Rescue of HMS Investigator's men


26 February 2021: To do otherwise McClure’s fiction would fall…McClure was an ambitious man. He had engineered his solo entrance into the Arctic by ignoring Kellett and pretending he really thought his superior officer, Collinson on HMS Enterprise, who led their two ship Franklin search expedition, was already ahead of him. His whole situation, which was now endangering and killing his men, was based on pretending. He couldn’t stop pretending now, or it would all be for naught. To be facing rescue from the man he had dismissed in 1850 just added irony to the mix.

McClure left first for Resolute with a small party, then Pim set off on the morning of 8 April. The Investigator’s surgeon, Armstrong, intercepted him out of earshot of his traveling party, and engaged him in a long conversation. Then Pim headed for Domville’s camp at Cape Dundas, arriving on the 14th. After he told Domville about the abysmal conditions onboard Investigator Pim sent Domville back to Resolute alone to make the quickest time. Unbeknownst to him Domville would catch up with McClure and they would arrive at Resolute together. Back at Investigator the weakest men set out on the 15th, instead of McClure’s original intended route to the eastern Arctic, he kindly let them instead sledge to Resolute. This would still be a phenomenally difficult trek.

From my manuscript:
“…the weakest Investigators departed under Cresswell’s command on 15 April…All 29 suffered from advanced scurvy, including assistant surgeon Piers…When two Investigators collapsed, Cresswell ordered them walk alongside their sledge instead of pulling it. Everyone had to double up on their drag-ropes when they encountered hummocks, being too weak to pull their sledges over. On 22 April, just as they sighted Melville Island, they discovered one of their number was missing:

[From Cresswell:] ‘It was a poor fellow who showed symptoms of mental imbecility…[They] sent back to search for him, and found him in a pond of melted snow. From that time great difficulty was experienced in getting him along; he was always throwing himself on the snow to lie down; they dared not put him in one of the sledges, as already the weight was great enough for their enfeebled party, with one man totally unable to walk…’

During extremely fine weather and visibility, the men back at Dealy Island camp saw their own black dots moving in the distance, which [were] Domville and McClure’s party. Eager to hear their news, the officers hurried out to them…The rest of the Investigator group arrived throughout the afternoon, and the Resolutes and Intrepids were grateful at least now their efforts hadn’t been in vain. They’d saved a full ship’s compliment from a torturous death. To mark this, Kellett used red ink for this section in his letter to Barrow:

‘This is really a Red-letter day in my voyage and shall be kept as a Holy Day by my Heirs and Successors for Ever. At 9 o’clock of this day our lookout man made the signal for a Party coming in from the Westward. All went out to meet them and assist them in…Dr. Domville was the first person I met. I cannot describe to you my feelings when he told me that Captain McClure was amongst the next party. I was not long in meeting him and giving him many hearty [hand] shakes.’

At 18:00 the Investigators sat down to their first full meal in years. Though impatient to hear their stories Kellett allowed no one to pester them until they’d eaten their fill.”

-To be continued on Monday 1 March 2021-

By 30 April 1853 the sledging party of Investigators, whom McClure had originally ordered to cross the entire Arctic, were still en route to HMS Resolute. On this day, to their great surprise, they saw two men headed their way. They turned out to be Pim and another Resolute. They helped them sledge the final miles, arriving at Resolute on 3 May. The difficulty the Investigators had managing this 160 mile trek proved, if proof was needed, that most of them would not have survived a death march to Beechey Island.

Despite having had his men on starvation rations for a long time, McClure continued to claim to Kellett that he did not need rescuing.
From my manuscript: “Although McClure continued asserting he needed no rescue, Kellett knew his true measure, and listened with his eyes instead of McClure’s words. Within only a day or two Kellett had to put several Investigators onto Resolute’s sick list due to their continued deterioration, graphically contradicting McClure’s written answers to Kellett’s queries…Wisely, Kellett put little trust in McClure’s report, and sent Domville back to Investigator to do a detailed medical survey of the remaining men. As Armstrong noted later in his journal, referring to McClure’s distain for Kellett’s advice to wait for Collinson, Kellett had already had a…
‘…specimen of our diplomatic skill in Behring’s [sic] Strait, in 1850 – the remembrance of which, may, doubtless, have influenced him, in receiving Captain McClure’s verbal report of our state of health and efficiency with great caution, as he had ample reason to distrust us. (Dr. Armstrong’s emphasis) 

