Narrative of the Discoveries on the North Coast of America, effected by the Officers of the Hudson’s Bay Company, during the years 1836—39/Chapter XV
Stupendous bay, broken into minor bays, and bordered by countless islands.—Discovery of the Strait of Boothia.—Back's Point Ogle doubled in a fog.—Deposit found on Montreal Island.—Cape Britannia, and discoveries to the eastward.—Progress arrested by gales.—Return.—Nearest approach to Ross's Pillar and the Magnetic Pole.—Southern shores of Boothia and Victoria Land explored.—Passage of a magnificent strait.—Winter sets in.—Re-entry of the Coppermine River.
Our course was first directed to the highest island of the Minto groupe seen by me the previous season, from whence we now obtained a commanding prospect of the bold rocky indented shores, running away much farther southward than I could have anticipated, and skirted by numerous islands. I at the same time discovered, that what I had before taken for the opposite side of the great bay that so aptly bounded our pedestrian journey, was only the outer end of a very large island, which afterwards formed a prominent object for several days, and was distinguished by the name of the prime minister of England, Viscount Melbourne. Our first encampment was near a very bluff rocky cape, that afforded another extensive view, and was named by Mr. Dease after the noble family of Roxborough. Beyond it opened Labyrinth Bay,—a perfect maze of islands; from whence a range of picturesque rocky hills, about five hundred feet high, extended away southward till they became lost in distance. It would be an endless task to attempt to enumerate the bays, islands, and long, narrow, projecting points that followed. The coast continued to stretch south and south-east, but lost its bold character, and became low and stony. This lowness of the land increased the intricacies and perplexity of the route, rendering it necessary to ascend every elevation that presented itself to ascertain where to make for next. We had the disadvantage, too, of some bad foggy weather; but, as long as we could pick our way through the open water among the bays and islands, we made tolerable progress. Close without, the main body of ice lay firm and heavy.
So confused were our people by the devious course we were obliged to pursue as to lose all idea of the true direction, few of them being able to indicate it within eight points of the compass. I even overheard one stoutly maintaining, in a cloudy day, that west was east! Our Indian companions were quite as wide of the mark as the rest; and I was now fully convinced that their peculiar faculty of finding their way over pathless wilds has its origin in memory, in the habitual observation and retention of local objects, even the most trifling, which a white man, less interested in storing up such knowledge, would pass without notice.
On the last day of July we encamped near the mouth of a river, much larger than the Coppermine, with a strong current, that freshened the water among the reefs for some distance from the shore. Its banks appeared much frequented at this season by reindeer and musk-cattle, and no fewer than five fat bucks were killed by some of the party while the rest were pitching the tents and preparing supper, A couple of Esquimaux sledges lay by the river side; and as we had found many old stone caches, both upon islands and points of the mainland, it seemed more than probable that, like the natives near the Coppermine, the people to whom they belonged had come from their winter stations over the ice in June to ascend this fine stream. It falls into the sea in lat. 68° 2′ N., long. 104° 15′ W., and was named after the Right Hon. Edward Ellice. As we found nothing but drift willows on its banks, it must be entirely destitute of wood, and probably takes its rise in large lakes not far from Lake Beechey, discovered by Sir George Back. The bordering country consisted of green flats, varied by little lakes and rocky knolls. The latter, with low intervening beaches, form the general features of this part of the coast, and render it very difficult, at any distance, to distinguish the line of the mainland from a chain of islands. Our most useful rule in such cases was, that, while the former presented patches of green, the latter were in general perfectly barren. The bottom is a soft mud, and the water is discoloured and shallow, as will be seen by the soundings on the map: but, even were it otherwise, no ship would ever steer for shores so beset with hidden dangers; the first point of the mainland that she durst approach would be Cape Alexander.
The highest, lowest, and mean temperatures for July, the warmest month of the Arctic year, were respectively 77, 32, and  degrees of Fahrenheit. The winds were strong and variable. The accumulating duties of the suryey, and frequent want of needful rest, rendered it impossible to continue the meteorological register any longer.
