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CAPTAIN BUCHAN'S EXPEDITION TOWARDS THE NORTH POLE-CAPTAIN PARRY'S SEARCH FOR A
NORTH-WEST PASSAGE-FURTHER EXPLORATION OF LANCASTER SOUND—DISCOVERY OF PRINCE REGENT INLET, WELLINGTON CHANNEL, AND MELVILLE ISLAND–A WINTER IN THE ICE.
HE expedition intended for the Pole consisted of two
vessels, commanded by Captain Buchan, which sailed from the Thames on the 25th of April, 1818. Steering northward, they crossed the Arctic Circle on the 10th of May, and ran for the coast of Spitzbergen. Fair weather was experienced until the 18th, when
they encountered a gale of wind, with a thick fall of snow, and stood to the eastward until the 24th. Bear Island was then in sight, deeply buried in snow; and shortly afterwards they saw an extensive ice-field, connected with the northern extremity of the island, and stretching along the horizon towards Spitzbergen.
The wind had now become favourable, and they stood towards the South Cape of Spitzbergen, passing through a great quantity of loose ice. "The progress of vessels through such labyrinths of frozen masses,” says Beechey, in his narrative of the voyage, "is one of the most interesting sights that offer in Arctic seas; and being wholly new to us, many were kept from their beds till a late hour to partake of the enjoyment of the scene. There was, besides, an additional motive for remaining up; very few of us had ever seen the sun at midnight; and Captain Buchan at Spitzbergen.
this night happening to be particularly clear, his broad red disk, curiously distorted by refraction, and sweeping majestically along the northern horizon, was an object of imposing grandeur, which riveted to the deck some of our crew who would perhaps have beheld with indifference the less imposing effect of the icebergs. The rays were too oblique to illumine more than the inequalities of the floes; and falling thus partially on the grotesque shapes either really assumed by the ice, or distorted by the unequal refraction of the atmosphere, so betrayed the imagination, that it required no great exertion of fancy to trace in various directions architectural edifices, grottoes, and caves here and there, glittering as if with precious metals.”
The southern extremity of Spitzbergen was sighted on the 26th, and the explorers sailed along the west coast of the island, where the dark peaks of the mountains rise above the snow, giving to the scene an aspect of gloom and desolation. On the 28th they were caught in a storm of wind and snow, and the ships became separated, at first running before the gale, but soon obliged to heave-to, on account of the driving masses of ice. Next day the gale abated, but a thick fog came on, and the larger ship ran into the ice at the eightieth parallel, and became fast for several hours. On the 30th, the weather being clear, she ran into Magdalena Bay, which had been appointed as a rendezvous in case of separation, and there found her consort. Both vessels then sailed in company to the northward, but their progress was soon arrested by a compact and impenetrable barrier of ice, extending all across the northern horizon.
The explorers thereupon returned to Magdalena Bay, where, the weather being fair, they diverted themselves by shooting, and by short excursions along the coast. Many walruses and seals were swimming in the sea, or basking on the rocks; and thousands of ducks, gulls, divers, and other aquatic birds, skimmed the waves and wheeled around the cliffs. The walruses surrounded the first boat which rowed to the shore, and were with difficulty held in check by repeated discharges of guns. One day a party of Russian hunters were met with, who sold them a side of venison, and were afterwards visited by some of the officers in their hut, situated four miles to the southward, on the shore of a small cove. Captain Beechey relates with much pleasure an evidence of piety which he observed in these poor exiles. “On landing,” he says, “ from their boat, and approaching their residence, these people knelt upon its threshold, and offered up a prayer with evident fervour and sincerity. The exact nature of the prayer we did not learn, but it was no doubt one of thanksgiving, and we concluded that it was a custom which these recluses were in the habit of observing on their safe return to their habitation. It may, at all events, be regarded as an instance of the beneficial effects which seclusion from the busy world, and a contemplation of the works of nature, almost invariably produce upon the hearts of even the most uneducated part of mankind."
On the 7th of June, the vessels again sailed towards the north, where they found the ice unmoved, while a heavy swell rolled the ships towards it so violently as to place them in great danger. Standing to the westward, they fell in with several whalers, and learned that the ice was impenetrable in that direction, and that fifteen whalers were set fast in it. They then steered eastward, and on the 11th were close to the ice off Cloven Cliff. Finding the barrier still impenetrable, they ran between the coast and the ice, and reached Red Bay, where their progress was again arrested, while their return was barred by the closing in of the ice. The vessels were secured in bays of the floe by ice-anchors, and lay there thirteen days, anxiously awaiting the breaking-up of the ice.