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!