Polar Pioneers. John Ross and James Clark Ross.

A joint biography of uncle and nephew with much on other explorers of the time, e.g., Parry. There is an impressive body of contemporary literature surrounding the Rosses and Parry which is well-described here, including the acrimony between uncle and nephew, John and James.

p. 73-75, general description of life aboard Hecla and Griper during wintering season at Melville Island in 1819-20: Entertainment was provided by a weekly paper, the North Georgia Gazette and Winter Chronicle, edited by Sabine, the precursor of many such publications on polar expeditions. Theatrical performances were staged once a fortnight, in which Parry himself sometimes played a part and in which James Ross, a handsome young man, was often cast in one of the female roles. Parry was a man of strong religious principles, and divine service (with a sermon) was held regularly every Sunday.”

p. 90, again in 1824-25 with Hecla and Fury at Prince Regent Inlet: Schools were run in each ship under the supervision of Hooper, “not merely to the improvement of the men in reading and writing, but also to cultivation of that religious feeling which so essentially improves the character of a seaman, by furnishing the highest motives for increased attention to every other duty.”… In the evenings, after school, Hooper often enjoyed conversation with the captain on religious subjects. This was the fourth winter that many of the officers and men had spent in the Arctic, there was none of the novelty of the first winter at Melville Island, and no Inuit to enliven the scene as at Winter Island and Igloolik. The old plays began to pall, but Hooper thought up the ideas of “bals masques,” held once a month in each ship alternatively, which were a great success—“masquerades without licentiousness—carnivals without excess,” as Parry expressed it.

p. 104-05: With so little variety on shore, and no prospect of release for a period of several months, it became absolutely necessary to provide some amusements for the ships’ companies. Lieut. Parry proposed, therefore, to his officers to get up a play occasionally. This proposal was readily seconded, and, under the auspices of Lieut. Beechy, as stage-manager, the theatre on board the “Hecla” contributed greatly to preserve the general cheerfulness and good humor, which had hitherto subsisted. “In these amusements,” he writes, “I gladly undertook a part myself, considering that an example of cheerfulness, by giving a direct countenance to everything that could contribute to it, was not the least essential part of my duty, under the peculiar circumstances in which we were placed.”

The first play was performed on the 5th of November, on which day the sun was seen for the last time. These theatrical entertainments took place regularly once a fortnight, and afforded much amusement, though the thermometer on the stage was, usually, many degrees below zero. Even the occupation of fitting up the theatre, and taking it to pieces again, was regarded by the captain as a matter of no little importance; “for I dreaded,” he says, “the want of employment, as one of the worst evils that was likely to befall us. As the stock of plays on board was rather scanty, consisting of only one or two odd volumes, our authors set to work, and produced, as a Christmas piece, a new musical entertainment.” This had special reference to the service in which they were engaged, being called the “North-West-Passage: or, the Voyage finished,” and the reader will not be surprised to learn, that the author was none other than Parry himself.

In order still further to carry out his object of pro viding occupation and amusement, especially for the officers, he suggested the idea of starting a weekly newspaper, of which Captain Sabine should be editor, to be supported by original contributions from both ships. He was aware that, as a general rule such a paper might be open to objection in a man-of-war, but his confidence in the discretion and good disposition of his officers was too great for him to apprehend any serious consequences; and the issue proved that this confidence was not misplaced. “I can safely say,” are his own words, “that the weekly contributions had the happy effect of employing the leisure hours of those who furnished them, and of diverting the mind from the gloomy prospect, which would sometimes obtrude itself on the stoutest heart.” The “North Georgian Gazette, and Winter Chronicle” was laid on the public table of the officers’ mess-room every Monday morning, and its arrival was eagerly looked forward to, as one of the events of the week. When the ships returned home, the Gazette was printed by the officers at the request of their friends, and of all the contributions, whether of good-natured criticism, humorous invention, or more serious feeling, those from the pen of Parry yield to none.

