Arctic Exploration (from Appleton's 1871)ARCTIC EXPLORATIONS.
From: Appletons' journal: a magazine of general literature. / Volume 5, Issue 114, 1871
The subject of Arctic exploration having been revived with a certainty that an American expedition will sail during the present summer for the purpose of completing our present imperfect knowledge of the polar regions, it seems advisable to review that which already has been done, and also what remains to be accomplished.
In this connection we propose a brief examination into the respective merits of the so-called "Ocean Gate-ways to the Pole."
As Jones's Sound, in about Lat. 76° north, appears to be the present principal objective point or line of search, we will first turn our attention to it. This sound, or strait, was first discovered, or at least made known, by Baffin, in 1616, and named by him after a London alderman who had been one of his chief patrons. Under the supposition that it was a sound of limited extent, no efforts were made for its exploration until the various expeditions, sent in search of Sir John Franklin, sought every possible or impossible route to the west and north.
The merits of Jones's and Smith's Sounds were freely and fre quently discussed, both by scientific men and practical seamen, but few of their opinions were favorable to either one of these as a passage to the northwest.
We first find Captain Penny, an Arctic navigator of twenty years' experience, advocating a search through Jones's Sound, because he had "generally found clear water at the mouth of that sound, and there is a probability that an entire passage opens by this route to Wellington Channel." Penny sailed in 1850, and, when he returned the following year, reported that he "was prevented from approach ing Jones's Sound by a chain of immense floes, extending out twenty five miles from its entrance. The subject of Captain Penny's further explorations, by way of Lancaster Sound, does not come within the limits of this article.
We find next that Captain Lee, an experienced commander, reported his "having mistaken Jones's Sound in thick weather for Lancaster Sound, and sailed up it one hundred miles without meeting with obstructions of any sort."
This statement of Captain Lee requires some careful consideration. In the first place, it does not seem possible that an experienced navigator could make an error of about ninety miles in his latitude, which would be the case had he mistaken Jones's for Lancaster Sound.
Again, had he sailed one hundred miles up Jones's Sound, his longitude would have been about 85° west, almost within sight of Sir Edward Belcher's subsequent discoveries by the way of Wellington Channel, and at least one degree west of Captain Inglefield in 1852.
In the English Admiralty Blue-Book for 1852, it is asserted that Captain Lee was not in Jones's Sound that year, but in a deep inlet from 74° 40', to 75° north; but there is no record on our latest charts of any such inlet between Jones's and Lancaster Sounds, least of all, one through which he could have sailed nearly to Wellington Channel. Moreover, the northern point of the entrance to Lancaster Sound is in about Lat. 74° 40', and it is not probable that at the pres ent day there could be a deep, unknown inlet within the space of the next twenty miles to the northward; that is to Lat. 75°. It may be that Captain Lee actually entered Lancaster Sound, and, supposing himself in error, ran out again, but, whatever or however the case may have been, it will readily be seen that his statements are totally unre liable, and we cannot depend upon them to show that Jones's Sound has ever been navigated.
In 1852, Captain Inglefield entered Jones's Sound, and penetrated it to Long. 84° west, where he found its northern coast-line trending away to north and west; but, thick weather intervening, he gave up further search in that direction, and returned to Baffin's Bay. This is, I believe, the only well-authenticated case of a vessel having entered, or at least sailed, any distance in Jones's Sound.
Sir Edward Belcher, after passing up through Wellington Channel in his search for Sir John Franklin, says (July 26, 1853), "I proceeded to the northeast as far as the connection with Jones's Strait; where I found the sea open." This was in Lat. 76° 31' north, and Long. 90° west, only six degrees (about ninety geographical miles) from the position attained by Inglefield the previous year from the east, and in nearly the same parallel of latitude.
