autumn and then winter camp, (Blog Post titled: The Fate of HMS Resolute and Intrepid in autumn 1853) which ended with the November Guy Fawkes ceremonies conducted by the Resolutes, Intrepids, and Investigators, the tensions between the ships’ companies didn’t disappear. The undercurrent of tension, no doubt partly caused by the overcrowding, lingered the entire winter. However, they all did work together to prepare camp and the ships’ winterising.

You will recall the ships did not have the opportunity to make camp this year in the stable land ice. Instead the floe ice had formed up around them, and they had to secure the ships as best they could. This was not ideal: the floe ice was much less stable and therefore more dangerous than the stable ice along a shore. However, it did have one advantage: the floe was moving slowly eastward. If it didn’t break and consume the ships they would be closer to Beechey Island where Kellett wanted to send the Investigators so they could go home as quickly as possible.

(From my manuscript, taking up immediately after the Guy Fawkes ceremonies at the end of the previously noted blog post:)

On 6 November winterising resumed. With no shore gravel available the ice quartermasters used cinders for the slurry deck covering. Kellett created a clear passage between the ships through the hummocks and rough ice to make winter communication between them safer. To mark the passage so they could follow it even in the midst of a snow storm, Kellett also had the ice quartermasters build snow pillars along the edges of the path. The men had great fun turning these shapeless lumps of snow into sculptures. They carved their images with knives, and adorned several of these snow Resolutes and Intrepids with black buttons for eyes and old boots and bits and bobs to make them realistic additions to the crew.

Sadly, Investigator’s Mate Hubert H. Sainsbury died on 14 November, after being very poorly for two years with a chest ailment. Domville had diligently nursed him, and he’d rallied upon arriving at Resolute, even taking a few walks along the deck. But his strength seeped away when he realised the ships wouldn’t now breaking free until 1854. De Bray recorded Sainsbury had lost hope of seeing England again: taking to his bed he no longer resisted the decline to death. On the 16TH Kellett led Sainsbury’s funeral service and, the men having cut a hole in the ice for his weighted body, he was buried ‘at sea’. Before an hour had passed, new ice had completely sealed his grave.

Winter activities began on 21 November. Domville’s chemistry lecture was the first. The hushed men concentrated until bursting into enthusiastic applause an hour later when he finished.

Such a numerous audience astonished us all, for the original intention was to read the paper quietly in the sickbay to the few men who suggested the idea, but as all the crew wished to attend, the chests were arranged as for church, and the lower deck lighted up. Had Dr. Domville supposed for a moment that he would have been complimented by such a numerous and attentive audience, he would have extended the information to the Intrepid.This is to be remedied next lecture night.” G. F. McDougall

Next, the crew began rehearsals for The Taming of the Shrew, while officers prepared Two Bonny Castles. Others polished songs and poems for the intermission. The curtain rose on 30 November as the ships’ orchestra of six fifes, one violin and a drum played introductory tunes. 

“The fifes had been made from hollow copper curtain rods and the tinsmith has spent many days in making the marvellous [tin] violin. With a certain amount of good will one could passably recognise the numbers, and they might have been a lot worse.” (Emille De Bray)

Miertsching complained the theatre performances did nothing for him, but he hoped he would get better enjoyment from the upcoming lectures. The well attended new series included presentations about astronomy, geology, mechanics, and the history of Arctic traveling….

to be continued

13 May 2021 Resolute’s 1853-1854 winter camp (continued from my new manuscript)

After the Intrepids gave their theatre performance, everyone began Christmas preparations. For days the lower deck made decorations, even painting festive designs on the candles. They hung a chandelier above each mess table, decorated with glass beads, paper rosettes and flags. They used flags to disguise the shelves of gear and hanging equipment, over which they placed every picture they could find onboard. Some put pen to paper and made drawings of themselves, while others hung very neatly printed phrases and slogans appropriate to the day. It was quite a respectable gallery when finished. On Intrepid festivities began on the 22ND with a magic lantern show, conjuring tricks, songs, burlesque and comic turns. A farce called Box and Cox followed. McClintock gave each man a glass of grog and pint of beer, then held a dinner for the officers.

On Christmas Day in Resolute’s mess two long rows of tables groaned under the weight of the food: roast beef (muskox), bacon, preserved meats, beef pies, plum puddings, and cranberry and apple tarts. Several jugs of home-brewed ale (tasting very much like a porter from home) crowned the holiday spread, which the men called ‘Richards’ after Resolute’s brewer, William Richards.Kellett dined with the officers in the wardroom, and all were in fine spirits. 

During the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve Nares gave his lecture about wind, describing the directions and causes of land and sea breezes, the effects of geography on local weather systems, and even examined the tropical trade winds. De Bray called the talk interesting and well handled, but McDougall felt it was a little too esoteric for most of the seamen. Understood or not, Nares received loud applause.

For New Year’s Eve the officers invited Kellett and McClure to the wardroom for dinner at 16:00. Ox tail and hare soup was followed by…
…a leg of venison, ditto of musk veal, roast ptarmigan, musk beef pie and ham with vegetables in the shape of mashed turnips, green peas, parsnips, and preserved potatoes. The second course was composed of a plum pudding, mince pies (real), and numerous tarts and tartlets, the whole decorated with gaily coloured miniature flags…Cheese, of course, followed, and an ample desert of almonds and raisins, of gingerbread nuts, wine biscuits, French olives, and, though last, not least, a noble plum cake, which would have been excellent, had it not been for the numerous geological specimens the cook had inserted, creating a somewhat unpleasant surprise on coming in contact with one’s teeth.

With the aid of beer, champagne, port and sherry, to assist the flow of soul, the dinner passed off admirably; the celebrated Arctic band being in attendance, playing popular and appropriate airs, after the removal of the cloth; when with full hearts and glasses we drank to ‘absent friends! God bless them!’ – George F. McDougall –

Earlier, Kellett had ordered Hamilton to install an electric telegraph line between the ships, allowing communication between the ships irrespective of weather. The ‘poles’ were thirty foot long oars borrowed from the boats and securely driven into the snow and ice. Hamilton then gave instruction to anyone who wanted it.During their celebrations the weather deteriorated from a pleasant breeze to a strong gale, which whipped up snow into huge drifts, and blocked both ships from view. The revellers could hear the howling winds over their festive noise. Tipsy from the alcohol so joyously consumed the officers made the wise decision that everyone was to stay on Resolute. At 22:00 two Intrepids unexpectedly arrived covered from head to toe in snow, looking for their shipmate, Hartnell, missing for over an hour. Worried he was lost in the blizzard, Hamilton used the telegraph for the first time to send Kellett’s message, ‘Is Hartnell onboard?’ Every officer crowded around, eagerly awaiting the response. In just a minute or two the response came back, to their great relief, ‘Yes.’ This convinced everyone of this newfangled contraption’s usefulness. It had saved them from an impossible and dangerous search in the dark stormy blizzard. At midnight, the men heartily sang ‘Auld Lang Synge’ and put the telegraph to use again for the exchange of new year greetings between the ships. Miertsching called the system ‘schnell-post’ (fast post) or ‘blitz-post’ (lightning post). The men even began using it for chess tournaments, and faced the new year with high spirits. 

By Elizabeth Matthews

Leading authority on HMS Resolute

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