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Hearne on the Copper-mine River.
The country westward being wooded, they moved in that direction, shooting deer and musk-oxen by the way, and, after a march of nine or ten miles, came to the right bank of the large and rapid river which had received its name from a copper-mine, imperfectly worked by the natives. Here they found an encampment of Esquimaux, who were barbarously massacred, without distinction of sex or age, by the savage Indians who accompanied Hearne-a crime that imprints an indelible stain upon the expedition. Hearne, though he expresses sympathy for the victims, regarded the slaughter as an ordinary incident of the encounter of native tribes. The sea was in sight on the 17th, and as it has been doubted whether Hearne reached it, it may be well to give the narrative of the discovery in his own words. He says:—“I set instantly about my survey, and pursued it to the mouth of the river, which I found all the way so full of shoals and falls that it was not navigable even for boats, and that it emptied itself into the sea over a ridge or bar. The tide was then out, but I judged from the marks I saw on the edge of the ice that it flowed about twelve or fourteen feet, which would reach but a little way up. The water was fresh, but I was certain it was the sea from the quantity of whalebone and seal-skins found in the Esquimaux tents, and the number of seals on the ice at the mouth of the river. The sea was full of islands and shoals as far as I could see with a telescope.” He made no attempt to explore the coast, but at once retraced his way to Great Slave Lake, and thence to Hudson Bay.
Hearne's journey did not contribute much either to the solution of the north-west passage problem, or to the extension of our knowledge of the North Polar region; but the Royal Society shortly afterwards took up the latter subject, and induced the Government to send out two vessels, under Captain Phipps (afterwards Lord Mulgrave), with instructions to proceed as far as might be practicable towards the North Pole. The expedition sailed on the 26th of May, 1773, and crossed the Arctic Circle on the 19th of June. The west coast of Spitzbergen was sighted on the evening of the 28th, and on the following day they stood in towards it. “The coast,” says the Commander, “ appeared to be neither habitable nor accessible; it was formed by high, barren, black rocks, without the least marks of vegetation; in many places bare and pointed, and in other parts covered with snow, appearing even above the clouds: the valleys between the high cliffs were filled with snow or ice. The prospect would have suggested the idea of perpetual winter, had not the mildness of the weather, smooth water, bright sunshine, and constant daylight given cheerfulness and novelty to the whole of this striking and romantic scene.”
Running northward along this coast, where the crews of several whalers were engaged in chasing the monsters of the deep, they passed the islands off Dane Gat on the 5th of July, and saw a barrier of ice stretching across the ocean from west to east. Next day they were within four miles of the ice, and found the latitude 79° 56'. They contrived to sail between the land and the ice to within a quarter of a mile of the barrier, along which they then proceeded eastward by tacking. On the evening of the 7th, the ships were set fast in the loose ice, but they heaved off with ice-anchors, and by midnight were free. They sailed on till the 9th, when, seeing the icy barrier still stretching away to the east, they changed their course, and stood to the west. Fog came on, and they tacked tediously among the loose ice, without being able to see from one ship to the other, until they had run over ten degrees of longitude without finding an opening in the icy barrier; and then they steered eastward again, hoping that a thaw might take place, and effect a change. Voyage of Captain Phipps.
On the 12th, they were off Cloven Cliff, a bold headland named from its resemblance to a cloven foot, and which, owing to its steepness, is never covered with snow. Finding no opening to the north or east, they again steered westward, keeping close to the ice, and trying every indentation which promised a passage, sometimes penetrating two leagues among the ice, but always compelled to return. Near Hakluyt Headland, the ships were severely nipped by floating icebergs: and then they again steered eastward, and succeeded in pushing through loose ice into open water. Here the cliffs were lower, and of a reddish-brown colour. Passing Moffen Island, enlivened by the presence of innumerable birds, they sailed on for two days, and were then again stopped by the ice.
On the 29th, they discovered a low island, larger than Moffen, and covered with moss, on which several deer were feeding. Here two of the officers attacked a walrus, and wounded it; but the animal plunged into the sea, and presently returned with a troop of its fellows, who attacked the boat with great fury, wresting an oar from one of the sailors, and nearly upsetting the boat, in which they might eventually have succeeded if another boat had not hastened to the assistance of the one assailed. They could now see North-East Land, then supposed to be a peninsula of Spitzbergen, but since ascertained to be a separate island; and farther northward the cluster of islets called the Seven Islands. The ice was closing around them, and Captain Lutwidge, from the top of a lofty island,
towards the north and north-east a continuous frozen surface covered with snow, and bounded only by the horizon.
Next day the vessels were frozen in. By sawing a passage through the ice, which in some places was twelve feet thick, the ships were warped three hundred yards westward ; but it was then discovered that the mass of ice in which the ships
were embedded had drifted eastward during the operation, which was thus rendered unavailing. Captain Phipps now feared that they had only the alternative of wintering there, four degrees farther north than Barentz had wintered in Nova Zembla, or of abandoning the vessels; choosing the latter, he had the boats lowered and hauled over the ice, in the direction of some Dutch whalers. But when the boats had been hauled two miles, and Captain Phipps returned to the ships to make the final arrangements, the ice had broken up, and, by spreading every sail, the vessels were forced slowly through the loose ice to the boats, which were taken in again.
Three days afterwards, a strong north-easterly wind drove the ships through the ice, not without damage to them, and they sailed down to Smeerenburg Harbour to repair. In the vicinity of their anchorage was a very lofty iceberg, rising perpendicularly to the height of nearly three hundred feet, and of a beautiful light green tint, with a cascade of water pouring down its face, as the ice melted under the influence of the August sun. Captain Phipps says that “the black mountains, the white snow, and the beautiful colour of the ice, made a very romantic and uncommon picture.” A large fragment of this iceberg had become detached, and floated into the harbour, where it grounded. It rose fifty feet above water, and of the same emerald hue as the mass from which it had broken off. Scoresby has since confirmed this account of the peculiar beauty of Spitzbergen scenery. “ There is,” he says, "a kind of majesty, not to be conveyed in words, in these extraordinary accumulations of snow and ice in the valleys, and in the rocks above rocks, and peaks above peaks, in the mountain groups, seen rising above the ordinary elevation of the clouds, and terminating occasionally in crests of everlasting snow, especially when you approach the shore under shelter of the impenetrable Scenery of Spitzbergen.
density of a summer fog, in which case the fog sometimes disperses like the drawing of a curtain, when the strong contrast of light and shade, brightened by a cloudless atmosphere and powerful sun, bursts on the senses in a brilliant exhibition. Here are to be beheld the glories of that one God, who is the Maker of all things in heaven and on earth; and who, unlike the false deities of heathen nations, is not confined in His presence and government to any particular zone of the earth's surface, but illustrates the skill and excellence of His creation, both in the beauties of icy and torrid climes.”
The expedition sailed for England on the 19th of August, having failed to penetrate farther northward than 30° 48'— very little beyond the northern limit of the whalers.