Memoirs of Joseph René Bellot…with his Journal of a Voyage in the Polar Seas in Search of Sir John Franklin. [1851-52]

Though much of this takes place on land, Bellot sailed on the Prince Albert as part of a British expedition searching for Franklin. Bellot died in 1853. The work consists of a memoir of Bellot by Julien Lemer (p. 1-87), an introduction by Bellot (p 88-108, reprinted from the Annales Maritimes), and Bellot’s journal, the remainder, though the running heads get confused.

Volume I:

p. 36-7: Bellot had written a friend that he had prepared for the journey by sleeping without a blanket: that he had long familiarized himself with the Arctic regions by reading many narratives of voyages in the Polar seas, written by English navigators, and by the study of maps and charts. There is even every reason to believe that his journey to Paris in December, 1850, had for its object the purchase of books and documents relating to those regions.

p. 39: Study had certainly great attraction for Bellot [but] the lukewarm beverage of book lore must have seemed insipid to those glowing lips whose thirst had first been allayed by the raciest draughts of study, drawn from the living sources of nature.

p. 48-49: Bellot in London contemplating joining the search: “Poetic by temperament, the young French officer had carried with him, besides his works of science, some books of literature. He presents himself at the Custom-house, and here is what befalls him. ‘Some Custom-house officers,’ he says, ‘take possession of my luggage, and convey it to the Custom-house to be examined. Seeing my trunk filled more with books and papers than with linen, they no doubt took me for a smuggler of prohibited pamphlets; for in the twinkling of an eye I saw my poor books passed from hand to hand; words exchange in whispers made me uneasy, and I fancied that some of my traveling companions had furtively slipped something contraband among my effects, the more so, as, from a distance, I saw a certain number of my books put aside, whilst the rest were laid in a scale. Alas! the poor Byron I carried with me, to warm me up under the icy zones, had been changed at nurse; it was guilty of having been printed in Paris, and of thus coming into competition with the legitimate offspring of the British press. I was convinced, I own, and beaten, but much against my will. In vain I offered to pay a suitable fine; all entreaties were unavailing. As for the rest, mathematics, literature, poetry, they were only French, printed lawfully in France, and were appraised only at the weight of the paper and binding, 7s. 6d., the sum which would have been charged as entrance duty on the same number of volumes of ‘Paul de Kock,’ the ‘Parfait cuisinier’ or the ‘Art de la Correspondance.

p. 61:When I felt myself in this mood [of ignorance of many things] on ship-board, and when I said to myself that I was scarcely more advanced in the arts, such as painting and music, than in the sciences, then I shut myself up alone in my cabin, and sought consolation in reading Shakespeare and Byron.” [He had, of course, replaced in London the copy taken from him at the Custom-house.]

p. 79, apparently he “lashed up his books” shortly before he drowned.

p. 82: His reading hours were his hours of delight. He ransacked with a transport of happiness the collection of books I had made on my way from Quebec to Buenos Ayres, and every book he read gave a new impulse to his thoughts, and became for us a new subject of conversation in the long evenings we passed together….

p. 85-86, apparently Bellot was the designer of the wooden-leg provided to a crippled Esquimaux.

p. 93, the ship, under Captain Kennedy, under the protection of Providence, and fortunate to be alcohol free: We were all teetotalers, that is to say, we had not on board either wine, beer, or spirituous liquors; and I do not hesitate to ascribe in great part to this wise measure the good conduct so steadily maintained by our crew, and the harmony that never ceased to reign in spite of the privations and the lack of comfort on board our vessel….

p. 114, in Stromness, the traveler Dr Woolf gives Bellot a copy of his work (“which he sells for the benefit of a charitable society.”) “Sir Walter Scotts Pirate is given me by Mr. Robertson.” Lady Franklin is there.

p. 129, 4th July 1851 on Prince Albert after leaving Stromness: A smell of whiskey proves to me that all my shipmates are not sick only from the motion of the ship; and that some of them, before becoming teetotalers, have been bidding a last farewell to the powers of the world. [This was a teetotalling expedition, under benign Providence, etc.]

