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Ir we examine a map of Northern, or Arctic, America, showing what was known of the countries around the North Pole in the commencement of the present century, we shall find that all within the Arctic circle was a complete blank. Mr. Hearne bad, indeed, seen the Arctic Sea in the year 1771; and Mr. Mackenzie had traced the river which now bears his name to its junction with the sea; but not a single line of the coast from Icy Cape to Baffin's Bay was known. The eastern and western shores of Greenland, to about 750 latitude, were tolerably well defined, from the visits of whaling vessels; Hudson's Bay and Strait were partially known; but Baffin's Bay, according to the statement of Mr. Baffin, in 1616, was bounded by land on the west, running parallel with the 90th meridian of longitude, or across what is now known to us as Bar. row's Strait, and probably this relation led to the subsequently formed hasty opinion of Captain Sir John Ross, as to his visionary Croker Mountains, of which I shall have occasion to speak bereafter.
As early as the year 1527, the idea of a passage to the East Indies by the North Pole was suggested by a
Bristol merchant to Henry VIII., but no voyage seems to have been undertaken for the purpose of navigating the Polar seas, till the commencement of the following century, when an expedition was fitted out at the expense of certain merchants of London. To this attempt several others succeeded at different periods, and all of them were projected and carried into execution by private individuals. The adventurers did not indeed accomplish the object they exclusively sought, that of reaching India by a nearer route than doubling the Cape of Good Hope, but though they failed in that respect, the fortitude, perseverance, and skill which they manifested, exhibited the most irrefragable proofs of the early existence of that superiority in naval af fairs, which has elevated this country to her present eminence among the nations of Europe.
At length, after the lapse of above a century and a half, this interesting question became an object of Royal patronage, and the expedition which was commanded by Captain Phipps (afterward Lord Mulgrave,) in 1773, was fitted out at the charge of Government. The first proposer of this voyage was the Hon. Daines Barrington, F.R.S., who, with indefatigable assiduity, began to collect every fact tending to establish the practicability of circumnavigating the Pole, and
as he accumulated his materials, he read them to the Royal Society, who, in consequence of these representations, made that application to Lord Sandwich, then First Lord of the Admiralty, which led to the appointment of this first official voyage. Captain Phipps, however, found it impossible to penetrate the wall of ice which extended for many degrees between the latitude of 80° and 81°, to the north of Spitzbergen. His vessels were the Racehorse and Carcass; Captain Lutwidge being his second in command, in the latter vessel, and having with him, then a mere boy, Nelson, the future hero of England.
From the year 1648, when the famous Russian navi. gator, Senor Deshpew, penetrated from the river Kolyma through the Polar into the Pacific Ocean, the
Russians have been as arduous in their attempts tu discover a northeast passage to the north of Cape Shelatskoi, as the English have been to sail to the north. west of the American continent, through Baffin's Bay and Lancaster Sound. On the side of the Pacific, many efforts, have, within the last century, been made to further this object. In 1741, the celebrated Captain Behring discovered the straits which bear his name, as we are informed by Muller, the chronicler of Russian discoveries, and several subsequent commanders of that nation seconded his endeavors to penetrate from the American continent to the northeast. From the period when Deshnew sailed on his expedition, to the year 1764, when Admiral Tchitschagof, an indefatigable and active officer, endeavored to force a passage round Spitzbergen, (which, although he attempted with a resolution and skill which would fall to the lot of few, he was unable to effect,) and thence to the present times, including the arduous efforts of Captain Billings and Vancouver, and the inore recent one of M. Von Wrangell, the Russians have been untiring in their attempts to discover a passage eastward, to the north of Cape Taimur and Cape Shelatskoi.
And certainly, if skil, perseverance, and courage, could have opened this passage, it wonld have been accomplished.
Soon after the general peace of Europe, when war's alarms had given way to the high pursuits of science, the government recommenced the long-suspended work of prosecuting discoveries within the Arctic circle.
An expedition was dispatched under the command of Sir John Ross, in order to explore the scene of the former labors of Frobisher and Baftin. Still baunted with the golden dreams of a northwest passage, which Barrington and Beaufoy had in the last age so enthusiastically advocated, our nautical adventurers by no means relinquished the long-cherished chimera.
It must be admitted, however, that the testimony of Parry and Franklin pass for much on the other side of the question. Both these officers, whose researches in the cause of scientific discovery entitle there to very
high respect, have declared it as their opinion that such a passage does not exist to the north of the 75th degree of latitude.
Captain Parry, in the concluding remarks of his first voyage, (vol. ii. p. 241,) says—“Of the existence of a northwest passage to the Pacific, it is now scarcely possible to doubt, and from the success which attended our efforts in 1819, after passing through Sir James Lancaster's Sound, we were not unreasonable in anticipating its complete accomplishment," &c. And Franklin, in the eleventh chapter of his work, is of the same opinion, as to the practicability of such a passage
But in no subsequent attempt, either by themselves or others, has this long sought desideratum been accomplished; impediments and barriers seem as thickly thrown in its way as ever.*
An expedition was at length undertaken for the sole purpose of reaching the North Pole, with a view to the ascertainment of philosophical questions. planned and placed under the command of Sir Edward Parry, and here first the elucidation of phenomena connected with this imaginary axis of our planet formed the primary object of investigation.
My space and purpose in this work will not permit me to go into detail by examining what Barrow justly terms « those brilliant periods of early English enterprise, so conspicuously displayed in every quarter of the globe, but in none, probably, to greater advantage than in those bold and persevering efforts to pierce through frozen seas, in their little slender barks, of the most miserable description, ill provided with the means either of comfort or safety, without charts or instruments, or any previous knowledge of the cold and in hospitable region through which they had to force and to feel their way; their vessels oft beset amidst endless fields of ice, and threatened to be overwhelmed with instant destruction from the rapid whirling and bursting of those huge floating masses, known by the
• Colonial Magazine, col. xiii, p. 340
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name of icebergs. Yet so powerfully infused into the minds of Britons was the spirit of enterprise, that some of the ablest, the most learned, and most respectable men of the times, not only lent their countenance and support to expeditions fitted out for the discovery of new lands, but strove eagerly, in their own persons, to share in the glory and the danger of every daring adventure."
To the late Sir John Barrow, F. R. S., for so long a period secretary of the Admiralty, and who, in early life
, himself visited the Spitzbergen seas, as high as the 80th parallel, we are mainly indebted for the advocacy and promotion of the several expeditions, and the investigations and inquiries set on foot in the present century, and to the voyages which have been hitherto so successfully carried out as regards the interests of science and our knowledge of the Polar regions.
Although it is absurd to impute the direct responsibility for these expeditions to any other quarter than the several administrations during which they were undertaken, there can be no question but that these enterprises originated in Sir John Barrow's able and zealous exhibition, to our naval anthorities, of the several facts and arguments upon which they might best be justified and prosecuted as national objects. The general anxiety now prevailing respecting the fate of Sir John Franklin and his gallant companions, throws at this moment somewhat of a gloom on the subject, but it ought to be remembered that, up to the present period, our successive Polar voyages have, without exception, given occupation to the energies and gallantry of energetic seamen, and have extended the realms of magnetic and general science, at an expense of lives and
money quite insignificant, compared with the ordinary dangers and casualties of such expeditions, and that it must be a very narrow spirit and view of the subject which can raise the cry of “Cui bono," and counsel us to relinquish the honor and peril of such enterprises.