p. 113, interesting passage by John Ross on naval officer’s resistance to change, especially steam engines: It is not difficult to understand the reason. Officers who are high in rank do not like to look to this apparently uncomfortable mode of warfare, and they show a reluctance to study a new system of naval tactics. They cannot easily or willingly abandon the near prospect they have of proudly displaying their flags at the mast-head of a first-rate ship of war, one of the most beautiful and splendid objects in the world: and when compared, even in imagination, with the smoky steamer—alas! what a galling humiliation! Can we expect that those who have been so long prejudiced in favour of a system which has led the nation to the pinnacle of glory, and who have no opportunity, or even desire, of inquiring into the true state of the case, should at once abandon what has been dearest to their hearts for 40 years? But it is too true—no longer can the British first-rate man-of-war be considered the monarch of the ocean, or the gallant Admiral and Commander-in-Chief of the British Fleet pace the quarterdeck of such a ship even in security from the attack of a little steamship with only one gun?

p. 142, in Boothia in 1829 again under John Ross: On weekdays an evening school was run from six to nine o’clock. On Sundays the men were inspected in their best clothes, there were prayers and a sermon, and “to occupy the remainder of the day, there was a collection of tracts which had been presented to us by Mrs. Enderby of Blackheath, proving a judicious as well as useful gift.” In the evening there was a Sunday school, scripture readings, and psalms. “Of the good effect of this system of religious duties and of instruction, I could entertain no doubt; for the men seemed truly to feel that they all belonged to one family: evincing mutual kindness, with a regularity and tranquility of behaviour which are not general on board of a ship.”

p. 155, in 1831 wintering in Boothia: There was now nothing much else to do but wait for the ice to break up and release the ship. “We were weary for want of occupation, for want of variety, for want of means of mental exertion, for want of thought, and (why should I not say it?) for want of society. To-day was as yesterday, and as was to-day, so would be tomorrow.” The only “society” was that of the Inuit, which they always enjoyed but which this year had been only intermittent. “They were not only kind, but as Falstaff says of wit, they were the cause of kindness around them including ourselves.” [from Ross. Narrative, p. 590-91.]

p. 155, Ross to Beaufort, Jan 1, 1832: He finished it with the words “We have now no Nautical Almanack therefore our future observations must be reduced at home if ever we get there but I confess that the chances are now much against our being ever heard of—I shall leave the last of this sheet for the conclusion be as it may.”

p. 182, gives publishing history of Ross’s Narrative of the Second Voyage, self-published with 7000 subscribers.

p. 245, with James Ross in Antarctica: The ships’ companies derived a good deal of amusement from the natives of Hermite Island [near Cape Horn], who, though unprepossessing in appearance, primitive in the extreme, and unable to communicate in any comprehensible language, were good-natured and good mimics. Ross’s evangelistic hope that the day was not far distant “when the blessings of civilization and the joyful tidings of the Gospel may be extended to these most degraded of human beings” was not realized; contact with Western civilization would eventually prove the doom of the Fuegian race.

p. 290, Barrow in his 1847 autobiograaphy; “I am inclined to believe that a consideration of the great benefit to be derived from the knowledge of such examples [e.g. his description of the excellent characters and conduct of Arctic explorers] being extended to the Navy at large, may have induced the Board of Admiralty, as I understand it has done, to order the publisher to prepare 300 copies of the work in question, to be added to the officers’ and seamen’s libraries in ships of war.” [See Barrow’s Autobiographical Memoir, p. 487. In fact, the work was especially scornful of Sir John Ross who attacked with his own pamphlet.]

p. 334, in 1851 Capt. Charles Phillips of the Felix was looking for remains and records of Franklin on Cornwallis Island: A hundred and twenty-two years later, in July 1973, geologists found two small cairns in the middle of Cornwallis Island, containing notes left by Phillips that gave the positions of all the ships and of depots.