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THE EARLIEST POLAR EXPLORATIONS.
Perhaps it is because of the obstacles and perils of polar investigation, rather than in spite of them, that the north has had a special fascination for men of daring. Certain it is that ever since modern history began, and even before that, explorers have been trying to push into the land of ice.
Some historians believe that in the dim days before America or even Europe was populated, a strange race of men found the North Pole, and even dwelt there part of the year. They may have been some of the prehistoric peoples who penetrated many quarters of the globe, including America, and left traces of their life in buried cities and monuments. Perhaps in the years to come, when many men have been to the North Pole, some evidence of the earliest exploration in the region may come to light. But in our day nothing authentic is known of what was done in those times.
It has been definitely enough established, however, that for more than four hundred years the pole has lured on men of all nations to suffering and death.
The white races of Europe in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries were eager for a new and speedier route to India than the one then made use of. These same races believed a speedier route to China existed. Columbus was only a searcher for this route. There is no positive historical evidence that he sought more than this when he left Spain. And he was preceded by scores of searchers braver and worthier than he in this quest.
Those who came after him for decades did not accept America as a continent with an entity of its own. Jean Nicollet, coming in 1634 to what is now northern Wisconsin, dressed himself in the robes of a Chinese mandarin when he met the Menomini because he believed he was on the road to China and was about to confront one of the rulers of that country.
In this chase for the royal road to the celestial empire it came about that the first lines of the tragedy of the North Pole were written — the last are yet to be inscribed, The white men from Europe were not alone content to search for this way through central North America; they pushed north and west of Labrador; they penetrated Baffin bay; they came to the open sea that surrounds the ice pack of the pole, and they sunk their ships there and died like men for the honor of their native lands and the spirit of discovery.
The geographers and the mapmakers gave them the location of the North Pole; legend-makers threw their deceptive veils over its seas; governments offered rewards for its discovery, and so apace grew the tragedy until today the piles of its victims and sunken treasure mark innumerable spots in the northern wastes.
Fridtjof Nansen, a Norwegian, reached 86 degrees 14 minutes April 7, 1896. Of known explorers he was the first to draw that near to the pole. He endured a temperature of 90 degrees below zero. He lived upon food of the vilest kind. So far he advanced, and then was driven back for life.
In 1266, a few years after the Magna Charta became part of history, a band of Norse sailors, men of Nansen's type and race, lost themselves in the wilds of Iceland. They reached as far north as 75 degrees 46 minutes. That is, it is supposed they did, for traces of their wreckage were found as far north as this latitude centuries afterward, but not beyond.
If they made record of what they discovered the ice and the polar waters swallowed it up. They did not come within 900 miles of the pole, but even at that the baleful influences of the world of cold came upon them and they perished by King William's Land.
Next came John Davis, whose name is now borne by the waters between Greenland and the Cumberland peninsula. He entered Baffin's bay and the Middle Ice, and in 1585 was just on the Arctic Circle at Cape Dyer. Two years later he had only reached latitude 72 degrees 12 minutes and there he quit, with many warnings as to the impossibility of conquering the ice.
Baffin followed him in 1616. He was an English navigator and explorer who aged before his time under the strain of Arctic travel. He was pilot of the Discovery, which in 1615 was dispatched by the Muscovy company to North America in search of the baffling northwest passage.
The search was given up at latitude 77. The ice between Grinnell Land and Greenland came down upon the Discovery with such force, provisions were so scarce, that it was a question of turning backward and fighting the way to the open sea for safety. Beyond the definite location of Baffin's bay the expedition amounted to but little. Scurvy attacked the sailors, scientific observations were few, the northwest passage a myth — so said the explorers.
Their dismal tales filled England with horror. Corporations hesitated to send new searchers out, Baffin himself would not go again. He died in 1623 in battle, fighting with the English against the Portuguese at Kishm island in the Persian gulf.
