Includes accounts of earlier British voyages to the high Arctic. Huish is wonderfully sardonic in viewing the whole operation from Captain Ross on down.
p. 31, on the death of Sir Humphrey Gilbert, after one of his ships was wrecked: He now determined to return to England, but as his little frigate, as she was called, appeared wholly unfit to proceed on such a voyage, he was entreated not to venture in her, but to take his passage on the Golden Hinde. To these solicitations the gallant knight replied: “I will not forsake my little company going homewards, with whom I have passed so many storms and perils.” When the two vessels had passed the Azores, Sir Humphrey’s frigate, was observed to be nearly overwhelmed by a great sea; she recovered, however, the stroke of the waves, and immediately afterwards, the admiral was observed by those in the Hinde, sitting abaft with a book in his hand and calling out “Courage, my lads, we are as near heaven by sea, as by land.” The same night the little bark, and all within her, were swallowed up in the sea, and never more heard of.
p. 104, on the causes of the failure of Ross’s first voyage, including pusillanimity, ignorance and incapacity, seeing things not existing in reality, and the jealousy of the Company: It is true, that in 1752, one Joseph Robson, who was a surveyor to the company, and who had resided six years in the country, published a book, in which he assigned the reason, that the monopolizing spirit of the Hudson’s Bay Company, is the sole cause of the discovery of the north west passage not having been accomplished. [Goes on to defend Ross on the charges against him, as well as the charges against the Company, each seemingly with tongue in check.]
p. 174-75, gives a review of the pedagogical program of Ross’s ships: …we are enabled to state thus far much, and in which we are borne out by our own personal experience, that as far as regards the progress which the pupils made in the several branches of learning, it was so decidedly confirmed, that we discovered that if they could not read nor write when they entered on board the Victory, they were exactly in the same condition when they left it. This is however, not done with any intent to cast any slur upon the pedagogic talents of those who undertook the task, as arduous as that of discovering the north west passage itself, of teaching a full-grown sailor, who has; hitherto known but four letters of the alphabet, and those are engraved on the compass, in the binnacle, the art of reading the 1st Chapter of the 1st Book of Chronicles, or to indite a tender epistle to his inamorata in Ratcliffe Highway, or the Point at Portsmouth, in which, although the writer was at the moment of transcription, living in a temperature of 20 degrees below Zero, he could express his burning thoughts of everlasting constancy, and inflame the heart of his beloved, with the fiery protestations of his everlasting love.
p. 181-82: The 27th being Sunday divine service was performed, and in the afternoon the crew took their customary exercise on deck. Since the establishment of the school, Sunday evening was appropriated for the examination of the pupils by the officers; a duty which generally devolved on Commander Ross, and it speaks no little for the stock of patience which that able officer must have possessed, to undergo the trying occupation of listening to the rude attempt of the aspiring pupil, to get through a verse in the bible, by spelling every word, and then stammering out the pronunciation of it, which was perhaps any thing but the real one. It is perhaps not to be wondered at, that on some of these scholastic examinations, the gallant Captain of the expedition was observed to be comfortably asleep in his arm-chair, chiming now and then with a sonorous snore, in with the drawling tone of the pupil, steering his way to the best of his ability through the first six verses of the appointed chapter, and being at times obliged to bring up in order to take a correct observation of the difficult course which was before him, and where the greatest danger existed of his sticking fast, without the chance of getting off again. In all cases where it becomes a difficult matter to find a subject for the employment of our leisure time, it generally happens that some extraordinary and monstrous scheme is thought of, which on any other occasion would never have been admitted for a moment, to hold a place in our imagination. It was perhaps on this very principle that Capt. Ross projected his last voyage, at all events it was evident that the Sunday exercises of the pupils in reading the bible aloud to the erudite officers and crew, was a project, which was very little calculated to instil into the mind of the adult pupil, a predilection for biblical learning, or to act as a stimulus to the prosecution of his studies. In a school, where all the scholars are dunces, as was the case with the school of the Victory, no fear can exist of the exposure of incapacity more in one quarter than another, for the fools-cap would sit equally well on all, but there is something so utterly repugnant to our feelings in the public exposure of our ignorance, that it is an ordeal which few can undergo, and which has a tendency to frustrate the very object, which it is intended to gain.
p. 211: Amongst the many minor subjects, to which he government of the country directed their attention in the fitting out of the Hecla and Fury, was the selection of a library of the principal books, which treated of the former voyages to the Arctic seas, and which were always ready at hand to be referred to, when any difficulty presented itself, or when an explanation was required of any of the habits or customs of the several tribes of the Esquimaux, who inhabited the country.p. 360: Never did a love-sick girl, who had made an appointment to meet her lover at the conventicle of Clayton, of Andrews, or of Melville, hear with greater pleasure the last amen pronounced, which was to be the signal for them to hasten toward each other, after a tedious, and apparently to them a personal discourse, taken from the text, of “set not thy affections on things of this earth;” never did a shoeless, but not a soul-less poet in his attic residence evince greater pleasure on arriving at the close of a didactic poem, on the colossal powers of steam, or the beauties of the herring fishery, which is to put the erudite fraternity of Publishers resident in the vicinity of the purling streams, and academic groves of Warwick Lane, and Paternoster Row, into a ferment of competition for the purchase of the copyright, thereby furnishing another instance to a captious and unbelieving world, of the extreme liberality, which distinguishes that body of men, in all their dealings with authors—never was delight more strongly imprinted on the countenance of either of those characters than was on the visage of Capt. Ross, when the monitor arrived at the end of the chapter, and the congregation rose to retire to their respective berths, to ponder on the wholesome truths, which they had heard. Qui capit, ille fecit is an adage as old as any of the icebergs, which so criminally conspired to obstruct Capt. Ross in his discovery of the North West Passage, and a great deal older than Capt. Ross himself, but like all other apothegms, it generally inflicts a sting on those, to whom it is applied; in order however that it might never again be applicable to himself, as far as the sentiments contained in a chapter of the Bible were concerned, he issued his orders, that henceforth the chapter for the evening reading should not be taken in rotation, but should be selected by some competent person, in order, as he expressed himself to avoid all personalities, which he was fully aware are apt to engender strife, and stir up the blood to feuds and discord.
p. 43-44, Supplement: Nevertheless the leading question is put to Capt. Ross, “You had some extremely valuable instruments?” The answer is in the affirmative in the highest degree, and a loss of £1000 is immediately accounted for. From a general view of the discoveries professing to be the result of the last expedition of Capt. Ross, with the exception of those immediately made by Commander Ross, science has been very little benefited, and even the position of the magnetic pole is still to be confirmed by subsequent experiment and research.