From the 1st to the 5th of August we were detained, by a crush of very heavy ice, on a point that jutted out beyond all the islands. A number of observations were procured here, giving the following results: lat. 68° 7′ 8.5″ N., long. 103° 36′ 46″ W.; variation, 54° 45′ E.; dip, 88° 20′ 25″ N. The tides occurred regularly twice a-day, the rise and fall varying from 1½ to 2 feet, and the flood coming from the eastward. On this point we found the bones of a whale, and marks of the recent tents of a family or two of natives, who had left behind them the skin of a Polar bear; from which circumstance we called the spot White Bear Point.
On the 5th we worked our way out through the ice; and at half-past 10 at night, while in the act of encamping on an island in lat. 67° 56′, saw the first stars, the atmosphere being beautifully clear. Several days of remarkably fine weather succeeded, and enabled us rapidly to unravel our intricate path. Had we been enveloped in continual fogs, as in 1837, success on such a coast as this must have been hopeless; as, in addition to the perplexity of the route, the compass, from our increasing proximity to the magnetic pole, soon became totally useless. The daily recurrence of astronomical observations was, therefore, of inestimable value; and no words can express our deep sense of gratitude to Providence for its great goodness towards us.
The coast, with its succession of bays and numberless islands, still kept edging away south-eastward, as far as Ogden Bay, in lat. 67° 36′ N., long. 101° 15′ W.; and then made a turn to the north-east. The rocks had again become somewhat bolder, with a striped and variegated surface; but the colour of the water still merited the epithet of the Red Sea, bestowed by our men upon the southern part of this stupendous bay, till near Point Johnson, when the variegated rocks gave place to a very low line of granite or gneiss, extending from east to east-south-east, bordered with very small isles of the same formation, amongst which the sea became clear as crystal. As for the main ice, it hung close upon the island fringe; but, within, we generally had the benefit of open water.
On the 8th the coast suddenly turned up northward in a fine curve, in lat. 67° 43′ N., long. 99° 15′ W.; which we denominated M'Loughlin Bay, out of respect for the officer in charge of the Columbia Department. We next reached a space clear of islands, but much encumbered with ice, with eleven and twelve fathoms' water; and then there appeared green sloping hills and large islands, the favourite resort of reindeer. This, after a short interval of sand, was in its turn succeeded (at Point Grant) by a large tract of shingle and limestone. It was here that the traces of Esquimaux became frequent. Not a point nor an island could we land upon but exhibited old caches, camping-places, or graves. One of their tent sites—an oval—measured twenty feet the longest way; and in another place we found several deposits of marrow-bones!
On the 10th we proceeded north-eastward all day among the islands, and some began to apprehend that we had lost the continent altogether, till in the evening we opened a strait, running in to the southward of east; whilst the rapid rush of the tide from that quarter left no longer any room to doubt the neighbourhood of an open sea, leading to the mouth of Back's Great Fish River. The ebb left on the sandy beach many little fish, which Ooligbuck called "Oonglak," and which, he said, are highly relished by the Churchill and Ungava Esquimaux, on whose coasts they are caught of a much larger size. In this strait too we saw the first salmon since crossing Coronation Gulph. They came from under a heavy mass of ice, behind which the men were resting on their oars; and, as seals were exceedingly numerous, there can be no question that yarious fish, on which they prey, abound in these transparent waters.
