Narrative of an Expedition in HMS Terror: Undertaken with a View to Geographical Discovery on the Arctic Shores, in the Years 1836-7.

[From WorldCat] Having served on expeditions under John Franklin, the British naval officer Sir George Back (17961878) had already gained first-hand experience of Arctic peril and survival by the time he was appointed in 1836 to command HMS Terror. His mission was to survey uncharted coastline in the Canadian Arctic, yet Back’s ship became trapped in ice near Frozen Strait and was unable to escape for ten months. In this account, first published in 1838, Back lucidly documents the developing crisis, noting the numerous preparations to abandon ship, the deaths of three of his men from scurvy, and the further damage caused by an iceberg after the Terror was freed. Against the odds, the ship managed to reach Ireland in 1837. Naturally, Back gives much credit to the durability of the Terror, originally a bomb vessel from the War of 1812, it had been further strengthened for Arctic service.

p. 1, on modifications of the ship: She had been recently doubled, and in every respect strengthened with the most massive iron & copper fastenings, for a voyage to the Polar Sea.

p. 5, a Preliminary chapter includes a list of instruments provided by the Admiralty including this final item: Also a variety of books and stationery.

p. 10-11 gives a listing of objectives for the voyage, primarily geographical.

p. 61-2, facing very heavy ice near Southampton by mid-August: Such are the strange incidents of polar navigation [an unexpected path opening], which, though less striking than the wild commotions of the earthquake or tornado, are at all events calculated to excite equal gratitude to that merciful Providence whose protecting care is over all his works,—in the icy waste no less in the thronged city. [Yet it also closed up very quickly.]

p. 63, while drifting with the icefloe: The men amused themselves by a riotous game of leap-frog on the ice; and the disaster of one of the officers, who, in crossing a point covered with snow, fell through and took a cold bath, excited a hearty laugh. [Illus. of leap-frog opp. p. 73.]

p. 82, Sunday, Sept. 4: As this was Sunday, after the usual muster at divisions, Divine Service was read, with an appropriate sermon, which was listened to with becoming attention, and as I hope and believe, with the devotion befitting the perilous uncertainty of our situation.

p. 92, Sunday, Sept. 11: A fter service the officers collected in groups, and basked in the sunshine of an arctic summer day, with the thermometer at 35°+. [The men amused themselves by playing… “the well-known game of baiting the bear.” Then a real bear came.]

p. 105, Sept. 19, during a warm spell: The ship creaked as it were in agony, and, strong as she was, must have been stove and crushed, had not some of the smaller masses been forced under her bottom, and so diminished the strain, by actually lifting her bow nearly two feet out of the water. [The running head called this “Providential Delivery.”]

p. 129, on the characteristics of a British sailor: In our case, and I mention this only to show the difference of olden and modern times, there were only three or four in the ship who could not write. All read; some recited whole pages of poetry, others sang French songs. Yet with all this, had they been left to themselves, I verily believe a more unsociable, suspicious, and uncomfortable set of people could not have been found, Oh! If the two are incompatible, give me the old Jack Tar, who would stand up for his ship and give his life for his messmate. [This passage cries out for a sensible interpretation. I suspect it means that without the discipline and guidance of officers the men would have been unruly.]

p. 130, October 23d: After divine service, which was listened to with a stillness that evinced, more than words could have done, the devout feeling created by the impressive and beautiful language of our liturgy, as the weather was very fine, the people, under the direction of the officers, were sent on the ice for exercise….

p. 157-58, in a section on Amusements, Back describes a play [The Farce of Monsieur Tonson] given aboard Terror on Nov. 9 by officers: Good, however, as was the general health, it was necessary to relieve the monotony of scene and occupation; and in this view the officers kindly undertook to perform a play for the amusement of the men.

p. 162: An evening school for the men was instituted under the superintendence of the first Lieutenant and occasionally visited by myself.

p. 171—the men reciprocated the officer’s farce with two of their own, “First Floor” and the “Benevolent Tar”: these went off with unbounded applause in a stifling atmosphere between decks, though outside the thermometer stood at 30°- .

p. 173, just to demonstrate the gloomy situation, here is the chapter outline of Back’s 4th chapter: Extraordinary disruption.—Anxieties.—Rapid change.—Commotion.—Masquerade.—Results of Commotion.—Trepedation (sic).—Invalids.—Anxiety for the Floe.—Advantages of Situation.—Death of a Sailor.—Reflections.—Desolation of the Land.—Curious Meteor.—Land Excursions.—Tracks of Animals.—Increase of Sick.—Precautions.—Phenomena.—Invalids.—Spirits of Crew Improve.—Weather.—Grinding of Ice.—Health.—Undercurrents—Floe Diminishes,—Phenomena of Ice.—Callosity of Limbs.—Intensely Cold.—Influence of Sun.—More Limpers.—Death of Mr. Donaldson.—Fine weather.—The Coast.—Soundings as Before.—Set of current.—Heavy gale.—Gale abates.—Holes of Water.

p. 188, after a death of a seaman: The body was conveyed on a sledge to the extremity of the floe, where a grave had been dug through the ice; and the solemn and affecting service for the dead, having been read, the remains were committed to the deep.

p. 406: Back quotes Psalms on those who go down to the sea in ships.