The tragedy, once started, grew in proportions as men's daring waxed more fierce. Barents and Heemskerck had wintered in 1596-97 at Barents' bay, on the western tongue of Nova Zembla. Willoughby was there in 1553 and Burrough in 1556. The latitude was 75, and the open waters at the point were given the name of Barents' sea.
Barents advanced toward the pole as far as latitude 76 in 1594, but no farther. He met floating ice everywhere, ice that tossed his ship about as though it were an eggshell; cold that penetrated to the marrow of his men. He, too, surrendered.
Afterward, all through the eighteenth century, hunters on ships, adventurers behind masts, geographers and others skirted just the outer edge of the polar world in a vain essay to find an open passage that would carry them safely through to the other side of the world.
No attempts during this century were made to break into the solid ice pack that girts the pole. It was not approached near enough to make it certain of existence. The approaches were confined to the fields of floating ice outside of the pack, frozen mountains that bore down upon ships and buried them in the sea with but a moment's warning.
So the seekers for the way kept to the Taimur peninsula, to the Finnish and Icelandic coast, to the western borders of Greenland or close to the Russian coast.
Sir William Edward Parry, though, brought to Arctic exploration the determination to enter the forbidden lands as far as his resources would permit. He made his first reputation as an officer in the English navy. He accompanied the Ross polar expedition, which accomplished nothing, and then in 1819 led one of his own.
He entered the Arctic regions from the south and east. He explored and named Barrow strait, Prince Regent's inlet and Wellington's sound. He reached Melville island in September, 1819, and to the group to which it belongs gave the name of Parry islands.
Sir William found that distress and suffering produced cannibalism in the north islands; that the aborigines he came in contact with knew nothing of the ice belt surrounding the pole, or, if they did, could not tell.
Parry's explorations were between latitude 75 and 78, and by crossing longitude 110 west he won the $25,000 prize offered by parliament for the feat. Three times after 1819 by different approaches Parry sought to enter the polar ice, but failed. Some of his traveling companions went mad. Others prematurely aged or suddenly died. In 1827 he reached 82 degrees 45 minutes.
Parry describes the affliction of snow-blindness, something from which most Arctic explorers have suffered:
"Some of our men," says Parry, "having, in the course of their shooting excursions, been exposed for several hours to the glare of the sun and snow, returned at night much affected with that painful inflammation in the eyes occasioned by the reflection of intense light from the snow, aided by the warmth of the sun, and called in America 'snow blindness.' This complaint, of which the sensation exactly resembles that produced by large particles of sand or dust in the eyes, is cured by some tribes of American Indians by holding them over the steam of warm water; but we found a cooling wash, made by a small quantity of acetate of lead mixed with cold water, more efficacious in relieving the irritation, which was always done in three or four days, even in the most severe cases, provided the eyes were carefully guarded from the light. As a preventive of this complaint, a piece of black crape was given to each man, to be worn as a kind of short veil attached to the hat, which we found to be very serviceable. A still more convenient mode, adopted by some of the officers, was found equally efficacious; this consisted in taking the glasses out of a pair of spectacles, and substituting black or green crape, the glass having been found to heat the eyes and increase the irritation."
Parry also describes some of the characteristics of summer in the Arctic, the observations being taken in June.
"Having observed," says Parry, "that the sorrel was now so far advanced in foliage as to be easily gathered in sufficient quantity for eating, I gave orders that two afternoons in each week should be occupied by all hands in collecting the leaves of this plant; each man being required to bring in, for the present, one ounce, to be served in lieu of lemon-juice, pickles, and dried herbs, which had been hitherto issued. The growth of the sorrel was, from this time so quick, and the quantity of it so great on every part of the ground about the harbor, that we shortly after sent the men out every afternoon for an hour or two; in which time, besides the advantage of a healthy walk, they could, without difficulty, pick nearly a pound each of this valuable antiscorbutic, of which they were all extremely fond.