I must candidly acknowledge that we were not prepared to find so southerly a strait leading to the estuary of the Great Fish River; but rather expected first to double Cape Felix of Captain James Boss, towards which the coast had been latterly trending. The extensive lands on which that conspicuous cape stands forms the northern shore of the strait through which we passed on the 11th; and which led us, the same afternoon, by an outlet only three miles wide, to the much desired eastern sea. That glorious sight was first beheld by myself from the top of one of the high limestone islands, and I had the satisfaction of announcing it to some of the men, who, incited by curiosity, followed me thither. The joyful news was soon conveyed to Mr. Dease, who was with the boats at the end of the island, about half a mile off; and even the most desponding of our people forgot, for the time, the great distance we should have to return to winter quarters, though a wish that a party had been appointed to meet us somewhere on the Great Fish River, or even at Fort Reliance, was frequently expressed. Point Seaforth—the eastern outlet of this remarkable strait—is situated in lat. 68° 32′ N., long. 97° 35′ W. On the continent, on Ross's Land, and on the larger islands, reindeer were seen browsing the scanty herbage that springs tip amongst the shingle; and stone marks, set up by the natives to deceive or decoy them, appeared in many well-chosen places. While pursuing a small herd, seen from our encampment, about twelve miles south-south-east of the strait, I had a fine view, from an eminence, of the inland country, rising into stony elevations, shaded with green and diversified by many small lakes.
The 12th of August was signalized by the most tremendous thunderstorm I ever witnessed in these northern regions, accompanied by torrents of rain, and some heavy showers of hail. I afterwards ascertained that this storm passed violently over Great Slave Lake, and lightly over Fort Simpson on Mackenzie River, the day before—the 11th; appearing in both cases to come from the north-east, while, with us, it came in the opposite direction. It must, therefore, have travelled from south-west to north-east, with a rotatory motion, agreeably to the theory of Colonel Reid. Towards evening, when its fury was somewhat spent, I took advantage of the impossibility of proceeding to make a set of observations with the dipping-needle. The result, considering the highly electrical state of the atmosphere, was satisfactory, the dip being 89° 29′ 35″ N.; the variation, taken roughly with the horizontal needle of the instrument, and a single glimpse of the sun about 6 P.M., from one to one and a half points easterly. Thunder Cove—the snug little nook in which we lay—is one hundred and five miles S., 7° W., from Rosses magnetic pole. It may be proper to remark, that here, as upon every other occasion, the observations were conducted on a sandy beach, two or three hundred yards removed from the boats and encampment. The instrument was levelled on a stout wooden stake, firmly driven into the sand; and there was not the smallest article of iron either about the tent or my own person. The vertical vibrations of the needle were as free, and performed in almost the same time, as at Fort Confidence and the intermediate places.
On the 13th it blew strongly from the westward, with a very dense cold fog, that prevented our starting till 8 A.M. We then ran rapidly south-east and east, and at the end of fifteen or twenty miles got clear of the countless islands that had all along, from my last year's pedestrian limit, embarrassed us beyond measure, and hailed with real transport the open sea, though mantled in fog. After rounding a long point, we sailed some distance down a seemingly deep bay, which, as soon as we could make out land on the opposite side, we crossed, and then coasted along the flat shore, which was bristled with shoals and breakers. On doubling a very sharp point, that offered a lee spot for the boats, I landed, and saw before me a perfect sandy desert. It was Back's Point Sir C. Ogle that we had at length reached. M'Kay and Sinclair did not at first recognise the place, in consequence of the thick fog: nor could I venture at the time to assert its identity, as we had made a long run from Thunder Cove, without either sun or compass to direct us; having, for our only guide, the direction of the wind when we set out in the morning, with the various tacks we had made, and the time occupied on each. We continued on to the southward till past 10 P.M., when the darkness, the rocks, and the increasing gale compelled us to put ashore—as it afterwards proved—beyond Point Pechell. Our long shivering fast was not compensated by the usual warm evening meal. The little store of wood we had carefully hoarded up in the boats being entirely spent, pemican and cold water formed, for some time, our standing fare. The want of even good water had been not unfrequently felt, particularly whilst we were amongst the rocky and shingle islands.
A gennine north-easter raged during the two following days, when our new hands first beheld the northern ocean in its majesty, rolling in a heavy surf upon the beach.
