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Iceland. None of this could have grown to the northward, as not a stick of wood, beyond what a dwarfish coppice of birch may produce, is to be found in a growing state, for many degrees below the places where these logs are cast up, much less to the northward from whence they come. That many of them have recently been in a growing state appears from the fragments of bark and branches still adhering to them; that they have been floating in a warmer climate would also appear from some of them being eaten by the worm, and others having the marks of the workman upon them. They consist of fir, larch, birch, aspen, and other trees, which are, in fact, the produce both of Asia and America, and, in all probability, have been floated down the numerous rivers of both these continents, (some, perhaps, through Behring's Strait,) into the great polar basin, and carried thence by the circumvolving current through the outlet into the northern ocean. It is fair, therefore, to conclude that there must exist a free and open passage between this basin and Davis's Strait. The fact of several vessels having been as high as Baffin without observing the least appearance of land removes all doubt as to the non-existence of the buy, as drawn in the charts. The master of the Larkins, of Leith, gave out that he had been, last year, as far up as 80°; but on a reference being made to Mr. Wood, the owner, he closely examined him, and found occasion to conclude that he had not proceeded higher to the northward than 77°, but that the sea was clear and no land in sight. In the same year Captain Lawson, of the Majestic, having passed the ice, ran in an open sea as high as 76°, without being obstructed by land.
A third argument in favour of the insularity of Old Greenland may be adduced from a fact, well-known to the fishermen, that whales, struck with harpoons on the coast of Spitzbergen, are very commonly killed in the Strait of Davis with these harpoons in their bodies, and vice versâ; there can be no mistake here, as the names of the vessels, and the ports to which they belong, are always cut into the sockets of their harpoons. Captain Franks, in 1805, struck a whale in Davis's Strait, which was killed near Spitzbergen by his son, who found his father's name on a harpoon sticking in its body; and the same year, in the same place, Captain Sadler killed a whale with the harpoon of an Esquimaux in it. The distance which these wounded whales would have to run round the north of Greenland, is so much shorter, and whales are so rarely seen to enter the Strait of Davis round Cape Farewell, that the probability is altogether in favour of the former supposition.
To ascertain the existence of a north-west passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific is peculiarly a British object. It engaged the attention, and obtained the encouragement, of the first literary
characters, and of the most respectable mercantile men in the earliest periods of British navigation. Since that time the attempt has been patronized by sovereigns and parliaments; the former having appropriated their own ships, and the latter tendered a reward of 20,000l. for effecting a discovery interesting to humanity, to science, and to commerce. The reign of George III. will stand conspicuous and proudly pre-eminent in future history, for the spirit with which discoveries were prosecuted, and the objects of science promoted; and a dawn of hope appears, that, ere its close, the interesting problem of a north-west passage will be solved, and this great discovery, to which the Frobishers, the Hudsons, the Davises, Baffins, and Bylots so successfully opened the way, be accomplished. Little, if any thing, has been added to the discoveries of these extraordinary men, who, in the early periods of navigation, had every difficulty to struggle against -without science and without instruments, feeling their way in small miserable barks among unknown lands, and amidst mountains and fields of ice.
It is a humiliating fact, that the last four expeditions, fitted out for discovery in this quarter, brought no accession to that knowledge of the geography of those seas and islands, which had been acquired two hundred years before. We have heard it hinted, with sufficient illiberality, that the chief cause of failure was owing to their being under the command of naval officers.* Nothing would be more unfair than to attach blame on a whole body of men for the improper conduct of a few; nor does the failure militate, in the slightest degree, against the employment of officers of the royal navy on this service: for in the instances alluded to, it so happened that one of them was suspected to have acted under the influence of his old masters, the Hudson's Bay Company, who were averse from all interference with what they are disposed to consider their exclusive privilege; another was addicted to drinking; a third took fright at the ice; and a fourth was totally incapacitated by a violent attack of fever. The circumstance most to be apprehended from the appointment of naval officers, is that of attempting too much rather than too little; but as the navigation among ice is itself a science, to be learned only from practice, prudence will necessarily dictate that every ship employed on this service shall be supplied with an experienced Greenland fisherman, to act as pilot in those seas.
The grounds for the existence of a passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific are similar to those for the insularity of Greenland, and are at any rate sufficiently strong to justify the renewal of an enterprize for its accomplishment.