'*By the 20th of June, the land in the immediate neighborhood of the ships, and especially in low and sheltered situations, was much covered with the handsome purple flower of the saxifraga oppositifolia, which was at this time in great perfection, and gave something like cheerfulness and animation to a scene hitherto indescribably dreary in its appearance.
"The suddenness with which the changes take place during the short season which may be called summer in this climate, must appear very striking when it is remembered that, for a part of the first week in June, we were under the necessity of thawing artificially the snow which we made use of for water during the early part of our journey to the northward; that, during the second week, the ground was in most parts so wet and swampy that we could with difficulty travel; and that, had we not returned before the end of the third week, we should probably have been prevented doing so for some time, by the impossibility of crossing the ravines without great danger of being carried away by the torrents, — an accident that happened to our hunting parties on one or two occasions in endeavoring to return with their game to the ships."
Another bold explorer was Admiral Von Wrangell, who was sent out in 1820 by Emperor Alexander, of Russia. The party attempted to discover a northern continent, and failed after many privations. Wrangell reached latitude 70:51, longitude 175:27 west. The ice they traversed was thin and weak. In the distance, at the end of their journey they saw signs of open water. Says the admiral: "Notwithstanding this sure sign of the impossibility of proceeding further, we continued to go due north for about nine versts, when we arrived at the edge of an immense break in the ice, extending east and west further than the eye could reach, and which at the narrowest part was more than a hundred and fifty fathoms across. . . . We climbed one of the loftiest ice-hills, where we obtained an extensive view toward the north and whence we beheld the wide, immeasurable ocean spread before our gaze. It was a fearful and magnificent, but to us a melancholy spectacle. Fragments of ice of enormous size floated on the surface of the agitated ocean, and were thrown by the waves with awful violence against the edge of the ice-field on the further side of the channel before us. The collisions were so tremendous, that large masses were every instant broken away; and it was evident that the portion of ice which still divided the channel from the open ocean would soon be completely destroyed. Had we attempted to have ferried ourselves across upon one of the floating pieces of ice, we should not have found firm footing upon our arrival. Even on our own side, fresh lanes of water were continually forming, and extending in every direction in the field of ice behind us. With a painful feeling of the impossibility of overcoming the obstacles which nature opposed to us, our last hope vanished of discovering the land, which we yet believed to exist."
On returning from this extreme limit of their adventurous journey, the party were placed in a situation of extreme risk.
"We had hardly proceeded one werst," writes M. von Wrangell, "when we found ourselves in a fresh labyrinth of lanes of water, which hemmed us in on every side. As all the floating pieces around us were smaller than the one on which we stood, which was seventy-five fathoms across, and as we saw many certain indications of an approaching storm, I thought it better to remain on the larger mass, which offered us somewhat more security; and thus we waited quietly whatever Providence should decree. Dark clouds now rose from the west, and the whole atmosphere became filled with a damp vapor. A strong breeze suddenly sprang up from the west, and increased in less than half an hour to a storm. Every moment huge masses of Ice around us were dashed against each other, and broken into a thousand fragments. Our little party remained fast on our ice-island, which was tossed to and fro by the waves. We gazed in most painful inactivity on the wild conflict of the elements, expecting every moment to be swallowed up. We had been three long hours in this position, and still the mass of ice beneath us held together, when suddenly it was caught by the storm, and hurled against a large field of ice. The crash was terrific, and the mass beneath us was shattered into fragments. At that dreadful moment, when escape seemed impossible, the impulse of self-preservation implanted in every living being saved us. Instinctively we all sprang at once on the sledges, and urged the dogs to their full speed. They flew across the yielding fragments to the field on which we had been stranded, and safely reached a part of it of firmer character, on which were several hummocks, and where the dogs immediately ceased running, conscious, apparently, that the danger was past. We were saved: we joyfully embraced each other, and united in thanks to God for our preservation from such imminent peril."
