« PreviousContinue »
these observations was important; it discovered an error of no less than five degrees of longitude, and half a degree of latitude, in the charts issued by the Admiralty, which are, no doubt, constructed on those which were considered to be the best authorities. The fact is, that the positions along this coast are laid down principally from the rude observations of whalers, whose occupations during their short stay are of a nature very different from that of making astronomical observations, were they even furnished with the means. The latitude of Wygat was found to be 70° 26′ 17′′ N. longitude 54° 51′ 49′′ W. and the variation of the compass 72° 9' 28" W.
On the 23d they had reached Four Island point, about ten miles to the northward of Wygat, where they found several whalers stopped by the ice. A sort of Danish factory was established at this spot, but the huts of the Esquimaux were in ruins and apparently deserted. In the burying place they met with the surgeon of one of the whalers collecting human skulls for the benefit of comparative anatomy. Finding that little further progress could be made to the northward at this time, Captain Ross permitted John Saccheous, the Esquimaux interpreter, to go on shore to communicate with the natives, seven of whom he brought off to the ships in their kajacks, or canoes.
We cannot omit the opportunity presented to us by the first mention of this person's name, of entering for a moment into his personal history, and paying a tribute of respect to the character of a very worthy, and (all circumstances considered) a very extraordinary man. Our first acquaintance with him dates from 1816, in the autumn of which year he was found concealed on board å Leith whaler, on her return home. He was treated by the owners, Messrs. Wood & Co. with great kindness and liberality, and in the course of the winter succeeded in learning a little English. On the return of the ship in 1817, the master was directed by these gentlemen to afford him an opportunity of rejoining his friends, and on no account to bring him back unless at his own particular desire. On reaching Greenland he found that his sister, his only remaining relation, had died in his absence, and he therefore determined to abandon his country for ever. He accordingly returned to Leith, where he was met with by Mr. Nasmyth, the artist, who finding that he had not only a taste for drawing, but considerable readiness of execution, very kindly offered to give him instructions. It occurred to Sir James Hall that such a person might be useful to the expedition then fitting out for Baffin's Bay, and in consequence of a letter from Captain Hall to the Secretary of the Admiralty, he was invited to proceed on that expe
dition, to which he agreed, making no other condition, than that he was not to be left in his own country.
On his return, the Lords of the Admiralty were so well satisfied with his conduct and services, and so sensible of the importance of employing him as an interpreter to the next expedition, that they desired he might be well taken care of, and liberally instructed in reading, writing and drawing. He was sent to Edinburgh at his own request, to see his good friends Captain Hall and Mr. Nasmyth, the latter of whom, together with his family, took the warmest interest in his improvement: the more this amiable man was known the more his acquaintance was sought; on his part, he found great delight in society.
In the midst of his happiness, however, he was seized with an inflammatory complaint, from which he in a great measure recovered; but a relapse occurring, he was carried off in a few days. He had the best medical advice, and was attended by his friends during his illness with the most anxious care.
The utmost good humour was strongly expressed in the countenance of this inoffensive man, and he possessed a pleasing simplicity of manners. Sensible of his own ignorance, he was always desirous of learning something, and grateful to those who would take the trouble to teach him. He was exceedingly struck with the docility of the elephant at Exeter 'Change, and being asked what he thought of it, he replied with a look of deep humility— Elephant more sense me.' 'His disposition was gentle and obliging; he was thankful for the least kindness shewn to him: and, upon several occasions, exhibited a goodness of heart, and a consideration for the wishes and feelings of others, which would have done honour to any country. His fondness for and kindness to children was very striking. In a snowy day, last winter, he met two children at some distance from Leith, and observing them to be suffering from the cold, he took off his jacket, and having carefully wrapped them in it, brought them safely home; he would take no reward, and seemed to be quite unconscious that he had been doing any thing remarkable.' He was perfectly sensible of his approaching end, thanked his friends around him for all their kindness and attention, but said it was of no avail, for his sister had appeared to him and called him away. The writer of the narrative from which this is taken says he was unaffectedly pious; and having been early instructed in the Christian faith, continued to derive support and consolation from this source to the last hour of his life. He held in his hand an Icelandic cate
Supposed to be Captain Basil Hall, of the Navy.-It is a little piece of biography which does honour to his heart and understanding. It is printed in Blackwood's Magazine,
chism till his strength and sight failed him, when the book dropped from his grasp, and he shortly afterwards expired. He was followed to the grave by a numerous company, among whom were not only his old friends and patrons from Leith, but many gentlemen of high respectability in this city.'
Humble as the individual was, his loss will be severely felt by the expedition now about to proceed; indeed he was one of those few whose places cannot be supplied. We return to our narrative.
Captain Ross being desirous of procuring a sledge and dogs in exchange for a rifle musket, Saccheous and the natives whom (as we have said) he had brought on board went back to their village, and speedily returned with the articles in a larger boat, called an umiak, which was rowed by five women in a standing posture, all dressed in deer-skins. Two of them were daughters of a Danish resident by an Esquimaux woman. They were highly pleased with the treatment they received, and, having partaken of some refreshment, danced Scotch reels on the deck with the sailors to the animating strains of a Shetland fiddler. Saccheous was all mirth and joy, and performed the part of master of the ceremonies with that good-humoured assiduity and readiness for which on all occasions he was particularly distinguished.
'A daughter of the Danish resident, about eighteen years of age, and by far the best looking of the group, was the object of Jack's particular attentions; which, being observed by one of our officers, he gave him a lady's shawl, ornamented with spangles, as an offering for her acceptHe presented it in a most respectful, and not ungraceful manner, to the damsel, who bashfully took a pewter ring from her finger and presented it to him in return; rewarding him, at the same time, with an eloquent smile, which could leave no possible doubt on our Esquimaux's mind that he had made an impression on her heart.'-p. 56.