In the following year, Sir Edward continued his explorations in the same direction, and became more fully convinced that he was at the western entrance of Jones's Strait (not sound), a passage leading from Baffin's Bay to Wellington Channel. Admitting this to be the case, we have no positive proof that a passage can be found through Wellington Channel to the hoped-for open Polar Sea. It may be argued that, between the two observed positions of Belcher and Inglefield (almost in sight of each other), a hitherto unknown passage may open to the northward. This is by no means impossible, but one statement made by Belcher would seem to militate strongly against [end p. 650] it. He found the tides setting nearly east and west, with a regular flow, which could scarcely have been the case if there was a tidal influx from the northward breaking into the regular set backward and forward through Jones's Sound or Straits, whichever it may be.
There is one more distinguished Arctic navigator who makes brief reference to Jones's Sound. Captain McClintock, when on his final voyage in search of Sir John Franklin, says (July, 1858), "Jones's Sound appeared to be open, and a slight swell reached us from it, but all along the shore there was a close pack."
It will be seen that while several distinguished Arctic voyagers have advocated the idea of penetrating to the westward through Jones's Sound, only one of them (Inglefield) has ever even partially solved the problem in a practical manner, and he was driven back by adverse weather without being able to complete his work. It is natural, therefore, to suppose that this is not the most practicable route by which to complete our discoveries in the far North.
The different routes by way of Spitzbergen, Behring Strait, and around the northern capes of Europe, have each many powerful advocates, but the best answer to them all is the simple fact that no expedition, north and east, by either of these lines of travel, has much advanced our actual knowledge of the Arctic regions, and, with one exception, none of them have been able to force a passage very far toward the pole. In 1827, Captain Parry reached the latitude of 82° 45', but this was only accomplished by leaving his ships at Spitzbergen and travelling in open boats. Although he attained the highest well-authenticated latitude of any Arctic navigator, it was impossible for him to force a ship through, and, while dragging his boats over the ice-floes, the current carried the ice south faster than Parry's men could travel north.
During the two hundred and fifty years previous to Parry's voyage, other worthies had endeavored to get north and east by the various passages referred to, but they were all unsuccessful. We have only to mention such names as Hudson, Willoughby, Phipps, Cook, Meares, Vancouver, Barentz, Behring, Wrangel, and Kotzebue, to show that it was no lack in skill, courage, or zeal, that caused so many failures. Many others equally distinguished might be mentioned, but it would only be to record their want of success. It is the same story with them all; stopped either by ice or hitherto unknown lands. It appears to be a well-established fact, however, at the present time, that there is a known body of land to the northward of Behring's Strait which will prove an effectual bar to progress in that direction. There is one thing more which may be mentioned in connection with this portion of our subject: the efforts of nearly all these old navigators were made in the direction of what some modern scientists style the "Thermometric Gate-ways to the Pole." This simple fact would seem to be a sufficient refutation of the new theory. After a careful examination of this latter question, one can scarcely help coinciding with Dr. Hayes when he declares that "there are no thermometric gate-ways to the pole, except those that are made by hard memory and earnest perseverance."
Some old Dutch navigators of the last century claim to have sailed past the parallel of 84°, and thence to, and even beyond, the pole; but we can find no positive proof that any of them ever reached to Lat. 83°, and from this want of proof their statements cannot be received as evidence in favor of the Spitzbergen route.
During the last few years, several expeditions have been sent out by the nations of Northern Europe in the direction of Spitzbergen; but none of them were able to reach the parallel of 82°, even with the aid of steam-power. The German expedition of last year, in endeavoring to find a passage between Spitzbergen and Greenland, had no better success than its predecessors. In fact, it fared worse than many of them; for one vessel was crushed by the ice, and her crew remained eight months drifting about on a floe before they were rescued. The expedition did not reach quite to Lat. 78°, its farther progress being barred by immense fields of ice, so closely impacted that steam was useless either for advance or retreat.
Valuable to science as are the many discoveries made by the way of Spitzbergen, Nova Zembla, and Behring Strait, they have done but little toward solving the great geographical question of an open Polar Sea, or of discovering a gate-way to the pole.
There is one more route to be considered, and, as it appears most feasible of all, the examination of its capabilities has been reserved to the last. Smith's Sound, although the last of the passages to be explored, has many advantages over its competitors. It was almost literally an unknown sea until Inglefield, in 1852, passed by Capes Alexander and Isabella, and without difficulty reached Lat. 78° 35' north. From that point, however, he returned south again, and, as has been before noticed, made an effort to get through Jones's Sound.