p. 130, 5th June: my eyes light on Sir John Barrow’s abstract of Franklin’s voyages, and I see the flattering testimony born to this excellent servant by Sir John Franklin.

p. 135, 8th June: Today, Sunday, according to English usage, nothing to do; which does not hinder me from shutting myself up in my cabin, so that there may be no scandal, and working quite at my ease, leaving it only to attend to prayers which Mr. Kennedy reads on the quarter-deck; he reads a sermon.

p. 137, 11th June: Mr Kennedy has begun to read the little book of instruction, but I believe it is the prayers he reads.

p. 137-38: I am greatly afraid of passing the winter away from the ship, which would not suite me, on account of my books.

p. 138-93, 12th June: —-Matheson, one of our men, reads Othello, and I am astonished to hear all the sailors talk to me of Shakespeare; one prefers Macbeth, another Hamlet; I doubt if Molière is so popular among French sailors.

p. 142, 15th June: Bad weather; in the morning I read the sermon at the Sunday service; it seems I acquit myself pretty well. Sixth anniversary of Tamatave. I read in the day Parry’s voyage to the North Pole, and already my vagabond imagination suggests to me the idea…to send a French expedition to the North Pole.

p. 153, 25th June off Greenland: The almost incessant glare of light fatigues my eyes, for the sun sets at half-past nine, and we have a rather dazzling twilight. My incessant application to my books and papers also contributes to it a little.

p. 157, June 27th: All night clear enough to read, as at seven in summer at Rochefort.

p. 158-59, 18th June: As always on Sunday we have divine service, and, as usual, I read the sermon. It seems I do not pronounce ill, and especially that my accent is not too bad. The service consists of reading some psalms, a chapter of the Bible, and prayers morning and evening. On Sunday there is, in addition, the reading of a sermon, and then of fragments of numerous works which have been given to us. If the piety of our men is not very enlightened, at least it appears sincere; and even were it but a matter of habit with them, the influence of that habit upon them is excellent.

p. 161, 1st July: Simpson’s journey suggests to me questions respecting the life of the prairie Indians…. [Did Bellot or ship have a copy?]

p. 169, 3rd July, apropos fantastic forms of icebergs: The stories of our childhood, the wonders of the “Arabian Nights” recur unbidden to the memory, and we would fair cry, Open Sesame! And explore the dark profundities in which a mysterious work is in preparation.

p. 174, 4th July indicates increasing concern about his eyes.

p. 188, one native woman: looks the image of one of the witches in Macbeth.

p. 190: They consider this name [Eskimo] an insult even on the coast of Greenland…. [early recognition of a prejudice long ignored].

p. 237-38, 30th July: Read over Sir John Franklin’s voyages again. What admirable simplicity, and what real superiority is apparent in those unpretending phrases, which say only what those eminent men have seen in a clear manner, yet poetical withal, for they are faithful painters of nature! In reading these voyages, as well as those of Parry, we are possessed with implicit confidence; and, without analyzing our feelings, we are instinctively prompted to believe the writer; and yet they never deal in high-sounding empty phrases, but give us facts in every line…we feel how substantial and dignified, how full of instructive matter are their narratives, as we can tell by the sound of the cask struck with a finger whether it is full or empty.

p. 259, 11th August: I am no longer astonished at the mistakes I constantly made in the beginning in my calculation of distances, when I read in Scoresby’s work on the Polar Regions what he says of Spitzbergen.

p. 266, quotes Dante from memory.

p. 271, refers to a passage in Doctor Spencer Wells, on abstinence from spirituous liquors even in high latitudes.

p. 272-73: Mr. Kennedy’s profound religious feelings support him; he thinks that, if we do not succeed, God has other designs, and that everything must be for the best….

p. 289: Kranz says in his History of Greenland, that these [narwhal] horns used to sell for twelve hundred pounds sterling.

