Letters Written During the Late Voyage of Discovery in the Western Arctic Sea.

Letters from the Parry Expedition, 1819-1820, describing the voyage and the wintering at Winter Harbour, Melville Island, the Canadian Arctic waters and their ice, the Arctic night, the activities of the crews. Although anonymous, internal evidence shows the officer to have been one of the midshipmen on the Griper; either A.M. Skene or William Nelson Griffth.

p. 6: Saturday 22d.—You have occasionally read in the newspapers of sealed bottles being met with at sea, or driven ashore in several parts, containing notes of the time and place of their being thrown into the sea. One was thrown overboard to-day from the Hecla, in which was a paper, containing a request, in various languages, that whoever should find it would transmit it to the Admiralty, in London, mentioning where and when it was found. This is done every day that the ships are under weigh. The principal object of this custom is, that, by comparing the times and places of the throwing out and the picking up of the bottles, if found at sea, or immediately after they are driven ashore, a calculation may be made of the direction and the motion of the currents of the water by which the bottles have been conveyed along. A bottle of this kind, I am informed, was found on the north-west coast of Ireland, which had been thrown overboard in the former voyage to Baffin’s Bay. It had been ten months in the sea, and must have been carried by the currents upwards of a thousand miles in that time. The chance of conveying, by the same means, to all concerned, intelligence of the state of a ship, is, of itself, sufficient to engage those on board to its adoption.

p. 7: My dear Brother , At Sea, 30th May, 1819.

About A.D. 500, according to the Icelandic historians, some Irish monks, whether by accident or by design, arrived in Iceland; wafted over the northern ocean in fourteen days, in their coracles, or wicker boats, covered with hides. Books in the ancient Irish language, bells, &c. were found in the island, on the arrival of the earliest settlers from Norway.

p. 51, on winter occupations and entertainment: To give you, my dear Thomas, some notion of the manner in which our time on board is usually employed, you must know that the day and night are each divided into four watches of three hours each. At six in the morning the men are called up, and the decks are cleaned with warm sand. At eight all go to breakfast, and at a quarter past nine the men are inspected on deck. While the examination is going on below, the men have a run on deck. They are then, if the weather permit, sent to take exercise on shore till noon, when they dine. In bad weather they walk or run, or dance on deck, keeping time to an organ, or to their own song; the officers exercise themselves also on shore, from noon till two when they go to dinner. The danger of snow-drifts however confines these excursions to narrow bounds. In the afternoon the men are employed below in various ways, preparing articles necessary for the ship. At six P. M. they are again inspected and go to supper, after which they amuse themselves in any way they choose, at various games, dancing, singing, on the lower deck till nine, when they go to bed, and their lights are extinguished. The officers have tea while the men are at supper, and in reading or writing, conversation, a game at chess, a tune on the violin or the flute, pass the time till half-past ten, when all not on duty retire to rest.

p. 65: At noon every day, when the atmosphere was clear, after the sun ceased to appear above the horizon, twilight was sensibly perceived; even on the shortest day we had light enough to take, for an hour or two, the exercise of walking on shore, or on the ice. The reflection of this light from the snow, joined to the occasional brightness of the moon, prevented us, even in the most tempestuous weather, from being involved in that blackness of darkness so frequent in more southern climates. By holding the book to the south at noon, in clear weather, one might read the print of a small pocket prayer-book. To prevent any encroachment on the regular order of discipline established by the com- mander of the expedition, great care was taken that the various periods fixed for rising and going to bed, for meals, occupation, exercise, amusement, &c. should be strictly adhered to, in the same manner as when the sun was visible. By a little practice the strangeness of some of these employments of the day, being discharged in what, to all intents and purposes, was night, was entirely effaced.