Subsequent to him, Dr. Kane, in the years 1853-'55, from his winter harbor in Lat. 78~ 37', sent out exploring-parties in various directions, having the advantage of fast ice to travel on, and finally reached the supposed northern point of Greenland in Lat. 80° 40', at that time the most northerly land ever visited by white men.
Again, Dr. Hayes, in 1860-'61, established his winter-quarters in Lat. 78° 18', crossed over to Grinnell Land on the ice, and penetrated to Lat. 81° 45', the farthest land north ever reached by any explorer. Here he found open water, and was compelled to return to his vessel, a small sailing-craft of only one hundred and thirty-three tons. Later in the season, he saw from the summit of Cape Isabella a stretch of open water, extending about fifty miles to the northward along the coast of Grinnell Land, with a probability that it would open still more in the course of the next two months. His vessel, however, had been so crippled by previous contact with the ice that neither his officers nor himself deemed it advisable to venture with her any farther into the pack, though all of them felt certain that, after the ice-foot had melted away, a strong steamer would have found little difficulty in forcing her way through to the open water.
These last two expeditions, whose operations have been so briefly glanced at, would lead us to think that by this route an entrance may be found to the Polynia of the North. The majority of our American navigators favor this line of travel, and it is also indorsed by such men as Admirals Collinson and Back, Captains McClintock, Hamilton, and Osborne, with many others who won their highest honors in the Arctic regions.
Were it not for the main pack in Kennedy Channel, which never entirely breaks up, there would be no trouble in going farther by water than any one has ever yet been by land. The entrance to this channel from Smith's Sound, between Capes Alexander and Isabella, is less than thirty-two geographical miles wide; while the channel itself, opening out to the northward, is of uncertain width, but probably from eighty to one hundred miles at Cape Constitution, its northeastern limit. The centre of the channel is filled by a solid pack, the accumulation of centuries, which is so protected by the land that wind and sea can only take effect upon its northern and southern edges, breaking off large floes in the summer-time, which are renewed by the frosts of each succeeding winter. This pack, rising and falling with the tide, becomes very much abraded at its sides by contact with the rocks, so that there is always loose ice between it and the land. Late in the season this loose ice either melts away or is ground to pieces, thus leaving an open-shore lead, through which a light-draught vessel may be taken, but not far on the Greenland side, because the coastline, trending away to the eastward, forms a cul-de-sac, into which the main body of the pack is pressed by a constant southerly current. This, of course, leaves a wider passage along the shores of Grinnell Land, and consequently it is there that we may expect to attain the long-sought-for passage to the north.
In addition to these physical reasons in favor of Smith's Sound, it has other advantages not-to be overlooked, the principal one being that it furnishes means of subsistence to any extent. On the Greenland side, reindeer, rabbits, and foxes, are found in great numbers; eider-ducks, auks, dovekies, and other aquatic birds, swarm upon the islands and among the rocks; while seal and walrus enough to feed a ship's company for a year may be taken in a single day.
Here a vessel may be left safely moored, while sledge and boat parties carry on their explorations, always sure of a safe retreat with plenty of provisions; and, in case of accident to one's vessel, the nearest Danish settlement, which may easily be reached in the boats, is not more than six hundred miles distant.
These are some of the advantages in favor of Smith's Sound being the most feasible route for penetrating to the open Polar Sea, and we may briefly sum them up as follows:
1. A well-surveyed course to within five hundred miles of the pole.
2. A safe harbor of refuge, with land convenient in case of accident.
3. Hunting-grounds, where a party may subsist for any length of time, and possibly assist in defraying the expenses of the expedition.
One thing is certain: an expedition will soon sail under our national flag, and we will hope that, whatever route is selected, it may be one which will lead to the solution of the vexed question of an " open Polar Sea."
--H. W. Dodge
Document text drawn from Making of America, Journal Articles, Appletons' journal: a magazine of general literature. / Volume 5, Issue 114, 1871