Captain Middleton, Lieutenants Pickersgill and Young, and Mr. Duncan, master in
The annexed diagram, constructed on the plane of the pole, will assist the reader in the explanation of the notions we entertain on this interesting subject:
As the northern coast of America has been found to terminate at the mouths of Mackenzie's river, and of the Copper-mine river, about the 70th parallel of latitude; as Icy Cape appears to be the extreme point of America, on the west; and as no one has traced its termination, on the east, beyond the arctic circle, or 67° at farthest-it is reasonable to conclude that the general trending of that coast, from one extremity to the other, may keep within the 69th and 71st parallels of latitude; and this is rendered the more probable by the Asiatic coast running, with the exception of one or two points, nearly along those parallels. The whole distance from the eastern to the western extremity of America, or from A. to B., is little more than four hundred leagues, in which the coast has been seen to terminate at three different and nearly equidistant
points; so that it may almost be said that the fourth point only remains to be discovered. The doubling of this fourth and unknown point, A. is the great difficulty to be got over; and it would certainly prove an insurmountable one, if, as in some charts, the continent of America was found to be united with Old Greenland; but the circumstance of the wounded whales and the constant current from the northward render (as we have already observed) such a supposition highly improbable.
Equally so, we are persuaded, is the hypothesis raised by some of the continental geographers, that the island or main land of New Siberia (as they call it) sweeps round to the eastward, and unites with North America; and still more improbable the opinion, that Old Siberia is connected with America, forming a deep bay, into which Behring's Strait is the entrance. As the latter idea, which seem's to have been recently broached by Captain Burney, would render all attempts for the discovery of a north-west passage completely nugatory, it is of importance, that the ground on which it rests should be examined, in order, if possible, to get at the truth.
It is hardly necessary to premise that, since the general introduction of chronometers into the navy, the East India Company's service, and other private ships, and of the very extensive practice of deducing the longitude from lunar distances, the numerous currents of the ocean have been more correctly ascertained:-by the ability and indefatigable industry of Major Rennell, they will, no doubt, speedily be reduced to something like system. From what we already know, however, it appears that, in every part of the ocean, the waters are either in a progressive or circular motion independent of the tides, which exist only near the shores, among islands, or in straits and narrow seas. This universal motion of the great deep is, no doubt, one of those wise dispensations of a kind Providence, by which it is preserved in a state of purity. Thy way,' says the Psalmist, is in the sea, and thy path in the deep waters; and thy footsteps are not known.'
These footsteps, however, we are perhaps not without the means of tracing from the Pacific into the Atlantic, round the north coast of America. The direction of the current, as marked in the great polar basin of the diagram, is of course conjectural; but not so that which sets into this basin through Behring's Strait, and out of it into the northern Atlantic. By these two openings a constant circular motion and interchange of waters between the Pacific and the Atlantic seem to be kept up in the northern, as they are known to be round the Capes of Good Hope and Horn, in the southern, hemisphere. We are fully aware, that the principal ground of objection to a free communication between the Pacific and the polar basin arises from Captain Cook having found little or no 94
current to the northward of Behring's Strait. Our answer to this is, that there is little or no current in a mill-dam, though its waters may be rushing out with the greatest violence under the flood-gate. The inclination of the shores of Asia and America towards each other forms such a dam, into which currents have been observed to set with extraordinary velocity along the west coast of America, and the eastern shores of Japan and Kamtschatka.* The impenetrable barrier of ice, which stopped the progress of Cook's successors, may be considered as the temporary head and flood-gate of this dam; and, as it was eight or ten feet above, it could not be less than fifty or sixty feet below, the surface of the sea; but the water was more than a hundred feet deep below this, affording ample space for its escape, which it might do with great velocity, without being in the smallest degree perceptible on the surface. It would be difficult to explain the perpetual egress of a current from the polar basin into the Atlantic, which is a well authenticated fact, without admitting a supply through the only remaining opening into that basin, to answer the demand of this current; those who could suppose the melting of the ice to afford such a supply would betray a total ignorance of the very little influence which an arctic summer exerts on fields of ice, perpetually surrounded, as they are, with a chilly, and mostly with a freezing atmosphere created by themselves. Besides, the southerly current setting into the Atlantic on both sides of Greenland is perpetual, not only when the ice is melting, but also when the sea is freezing. Lieutenant Parry, of the navy, in returning last year from Halifax, met with an island of ice more than a hundred and fifty feet high, and two others of a smaller size, in latitude 44°21′ N. so early as the 2d April. These ice-bergs must have floated out of the polar basin in the middle of winter, unless they stopped by the way It has been suggested, we believe, that the disproportion of the opening into the polar basin through Behring's Strait, and those out of it through Davis's Strait, and between Greenland and Spitzbergen, is fatal to the theory we have assumed; but when we reflect on the vast disproportion that occurs in the breadth of rivers in different parts of their course, and that where widest they are very often found to be deepest, the objection, we think, will not be deemed conclusive, especially if it should be found, as we apprehend it will, that the currents of the ocean, where no land intervenes, are entirely superficial. The Gulf-stream between the Bahamas and East Florida is very little wider and perhaps not much deeper than Behring's Strait; and yet the water rushing through this passage is of sufficient force and quantity to put the whole northern Atlantic in motion, and to make its influence to be Cook's last voyage.