The Last of the Arctic Voyages, Being a Narrative of the Expedition in H.M.S. Assistance …, in Search of Sir John Franklin, during the Years 1852-53-54.

Belcher’s account is clearly one which he wrote during his voyage, and is interesting in noting his use of books aboard the ship, books we know to be present since they are in the catalogue of the Assistance.

Volume I. [March 1852]

p. 19, in section on provisioning for the voyage: The libraries furnished to each vessel contained all that was asked, which, aided by private collections, left nothing to be wished for in that department. A very excellent printing press, with full type, was supplied to the leading commands, and was found useful.

p. 37: Referring to Sir Edward Parry’s remarks, I notice that he only visited this port in his boat in 1824, and, unless he sounded it, or consulted the pilots, could hardly be supposed to know its capacity. He considers it excellent for small vessels…. [Parry’s work was aboard Assistance.]

p. 151-53: I shall therefore go back to the before-mentioned washhouse, where I found that Commander Richards held some mysterious meetings, which seduced from their allegiance several subjects of my Observatory. It was too cold and dreary a spot for me to pry into. At length however the murder had come out: he had become the Sole Lessee and Director of Her Majesty’s Theatre Royal, and had there established his green room. In due time the clattering of carpenters and other employees rushing to and fro was heard; and, near the commencement of November [1852], the following play-bill, printed at the Royal Press, on satin, was placed on my table, ordered to lie there, passed three readings, and received due assent, the Lord Chamberlain having no objections thereto….” Play shows comedies of The Irish Tutor and The Silent Woman.

p. 154: As we were unable to hear, it is almost needless to add that the excellence of the acting entirely superseded the noise of the tempest; and between it and the music…the evening terminated satisfactorily.

p. 160: I notice in Parry’s Second Voyage…. [Presumably Belcher had access to the copy aboard which is listed in the Assistance catalogue at the NML at Greenwich.]

p. 170-71: December 1 [1852].—Our first amusement was the theatre; this was followed by a newspaper; but something more useful and solid was required. We therefore established the evening schools, and not having sufficiently, or at all, prepared for this important matter by the customary Government supplies, the requisite paper of which to form writing-books dipped deeply into our supplies. There classes were formed:–first, those who could read, write, and calculate; second, those who could read and write only; third, those who knew nothing; and very satisfactory progress was made, thanks to the supervision of Commander Richards, Mr. Looney, and Mr. Lewis, who handsomely offered their services.

As there seemed yet to be a vacuum, I proposed the incorporation of the Loyal Circle of Arctic Engineers, to meet on Monday evenings, read some interesting matter from standard works, or produce a paper upon particular matters immediately connected with our operations, present or intended…. [Series began with Mr. Harwood’s paper on cooking lamps for sledge parties, “to burn the fat of Animals slain in the Chase.”]

p. 186-88: theatricals in December 1852 were Hamlet by the ‘Pioneer’ Tragedians; and the Scapegrace by the ‘Asssistance’ Company. In a desire to make the shortest day still shorter! These were given on Dec. 21st The Interlude included “a highly pathetic Story of Negro Love by Mr. J. Reid, in full Negro Costume, as being peculiarly adapted to this climate.

p. 188: Sir Edward Parry mentions that the zeal of his manager produced representations even when the thermometer fell below zero. In the present instance the temperature was -34˚ outside, but the after-deck thermometer is registered as low as –37˚. It was, however, to my feelings, uncomfortably cold, even in Her Majesty’s box.

p. 199, Jan 6, 1853 had H.M.S. Pioneer entertainment of The Queen’s Arctic Philharmonic Society, songs which Belcher describes as of almost perfect originality.

p. 201: I observe, in that excellent work of Sir Henry de la Beche (on Geology), that….

p.202: January 15.—I was induced, whilst writing these remarks, to turn to Parry’s work, page 145 (first voyage, 1819-20). [Again, this was a work available in the Assistance library.]

p. 255, May 1853: This was Sunday. Our motions by day interfering much with our present mode of traveling, the customary observance was deferred until evening, when all hands were collected in my tent. These are matters of discipline. It is not my intention to inform my readers, or rather to trouble them, with the question of how good or bad we were, but possibly we may be found to Him who knows our secrets, quite as good as ‘the tinkling bells.’

p. 368, on finding a tin case floating on an ice flow, containing various objects: … the Admiralty Arctic Chart, the true-bearing book of 1853, two tin pannikins, a hank of lo-line, bits of lint, a pill-box containing ointment, and a piece of adhesive plaster,—with other proofs of its having been the temporary resting-place of man!

That all the articles in question belonged to our Expedition was clear by the date of the chart, as well as the true-bearing book for this year, within which was further found a printed prayer belonging to the ‘North Star,’ as well as one in manuscript, evidently in the handwriting of Commander Pullen: the chart was also his, having on it his remarks on his late journeys hitherward. [Goes on to describe further mysteries of this horde of objects.]

Volume II.

p. 25, cites Parry’s Third Voyage, p. 17, again a volume aboard ship.

p. 72: It is true that the records of Parry’s voyages, and some chance private manuscript extracts from those of Sir James Ross and Austin, happen to be in my possession, from which various questions have suggested themselves, and so far experience may be said to have lent its aid…. Why cannot all officers commanding such voyages adopt the law of the profession? Why is Parry’s the sole official authority. We have no published information from Sir James Ross, Austin, or Saunders, to aid us either in temperatures, tracks, homeward or outward! No seamanlike observations to guide us in the selection of a homeward route. The profession may exclaim, You must exercise your own ability. That I am prepared for…[but]

Here I am sent to discover quite as much as Parry was on his first voyage, and,…find the aspect of affairs in 1853-54 to differ materially….

p. 84, Dec. 29, 1853: At noon the light was sufficiently bright to read small print, the atmosphere also very clear.

p. 166-71, [April 1854]–long passage on abandonment of Resolute, under Captain Kellett.

p. 253, list of articles purchased from Esquimaux said to have been found at the place where the party of men died of famine in spring 1850 as listed by John Rae in 1854, including “2 leaves of the Student’s Manual”.

The whole passage from p. 249-55 is Belcher’s critique of Rae’s report from the Inuit as the manipulations of the “wily Esquimaux.”

Much of the second volume is Belcher’s apologia for his actions in relation to his Instructions for the expedition.