Simmonds’ book is one of a series of reports on the “Progress of Arctic Discovery” that appeared in England and elsewhere from the first thoughts of the North-West Passage until the McClintock discoveries of 1859. As a group they tend to be largely derivative from similar works in the genre, but consistently provide a measure of hope that Franklin and his men survived, or their graves would be discovered.
p. 30-31, gives an impressive synopsis of Sir John Barrow’s writings on the subject of Arctic exploration
p. 76, on the arrival of Dr, Richardson and Hepburn after extreme deprivation: Having brought his Prayer-book and Testament, some prayers, psalms, and portions of scripture, appropriate to their situation, were read out by Dr. Richardson, and they retired to their blankets.
p. 78, a passage repeated in several sources: Through the extreme kindness and forethought of a lady, the party, previous to leaving London, had been furnished with a small collection of religious books, of which, (says Richardson,) we still retained two or three of the most portable, and they proved of incalculable benefit to us.
“We read portions of them to each other as we lay in bed, in addition to the morning and evening service, and found that they inspired us on each perusal with so strong a sense of the omnipresence of a beneficent God, that our situation, even in these wilds, appeared no longer destitute; and we conversed not only with calmness, but with cheerfulness, detailing with unrestrained confidence the past events of our lives, and dwelling with hope on our future prospects.” How beautiful a picture have we here represented, of true piety and resignation to the divine will inducing patience and submission under an unexampled load of misery and privation.
p. 92-93: To make the long winter pass as cheerfully as possible, plays were acted, a school established, and a newspaper set on foot, certainly the first periodical publication that had ever issued from the Arctic regions. The title of this journal, the editorial duties of which were undertaken by Captain Sabine, was “The Winter Chronicle, or New Georgia Gazette” [sic]. The first number appeared on the 1st of November.
On the evening of the 5th of November the farce of “Miss in her Teens” was brought out, to the great amusement of the ships’ companies, and, considering the local difficulties and disadvantages under which the performers labored, their first essay, according to the officers’ report, did them infinite credit. Two hours were spent very happily in their theater on the quarter deck, notwithstanding the thermometer outside the ship stood at zero, and within as low as the freezing point, except close to the stoves, where it was a little higher. Another play was performed on the 24th, and so on every fortnight. The men were employed during the day in banking up the ships with snow.
On the 23d of December, the officers performed the “Mayor of Garrett,” which was followed by an afterpiece written by Captain Parry, entitled the “North-West Passage, or the Voyage Finished.” The sun having long since departed, the twilight at noon was so clear that books in the smallest print could be distinctly read.
On the 6th of January, the farce of “Bon Ton” was performed with the thermometer at 27˚ below zero.—The cold became more and more intense. On the 12th it was 51˚ below zero, in the open air; brandy froze to the consistency of honey; when tasted in this state it left a smarting on the tongue.
p. 112-13: Preparations were now made for occupation and amusement, so as to pass away pleasantly the period of detention. A good stock of theatrical dresses and properties having been laid in by the officers before leaving England, arrangements were made for performing plays fortnightly, as on their last winter residence, as a means of amusing the seamen, and in some degree to break the tedious monotony of their confinement. As there could be no desire or hope of excelling, every officer’s name was readily entered on the list of dramatis personal, Captain Lyon kindly undertaking the difficult office of manager. Those ladies (says Lyon) who had cherished the growth of their beards and whiskers, as a defense against the inclemency of the climate, now generously agreed to do away with such unfeminine ornaments, and every thing bade fair for a most stylish theater.
As a curiosity, I may here put on record the play bill for the evening. I have added the ship to which each officer belonged. [The complete playbill with cast for Sheridan’s The Rivals follows.]
p. 114-15 has further theatrical and other entertainment news.
p. 117: On the 1st of February the monotony of their life was varied by the arrival of a large party of Esquimaux, and an interchange of visits thenceforward took place with this tribe, which, singularly enough, were proverbial for their honesty. Ultimately, however, they began to display some thievish propensities, for on one evening in March a most shocking theft was committed, which was no less than the last piece of English corned beef from the midshipmen’s mess. Had it been an 18 lb. carronade, or even one of the anchors, the thieves would have been welcome to it; but to purloin English beef in such a country was unpardonable.
p. 246, on searching plans for Franklin’s overland expeditions: The following extract from the Geographical Journal [Vol. 6, p. 40] shows the opinion of Franklin upon the search of this quarter. Dr. Richardson says,—“No better plan can be proposed than the one suggested by Sir John Franklin, of sending a vessel to Wager River, and carrying on the survey from thence in boats.”