On the 15th the storm chased away the fog, and two deer were killed; but, as might have been expected from the surrounding sterility, they were very lean. A young Arctic fox was caught by one of the Indians, and, after being fondled and fed, the pretty little creature was restored to liberty.
The weather becoming moderate on the 15th, we directed our course, with flags flying, to the Montreal Island, which had been distinguished from the main shore. Shortly before noon we landed in a little bay, where Sir George Back encamped, on his return from Point Ogle to the Great Fish River. Directed by M'Kay, our people soon found a deposit among the rocks, containing two bags of pemican, several pounds of chocolate, two canisters of gunpowder, a box of percussion caps, and an old japanned tin vasculum inclosing three large fish-hooks. The pemican, or "taureau," as the voyageurs call it, was literally alive; and it was wittily remarked, "L'isle de Montreal sera bientôt peuplée de jeunes taureaux." The chocolate, though wrapped in oil-skin, was so rotten, that our men could scarcely extract "a kettle-full" out of it to celebrate the grand event of the day. As for the minor articles, Mr. Dease and I took possession of them, as memorials of our having breakfasted on the identical spot where the tent of our gallant, though less successful, precursor stood that very day five years before.
Finding it impossible to reconcile Back's longitude of the Montreal Island with that assigned by Franklin to Point Turnagain, I have adhered to my own observations, which agree closely with the latter. The longitude of the island will thus be 96° 24′ 45″ instead of 95° 18′ 15″; and the extent of our discoveries be diminished by about twenty-five miles.
All the objects for which the expedition was so generously instituted were now accomplished, but Mr. Dease and myself were not quite satisfied. We had determined the northern limits of America to the westward of the Great Fish River; it still remained a question whether Boothia Felix might not be united to the continent, on the other side of the estuary. The men, who had never dreamed of going any further, were therefore summoned, and the importance of proceeding some distance to the eastward explained to them; when, to their honour, all assented without a murmur. A fog that had come on dispersed towards evening, and unfolded a full view of the picturesque shores of the estuary. Far in the south-east, Victoria Headland stood out; so boldly defined, that, even without the help of the chart, we should have instantly recognised it from Back's exquisite drawing. Cape Beaufort we almost seemed to touch; rocky islets here and there studded the gulph; and with the telescope we were able to discern a continuous line of high land, as far round as north-east, about two points more northerly than Cape Hay, the extreme eastern point seen by Sir George Back. This being ascertained, and the men having had their supper, we struck out for the farthest visible land, at 9 P.M., or about half an hour after sunset.
It was a lovely night. The fury of the north lay chained in repose. The Harp, the Eagle, the Charioteer, and many other bright constellations gemmed the sky and sparkled on the waters, while the high Polar star seemed to crown the glorious vault above us. The passage occupied six hours' unremitting labour at the oar; and long before morning we were almost drenched with the heavy dew, whilst the rising swell indicated the approach of another gale.
Just at sunrise on the l7th I climbed the bluff cape to which our course had been directed, and saw the coast turn off sharply and decidedly eastward. Thence, round to the north-west, stretched a sea free from ice, and devoid of all land, except what looked like two very distant islands. On the rocky summit, about two hun- dred feet in height, the natives of this barren region had erected a ponderous stone slab for a landmark. Some of their old encampments were found in the valley below, also several stone forms for building skin canoes. A line of blue hills rose, and spread away, in the south. Observations were obtained, placing this remarkable and singularly shaped cape in lat. 68° 3′ 52″ N., long. 95° 41′ 30″ W. The azimuth compass, by Jones, settled exactly in the true meridian, and agreed with two others, by the same maker, placed on the ground. The promontory was, in consequence, at first called Cape No Variation; subsequently altered to Cape Britannia, in affectionate remembrance of our native land, whose glory we trust may never know change or decay.
