THE NORTH POLE

Map of the Arctic Regions
Engraved by E. Morieu.

These suggestions so far weighed with the English Admiralty as to lead to the equipment of two small vessels, the bomb-vessel Hecla and the brigantine Griper, which left the Thames on the 5th May, 1819, under command of Lieutenant William Parry, whose opinion as to the existence of the north-west passage had not coincided with that of his chief. The vessels reached Lancaster Sound without meeting with any special adventures, and after a delay of seven days amongst the ice which encumbered the sea for a distance of eighty miles, they entered the supposed Bay "shut in by a mountain chain" of John Ross, to find not only that this mountain chain did not exist, but that the bay was a strait more than 310 fathoms deep, where the influence of the tide could be felt. The temperature of the water rose some ten degrees, and in the course of a single day no less than eighty full-grown whales were seen.

On the 31st July the explorers landed on the shores of Possession Bay, visited by them the previous year, and found there their own footprints, a sign of the small quantity of snow and hoar frost which had fallen during the winter. All hearts beat high when with a favourable wind and all sails set the two vessels entered Lancaster Sound.

"It is more easy," says Parry, "to imagine than to describe the almost breathless anxiety which was now visible in every countenance, while, as the breeze continued to a fresh gale, we ran quickly up the sound. The mast-heads were crowded by the officers and men during the whole afternoon; and an unconcerned observer, if any could have been unconcerned on such an occasion, would have been amused by the eagerness with which the various reports from the crow's-nest were received; all, however, hitherto favourable to our most sanguine hopes."

The two coasts extended in a parallel line as far as the eye could reach, that is to say for a distance exceeding fifty miles, and the height of the waves together with the absence of ice combined to convince the English that they had reached the open sea by way of the long sought passage, when an island framed in masses of ice checked their further progress.

An arm of the sea, however, some twelve leagues wide, opened on the south, and by it the explorers hoped to find a passage less encumbered with ice. Strange to say, as they had advanced in a westerly direction through Lancaster Sound, the vibrations of the pendulum had increased, whilst now it appeared to have lost all motion, and "we now therefore witnessed for the first time the curious phenomenon of the directive power of the needle becoming so weak as to be completely overcome by the attraction of the ship; so that the needle might now be properly said to point to the north pole of the ship."

The arm of the sea widened as the vessels advanced in a westerly direction, and the shores seemed to bend sensibly towards the south-west, but after making some 120 miles further progress was again barred by ice. The explorers therefore returned to Barrow's Strait, of which Lancaster Sound is but the entry, and once more entered the sea, now free from the ice, by which it had been encumbered a few days previously.

In W. long. 92° 1' 4" was discovered an inlet called Wellington Channel, about eight leagues wide, entirely free from ice and apparently not bounded by any land. The existence of these numerous straits led the explorers to the conclusion that they were in the midst of a vast archipelago, an opinion daily receiving fresh confirmation. The dense fogs, however, made navigation difficult, and the number of little islands and shallows increased whilst the ice became more compact. Parry, however, was not to be deterred from pressing on towards the west, and presently his sailors found, on a large island, to which the name of Bathurst was given, the remains of some Esquimaux huts and traces of the former presence of reindeer. Magnetic observations were now taken, pointing to the conclusion that the magnetic pole had been passed on the north.