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ARLIAMENT, in 1776, amended the Act by which a reward was offered for a north-west
into the Pacific, so as to include “any northern passage available for ships; and a new clause was introduced, offering a reward of £5000 to any explorer
who should reach 110° w. longitude. As before, the offer produced no immediate result; but the celebrated navigator, James Cook, was despatched the same year, with instructions to seek a passage from Behring Strait to Baffin Bay. In anticipation of his success, a vessel was sent to the latter region, under Lieutenant Pickersgill, to co-operate with him, but only reached the sixty-eighth parallel; and a second vessel, under Lieutenant Young, which was despatched in the following summer for the same purpose, returned after reaching the seventy-second parallel, without effecting or attempting anything further.
Cook did not reach the coast of Alaska until the beginning of July, 1778. On the 9th, he reached the western extremity of the American continent, which he named Cape Prince of Wales; and on the following dny anchored in a bay, on the
Arctic Explorations of Captain Cook.
shore of which was an Esquimaux village. Standing out to sea again, he steered eastward, and on the 17th observed on the northern horizon that peculiar brightness which indicates the presence of ice, and which the whalers term " ice-blink.” Though they were nearly three degrees beyond the Arctic Circle, ice had not yet been met with, but an hour after the "blink” was observed they sighted an extensive ice-field to the north and east. Many walruses were swimming, or basking in the sunshine, along its edge. Cook tacked, and next day was five leagues farther eastward, and close to the ice, which presented a compact and impenetrable barrier, from ten to twelve feet high. From the mast-head was seen an ice-encumbered point of land three or four miles to the south-east, which Cook called Icy Cape, a name which it has ever since retained.
No land being visible westward, and his vessel being in shallow water, on a lee shore, with the ice drifting towards it, Cook tacked till the following day, and then stood to the southward. A great number of walruses were seen on the ice, and several were killed by boat parties, as a means of obtaining a supply of fresh meat. The fat is described as being “sweet as marrow," and the lean, though coarse and strong, was preferred by the seamen to their tough salt beef. The coast of Kamchatka was sighted on the 29th, and resembled that of Alaska, being low near the sea, and rising into hills in the interior. It was coasted from the North Cape down to the East Cape, and then, as the season was far advanced, Cook judged it prudent to return to the coast of Alaska.
On the 6th of September the coast was sighted, and on the 9th the voyagers landed on the woody shores of an extensive bay, to which the name of Norton Sound was given, after Sir Fletcher Norton, the Speaker of the House of Commons, to whom Captain King, who commanded Cook's second vessel, was
related. Here they collected a quantity of drift-wood for fuel, and traded with the natives, who were very friendly, receiving supplies of fish in exchange for beads. The vessels remained eight days in Norton Sound, and then sailed for the Sandwich Islands, where the Commander of the expedition met his death, under circumstances with which every reader of exploring voyages is acquainted.
The only other Arctic exploration of the eighteenth century was that undertaken by Sir Alexander Mackenzie, under the auspices of the Hudson Bay Company. Mackenzie started from Fort Chipewyan, at the western extremity of Lake Athabasca, in 1789, and taking a north-westerly course, crossed Great Slave Lake, and descended a river hitherto unknown, which has ever since been called after him. The Mackenzie River is a stream of much greater magnitude than the Coppermine, and flows into the Polar Ocean twenty degrees of longitude farther westward. Within the Arctic Circle, it receives the waters of the Red River, the Peel River, and the Rat River ; its dreary banks produce only cranberry bushes and a few stunted pines, and even these cease to be seen long before it flows, between barren hills and through swamps, into the sea. Mackenzie descended the river to an island to which the tide reached; but it seems doubtful whether he followed its course to the ocean.
The failure of Phipps' efforts to reach the North Pole, and of Cook's attempt to penetrate into the Polar Seas from Behring Strait, prevented any further exploration of the Arctic regions from being undertaken for forty years. In 1816 and 1817, the whalers reported the Polar Seas to be clearer of ice than at any former time within their knowledge; and this fact being brought to the attention of the British Government, the Royal Society was consulted as to the prospects of renewed explora