From Barrow to Boothia: The Arctic Journal of Chief Factor Peter Warren Dease, 1836-1839.

Interesting for the accomplishments in surveying the Arctic coastline and for the interactions between Dease and Thomas Simpson, the co-leaders of this HBC expedition. Dease is modest, competent and, in his journal at least, dull. Simpson is the better educated, more egocentric (a la Peary), volatile, and in the end gets himself shot (or shoots himself). Simpson, the cousin of Governor George Simpson, is contemptuous of both Dease and George Back (who is also exploring at the same time), but can also be fawning and almost sanctimonious to his superiors.

The book centers around Dease’s journal but is interspersed with other relevant correspondence presented chronologically, including letters of Simpson to friends, joint letters to HBC as official reports, journal entries from various forts they visited, etc., all with summary introductions by Barr. Many general references to books but without titles given (e.g. p. 40, 106, 130-1, 184, 210, 220, 288). Other references as follows:

p. 17, included in the first volume of Dease’s journal: an English/Inuktitut vocabulary, which he had copied from that included in Parry’s narrative of his second expedition, to Winter Island and Igloolik, and to which Dease had made some minor additions, in pencil. (Barr)

p. 56, Simpson to George Simpson 31 May 1837: We have received Captain Back’s journal by the winter express. It contains, indeed, little thought, with no small portion of French sentimentality and self-admiration; but, altogether, I think that he has made the most of his subject, which was not a fertile one.

p. 57, Simpson to his brother Alexander: Captain Back’s present “terrific” voyage [on the Terror] is not to interfere with ours; and we are in high hopes of reaching the Pole first, perhaps dining there together. His book is a painted bauble, all ornament and conceit, and no substance.” The book is probably George Back. Narrative of the Arctic Land Expedition to the Mouth of the Great Fish River…. Philadelphia, PA: Carey & Hart, 1836.

p. 59: Simpson returns to the subject of Back in a letter to Donald Ross, 31 May 1837: I have perused Capt Back’s journal; the style of the book is showy, and of the writing often amusing and sometimes elegant; but it is “parvum in multo”, which if we do aught, will prove a deletante in that line; you shall have the whole in small enough compass. I was telling Mr. Dease that I wish we had carrier pigeons to bear a message to the gallant Captain, inviting him to dine with us some day next summer at Ross’s Magnetic pole. If both parties prosper it is indeed not improbably that we may meet somewhere in that parallel. [In this letter Simpson misquotes Lord Byron’s “The Destruction of Sennacherib.” See footnote 69.

p. 68-9, Letter of George Simpson to Dease and Thomas Simpson, 30 June 1837: Captain Back’s narrative was sent you last fall [presumably the copy Simpson is alluding to above] and Capt. Ross’s and Mr. King’s are now forwarded. [These would likely be Sir John Ross. Narrative of a Second Voyage in Search of a North-West Passage… [1829-1833] (London: A.W. Webster; 1835.); and Richard King, Narrative of a Journey to the Shores of the Arctic Ocean in 1833, 1834, and 1835: under the Command of Captain Back, R.N….Two Volumes.(London: R. Bentley, 1836.)

p. 71, on Simpson’s having achieved Point Barrow, Barr has this to say: The only jarring note is to be found in Simpson’s self claim that this achievement was solely due to his efforts. Thus in a letter to his brother Alexander he wrote: “for I and I alone, have the well-earned honour of uniting the Arctic to the great Western Ocean, and of unfurling the British flag on Point Barrow.” It never seems to dawn on Simpson that Dease made a major contribution by provisioning, encouraging, and reassuring the voyageurs in an environment which was almost totally alien….” The similarity to Peary is notable in his desire for Fame but alone and unshared (see October 25, 1839 below).

p. 129, Simpson to James Hargrave, 17 January 1838: In March I propose leading the way for our boats & baggage to the Coppermine. I do not in the least apprehend that Capt. Back’s researches will interfere with ours; indeed I suspect that he has much under-rated the land portage from Repulse Bay to the Gulph of Boothia. King’s book is the most venomous thing I have read for a long time. We have ample means of falsifying many of his assertions. Sir John’s [Ross] is a dry, prosing concern. Having received no news papers, we are almost totally ignorant of public events; but, as regards our own circumscribed world, we are delighted with the splendid result of last year’s trade….

p. 130-1, Simpson to Donald Ross 18 Jan 1838: …for that venomous scoundrel King, I hold in my hands the means for swamping the whole credit of his book, an affidavit of James McKay and George Sinclair that his story of their fatal encounter with the Esquimaux is utterly false and unfounded. Nor are proofs wanting that he has slandered an honorable body of men, in regard to their treatment of the aborigines. But of these in their own time and place….after wading through Ross’s wordy journal…. [The whole letter is fascinating for Simpson’s style and his own venom, betraying what seems to be a deep prejudice against Inuit and half-breeds.]

p. 134, Dease and Simpson to Norway House: We are unfortunately unprovided with a nautical almanac for the year 1839, and unless we can obtain one in time, we shall not consider ourselves justified in venturing our party in an unknown country.

p. 136, Simpson to George Simpson from Fort Confidence, 29 January 1838: Time flies quickly enough in this desolate abode; though, not having Captain Back’s good fortune in obtaining newspapers and periodicals, the rest of the world is dead to us.”

p. 137, Simpson to Alexander, same date: When fatigued with writing, chart-drawing, and astronomy, I have a resource which you would hardly have expected here, in an excellent little library, which, besides scientific books, and a regiment of northern travels, contains Plutarch, Hume, Robertson, Gibbon, Shakespeare, Smollett, and dear Sir Walter. It is well that we came so provided; for our friends have not thought fit to send us any of the publications of the day.

p. 280, Simpson to George Simpson, 25 October, 1839: Fame I will have, but it must be alone. My worthy colleague [Dease] on the late expedition frankly acknowledges his having been a perfect supernumerary; and to the extravagant and profligate habits of half-breed families I have an insuperable aversion.” Could Peary have read Simpson, their braggadocio is so similar?