Kellett knew three ships’ companies would have to vie for space onboard Resolute and Intrepid if he ordered McClure to abandon Investigator, and that the bitterly disappointed captain would be living cheek-by-jowl with the object of his distain. But these considerations didn’t dissuade Kellett, whose only object was to preserve the lives of as many men as he could. Kellett told McClure that if Domville found 20 men fit enough to stay on Investigator, and only if they volunteered to stay, would he refrain from ordering McClure to abandon the ship. McClure was now nothing more than a supernumerary onboard Resolute, and this time he would have to obey Kellett, who said:

‘To make the Passage [via sailing] would be highly creditable, and redound to the national honour. It is only, in my opinion, now that the existence of the Passage is actually known, a second consideration to that of the safety of your crew.

On 21 May Domville and McClure arrived back at Investigator. During divisions the following morning Domville read aloud Kellett’s orders concerning the medical survey and call for any volunteers to stay. Unfortunately, there were only four such volunteers, and McClure didn’t take this well. Carpenter George Ford recorded in his journal what McClure said, then did: 

‘every man had done his duty, and if he wouldn’t volunteer we were to bear it in mind it would be thought no disgrace whatever as we had done all that was expected of us but as it would contribute to the honour of our country to get the ship home, if  20 men on the examination from the doctor of the Resolute [were] found fit to stop they may volunteer, if not it would be no dishonour…[When I] told him that under the present circumstances [I] would rather go home, he told me in a harsh tone I had deceived him & ‘you can go, Sir. I’ll not keep you’…On leaving the ship he addressed all hands saying that what they had done was barely their duty & that barely, as they were going to desert their ship & captain & [he] repeated several times that all hands had barely, barely done their duty…a pretty yarn to tell people about to undertake to travel [to the Resolute] & half-starved.’

When Domville began his survey, on Monday 23 May, he found the men were suffering from scurvy, some in its most advanced stages. In his medical judgement he felt no one would be capable of sailing Investigator within a year if they stayed. Domville confirmed the abandonment. The crew prepared their ship by reducing the standing and running rigging, battening down all hatches: leaving her a fit refuge for Collinson, should he find or need her.”

2 March 2021 Blog Post
Today I am ending my review of Kellett’s rescue of McClure and the men from HMS Investigator with the following short passage from my manuscript. Then tomorrow I will resume recounting the Resolutes’ and Intrepids’ spring searches for the Franklin Expedition (HMS Erebus and Terror) and Collinson and his men (HMS Enterprise).

“When determining who should receive the reward for finding the Northwest Passage, McClure lied to the Select Committee saying his men were in perfect health, and he had sufficient food onboard to maintain them for another year. At least Kellett acted honourably and selflessly with the health and wellbeing of the Investigators uppermost in his mind. McClure’s later account of his ‘discovery’ of the Northwest Passage, all on his own, amounts to nothing more than a whitewash of the true story of Investigator. And, of course, he completely omitted the role Kellett played in keeping almost all of the Investigators alive, thereby enabling them to complete the passage.”

Rescue of HMS Investigator's men


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…

Rescue of HMS Investigator's men


From my new manuscript:

“By spring 1853 McClure and the Investigators were in real trouble. After leaving Kellett in 1850, McClure had navigated around the southern coast of Banks Land, then north into the Prince of Wales Strait. After reaching the end of Prince of Wales Strait, McClure sledged westward onto Banks Land, arriving at its highest point on the 26TH, naming it Point Russell. His discovery consisted of his merely gazing north across Melville Sound to Dundas Peninsula on Melville Island in the far distance. He neither sledged nor sailed across, just bragged in a letter to his uncle he’d ‘discovered’ the Northwest Passage, “You will, I am certain, be very happy to learn that the Northwest Passage has been discovered by the Investigator, which event was decided on the 26th of October, 1850…” 
It was too late in the season to send men to the Winter Harbour Cairn to leave messages, but should’ve at first opportunity in spring ’51, especially if he truly believed Collinson was there ahead of him. Had he done so sledging parties could’ve relieved him in summer 1851.

