The Polar Regions.

Richardson worked with Franklin in two overland expeditions much as Edward Wilson worked with Robert Falcon Scott on two Antarctic journeys, the last one fatal to both explorers. Naturalist, surgeon, explorer, and eventually librarian of Haslar Hospital. In this general overview of the [chiefly northern ] Polar Regions, Richardson shows his erudition while summing up his wide experience of the North.

p. 90-91: Two delineations of Resolution Island, taken from Davis’ survey, are, according to Dr. Asher, still in existence; the one is an engraved planisphere, inserted into a copy of Hakluyt in the British Museum; the other is on the globe constructed by Molyneux, quoted in Davis’ summary account of his voyages, and preserved in the library of the Middle Temple.

p. 125: In reading Hearne’s narrative, it is necessary to advert to an overstatement of distances, a very usual circumstance with pedestrians, and the cumbrous Elton’s quadrant which had been lying thirty years at the fort, and was the only astronomical instrument he had on this last journey, was not likely to aid him in correcting his reckoning. On collating his chart by aid of two or three ascertained geographical positions, his differences of latitude and longitude are invariably found to be in excess.

p. 128-29: In 1789, Sir Alexander Mackenzie, a member of the North- West Fur Company, trading from Canada, descended the great river which bears his name, and traced it to its termination in the Arctic sea. Though this traveller says that he was not supplied with the necessary books and instructions, and with much modesty adds that he was deficient in the sciences of astronomy and navigation, his survey was in the main highly creditable, and the position of Whale Island, his extreme point, is very nearly accurate. He had actually reached the sea-coast, but the Mackenzie pours out such volumes of fresh waters from its various mouths that the sea does not become salt till near Garry Island, which lies about thirty miles out from the coast of the river-delta.

p. 150, after merger of North-west Company with the Hudson’s Bay Company: … the two having no rival, were carrying on a peaceful commerce throughout the length and breadth of the fur-countries. The Indians well-treated and happy, acquiesced in the absence of the “fire-water,” which was no longer carried to the north, and were beginning to listen to the missionaries, as well as becoming gradually more amenable to the influence of the traders, which has always been beneficial when not perverted by commercial rivalry. On this expedition, Sir John Franklin wintered in 1825 on Great Bear Lake, and during the following summer descended the Mackenzie, and surveyed the coast line to the westward as far as Return Reef, more than 1000 miles distant from his winter quarters on Great Bear Lake. In connection with this survey, Captain Beechey in the Blossom had entered Bering’s Straits, and by his boats explored the coast considerably beyond the Icy Cape of Cook as far as Point Barrow, lying on the highest parallel of latitude to which the American Continent reaches, and constituting therefore the north-west cape of America. Its position is 71° 38′ N, and 156° 15′ W., the distance between it and Return Reef being 160 miles. In his advance to the last-named locality, Sir John Franklin had rounded the northern extremity of the great chain, named the Rocky Mountains, and consisting, as he perceived from sea, of several parallel ranges.

p. 163, on the Franklin Search: Traces of excursion or hunting parties were discovered at Cape Spencer and other places within easy distances of the winter harbour. A cairn was likewise discovered on the south west cape of Beechey Island, but, though it was twice taken down, and its site carefully dug over, and the whole island repeatedly searched, no papers relating to the ships were found, except a fragment of a note, and some leaves of a book. It cannot for a moment be thought that the Erebus and Terror left their winter harbour before a careful record of the year’s proceedings had been prepared and deposited by the commanding officer; but as no recent traces of Eskimos existed, the record, in its tin case, was most probably placed where it would be most readily found, exposed on the top of the cairn. The voyagers did not know that the polar bear is in the habit of carrying off and knawing such unusual objects, a fact subsequently learnt by the searching parties.

p. 194, on John Rae’s findings regarding the fate of the Franklin Expedition: But in the hope of receiving some fuller details of the sad event, Government requested the Hudson’s Bay Company to send a party down the Great Fish River, to explore its estuary, and communicate with the neighbouring Eskimos. Mr. Anderson, one of the Company’s chief factors, was accordingly employed on this mission in the summer of 1855. Unfortunately, no interpreter could be procured on so short a notice, there being none within 2000 miles, and the only conversation Mr. Anderson could hold with the Eskimos he saw at the mouth of the river, was by the uncertain medium of signs. From them, however, he obtained many additional articles which they had found on the deceased; and on Montreal Island he discovered the spot where the natives had broken up the boat for its wood and nails. By expressive and unmistakeable pantomime, the Eskimos told him that the white men had died of hunger. A minute and patient search of Montreal Island, of the whole peninsula of Point Ogle, and of an adjacent island to the westward, revealed neither books, scraps of paper, nor arms, nor a single human bone or grave. He supposed that all the dead were concealed by the drift sand which abounds on Point Ogle, but it is more probable that he had not discovered the exact place mentioned by the Eskimos as the spot where the remnant of the crew had breathed their last, or that their tents having been pitched on the strand, their bodies had been swept off by the rising sea on the breaking up of the ice.

p. 300-01, on the Eskimos and their language: In Greenland the natives term a Dane Kablunak (plural Kablunet), and the same word is recognised as denoting a white man or European along the American coast, as far west as Barter Reef. But as the Eskimos are very observant of peculiarities of features, dress, or gesture, they readily invent epithets to denote either people or individuals; thus in Greenland, the Dutch, who at one time traded a good deal thither, have a proper designation, and at Point Barrow the natives termed the crew of the Plover sometimes Shakenatanctr-mëun, “people from under the sun; ” or Emakh-lin, “sea men;” or Ingaland-mëun, “men of England;” but most commonly Nellaung-mëun, “unknown people.” They have also distinctive names for the Red Indians, of their several vicinities, and several expressions for stranger Eskimaos. Throughout the long lines of coast which this people inhabit, they are generally scattered in small bodies of five or six families together, or even fewer in situations so remote from their enemies, the Red Indians, that they are not apprehensive of attack; and only in places that are favourably situated for hunting deer and marine animals, and, it may be added, for commerce, do they congregate in large numbers, such as Hudson Strait, the delta of the Mackenzie, the banks of the Colville, of the Nutawok, and Point Barrow. Yet, from Labrador to the northern extremity of Smith’s Sound, including both sides of Greenland, and along the whole northern coast of America, the variations of dialect are small and unimportant. Mr. Miertsching, who learnt the language on the Labrador coast, understood, and could make himself intelligible to the Eskimos in the vicinity of the Mackenzie and in Camden Bay; and the native Eskimo interpreters from Hudson’s Bay employed by Sir John Franklin, Sir John Richardson, and Dr. Rae, had still greater facility of conversation with the north coast tribes. The language is similar in its grammatical construction to the other native American tongues, but differs widely from all of them in its vocabulary.

[See also footnote at bottom of p. 301 for further views on language.]