Page images
PDF
EPUB

to leave no part of the coast unexplored, even after all hopes of a passage were given up, determined me to persevere as I did, notwithstanding there was no current, a material decrease in the temperature of the sea, and no driftwood, or other indication of a passage, until I actually saw the barrier of high mountains, and the continuity of ice, which put ihe question at rest. That I did so persevere, became afterwards a source of great satisfaction, as I was fortunate enough to succeed also in esploring every part of the coast to the southward, to which

my attention was to be directed, and where I was led to expect that the current was to be found. This was a much more essential part of my duty than the making of magnetical observations, which was the only inducement still remaining to linger in that dangerous bay, where much time might have been wasted in attempting to land, perhaps, without success, or, at any rate, without attaining any adequate results. My opinions were mentioned to several of the officers, after I had determined to proceed to the southward; and also to Captain Sabine, who repeated, on every occasion, that there was no indication of a passage.'--pp. 182—184.

Without having recourse to the arguments which might fairly be drawn in favour of its being a strait, from the totally different character of the southern from the northern land, the extraordinary depth of water where the ship was put about (650 fathoms), or the increased temperature, uncorrected by the hydrographer of the Admiralty, for we are ignorant of what is meant by his correction of the meteorological table, unless it be that of reducing the duration of three whole days to 48 hours (p. 180.);-waving, we say, these circumstances, the first observation that strikes us is, that, instead of looking for the north-west passage, Captain Ross appears to have all the while been hunting solely for currents. On this point a strange infatuation seems to have taken possession of his mind; and, undesignedly we have not the smallest doubt, but in consequence of this extraordinary prepossession, or rather, perhaps, of that prevailing inaccuracy which we have before noticed, he has not only misconceived the obvious meaning, but misquoted the words, of his . Instructions.' Fortunately he has printed them at full length, so that every reader may compare and judge for himself: never were Instructions more clearly and intelligibly worded ;-and never, surely, were the hands of an officer less tied up by specific orders—witness the following paragraph :

· As, in the present state of uncertainty with regard to the movements of the ice, and with the very imperfect knowledge we have of this (Davis's) Strait, and still more so of the sea beyond it, no specific instructions can be given for your guidance,—the time and manner of proceeding to fulfil the ulterior object of your destination, in places where impediments may occur, must be left entirely to your discretion.'—(Instructions, p. 6.) Here then we see Captain Ross was completely unshackled, Q 4

either

either as to the time or the manner of doing what he was sent to do. Now let us see how far he was to be guided by the currents' which had been so confidently asserted to exist from the "best authorities.'

From the best information' (not authorities)' we have been able to obtain, it would appear that a current of some force runs from the northward towards the upper part of Davis's Strait, during the summer season, and, perhaps, for some part of the winter also, bringing with it fields of ice in the spring, and icebergs in the summer.

“This current, if it be considerable, can scarcely be altogether supplied by streams from the land, or the melting of ice; there would, therefore, seem reason to suppose, that it may be derived from an open sea; in which case, Baffin's Bay cannot be bounded by land, as our charts generally represent it, but must communicate with the Arctic Ocean.

• In passing up the Strait, if such a current should be discovered, it will be of the greatest importance to you, in pointing out that part of the Strait which is likely to be the least encumbered with ice, as well as leading you direct to the opening by which it may be supposed to pass from the Arctic Sea into Davis's Strait.

• In tracing this current, you will soon discover whether it takes its origin in the north-east or north-west quarter: if in the former, you will, of course, abandon all pursuit of it farther; but if it should come from the north-west or west, it will prove the best guide you can follow, to lead you to the discovery of which you are in search:-( Instructions,

p. 3, 4.)

Is there here, we would ask, any confident assertion,' any order to be guided by the currents ? Is not the whole subject matter of currents merely hypothetical, grounded on the best information the Lords of the Admiralty had been able to obtain? Is it not offered as a suggestion merely for his guidance, if he should find such current to exist ? He was not sent in search of a current, but told that if he found a current coming from the north-west, he could not do better than pursue it towards its origin-it was a contingent of which advantage might be taken: but there is not the most distant hint that a current was the necessary and indispensable appendage of a passage into the Arctic ocean, nor the shadow of a prohibition to the prosecution of his search of a passage, if he failed in that of a current. Impenetrably dull or intentionally perverse must any one be who could mistake the meaning of this part of the instructions.

Nor can we find any expression in the instructions which recommends Captain Ross to look for the north-east point of America; or in other words, the north-west passage, about the seventysecond degree of latitude.' On the contrary he is directed carefully to avoid coming near the coast (of America); and, finding the

sea

6

sea free of ice in Baffin's Bay, he is told it may be advisable to stand well to the northward, before you edge away to the westward, in order to get a good offing, in rounding the north-east point of the continent of America, whose latitude has not been ascertained, but which, if a conjecture may be hazarded, from what is known of the northern coast of that continent, may perhaps be found in or about the seventy-second degree of latitude.'-Instructions, p. 5.) So far from looking for this point, he was to stand well to the northward, in order to give it a good offing: had it been intended that he should ascertain its position, his instructions, we have no doubt, would have directed him to proceed up the Welcome, and endeavour to pass through Captain Middleton's frozen straight ; whereas the object clearly was to avoid being entangled with the shoals, and islands, and ice on the northern shores of America, which, by the vague accounts of Hearne and Mackenzie, are very similar to the northern shores of

Siberia. It would be a waste of words to point out the absurdity i of supposing that, by this part of his instructions, it was meant to

order Captain Ross' to look for the north-west passage in the seventy-second degree of latitude.'