More than once during this trip the party heard from natives that land could be seen far away in the northern seas. The part of the coast alluded to was Cape Jakan, which the explorers afterwards visited; but, although "they gazed long and earnestly on the horizon, in hopes, as the atmosphere was clear, of discerning some appearance of the northern land," they "could see nothing of it."
Captain Beechey, who sailed from England in the Dorothea and Trent expeditions in 1818, has left some interesting records. Speaking of the purpose of the voyage he said:
"The peculiarity of the proposed route afforded opportunities of making some useful experiments on the elliptical figure of the earth; on magnetic phenomena; on the refraction of the atmosphere in high latitudes in ordinary circumstances, and over extensive masses of ice; and on the temperature and specific gravity of the sea at the surface, and at various depths; and on meteorological and other interesting phenomena." The vessels sailed in April, 1818; Magdalena Bay, in Spitzbergen, having been appointed as a place of rendezvous, in case of separation.
On May 24 of that year they reached latitude 74, longitude 17:40 east. There they saw the midnight sun reflected from great ice-masses, described by Beechey thus:
"Very few of us had ever seen the sun at midnight; and this night happening to be particularly clear, his broad red disc, curiously distorted by refraction, and sweeping majestically along the northern horizon, was an object of imposing grandeur, which riveted to the deck some of our crew, who would perhaps have beheld with indifference the less imposing effect of the icebergs. The rays were too oblique to illuminate more than the inequalities of the floes, and, falling thus partially on the grotesque shapes, either really assumed by the ice or distorted by the unequal refraction of the atmosphere, so betrayed the imagination that it required no great exertion of fancy to trace in various directions architectural edifices, grottos, and caves, here and there, glittering as if with precious metals."
Interesting accounts of the habits of Arctic birds are given in Beechey's story.
"From an early hour in the morning until the period of rest returned, the shores around us reverberated with the merry cry of the little auk, willocks, divers, cormorants, gulls, and other aquatic birds; and, wherever we went, groups of walruses, basking in the sun, mingled their playful roar with the husky bark of the seal." The little auks or rotges (the Alca alle) were so numerous, that "we have frequently seen an uninterrupted line of them extending full half-way over the bay, or to a distance of more than three miles, and so close together that thirty have fallen at one shot. This living column might be about six yards broad and as many deep; so that, allowing sixteen birds to a cubic yard, there would be four millions of these creatures on the wing at one time.
"The reindeer," he says, "showed evident marks of affection for each other. They were at this time in pairs, and when one was shot the other would hang over it, and occasionally lick it, apparently bemoaning its fate; and, if not immediately killed, would stand three or four shots rather than desert its fallen companion."
Beechey also describes some ice-avalanches, a truly marvelous sight.
"The first was occasioned by the discharge of a musket at about half a mile's distance from the glacier. Immediately after the report of the gun, a noise resembling. thunder was heard in the direction of the iceberg (glacier), and in a few seconds more an immense piece broke away, and fell headlong into the sea. The crew of the launch, supposing themselves beyond the reach of its influence, quietly looked upon the scene, when presently a sea arose and rolled toward the shore with such rapidity, that the crew had not time to take any precautions, and the boat was in consequence washed upon the beach, and completely filled by the succeeding wave. As soon as their astonishment had subsided, they examined the boat, and found her so badly stove that it became necessary to repair her in order to return to the ship. They had also the curiosity to measure the distance the boat had been carried by the wave, and found it to be ninety-six feet."
In viewing the same glacier from a boat at a distance, a second avalanche took place, which afforded them the gratification of witnessing the creation, as it were, of a sea iceberg; an opportunity which has occurred to few, though it is generally understood that such monsters can only be generated on shore.
"This occurred on a remarkably fine day, when the quietness of the bay was first interrupted by the noise of the falling body. Lieutenant Franklin and myself had approached. one of these stupendous walls of ice, and were endeavoring to search into the innermost recess of a deep cavern that was near the foot of the glacier, when we heard a report as if of a cannon, and, turning to the quarter whence it proceeded, we perceived an immense piece of the front of the berg sliding down from the height of two hundred feet at least into the sea, and dispersing the water in every direction, accompanied by a loud, grinding noise, and followed by a quantity of water, which, being previously lodged in the fissures, now made its escape in numberless small cataracts over the front of the glacier."
