THE POLAR EXPEDITIONS AND THE SEARCH FOR THE NORTH-WEST PASSAGE, I

The Glaciers of Greenland
The Glaciers of Greenland.

We have also obtained evidence that Christianity had been brought into America, and especially into Greenland. To this country, according to the instructions of Pope Gregory IV., there were pastoral visits made to strengthen the newly-converted Northmen in the faith, and to evangelize the Esquimaux and the Indian tribes. Besides this, M. Riant in 1865, has proved incontrovertibly that the Crusades were preached in Greenland in the bishopric of Gardar, as well as in the islands and neighbouring lands, and that up to 1418, Greenland paid to the Holy See tithes and St. Peter's pence, which for that year consisted of 2600 lbs. of walrus tusks.

The Norwegian colonies owe their downfall and ruin to various causes: to the very rapid extension of the glaciers,—Hayes has proved that the glacier of Friar John moves at the rate of about thirty-three yards annually;—to the bad policy of the mother country, which prevented the recruiting of the colonies; to the black plague, which decimated the population of Greenland from 1347 to 1351; lastly, to the depredations of the pirates, who ravaged these already enfeebled countries in 1418, and in whom some have thought they recognized certain inhabitants of the Orkney and Faröe Islands, of which we are now about to speak.

One of the companions of William the Conqueror, named Saint-Clair or Sinclair, not thinking that the portion of the conquered country allotted to him was proportioned to his merits, went to try his luck in Scotland, where he was not long in rising to fortune and honours. In the latter half of the fourteenth century, the Orkney Islands passed into the hands of his descendants.

About 1390, a certain Nicolo Zeno, a member of one of the most ancient and noble Venetian families, who had fitted out a vessel at his own expense, to visit England and Flanders as a matter of curiosity, was wrecked in the archipelago of the Orkneys whither he had been driven by a storm. He was about to be massacred by the inhabitants, when the Earl, Henry Sinclair took him under his protection. The history of this wreck, and the adventures and discoveries which followed it, published in the collection of Ramusio had been written by Antonio Zeno, says Clements Markham, the learned geographer, in his "Threshold of the Unknown Region." Unfortunately one of his descendants named Nicolo Zeno, born in 1515, when a boy, not knowing the value of these papers, tore them up, "but some of the letters surviving, he was able from them subsequently to compile the narrative as we now have it, and which was printed in Venice in 1558. There was also found in the palace an old map, rotten with age, illustrative of his voyages. Of this he made a copy, unluckily supplying from his own reading of the narrative what he thought was requisite for its illustration. By doing this in a blundering way, unaided by the geographical knowledge which enables us to see where he goes astray, he threw the whole of the geography which he derived from the narrative into the most lamentable confusion, while those parts of the map which are not thus sophisticated, and which are consequently original, present an accuracy far in advance by many generations of the geography even of Nicolo Zeno's time, and confirm in a notable manner the site of the old Greenland colony. In these facts we have not only the solution of all the discussions which have arisen on the subject, but the most indisputable proof of the authenticity of the narrative; for it is clear that Nicolo Zeno, junior, could not himself have been the ingenious concocter of a story the straightforward truth of which he could thus ignorantly distort upon the face of the map."

The name of Zichmni, in which writers of the present day, and chief among them Mr. H. Major, who has rescued these facts from the domain of fable, recognize the name of Sinclair—appears to be in fact only applicable to this earl of the Orkneys.

At this time the seas of the north of Europe were infected by Scandinavian pirates. Sinclair, who had recognized in Zeno a clever mariner, attached him to himself, and with him conquered the country of Frisland, the haunt of pirates, who ravaged all the north of Scotland. In the maps at the end of the fifteenth and beginning of the sixteenth century this name is applied to the archipelago of the Faröe Islands, a reasonable indication, for Buache has recognized in the present names of the harbours and islands of this archipelago a considerable number of those given by Zeno; finally the facts which we owe to the Venetian navigator about the waters,—abounding in fish and dangerous from shallows,—which divide this archipelago, are still true at the present day.

Satisfied with his position, Zeno wrote to his brother Antonio to come and join him. While Sinclair was conquering the Faröe Islands, the Norwegian pirates desolated the Shetland Islands, then called Eastland. Nicolo set sail to give them battle, but was himself obliged to fly before their fleet, much more numerous than his own, and to take refuge on a small island on the coast of Iceland.