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GATE-WAY TO THE POLYNIA :
A VOYAGE TO SPITZBERGEN.
“Ponti profundus clausa recessibus.
Strepens procellis, rupibus obsita,
Sinum nebulosa pandis.”
The British Sailor has taken a leading part in the exploration of the North Polar Regions since the Venetian merchant of Bristol, John Cabot, led the way under the patronage of Henry VII., at the close of the fifteenth century. The names of Willoughby, Frobisher, Davis, Hudson, Baffin, Ross, Parry, Franklin, Scoresby, Beechy, Back, and many others belonging to individuals who are yet alive, recall to our minds the deeds of our countrymen—deeds which shed a lustre upon the annals of the British Navy. At one time the motive for such enterprise was based upon commercial considerations, the desire being to
find a northerly passage to the wealth-producing East Indies. At another time, the efforts of our men were urged on by the hope of relieving, or of ascertaining the fate of, Sir John Franklin and his crew.
It is now well established that there is not the slightest chance of finding any commercial route in high north latitudes which is likely to supersede those at present in use; and we have learnt all, or nearly all, that it is possible to do respecting Sir John Franklin and his
For many years past the English Government has relaxed its efforts, and the lead is being taken by other nations, such as the Germans, Swedes, Norwegians, Russians, and Americans. We want a new motive to rouse up the spirit of the nation and Government;
and what higher and nobler one can be found than the search for truth and the advancement of science ? This is the duty of a government, to promote the national welfare, and one of the surest ways in which this can be done is by encouraging scientific efforts. Millions are spent every year upon the navy and army, the main result of which is a large establishment and the performance of routine duty. It would cost little, if anything more, to give a large proportion of the men work to do, which would develop their intellectual and moral faculties, and thereby render them not only more useful in peace, but also more
effective in war. Captain Sherard Osborn has repeatedly dwelt upon this in his many spirit-stirring addresses advocating a renewal of Polar Exploration. In one of these addresses, read by him before the Royal Geographical Society on January 23, 1865, he says: “ The Navy needs some action to wake it up from the sloth of routine, and save it from the canker of
prolonged peace. You are not going to educate us, work us up to the point of nautical perfection, awaken hopes and ambition, and then give us oakum to pick ; or run us over the mast-head after top-gallant yards, to keep down the spirit which intellectual progress has evoked. The Navy of England cries not for mere war to gratify its desire for honourable employment or fame. There are other achievements, it knows well, as glorious as victorious battles : and a wise ruler and a wise people will, I hold, be careful to satisfy a craving which is the life-blood of a profession-indeed, I hold that it ought to be fostered and encouraged.” There are few ways in which this spirit can be better fostered than by Polar Exploration, and so popular is such service amongst our sailors, more especially Arctic sailors, that hundreds of them volunteer to go when any project of this kind is afloat. From this point of view, the exploration of the higher latitudes is a matter for government, and not for private enterprise.
From the scientific point of view, it is a matter which requires both government and private enterprise. Many people, however, ask what is the use of such 'explorations ? Who cares, say they, for a lot of barren ice-clad lands or frozen seas ? and why should you encourage men to risk their lives for such objects as these? These questions chiefly emanate from those who do not see the advantage of prosecuting anything which does not promise a handsome pecuniary profit ; who over-estimate the risks incidental to Arctic adventure, and who cannot appreciate successes which are simply scientific. Arctic voyages have yielded good fruit in the past, and there is every prospect of greater gains accruing to science from the explorations of the future. The present phase of Arctic Exploration, the characteristic feature of which is the attempt to reach the Pole, combined more or less with a spirit of scientific inquiry, promises to be a more glorious one than either of the two preceding phases ; and since the English Navy has taken a leading share in these, it is to be hoped it will take a foremost one in the present phase.
In this introductory chapter the object will be to give, first, a rapid sketch of Arctic voyages ; next, to show in a very summary way some of the results due to, and probable advantages to be derived