The Great Frozen Sea: A Personal Narrative of the Voyage of the “Alert” During the Arctic Expedition of 1875-6.

Captain Markham was the cousin of Clements Markham and this is his account of the Nares voyage and the ship he commanded. He seems to have a commander’s confidence that all is well and must be well on his ship, and shaping the evidence accordingly. Even an unsuccessful and fatal sledge journey becomes a matter of pride and pleasure (p. 289).

p. 7-8: To mention the names of all our generous benefactors would require a chapter to itself. Books, magic lanterns, a piano, pictures, and money came pouring in from all sides…. Games of all descriptions, to while away the long evenings of a dark and monotonous winter, were purchased; whilst a complete set of instruments for a drum-and-fife band was also added to the long list of our necessaries.

p. 61, finding the winter camp of Hall’s Polaris: Some of the boxes were marked with the names of their previous owners, and contained, amongst other things, books, principally relating to the Arctic regions. [Could this have been Hall’s lost library?]

p. 62: Collecting everything that we considered of the least value, such as books and instruments, for the purpose of returning them to the United States Government…we embarked and proceeded towards Littleton Island….

p. 75: Being myself too fully occupied with the work on deck, one of my messmates kindly packed a few of my valuables together, ready to take away in case of having to abandon the ship. On going below after the ship had been secured, I found carefully packed in a haversack my journals, Bible and Prayer Book, a few photographs and three boxes of sardines.

p. 83, critique of Isaac Hayes’s book implies that Markham had a copy at hand.

p. 142, Sept 1875: For the present then we could only put our trust in Providence, who had already guarded and favoured us beyond our most sanguine expectations.

p. 16?, on sledging trips: It was amusing to listen to the quaint remarks and witty conversation of the men, as, reclining in their bags and smoking their pipes, they would, regardless of the generally dreaded presence of the commander, broach lower deck topics, and freely discuss and criticize them. I was much surprised at the extensive Arctic knowledge which they possessed, showing that they had read largely on this subject, and were anxious to learn yet more.

p. 188ff, on the Royal Arctic Theatre, the Arctic Printing Office, a school, and other winter activities: p. 189. Each ship had been provided, before leaving England, with a printing-press and an officer and seaman [*Lieutenant Giffard and Robert Symons] had been instructed in its use.

p. 190-91: The "cost" and "trouble" [. . .] that were expended in obtaining a convenient place in which to carry out the "noble art of printing," were caused by the fact that our photographers were equally anxious, with our printers, to possess themselves of the small cabin lately occupied by my cousin [Clement Markham], and which is so grandiloquently alluded to as "extensive premises." In fact, for some little time it was a very sore and vexed question between those two celebrated and energetic firms. Trap Lane was so called in consequence of the after-hold being immediately outside the door of the cabin; and it occasionally served as a very disagreeable kind of man-trap when, through inadvertence, the hatch had not been replaced. As this part of the ship was, during the early part of her commission, in total darkness, owing to the pile of stores that were stowed in every available corner, it is no wonder that unsuspecting individuals should occasionally have fallen into the trap!

Our printing-press was, it is almost needless to say, of great use to us during the winter; for, although it never printed very much for the public service, it was constantly called into requisition for the purpose of striking off programmes for our dramatic and other entertainments; and on such important events as birthdays and Christmas-day we indulged in the extravagance of printed bills of fare. On the whole the printing establishment on board the “Alert” tended very materially to beguile the tedium of our long nights, and must therefore be regarded as a decided success.

p. 191, the school’s subjects were reading, writing, history, arithmetic, and navigation: Only two men out of the entire ship’s company were unable to read and write, and these two men were placed in a class with two others, who were unable to read and write English. [Markham contrasts this favorably with Parry’s time when only two of 55 couldn’t read or write.]

p. 193: Books were also a source of great amusement and interest to many of the men who were studiously inclined, as the well-thumbed volumes in our library soon testified. Several men wrote regular journals, which were even kept up by a few whilst they were sledging.

p. 200, goes on to talk of various entertainments, lecture series, congering, and plays. The Discovery’s stage was on an ice floe with temperature rarely above zero: The ladies were therefore unable to indulge in low dresses, and a close observer might have detected underclothing composed of seal-skins beneath their otherwise gay and brilliant costumes. [The men also celebrated holidays like Guy Fawkes, p. 204-5.]

p. 208: Our greatest annoyance was undoubtedly caused by the incessant drip in our cabins and elsewhere on board. So bad was it that all books had to be removed from the shelves, or from any position where they were in contact with the ship’s side or the beams overhead. … It is decidedly unpleasant, whilst writing, to have a continual stream of water pouring down upon your head and upon your paper; yet it is impossible to prevent this disagreeable drip. [Printers took care with menus, varying the names as much as possible.]

[A copy in the Indiana Historical Society, Frederick Papers, is inscribed: “Mr Julius R. Frederick from his friend and former Commander A.W. Greely[,] U.S. Army[,] Oct. 2, 1885.” That collection also contains correspondence between Frederick and David Brainard, Greely, Henry Biederbick, all survivors of Cape Sabine. It also contains this title: Kersting, Rudolf, ed., The White World (New York: Lewis, Scribner & Co., 1902). Inscribed: “To J.R. Frederick, my dear old friend and comrade of many marches and many camps, in many places—with affectionate regard. D.L. Brainard. Nov. 16th 1903.”]