The cruel north-east wind having again arisen, we were only able to attain the farthest angle of the cape, about three miles distant, where we remained wind-bound for two days. Here the dip of the needle was found to have decreased to 89° 16′ 40″, as might have been expected from our increasing distance from the magnetic pole. The rise and fall of the tide scarcely amounted to one foot, probably because the gales from sea kept the water constantly in. A couple of deer shot by our hunters were in wretched condition. The refuse of the meat soon attracted several white wolves; one of which attempted to drag off a head and antlers entire as I came up, but dropped his heavy booty before I got within sure distance. The interior country is chequered with little lakes; and green swamps interpose between the hills of naked granite. On the beetling rock that sheltered our little camp from the sea, and forms the most commanding station on this part of the coast, we erected a conical pile of ponderous stones, fourteen feet high; which, if it be not pulled down by the natives, may defy the rage of a thousand storms. In it was placed a sealed bottle, containing an outline of our proceedings; and possession was taken of our extensive discoveries, in the name of Victoria the First, amidst the firing of guns and the enthusiastic cheers of the whole party. It was only on occasions like this that we regretted the want of any kind of liquor with which to treat our faithful crews. At this time we were not a little concerned at Sinclair's being attacked by a fit of illness. This man, active, careful, and ambitious in the discharge of his duty, pnoved unable to endure the deprivation of fire and warm food. Some medicines, seasonably administered, brought him round; and, in fair weather, we managed to gather moss and dry seaweed enough for the preparation of our meals, which happily prevented others of the party from being laid up.
On the 19th, the wind having shifted to E.S.E., we set out at an early hour. Crossing a small inlet adjoining our encampment, we opened a fine bay, where the sea ran strong and high. For three hours our poor fellows pulled into the bay with great spirit, hoping to gain some shelter from the land; while Mr. Dease and myself had no sinecure in baling out our old and leaky boats. At last, finding that we receded instead of advancing, sail was hoisted, not in the expectation of gaining the opposite point, but with the resolution of at least seeing beyond it, and then putting about for Cape Britannia, should it be found impossible to land. As we advanced, the coast began to rise more and more outwards, till at last it assumed a north-east bearing; and, after a fine cool run of thirty miles, we made the land to breakfast at 4 P. M. on a cape called Cape Selkirk, after the noble Earl of that name.
This point is formed of lime and sand-stone, through which protrude huge granite boulders, of every grain and hue. We then advanced six miles farther, with the oars, along the shore; which now trended E.N.E.; a flat barren limestone tract. In the night some flocks of Canada geese flew over the tents southward; a sure sign of an approaching change in the season.
Next day (20th) the wind returned to its old quarter, and after buffeting the waves, among shoals and breakers, for three miles, we were compelled to put into a small river, that opportunely presented a deep channel. It was now quite evident to us, even in our most sanguine mood, that the time was come for commencing our return to the distant Coppermine River, and that any further foolhardy perseverance could only lead to the loss of the whole party, and also of the great object which we had so successfully achieved. The men were therefore directed to construct another monument in commemoration of our visit; while Mr. Dease and I walked to an eminence three miles off, to see the farther trending of the coast. Our view of the low main-shore was limited to about five miles, when it seemed to turn off more to the right. Far without, lay several lofty islands; and in the north-east, more distant still, appeared some high blue land: this, which we designated Cape Sir John Ross, is in all probability one of the south-eastern promontories of Boothia. We could therefore hardly doubt being now arrived at that large gulph, uniformly described by the Esquimaux as containing many islands, and, with numerous indentations, running down to the southward, till it approached within forty miles of Repulse and Wager bays. The exploration of such a gulph, to the Strait of the Fury and Hecla, would necessarily demand the whole time and energies of another expedition, having some point of retreat much nearer to the scene of operations than Great Bear Lake; and we felt assured that the Honourable Company, who had already done so much in the cause of discovery, would not abandon their munificent work till the precise limits of this great continent were fully and finally established. I must here be allowed to express our admiration of Sir John Ross's extraordinary escape from this neighbourhood, after the protracted endurance of hardships unparalleled in Arctic story. The mouth of the stream which bounded the last career of our admirable little boats, and received their name, lies in lat. 68° 28′ 23″ N., long. 94° 14′ W. ; variation 16° 20′ West. Here, as indeed wherever we landed, appeared old stone circles, traps and caches, bnt no recent traces of inhabitants were discoverable.