The ice at length began to separate and a breeze to spring up, but neither Jack nor his countrymen, whom he had escorted on shore, made their appearance. A boat was therefore dispatched to the shore to bring him off, when the poor fellow was found in one of the huts with his collar-bone broken, having overloaded his gun, under an idea, as he expressed it, of plenty powder, plenty kill,' and the violence of the recoil had caused the accident.
On the 5th July the ships succeeded in passing the third great barrier, consisting of field ice mixed with large icebergs in vast numbers, which were fast a-ground, in depths varying from sixtythree to one hundred fathoms. Here the variation of the compass, taken on an iceberg, was found to be 80° 1′ W.: on board, when the ship's head was W. by N. N. it was 98° W., making a deviation from the correct line of the magnetic direction of 18°,
when the ship's head was on that point of the compass—but on this subject we shall have to speak hereafter. Two days after this, Captain Sabine took the magnetic dip on shore in lat. 74° 2′ N. long. 58° 45′ W., which was found to be 84° 9′ 15′′.
A little farther northward, the two ships fell in with several whalers which had got the start of them; from one of those, the Everthorpe, a message was received requesting surgical assistance for the master, whose thigh had been severely lacerated by a bear, which had attacked and dragged him out of the boat. This savage animal was pierced with three lances before it would relinquish its gripe; when at length disengaging itself from the weapons, it swam to the ice, and made off. The poor man, though sadly torn, was happily not considered to be in a dangerous state.
On the 31st July, in lat. 75° 33′, whales were seen in great abundance, and the boats being sent in pursuit, succeeded in killing one above forty-six feet in length, which yielded them about thirteen tons of blubber. On the same day, they parted from the last fishing ship, the Bon Accord of Aberdeen, with three cheers.
On the 6th and 7th of August, the two ships were in great danger from being caught by a gale of wind among the ice, when they fell foul of each other: the ice-anchors and cables broke one after another, and the sterns of the two ships came so violently into contact, as to crush to pieces a boat that could not be removed in time.'
'Neither the masters, the mates, nor those men who had been all their lives in the Greenland service, had ever experienced such imminent peril and they declared that a common whaler must have been crushed to atoms. Our safety must, indeed, be attributed to the perfect and admirable manner in which the vessels had been strengthened when fitting for service.
But our troubles were not yet at an end; for, as the gale increased, the ice began to move with greater velocity, while the continued thick fall of snow kept from our sight the further danger that awaited us, till it became imminent; a large field of ice was soon discovered at a small distance, bearing fast down upon us from the west, and it thus became necessary to saw docks for refuge, in which service all hands were immediately employed; it was, however, found too thick for our ninefeet saws, and no progress could be made. This circumstance proved fortunate, for it was soon after perceived, that the field, to which we were moored for this purpose, was drifting rapidly on a reef of icebergs which lay aground: the topsails were therefore close-reefed, in order that we might run, as a last resource, between two bergs, or into any creek that might be found among them; when suddenly the field acquired a circular motion, so that every exertion was now necessary for the purpose of warping along the edge, that being the sole chance we
had of escaping the danger of being crushed on an iceberg. In a few minutes we observed that part of the field, into which we had attempted to cut our docks, come in contact with the berg, with such rapidity and violence, as to rise more than fifty feet up its precipitous side, where it suddenly broke, the elevated part falling back on the rest with a terrible crash, and overwhelming with its ruins the very spot we had previously chosen for our safety. Soon afterwards the ice appeared to us sufficiently open for us to pass the reef of bergs, and we once more found ourselves in a place of security.'
The gale having abated, and the weather cleared up, the land was seen in lat. 75° 54. On the 8th of August, a landing was made on a small island, about six miles off, utterly desolate; but piles of stone, such as are frequent in the burying places of the Esquimaux, were observed, and the burned end of the stem of a heath bush, which, Saccheous said, was an instrument with which his countrymen trimmed their lamps. The ships made very little progress along the margin of the ice, which separated them from the shore and adhered to it. On the 9th, at a distance upon this ice, they were greatly surprized by the appearance of people, who seemed to be hallooing to the ships. At first they were supposed to be some shipwrecked sailors, whose vessel had perished in the late gale; the ships therefore stood nearer the ice, and hoisted their colours. It was discovered however that they were natives of the country, drawn by dogs on sledges, which moved with wonderful rapidity. When they had approached near enough to the ships, Saccheous hailed them in his own language, and they answered in return, but neither party seemed to make themselves intelligible. For some time the strangers remained silent, but on the ships' tacking, they set up a simultaneous shout, accompanied with many strange gesticulations, and wheeled off with amazing velocity towards the land.
Having erected a pole, and placed on the ice a stool with some presents on it, and an Esquimaux dog, the ships stood to the northward towards the head of the pool, with an intention to return after examining the state of the ice. After an absence of ten hours, the dog was found asleep on the spot where he had been left, and the presents were untouched. But on the following day eight sledges were observed moving furiously towards the ships. Saccheous now volunteered his services to go on the ice with presents, and endeavour to bring the people to a parley. They halted at the distance of about half a mile from the ships, by the edge of a canal or chasm in the ice, by the intervention of which the conference was carried on, without fear or danger of an attack from either party. Saccheous soon discovered that they spoke a dialect of his own language, and invited them to approach nearer, but they replied, 'No, no, go you away,'-and one of