Arctic Miscellanies: A Souvenir of the Late Polar Search / by the Officers and Seamen of the Expedition.

A compendium of selections from Aurora Borealis, the newspaper of the Franklin Search ships, Resolute and Assistance.

p. ix-x: During the long Arctic night of more than three months, the resources of the expedition were successfully used in procuring both employment and amusements for the officers and men…. The Admiralty had furnished the squadron with good libraries, to which the officers added their own collection of books. Reading-rooms were established on the lower deck of each ship, as were also schools on the Lancasterian system. Here the ships’ companies assembled; and whilst some read, others formed themselves into classes, under the direction of teachers. The officers took an active part in these exercises, sometimes as teachers, sometimes as learners. Navigation, steam, seamanship, arithmetic, and even modern languages and music, were the chief objects of study. In most of these branches of education the seamen showed themselves apt; and docile learners.

p. x: A printing-press was given to the expedition by the Admiralty for printing balloon-papers. There were no printers in the squadron, but some of the officers soon learned the art; and beside balloon-papers, play-bills, and announcements of fancy dress balls, were regularly sent to press. Several of the men, too, became adepts in the art of printing, and set up in type, songs and other trifles, chiefly of their own composition. So great a passion, indeed, did printing become amongst them, that when at length their stock of paper was run out, they printed on chamois-leather, on shirts, and in one instance on a blanket.

p. 19-20: The Arctic day grows weary; and already the sun hides its flattened sphere beneath the ice-bound horizon. Winter is rapidly approaching; the end of this month most probably will be the latest possible period for advance. Yet we look forward with confidence to the dreary months of darkness, knowing that both officers and men are actuated by a right and proper feeling. To men of action, these months of night are far more trying than to those whose custom it is to hold sweet commune with the world through those monuments of men’s ideas—books. There are many who deem amusement useless; but let them mingle with the busy crowds, when freed from their usual labour, and see amidst the most trifling pastime how the purer and holier feelings spring fresh from their dormant state, and drop o’er the care-worn working-day face the smile of love and friendship…. The eye and head of the unaccustomed grows weary by long leanings over books; and the song and dance supply their places…and men naturally take their places where their tastes lead them. [This exhortation to the importance of amusement, signed by the “Dry Idler,” seems to use print to attack its utility for amusement.’]

p. 160-61: There are, some, who, when speaking of these regions, continually make use of the epithets, “long, dark, monotonous winter,” “dreary prospects,” “somber precipices,” and “sunless skies.” I say, away with such unintelligible nonsense—the mere phantom of a gloomy imagination. If we cannot here contemplate nature arrayed in the gorgeous robes of sunny climes, let us not exaggerate her terrors. Other might have found it difficult to make life tolerable during an Arctic winter; but the wild, rattling, careless, but generous and noble-hearted tars of the Expedition of 1850 have succeeded in rendering it delightfully agreeable. How can it be otherwise? ’Tis true, Jack is an odd fish, having an inordinate appetite for fun and frolic; but surely we have got a bellyful of it at Griffith’s Island. [After a list of various entertainments…] We have also libraries, suited to all classes of readers, together with newspaper, ably conducted, and beautifully illustrated. It is even whispered that a growling club is to be established so that the old and garrulous may have an opportunity of indulging in their propensities.

p. 161-62: I believe, only that there is rather a scarcity of professors at Griffith’s Island, we should have Jack studying the Classics; for the other evening, during school hours, I observed a rather steady-looking tar poring over a volume, when at the moment his messmate addressed him, rather unceremoniously, in the words, ‘Why Bill, you’ve got the book upside down!’ The old man, as the best means of atoning for the mistake, shut the book, and quietly lit his pipe. The volume in question turned out to be a Latin copy of ‘Ovid’s Metamorphosis.’

p. 162: Away, then, with that foolish, unmeaning, and often misapplied word, monotony; it is of Greek origin; it has no business in the society of English nouns: let us banish it from our vocabularies, and erase it from our journals, so that it may never again intrude, while we remain in command of these realms. I remain, Sir, Your obedient servant, X.Y.Z.

p. 246-48: The Rise and Progress of Printing in the Arctic Searching Expeditions.

The origin of printing in these desolate regions arose out of the desire to acquaint those have so long been missing, that their relief was at hand. Thus we find, in a manner little to have been expected, printing forwarding, even here, the great cause of humanity. Thousands of slips of paper and silk with the news of our arrival stamped upon them have been scattered in every direction by the means of balloons. Should these tidings by good fortune have reached their destination, they will have raised up at once fresh hopes and fresh endurance.

We next find printing employed as a means of making known the forthcoming amusements of the squadron, by which the tedium of the long nights been wonderfully lessened. Here, let us remark, were first observed the improvements arising from leisure and emulation. In the first of a series of well-executed bills, announcing the various amusements, we meet with the introduction of large capital letters, giving at once the appearance of art to the work. Then followed the shaded letter, the double-lined letter, and the white letter in black relief. Soon after, to the surprise of most, appeared an illuminated bill, announcing a performance in honour of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales birthday, with a neatly-executed heading, consisting of the plume and motto. Then came the bills of the Royal Arctic Casino; and here the tastefully carved coat of arms which graced it called forth the admiration of every one. When, to crown all, the last programme of the Royal Arctic Theatre came forth in great splendor; the coat of arms, the Prince of Wales plume, the delicately-carved rose, shamrock, and thistle, the border of oak leaves, acorns, and laurel, spoke for the industry and artistic merit of all concerned.

Having thus traced, up to the present time, the various stages of progress, let us now inquire into the means possessed by those who have produced such gratifying results. The press, and materials belonging to it, were only sufficient for the purpose of printing the papers attached to the balloon; hence a limit was placed to the ambition of the directors.

The eagerness with which all the productions were sought after, requires to be seen to be understood. The applicants for copies were not content with impressions on paper, by every variety of material went to press in a most ludicrous manner; silk pocket-handkerchiefs, shirts, calico, satin, and even a blanket. Here we fancied the furor would have ceased, but, to our surprise, one person brought a monkey-jacket, and another a chamois-leather.

This indeed must have been gratifying to the printers; and, to their credit be it spoken, during the greater part of three days there was a rapid dispatch of business. May they, in their future attempts, succeed as well. Should the art of printing at this establishment continue to improve at the same rate as heretofore, we will back our Arctic press against the world.

A parting word to our readers.

p. 298: It is with a certain degree of regret that we announced this as the last number of the “Aurora.” …

We here offer our thanks to our kind contributors for the very ready manner in which they have always assisted in ably filling its pages, and to our readers for the leniency exhibited in their criticism. Another debt of thanks is due to the pioneers who were the first to astonish the Arctic wilds with the “hundred voiced cry of the public press;” to Sir Edward Parry and to Colonel Sabine, the institutors of papers in the Arctic regions, to whom we are indebted for the idea of establishing our own.

As we take our final farewell, we entertain hopes that, when years have made us older men, the moments employed in writing for—or reading—the “Aurora,” will not be looked upon as the least bright ones of our existence, and that the after life of our mess, ship, and squadron-mates may ever have for their motto the one chosen by our paper

“Spes semper lucens.”