The strong wind, that had forbidden our advance, gave wings to our retreat, and bore us the same night back to Cape Britannia. Early next morning we stood out direct for Point Ogle; but, the wind shifting more to the north, we were only able—though carrying sail till the old boats creaked again—to make Point Pechell, which we reached in four hours and a half, the width of the inlet being eighteen miles. Poor Ooligbuck and Hope suffered severely in the heavy sea; and it must not be supposed that our crews, though good and true men in their way, were all good sailors. Besides the steersmen, we had, in fact, but two Europeans in each boat, entitled to the name; the remaining six, comprising a Canadian, an Iroquois, a Cree, two Hare Indians, and an Esquimaux, knew about as much of handling a sail, as they did of geography or geology.
On the 22nd, cutting off Point Ogle by making a portage over a narrow neck of sand, we turned down a deep inlet, thinking it might possibly communicate with Wilmot and Crampton Bay, on the western side of the peninsula, which we had the honour of naming after her Majesty Queen Adelaide. As we passed down, in a south-westerly direction, M'Kay and Sinclair pointed out to us the sandy knoll—called Mount Barrow—from whence they returned, when sent forward by Sir George Back from Point Ogle to view the coast.
The following day we got no further than Point Richardson, under shelter of the land.
From thence we crossed over, on the 24th, to what had from the continent looked like islands, but which I had rightly conjectured to be part of the southern shore of Boothia. This shore we had the satisfaction of tracing, for nearly sixty miles, till it turned up to the north, in lat. 68° 41′ 16″ N., long. 98° 22′ W., only fifty-seven miles from Captain James Ross's Pillar. The dip of the needle, here, was 89° 28′ 45″ N.; the variation four points easterly; and the magnetic pole bore N.N.E., distant ninety miles—which was our nearest approach to that mysterious spot. The objects seen on this coast are easily enumerated. A limestone country, low and uninteresting, but abounding in reindeer, musk-cattle, and old native encampments. To seaward a good deal of ice appeared, and vast numbers of snow-geese passed high overhead in long triangular flights, bound for milder skies. While employed in taking observations, our people erected another lofty cairn, to commemorate our discoveries; and the place was called Cape Herschel, after that distinguished astronomer.
Then recrossing the strait, which is here, as at Point Richardson, ten miles in breadth, we resumed for a while our outward route, only keeping more along the seaward verge of the islands, so as to shape a stndghter course. We thus fell in with several places that had been occupied by Esquimaux during the preceding spring; and found two or three caches of blubber, snowshovels, &c. These spots afforded what was now of the utmost value to us, chips of the drift wood which the natives had been fashioning into sledges and various utensils. From such appearances we judged these people to be pretty numerous; that they never assemble in large parties; and that each family, or little band, has its inland beat, to which they resort in summer to hunt reindeer, and provide themselves with warm clothing for the ensuing winter, when they withdraw to their respective groups of islands, to pass that long and dreary season, as best they may, in killing seals, which abound in these seas.
The weather, latterly boisterous and threatening, now became unequivocally severe. On the three last days of August we had many heavy snow-squalls, attended with sharp frost; and, as the winds were perseveringly adverse, our progress homewards was miserably slow.
On the 1st of September the west wind increased to a strong gale, and next morning (at Point Bowes) we awoke amidst perfect winter, the rocks on which we lay being coyered with snow, and the pools among them frozen strong enough to bear a man. The storm turned to the north-west, and became more furious; and several of our company recalled to mind that we were still five or six hundred miles from our Arctic home.