The plunge of the enormous mass caused the Dorothea to careen, though at a distance of four miles. Continuing, Beechey says:
"The piece that had been disengaged at first wholly disappeared under water, and nothing was seen but a violent boiling of the sea, and a shooting up of clouds of spray, like that which occurs at the foot of a great cataract. After a short time it reappeared, raising its head full a hundred feet above the surface, with water pouring down from all parts of it; and then, laboring as if doubtful which way it should fall, it rolled over, and after rocking about some minutes, at length became settled. We now approached it, and found it nearly a quarter of a mile in circumference, and sixty feet out of water. Knowing its specific gravity, and making a fair allowance for its inequalities, we computed its weight at 421,660 tons. A stream of salt water was still pouring down its sides, and there was a continual cracking noise, as loud as that of a cart-whip, occasioned, I suppose, by the escape of confined air."
Another thrilling marine adventure is described by DeLong, whose ship Jeannette was lost in 1881. DeLong's journal of June 12 reads as follows:
"At 7:30 a. m. the ice commenced to move toward the port side, but after advancing a foot or two came to rest. Employed one watch in hauling heavy floe into a small canal on the port bow, to close it up and receive the greater part of the thrust.
"At 4 p. m. the ice came down in great force all along the port side, jamming the ship hard against the ice on the starboard side, causing her to heel 16° to starboard. From the snapping and cracking of the bunker sides and starting in of the starboard ceiling, as well as the opening of the seams in the ceiling to the width of one and one-fourth inches, it was feared that the ship was about to be seriously endangered, and orders were accordingly given to lower the starboard boats and haul them away from the ship to a safe position on the ice-floe. This was done quietly and without confusion. The ice, in coming in on the port side, also had a movement toward the stern, and this last movement not only raised her port bow, but buried the starboard quarter, and jamming it and the stern against the heavy ice, effectually prevented the ship rising to pressure. Mr. Melville (chief engineer), while below in the engine-room, saw a break across the ship in the wake of the boilers and engines, showing that so solidly were the stern and starboard quarters held by the ice that the ship was breaking in two from the pressure upward exerted on the port bow of the ship. The starboard side of the ship was also evidently broken in, because water was rising rapidly in the starboard coal-bunkers. Orders were now given to land one-half of the pemmican in the deck-house, and all the bread which was on deck, and the sleds and dogs were likewise carried to a position of safety. The ship was heeled 22° to starboard, and was raised forward 4' 6", the entire port bow being visible also to a height of 4' 6" from the forefoot. * * *
"At 5 p. m. the pressure was renewed, and continued with tremendous force, the ship cracking in every part. The spar-deck commenced to buckle up, and the starboard side seemed again on the point of coming in. Orders were now given to get out provisions, clothing, bedding, ship's books and papers, and to remove all sick to a place of safety. While engaged in this work another tremendous pressure was received, and at 6 p. m. it was found that the vessel was beginning to fill. From that time forward every effort was devoted to getting provisions, etc., on the ice, and it was not desisted from until the water had risen to the spar-deck, the ship being now heeled to starboard 30°. The starboard side was evidently broken in abreast of the mainmast, and the ship was settling fast. Our ensign had been hoisted at the mizzen, and every preparation made for abandoning the ship, and at 8 p. m. everybody was ordered to leave her. Assembling on the floe, we dragged all our boats and provisions clear of bad cracks, and prepared to camp down for the night."
SEAL-HUNTERS IN THEIR KAYAKS AROUND THE COAST OF GREENLAND.
DR, COOK'S LAST CARTRIDGE AFTER HIS PROVISIONS WERE EXHAUSTED.
ESKIMO WHO HAS REACHED LIMIT oF ENDURANCE.