Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

OLD CUSTOMS PRESERVED.

335

crew; this is another old custom which has long since fallen into ill-merited neglect; but we were careful to observe all the conditions of the ancient ceremonies, and great was the excitement on board when the moment came for the youths to contend for the possession of our garland. This was a tastefully constructed wreath of gay-coloured ribands, binding a splendid pair of reindeer antlers they had carried home for the occasion. At a given signal the lads rushed into the rigging, and strove, with might and main, to reach the prize, which hung suspended from the mast-head. At first the contention was general; presently the object of all seemed to be to prevent, if

possible, the likely hands from clutching the garland, now that the others could no longer hope to win it for themselves. Then the fun grew fast and furious, and we watched, with the keenest interest, as the contest waged aloft came to a speedy termination by the winner at last securing the gaudy badge. As the struggle came to a close, we found ourselves close by the landing-place. where a crowd of lads had already assembled to welcome our return; and the fine old sea-port town sent down its quota of inhabitants to give us a hearty greeting. In a few minutes more we were made securely fast to a little steam tug-boat, under whose guidance we found our dock, where but little time was lost in stripping our schooner of all her gay attire, and she was left secure, resting for a season until another spring would find her ready for an enterprise we hope will be as successful and inspiriting as our own had been. With the schooner will go our most hearty good wishes, and that her next venture be as prosperous as ours had been, is our unfeigned wish.

The total number of animals taken during the voyage was two hundred and thirty-seven seals, two whales, two narwhal, two bears, and thirty-three reindeer, besides a large number of smaller game, birds, &c.

Surely it only requires a personal acquaintance with the trifling difficulties presented by the navigation of these Spitzbergen seas to satisfy any unprejudiced person respecting the superiority of this route over any other known Arctic highway. To gain the northern shore of Spitzbergen is a matter of easy attainment in most years, as may be proved by the regular appearance there, year after year, of a few poorly equipped fishing vessels, built of ordinary pine wood and of small tonnage, in no way specially fitted for contending with the ice. There is no kind of inducement to the captains of these little vessels to go beyond the shores and bays of Spitzbergen, and it is therefore not to be wondered

SCIENTIFIC ENQUIRY IN THE NORTH.

337

at that they should return home year after year from high latitudes without adding any new facts to our knowledge of Arctic geography. To the class of men we met with on the coast, a single hour devoted to scientific research would be simply loss of precious time ; and as the day arrives when they find it expedient to put their ships about for home, they go south again utterly indifferent to the interest that attaches at the present time to the question of circumpolar exploration, in spite of the admirable efforts of M. Mohn, of meteorological celebrity. It may be that in severe seasons these whalers have difficulties to contend with, and we do not seek to conceal the fact that there are difficulties of no ordinary kind, or no small degree, to be encountered ; but contrasting the very worst misadventures to which their boats are liable to be exposed in some exceptional years, we say that they are nothing when compared with any ordinary voyage to or returning from Smith's Sound. Are not the Arctic books, written by McClintock and others, full of records of heroic endurance and privations ? whose very recital fills the mind with admiration for the men who have borne the toil, while our heart recoils from willingly consenting again, for all the scientific gain that is to accrue to the student at home, that men should go on any expedition that

z

way, which has so often ended in delusion and positive disaster. Have we not the books of Kane and Hayes to confirm all that has been said and concealed by our own hardy explorers ? and besides, have we not seen men set out for the Arctic regions who, utterly ignoiant of the peculiar nature of the navigation of these seas, have blundered sadly in spite of the proffered assistance of experienced whaling captains ? What can be more depressing to a navy man, than to hear constantly of the errors now become traditional of these worthy fellows who bravely toiled through Baffin's or Melville Bay-traditions ludicrous in details that will insure their preservation for years to come, amongst the whaling community? And it is this Smith Sound route which still preserves its sway amongst the older men of our navy ; not, indeed, because they are convinced of its practicability by their own personal experience, for this can hardly be the case, if we read the Parliamentary reports on the various journeys made in search of Sir John Franklin and his party, but for some occult reason never fairly given. It cannot be because there is less danger to be met with by this route, as we have endeavoured to prove. It cannot be on the score of expense, for once admit the Smith Sound route to be the favourite of the public, who are now thoroughly roused to the question of

SPITZBERGEN ROUTE.

339

the importance of Arctic enterprise, and there is no knowing where the waste of public money will end. The country has hardly recovered from the impression made upon the exchequer for defraying the former Arctic explorations, and that department of the State will care little to enter again on a like career of lavish expenditure.

On the other hand, the Spitzbergen route, having numerous places of call for refreshment and assistance, whenever refreshment and assistance may be required, is a most inexpensive one; the cost of the ship is the main item ; this outlay can always be regained by her ready sale when done with for this particular purpose of scientific investigation ; the expense of the men and officers for the voyage, at so much a month, is easily calculated, and cannot much swell the bill. The outfit is not a heavy item, and the necessity of supplies in case of a mishap which would involve a winter on the Islands (always to be taken into consideration and to be duly provided for), is but an item of expense which is after all a contingency. It cannot be used as an argument for the use of the Smith Sound route that more facts in scientific inquiry can be gleaned along the northern shores of Greenland ; for, all the scientific men we have consulted have declared that the north shores of

« AnteriorContinuar »