On the 4th the weather began to moderate, and I walked to a hill about four miles distant, to obtain a view of the interior country. It presented no new feature, and consisted of rocky heights, with intervening swamps, and many small lakes; where a few does with their fawns cropped the stunted and withered herbage. Along shore the water, stirred up from its muddy bottom by the gales, was of a dark red; but to seaward the separation of this turbid colour from the clear green was marked by a long continuous line.
The north-west gales were now happily succeeded by strong breezes from the opposite quarter, which brought us one more week of fair weather. On the 5th we ran a little way up the Ellice, the principal channel of which has two fathoms on the bar, and five within; the breadth varying from a quarter to half a mile. Then, forsaking the continent altogether, we made for Melbourne Island, which we reached next day, and coasted for above twenty miles. It presented nothing more remarkable than some hills clothed with the new-fallen snow, between which and the sandy beach stretched almost impassable quagmires. A well-trodden deerpath wound along the base of the rising grounds, but the animals themselves seemed to have already recrossed to the main land.
At sunset, on the 6th, we stood out almost due north for the nearest point of Victoria Land, named Cape Colborne, after the heroic defender of Canada: this point proved to be fully twenty miles distant. I have seldom seen anything more brilliant than the phosphoric gleaming of the waves when darkness closed in. The boats seemed to cleave a flood of molten silver; and the spray, dashed from their bows before the fresh breeze, fell back in glittering showers into the deep. It was a cold night; and, when we at last made the land, cliffs faced with everlasting ice obliged us to run on for a couple of leagues before we could take the shore with safety. This is indeed a bold coast. Frequently no bottom could be found with thirty-five fathoms of line; and the cerulean blue colour of the water, especially in the bays, indicated a profound depth.
On the 7th and 8th we crossed two magnificent bays, named after his Royal Highness of Cambridge, and the illustrious Duke of Wellington. At the bottom of the first stands Mount Pelly, an enormous perpendicular mass of rock, fronted by a low beach, which led to my mistaking the mount, when seen from the continent in 1838, for a cape, and the bay for a strait, separating Victoria Land from a nearer island. Wellington Bay, twenty-two miles wide, and apparently running an equal distance inland, stretches northward to 69° 30′, the highest latitude of this voyage. It is crowned by a range of snowy mountains, which received the name of his Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex. Its eastern cape (where we breakfasted) is formed of huge blocks of red sand-stone, amongst which was discovered a small cavern, entered by the sea. But what rendered the place still more interesting, was my finding, as I walked along the bay, the site of two or three old snow-huts on the banks of a little lake, under shelter of some overhanging rocks. Not far distant were deposits of oil, a wretched sledge, whalebone drying frames, stone lamps, and other utensils, horns of the musk-ox, with pieces of wood carefully reserved for working up into implements necessary to the existence of the owners. A whole array of marks stood upon the stony heights adjoining, most of which pointed south-east towards Cape Alexander, the nearest part of the mainland. Other caches of the natives, with similar contents, were found elsewhere; and an arrow, sparingly headed with copper, was picked up on the beach. A few awls, iron hoops, &c. were left for these poverty-stricken beings; and we amused ourselves with imagining their wonder, their exclamations, their jumps and gestures, on opening their stores, and finding in them these strange articles, whose presence they will doubtless ascribe to supernatural agency.
In consequence of sailing too late, we got amongst shoals on the night of the 8th, and had much difficulty in effecting a safe landing through the breakers. The men declared that the chill of the salt-water "cut them to the heart" as they waded ashore with the baggage, preparatory to hauling the boats on dry land; a precaution that the length of the nights had, for some time, rendered necessary. From Cape Peel, westward, the land rises from the beach in shingle slopes or steps, scarred by dry ravines, to the height of a hundred or a hundred and fifty feet. Next day, at noon, we found ourselves nearly opposite Cape Franklin, at a distance, by observation, of twenty miles. Then crossing Byron Bay, which is nine miles wide, and was named after the immortal bard, the land turned down south-west. We traced it till it began again to diverge to the northward of west, at the farthest high point seen by me from Cape Franklin the year before, and honoured with the name of his Majesty King Louis-Philippe.
