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!