p. 296: What a noble enterprise is Sir John Franklin’s!…. How unaffected is his book! How simply he says, ‘We were dying of hunger!’ and what images do those simple words call up! Parry and Franklin in one kind of writing, Arago and Humboldt in another, exhibit the same characteristic—that of grandeur and truth.

p. 301: Sir Edward Parry was right in deploring the necessity under which the Admiralty labours of giving instructions which should be reduced to this: ‘Such are our instructions—act for the best.’ But of what use are lamentations?

p. 324, 9th September: …moreover, I have been reading our books over again, and I see that Parry cut a channel for himself in order to get to his winter quarters.

p. 346: I see today, in Sir James Ross’s Voyage, that he found the ice in this place [Batty Bay] muck thinker than anyplace else in Baffin Bay.

p. 347, notes Parry on the importance of practical knowledge.

p. 356, cites Parry’s Voyage to the North Pole?

p. 359, 26th Sept.: I have been deaf for the last three weeks, but am not uneasy at it, having gone through temporary blindness. I am able to read, and am indifferent to the rest: I trust to the warm weather for setting all right.

p. 361, on 28th Sept. Bellot decides to devote Sunday to religious studies.

p. 364, 30th Sept.: An interesting article in the “Nautical Magazine” for March 1851, draws my attention to the subject of which it treats: ‘On the relative superiority of medals with regard to their utility.’

p. 366: The progress of the human mind is slow; and the history of the discovery of most of the materials indispensable to our civilized wants, proves that change, or rather Providence, and not our own instinct, puts us on their track…. It is impossible not to reflect on the question of the relative happiness enjoyed by savages, compared with the so-called misfortunes produced by their intercourse with Europeans. Are not their subjection to our commands the importation of our faults grated on their own? Are not all these evils the forerunners of future emancipation?…

Volume II.

p. 15: Our friends had felt but one want unsatisfied: there were a few newspapers at Whaler Point, but no books, and to Mr. Kennedy especially, the absence of a Bible was the greatest privation. The care of the Government had provided for every other possible want.

p. 38-39: Ossian is truly the poet of the north—of that Nature which moulds the thoughts of men after her own image, and makes them wild and desolate like herself.

p. 50: The Hudson Bay Company, which makes a mystery of all its operations, will not allow anything to be published respecting the manners of the tribes in their territory, their resources, or their mode of traveling. Whether it be that the Government has not asked for such information, or has received it in an incomplete form, not one of its naval expeditions has possessed the means of traveling by land; and it is not surprising that each of them has produced so little….

p. 64: This morning I had for the first time, a pretty sharp religious discussion with Captain Kennedy. We plied each other so hard that we ended in a very bad humour. He believes in revelation: for him the Old Testament and the New Testament are of the same authority, and flow directly from the Deity. This I cannot admit….

p. 69: In the afternoon there is generally a school-class…. It is perhaps not uninteresting to note, as evidence of the development of primary instruction in Great Britain, that of our whole crew, consisting of men who all began betimes to work for their daily bread, there is only one who does not know how to write. I believe that in Scotland primary instruction is more general than in England.

p. 119: Reading, dancing, our artist Mr. James Smith’s violin, and the organ given by Prince Albert, constitute our usual evening amusements. [12 Feb 1852].

[It seems clear that the expedition’s explorations of spring 1852 are informed by the works of James Ross and Dr. Rae, judging from the frequent references to them in vol. II.]

p. 161: … the few indispensable works we carry with us (a Nautical Almanac, a table of logarithms, our pocket-books, an azimuth compass, and two small pocket compasses….

p. 175: I had with me a book of notes taken during the winter, with a description of those portions of the coast we might possibly visit, and a copy of Sir John Ross’s map of Brentford Bay. [April 1852]

[Belcher returned from the Kennedy voyage, but in 1853 returned north with HMS Phoenix. Bellot drowned 17 August 1853 while carrying mail to Belcher.]