We had now explored the southern shore of this vast island, including the eastern and western visible extremes,—respectively denominated Point Back and Point Parry, in compliment to these celebrated navigators,—for the space of one hundred and fifty-six geographical miles. It probably exceeds Boothia in size, and is separated from it by a wide arm of the sea, down which came the heavy press of ice that detained us in the beginning of August at White Bear Point. From the quantities of ice that linger between the Coppermine and Bathurst Inlet, I should infer that Victoria Land is, in like manner, divided, on the western side, by another wide opening from Wollaston Land, the last of the great insalar series, beginning with Cockburn Island, that lie off the north-east shores of America.
Many deer were seen on Victoria Land, some of which already appeared in their winter garb; and Arctic foxes and Alpine hares—the latter perfectly white—also abounded. Great white owls (strix nyctea) sat perched on every knoll, and on the borders of lakes numerous snow-geese had bred. Some pintailed and myriads of large brown sea-ducks were congregated along-shore, and the merriment of our crews was excited by seeing one of the latter rise with a long Esquimaux arrow protruding from her tail. We tried to shoot this queen-bird; but misfortune had rendered her wary, as she kept ahead of the rest of the flock, with small chance, howeyer, of reaching winter quarters.
At 8 A. M. on the 10th we quitted this noble coast, and, favoured by a strong E.S.E. or side wind, struck out for Cape Barrow, which, by computation, lay S.S.W., distant fifty miles. Old and worn-out as our little boats were, they crossed this truly magnificent strait in a style surpassing our most sanguine expectations. About midway a large seal, who was enjoying a comfortable siesta, his flippers turned to windward and his nose to the sky with a most audible snore, was treacherously shot by two of my men, at the same instant as we darted past. Unlike those pierced through the head while awake, this monster floated dead on the surface; but the waves were too rough to admit of his being taken on board, which I regretted, on account of his handsome spotted hide.
At the end of thirty miles we fell in with the first islands, which stretch from thence, in a chain of stratified trap cliffs, to within a league of Cape Barrow. Passing this bold headland at sunset, we ran on as fair as Wentzel River, which we reached at 10 P. M., and encamped. Our poor fellows absolutely capered and whooped for joy on finding the beach strewed with drift wood, and enjoyied once more the luxury of a rousing fire, to which we had been strangers since crossing Bathurst Inlet in July.
Next day we were again under sail with the dawn, 4 A. M., and were felicitating ourselves on our extraordinary good-fortune, when the lowering sky and cross swell, that succeeded a suspicious lull, too plainly told us of an approaching change. Before evening a furious north-west gale suddenly sprang up, and raised so heavy a surf upon the rocks as rendered it a critical business to find a landing-place on the exposed coast, half-way between Cape Barrow and our desired refuge, the Coppermine River.
Stress of weather sadly retarded our return. The last of the Canada and snow geese quitted the shores of the Polar Sea, and our deer-hunters' excursions were fruitless, the animals having already made a move inland. One night there was a most superb display of the aurora, without the prismatic tints; and on another, that was pitch-dark, the flashing of the sea almost rivalled that strange lustre of the heavens. We pursued our way unremittingly night and day, fair and foul, whenever the winds permitted; and on the 16th, in a bitter frost, and the surrounding country covered with snow, we made our entrance into the Coppermine, after by far the longest voyage ever performed in boats on the Polar Sea, the distance we had gone not being less than 1408 geographical, or 1631 statute miles.
- They were called Gloucester Hills, in honour of her Royal Highness the Duchess of Gloucester; while the large peninsula formed by Labyrinth Bay and Melville Sound received the name of her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent.
- The rise and fall of the tide here was two feet and a half.
- A blank in MS.
- Adopting Back's position of the Montreal Island, this longitude would be 93° 7′ 30″ W.
- Called after the distinguished statesman.