On 14 August 1851 Investigator broke free, and McClure retraced his passage down the Prince of Wales Strait, and sailed around Banks Land’s west coast, but the pack ice defeated them in Mercy Bay on 24 September. During autumn 1851 McClure put his men on ⅔ rations, and then further reduced the food to ½  rations in December. By the end of January 1852 McClure flogged three of his half-starved men for stealing some of Mongo, the dog’s, grub. Finally, in April 1852, McClure took a party of Investigators, including John Calder, Captain of the Fo’c’s’le, to Winter Harbour, reaching it in 18 days. [There he learned about provisions which had been left in a cairn too far away for him to access.]…McClure returned to Investigator on 9 May 1852. Learning about provisions too far away to collect must have been demoralising. But…he never uttered a word of complaint, no matter how dismal the circumstances…To his credit, McClure exhibited a great deal of this during the following disheartening months….

“By January 1853 conditions deteriorated further: one of the crew was in such mental torment he had to be restrained to keep him from injuring himself or anyone else, and the ship’s baker received 2 dozen lashes on his bare back for stealing meat, flour, and dough, having eaten bits whilst preparing a meal. As the provisions got ever shorter, and more cases of scurvy presented, Calder recalled they were in a bad way, saying ‘Things looked pretty bilious.’ McClure even rationed the candles, which caused the extremely hungry men to endure fourteen days of winter darkness with only enough tallow to illuminate a total of eighteen hours. The school was closed despite having been so popular earlier, leaving the Investigators to sit in darkness with nothing to distract them from their gnawing hunger. This blackness contributed to the mental deterioration of the starving men.

Desperate times called for desperate measures, and McClure devised a contingency plan for the spring which he would put into action if Investigator was still solidly encased in ice. He decided to split his men, keeping twenty of the strongest onboard Investigator, and sending away those too weak or ill to last another winter. Half of these would head for Prince Royal Island’s cairn of supplies and boat, then head south to the Mackenzie River. The other half he’d send east to Port Leopold on Somerset Island near Baffin Bay, where Ross had left a boat in 1833. McClure expected these men to either sail for Britain or meet another ship which would carry them home. 

Even to the casual observer it was obvious that McClure was sending these Investigators on a death march. McClure’s plan, however, wasn’t designed to save them, but to give the Investigators remaining onboard the strongest chance of survival, including himself…[He decided to] put the traveling men on full rations for a month before their expected departure in mid-April. This helped raise their spirits a bit, and fill out their gaunt faces; but did little to alleviate their underlying debility. Ironically, the men McClure proposed sending away seemed happy at the prospect while those staying behind appeared despondent. When one veteran earmarked for the death march was interviewed in his old age he said they were all quite certain they were going to die on the march, but they preferred to die trying to get out rather than dying doing nothing and just waiting in Investigator for the inevitable.

On 5 April, one of the crew, Boil, died of dysentery and scurvy…Despite Boil’s death McClure ordered the Investigators to load their sledges.

Across the strait, Resolutes had started their spring travels, including the use of dogs. Kellett had brought his ever faithful dog with him to the Arctic. Napoleon, called Naps for short, was an Irish retriever and a favourite amongst the men. Even McClintock had a soft spot for him. Although he would remain a steadfast proponent of man-drawn sledges McClintock supported Kellett’s decision to pick up dogs for pulling teams when they were still at Lively. After one was lost, the remaining dogs were: Lion, the team leader; Jenny, Skaings,  Oosky, and Sophie, named after one of the women from Lively who had joined the men for their impromptu ball. Both Sophie and Jenny had had litters of pups in the late autumn of 1852, four of which survived. The dogs soon proved their worth on the trip to the Investigator

Lieutenant Bedford Pim was tasked with contacting the Investigator in March 1853. His sledge was John Barrow and his men were Joseph Parr, gunner’s mate; Joseph Gibson, carpenter’s mate; William Hannan, able seaman; John Silvey, ice quartermaster; and able seamen Thomas Northhouse, John McClean, and Henry Richards. They expected to be gone for 41 days, until 19 April.

Anticipating a need for medical help, Kellett selected Dr. Domville to go too with the James Fitzimans, expecting to be away 41 days, 10 March – 14 April. His men were Robert Haile, sail maker; Emanuel Bidgood, able seaman, and five dogs. They were to be assisted by Roche’s satellite sledge, Beauty, which had the very appropriate motto ‘my God is my rock’. He’d be away for only ten days with James Cornelius, bo’s’n’s mate; Philip Thomas, fo’c’l captain; Royal Marine Sergeant Richard Hobbs; and able seamen Thomas Manson, William Power, William Culver, George Bell, William Savage; five dogs and one puppy.
Pim began training in February, using long walks to build up their strength…”

To be continued next week when we have wifi at our new home!