Voyage of Captain James, for the Discovery of a North-West Passage
The ship was found to beat so much; that the captain could devise no other means of preventing her from being shattered to pieces and destroyed, than by directing holes to be bored through her sides, and sinking her in shallow water; where, in the ensuing spring, he might have a chance of again raising her. This was a fearful expedient; but, after all the provisions and things requisite for use on shore had been taken out of her, it was adopted; although it was the general opinion of the crew that she could never be floated again. They, however, had so strong an attachment for their captain, and so much confidence in him, that, even in the midst of despair, they obeyed implicitly all his commands. With true Christian confidence, he exhorted them not to be dismayed. 'If,' said he, we end our days here, we are as near heaven as in England; and we are much bound to God Almighty for having given us so large a time for repentance, and having thus, as it were, daily called upon us to prepare our souls for a better life in heaven. He does not, in the meantime, deny that we may use all proper means to save and prolong our lives; and in my judgment, we are not so far past hope of returning to our native country, but that I see a fair way by which we may effect it.' He then said that there was timber enough in the island for them to build a pinnace or large boat, by which they might endeavor to effect their escape, in case their vessel should be destroyed. This was on the thirtieth of November.
The sufferings and the hardships which these brave men encountered for many successive months, it is impossible to describe. Happily, they had a tolerable store of provisions from their ship, and had not to depend upon the precarious subsistence to be obtained by hunting. Their liquids of every kind, wine, vinegar, oil, etc., were all frozen so hard, that they were obliged to cut them with hatchets, and then melt them over the fire for use.
In the beginning of January, the whole surface of the adjacent sea was so entirely frozen that no water whatever was to be seen. Some of the men were obliged to be out of doors a considerable part of the day, in fetching timber, and in other necessary employments. Their shoes were all destroyed, except some that had been sunk in the ship, and which were now, of course, inaccessible. They were, consequently, reduced to the necessity of binding up their feet, as well as they could, in pieces of cloth. Their noses, cheeks, and hands, were sometimes frozen in blisters, which were as white as paper; and blisters as large as walnuts rose on different parts of their skin. Their mouths became sore, and their teeth loose.
Timber was cut down, according to the direction of the captain, and the carpenter and crew worked hard at the pinnace, till nearly the end of March, when the carpenter became so weak and ill, that it was necessary to lead him to his labor.
Though they were in the midst of a wood, yet when their fuel began to fail, they had great difficulty in obtaining more. Almost all the axes had been broken in felling timber for the pinnace, and it was peculiarly requisite that care should be taken of such cutting instruments as remained, lest there should be none left for finishing it. And, in felling the timber now, the trees were so hard frozen, that it was first requisite to light large fires around such as were to be cut, in order to thaw the wood, before the axes could make any impression upon them.
During all this season of distress, Captain James and his crew never omitted to perform their religious duties. They particularly solemnized Easter day, the 26th of April, 1632; and it was on this day, whilst they were sitting round their fire, that the captain proposed to attempt, on the first opening of the warm weather, to clear the ship of ice. This was considered by some of the crew impossible; because they believed her to be filled with one solid mass of ice. The attempt, however, was resolved up on; and the question was as to the implements with which it was to be made. These were brought into review, and were only two iron bars (one of which was broken), and four broken shovels, apparently very ineffectual instruments for such a labor.
The time passed miserably and slowly on, till the 16th of May, when they had a comfortable and sunny day. Some efforts were this day made to clear the decks of snow. From this period the vessel began to occupy much of the attention of the captain and his crew. The great cabin was found to be free both from ice and water, and a fire was lighted to clear and dry it. One of the anchors, which was supposed to have been lost, they found under the ice, and recovered. The rudder, which had been torn off by the ice, they were not able to find. By the 24th of May, they had labored so hard in clearing the vessel, that they came to a cask, and could perceive that there was some water in the hold. They pierced the cask, and found it full of good beer; which was a cause of great joy to them.