Sir John Franklin observes,—“The Doctor alludes in his letter to some propositions which he knew I had made in the year 1828, at the command of his present Majesty, (William IV.,) on the same subject, and particularly to the suggestion as to proceeding from Repulse or Wager Bay. * * * A recent careful reading of all the narratives connected with the surveys of the Wager and Repulse Bays, and of Sir Edward Parry’s Voyage, together with the information obtained from the Esquimaux by Sir Edward Parry, Sir John Ross, and Captain Back, confirm me in opinion that a successful delineation of the coast east of Point Turnagain to the Strait of the Fury and Hecla, would be best attained by an expedition proceeding from Wager Bay, the northern parts of which cannot, I think, be farther dis tant than forty miles from the sea, if the information received by the above-mentioned officers can be depended on.”
p. 318: In order to amuse themselves and their comrades, the officers of the Assistance had started a MS. newspaper, under the name of the “Aurora Borealis.” Many of my readers will have heard of the “Cockpit Herald,” and such other productions of former days, in his Majesty’s fleet. Parry, too, had his journal to beguile the long hours of the tedious arctic winter.
I have seen copies of this novel specimen of the “fourth estate,” dated Baffin’s Bay, June, 1850, in which there is a happy mixture of grave and gay, prose and verse; numerous very fair acrostics are published. I append by way of curiosity, a couple of extracts:—
“What insect that Noah had with him, were these regions named after?—The arc-tic.” [followed by two more equally childish jokes.
p. 356-58, on the Voyage of the Prince Albert: We have now certain evidence that Franklin’s ships did not founder—not, at least, in Baffin’s Bay; and our own belief, (says a well-informed and competent writer in the Morning Herald,) is that the pennant still floats in the northern breeze, amid eternal regions of snow and ice.
The voyage performed by the Prince Albert has thus been the means of keeping alive our hopes, and of informing us, up to a certain point, of the progress of the expeditions, and the situation of the different ships, of which we might have been left in a state of utter ignorance till the close of this year. Every thing connected with the navigation of the arctic seas is a chance, coupled, of course, with skill; and in looking at this voyage performed by Lady Franklin’s little vessel, it must be obvious to every one that Captain Forsyth has had the chance of an open season, and the skill to make use of it.
“Live a thousand years," and we may never see such another voyage performed. We have only to look at all that have preceded. Parry, it is true, in one year ran to Melville Island, and passing a winter, got back to England the following season—and this is at present the ne plus ultra, of arctic navigation. Sir John Ross, we know, went out in the Victory to Regent Inlet, and was frozen in for four years [?], and all the world gave him up for lost—but “there’s life in the old dog yet,” as the song has it.
Sir George Back was to make a summer’s cruise to Wager Inlet, and return to England. The result every one knows or may make themselves acquainted with, by reading the fearful voyage of the Terror, an abstract of which I have already given. It would be superfluous to enumerate many other of our series of polar voyages, but it is pretty evident that Captain Forsyth’s voyage, performed in the summer months of 1850, will be handed down to posterity as one of the most remarkable, if not the most remarkable, that has ever been accomplished in the arctic seas—the expedition consisting of one solitary small vessel.
The main object of the voyage, it is true, has not been accomplished, but as all the harbors in Regent Inlet were frozen up, and it was utterly impossible to cut through a vast tract of ice, extending for perhaps four or five miles, to get the ship to a secure anchorage, under these circumstances, Captain Forsyth had no alternative but to return, and in doing so, he has, in the opinion of all the best-informed officers, displayed great good sense and judgment rather than remain frozen in at the Wellington Channel, where he only went to reconnoiter, and where he had no business whatever, his instructions being confined to Regent Inlet.
p. 365-96, added to this edition is a summary of Henry Grinnell’s American Arctic Expedition with the Advance and Rescue (1850-51), ending with this declaration:
Declared, December 29th, 1851, before
R. Grath, Provost of Peterhead.
From this it would appear that it is not impossible, perhaps not
improbable, that Sir John Franklin may yet make his appearance, coming down from those ice-bound regions bringing with him his noble ships and their daring crews, and giving joy to thousands upon thousands who are watching with intense interest the unraveling of the mystery of his absence, and especially bringing joy inexpressible to the heart of that noble lady, with which thousands of hearts throughout the civilized world beat in sympathy.