The next point of justification is the time (which, be it recollected, as well as the manner, was left to his own discretion) of leaving the ice-As, in my instructions, I am also directed to leave the ice about the 15th or 20th September, or, at latest, the 1st October,' &c. Now let us see how this stands.

• If, however, all your endeavours should fail in getting so far to the westward as to enable you to double the north-eastern extremity of America, (round which these Instructions have hitherto supposed a passage to exist,) you are, in that case, to use all the means in your power,

by keeping to the northward and eastward, to ascertain to what extent E you can proceed along the western coast of Old Greenland: and whe

iher there is any reason to suppose that it forms a part of the continent of America; and you are also to endeavour to improve the very imperfect geography of the eastern coast of America, and of the island or islands which are supposed to interyene between it and Disco Island in Davis's Strait; but you are, on no account, in this latter case, to remain on this service so long, unless accidentally caught in the ice, as to be obliged to winter on any part of the eastern coast of America, or the western coast of Old Greenland, or the intermediate islands ; but to leave the ice about the middle or 20th of September, or the 1st of October at the latest, and make the best of your way to the River Thames.'-(Instruetions, p. 8.)

If there be any truth in the position of the eastern coast of America, as laid down in the charts on the authority of Captain Middleton, in the neighbourhood of Repulse Bay, Captain Ross had actually passed the north-east point of America by more than

a degree

6

[ocr errors]

a degree of longitude; indeed, for aught he knew to the contrary, the southern coast of Lancaster Sound might be a part of the northern coast of America; the point therefore to which he had proceeded up Lancaster Sound was within the limit contemplated in that part of his Instructions which provides for his wintering upon the coast; but, without insisting on this, his order for leaving the ice had evidently no reference whatever to this part of the voyage. Failing to get upon the northern coast of America, instead of coming immediately home, he was then to ascertain whether Old Greenland was separated from the western land by Sir Thomas Smith's, or any other sound; to correct the geography of the eastern coast of America, and of such islands as are supposed to intervene between that coast and the neighbourhood of Disco. This latter part, we will do him the justice to say, he appears to have done, and to have ascertained that in the midst of Davis's Strait there are no islands, and consequently that the 'James's Island' of some charts has no existence: it was in these three latter cases, after having given up all further search for a passage, that he was not to remain so long as to be obliged to winter on the eastern coast of America, the western coast of Old Greenland, or the intermediate islands, but to leave the ice, namely the ice of Davis's Strait, about the 20th September or the 1st of Octoberbut he was in no case directed to leave the water on the 31st August.

It is obvious from the tenor of the Instructions, from the extraordinary preparations, and from the victualling stores, in addition to the established allowance, for two years, amounting to nearly 9,000 lbs. of preserved meat, of vegetable soups, essence of malt, and all manner of comforts ;* of warm clothing, even to wolves' skins, for every man of the two ships, that wintering somewhere on the northern coast of America was fully contemplated : and we remember perfectly well, before the sailing of the expedition, how delighted all on board appeared to be at the idea of hunting bears and foxes and other animals in the long moonlight nights of nearly a fortnight each, and of observing the aurora borealis on the alternate fortnights, and of making and registering meteorological observations in a latitude where they had never yet been registered :-nay, so impressed was Captain Ross himself with the probability of wintering, that just a month before the period of his return, the ships' boats went out to kill a whale that the blubber (as he says) might serve them for winter light and fuel.' What feeling so suddenly changed his determination, and caused him to abandon the search at a moment when every one else conceived there was the falrest prospect of attaining the long wished object, we cannot even conjecture; unless the appearance of the star Capella warned him of the approach of winter, and suggested to the whaling-master that the season was at an end.

* Table of Provisions, Introd. p. XXX.

else

There occur unfortunate moments in the history of a man's life, when he is himself unable to account for his actions; and the moment of putting about the Isabella would appear to be one of them: for had Captain Ross then felt what he professes to feel in the Introduction to his book, that his nautical education had taught him to act and not to question; to obey orders, as far as possible, not to discuss probabilities,' we are quite certain that he would not have stopped short where he did. Had he continued to advance, even supposing there was a continuity of land or ice, three hours more would have rendered his further proceeding impracticable; if, on the contrary, no such land orice existed, three days more would have brought him very near to the meridian of the Coppermine river: in either case, the question would have been set at rest ;—and Captain Ross, instead of Lieutenant Parry, would have had the merit of solving the problem, as far as Lancaster Sound is concerned: at present, he merely deceives himself in supposing that he has set the question at rest.?

The only remaining reason assigned by Captain Ross for abandoning Lancaster Sound was, that the weather appeared more unsettled, and therefore it became advisable to stand out of this dangerous inlet, in which we were embayed, being within it above eighty miles.' By the special chart, he was about half that distance within it: Lieutenant Parry makes it thirty miles, and Captain Sabine the same. Captain Ross alone hints at danger.

We beg distinctly to be understood, that we do not say there is, but that Captain Ross does not know that there is not a passage through Sir James Lancaster's Sound; he knows no more, in fact, than he might have known by staying at home; and however invidious it may seem, we cannot but contrast the indifference and want of perseverance on the present occasion with that of former navigators sent on voyages of discovery. It was the perseverance and the fortitude of Columbus, under every difficulty and discouraging circumstance, that led to the discovery of a new world. It was the same spirit of perseverance and determined resolution that conducted Magelhanes through 300 miles of an unknown and intricate strait, apparently embayed and land-locked at every ten or twelve miles, and without affording any of those indications' of currents, swells, and driftwood,' sought after in Baffin's Bay. Had this great navigator been influenced by the murmuring of some, who complained of the danger they ran for want of provi

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »