Stray Leaves from an Arctic Journal: Or, Eighteen Months in the Polar Regions, in Search of Sir John Franklin’s Expedition, in the Years 1850-1851.

p. 21, re Brit. chauvinism: The whaler from bonnie Scotia, or busy Hull, fresh from the recollection of his laird and home, no doubt shudders at the comparative misery and barbarity of these poor people; but those who have seen the degraded Bushmen of South Africa, the miserable Patanies of Malayia, the Fuegians of our southern hemisphere, and remember the comparative blessings afforded by climate to those melancholy specimens of the human family, will, I think, exclaim with me, that the Esquimaux of Greenland are as superior to them in mental capacity, manual dexterity, physical enterprise, and social virtues, as the Englishman is to the Esquimaux.

p. 26-27: I thought with Longfellow in his Hyperion— “The vast cathedral of nature is full of holy scriptures and shapes of deep mysterious meaning; all is solitary and silent there. Into this vast cathedral comes the human soul seeking its Creator, and the universal silence is changed to sound, and the sound is harmonious and has a meaning, and is comprehended and felt.”

p. 29, in Godhaab at breakfast: A broken conversation ensued—a little English and much Danish, when Dr. D— fortunately produced Captain Washington’s Esquimaux vocabulary, and, aided by the little son of our host, we soon twisted out all the news Herr Agar had to give.

p. 63-64, while beset on the Pioneer: …on the morning of the 20th we were again beset, and a south gale threatened to increase the pressure; escape was, however, impossible, and “Fear not, but trust in Providence” is a necessary motto for Arctic seamen. My faith in this axiom was soon put to the proof. After a short sleep I was called on deck, as the vessel was suffering from great pressure.

p. 70, on receiving letters from England: Gentle reader, I’ll bore you no longer!… The dates from England were a month later than our own; all our friends were well,— all hopeful; and, putting all those last dear letters away, to be read and re-read during the coming winter, we pushed on and there was no time to be lost.

p. 76-77: By the beautiful sketches of Parry’s officers, made on his first voyage, we easily recognized the various headlands; the north shore being now alone in view; and, indeed, except the mountains in the interior, we saw nothing more of the south shore of Lancaster Sound after leaving Possession Bay.

p. 96ff?, on searching for Franklin records on Beechey Island, where three graves of Franklin’s men were found: Every one felt that there was something so inexplicable in the non-discovery of any record, some written evidence of the intentions of Franklin and Crozier on leaving this spot, that each of us kept on returning to again search over the ground, in the hope that it had been merely overlooked in the feverish haste of the first discovery of the cairns by Captain Ommanney and Captain Penny. [I found this passage on a microfiche edition, not the New York 1852 edition in which I was unable to find this passage.]

p. 99, on whale behavior: It was a subject of deep interest and wonder to see this migration of animal life, and I determined, directly leisure would enable me, to search the numerous books with which we were well stored, to endeavour to satisfy my mind with some reasonable theory, founded upon the movement of bird and fish, as to the existence of a Polar ocean or a Polar continent.

p. 104: Of course, the “croakers” say, if the floe had pressed a little more—if the ship had risen a little less—in fact, if Providence had been a little less watchful—disasters must have overtaken our ships;…

p. 118, re winter preparations: …arrangements made to insure cleanliness of ships and crews, and a winter routine entered upon, which those curious in such matters may find fully detailed in Parry’s “First Voyage,” or Ross’s “Four Years in Boothia.”

p. 119-20, A Prayer for the Arctic Expedition. For the full text of this prayer see Osborn’s The Polar Regions (1871), above.

p. 120-21: While touching on a religious point connected with our expedition, I must say, that as yet we have not in the Navy a single good set of sermons adapted to interest and instruct the seamen. The commander, or commanding officer, of a man-of-war usually reads, in the absence of the chaplain, the Divine Service on Sundays. We, of course, did not fail to do so; but I never saw an English sailor who would sit down and listen attentively to the discussion of some knotty text, exhibiting far more ingenuity on the part of some learned commentator, than simplicity and clearness adapted to plain, uninformed minds: in a future expedition, and, indeed, in the Navy generally, it is to be hoped this deficiency will be remedied. Sermons in the pure and Christian like tone of Porteus’s Lent Lectures, I would humbly recommend as a guide for those who may be inclined to take the good work in hand. (p. 152 in the London ed.)

p. 121-22: A theatre, a casino, and a saloon, two Arctic newspapers, one of them an illustrated one, evening schools, and instructive lectures, gave no one an excuse for being idle. The officers and men voluntarily imposed on themselves various duties in connection with the different departments; one was scene-painter, and under his talented pencil the canvas glowed with pictures one almost grieved to see thus employed. … officers and men sung who never sang before, and maybe, except under similar circumstances, will never sing again; maskers had to construct their own masks, and sew there own dresses, the signal flags serving in lieu of a supply from the milliner’s; and, with wonderful ingenuity, a fancy dress ball was got up, which, in variety and tastefulness of costume, would have borne comparison with any one in Europe.[This passage differs substantially in the two versions.]

Here editors floundered through a leader, exhibiting French ingenuity in saying their say without bringing themselves within the grasp of the censors; there sailor contributors, whose hands, more accustomed to the tar-brush than the pen, turned flowing sentences by the aid of old miscellanies and well-thumbed dictionaries. There, on wooden stools, leaning over long tables, were a row of serious and anxious faces, which put one in mind of the days of cane and birch,—-an Arctic school. Tough old marines curving “pothooks and hangers,” as if their very lives depended on their performances, with an occasional burst of petulance, such as “D— the pen, it won’t write! I beg pardon, sir; this ’ere pen will splutter!” which set the scholars in a roar. Then some big-whiskered top-man, with slate in hand, reciting his multiplication-table, and grinning at approval; whilst a “scholar,” as the cleverest were termed, gave the instructor a hard task to preserve his learned superiority.

In an adjoining place an observer might nightly notice a tier of attentive, upturned faces, listening like children to some nursery tale. It was the first lieutenant of the “Resolute,” my much loved, faithful friend [Aldrich]; he was telling them of the deeds of their forefathers in these regions. Parry’s glorious pages open by his side, he told these stern men with tender hearts, of the sufferings, the enterprise, the courage, and the reward of imperishable renown exhibited and won by others. The glistening eye and compressed lips showed how the good seed was taking root in the listeners around, and every evening saw that sailor audience gather around him whom they knew to be the “gallant and true,” to share in his feelings and borrow from his enthusiasm. (p. 154-55 in London ed.)

p. 132-33: Monotony was our enemy, and to kill time our endeavour: hardships there was none: [var.: Of hardship we could not, and did not, complain;] for all we underwent in winter quarters in the shape of cold, hunger or danger, was voluntary. Monotony, as I again repeat, was the only disagreeable part of our wintering at Griffith’s Island. Some men amongst us seemed in their temperament to be much better able to endure this monotony than others; and others who had no source of amusement—such as reading, writing, or drawing—were much to be pitied. Nothing struck one more than the strong tendency to talk of home, and England. It became quite a disease. [More on their theatricals follows. (p. 169)]

p. 134: Some turned their attention to obtaining information for the general good upon all that related to traveling in frozen regions; others plodded through many a volume for meteorological information upon which to arrange a safe period of departure for the travelers in the spring; others tried to found some reasonable theory as to the geography of the unexplored regions around us; whilst a portion more actively employed themselves in bringing into action divers practical means of communicating with our missing countrymen which had been supplied to us in England. [e.g., printed labels to be distributed by balloon, rockets, carrier pigeons, kites, and the collars of arctic foxes.]

p. 135, on the printing and distribution of balloons: a balloon of oiled silk, capable of raising about a pound weight when inflated, was filled with hydrogen evolved from a strong cask, fitted with a valve, in which, when required for the purpose, a certain quantity of zinc filings and sulphuric acid had been introduced. To the base of the balloon, when inflated, a piece of slow match five feed long was attached, its lower end being lighted. Along this match, at certain intervals, pieces of coloured paper and silk were secured with thread, and on them the information as to our position and intended lines of search were printed. The balloon, when liberated, sailed rapidly along, rising withal, and as the match burnt the papers were gradually detached, and falling, spread themselves on the snow, where their glaring colours would soon attract notice, should they happily fall near the poor fellows in the "Erebus" and "Terror."

p. 146: Since 1818, with the exception of Sir John Ross’s first voyage, we may have been said to have constantly added to honour knowledge of the north-west [not a very subtle Barrow-like attack on Sir John Ross].

p. 164: As it is not my intention to give a detailed account of the operations of the Southern Division, but merely to tell of those events which will convey to the reader a general idea of the incidents connected with Arctic travelling, I shall without further comment give them, leaving to the curious in the minutiæ of the journeys the amusement of reading in the Admiralty Blue Books the details of when we eat, drank, slept, or marched.

p. 200-16; Osborn uses this section to argue the survival of Franklin, the desirability of further rescue attempts, the discovery of the open polar sea, the eastward (and northern) migration of the Esquimaux, etc. Says Franklin must have survived because there had never been a similar catastrophic event. But even so:

p. 215: To rescue even one life were surely well worthy our best endeavours; but if it so please an all-merciful Providence that aid should reach Franklin’s ships too late to save even that one, yet would we have fulfilled a high and imperative duty: and would it be no holy satisfaction to trace the last resting-place of those gallant spirits? to recover the records, there assuredly to be found, of their manly struggle, under hardships and difficulties, in achieving that North-west Passage, in the execution of which they had laid down their lives? and to bring back to their surviving relatives and friends those last kind messages of love, which show that sincere affection and stern sense of duty sprang from one source in their gallant and generous hearts. [This passage almost seems a model for the Scott denouement.]

[The microfiche volume (London 1852?) concludes with a separate account of the life and fate of Franklin, published 1859. Additional quotes from London: Longman, 1852 edition.]