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A Book of Discovery by  M. B. Synge

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FRANKLIN'S LAND JOURNEY TO THE NORTH

[382] THE northern shores of North America were not yet explored, and Franklin proposed another expedition to the mouth of the Mackenzie River, where the party was to divide, half of them going to the east and half to the west. Nothing daunted by his recent sufferings, Franklin accepted the supreme command, and amid the foremost volunteers for service were his old friends, Back and Richardson. The officers of the expedition left England in February 1825, and, travelling by way of New York and Canada, they reached Fort Cumberland the following June; a month later they were at Fort Chipewyan on the shores of Lake Athabasca, and soon they had made their way to the banks of the Great Bear Lake River, which flows out of that lake into the Mackenzie River, down which they were to descend to the sea. They decided to winter on the shores of the Bear Lake; but Franklin could never bear inaction, so he resolved to push on to the mouth of the Great River with a small party in order to prospect for the coming expedition.

So correct had been Mackenzie's survey of this Great River, as it was called, that Franklin, "in justice to his memory," named it the Mackenzie River after its "eminent discoverer," which name it has borne ever since. In a little English boat, with a fair wind and a swift current, Franklin accomplished three hundred and twelve miles in about sixty hours. The saltness of the water, the [383] sight of a boundless horizon, and the appearance of porpoises and whales were encouraging signs. They had reached the Polar sea at last—the "sea in all its majesty, entirely free from ice and without any visible obstruction to its navigation."


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FORT FRANKLIN, ON THE GREAT BEAR LAKE, IN THE WINTER.

On reaching the coast a silken Union Jack worked by Franklin's dying wife was unfurled. She had died a few days after he left England, but she had insisted on her husband's departure in the service of his country, only begging him not to unfurl her flag till he arrived at the Polar shores. As it fluttered in the breeze of these desolate shores, the little band of Englishmen cheered and drank to the health of the King.

"You can imagine," says Franklin, "with what heartfelt emotion I first saw it unfurled; but in a short time I derived great pleasure in looking at it."

It was too late to attempt navigation for this year, although the weather in August was "inconveniently warm," so on 5th September, Franklin returned to winter [384] quarters on the Great Bear Lake. During his absence a comfortable little settlement had grown up to accommodate some fifty persons, including Canadian and Indian hunters with their wives and children. In honour of the commander it had been called Fort Franklin, and here the party of explorers settled down for the long months of winter.

"As the days shortened," says Franklin, "it was necessary to find employment during the long evenings for those resident at the house, and a school was established from seven to nine for their instruction in reading, writing, and arithmetic, attended by most of the British party. Sunday was a day of rest, and the whole party attended Divine Service morning and evening. If on other evenings the men felt the time tedious, the hall was at their service to play any game they might choose, at which they were joined by the officers. Thus the men became more attached to us, and the hearts and feelings of the whole party were united in one common desire to make the time pass as agreeably as possible to each other, until the return of spring should enable us to resume the great object of the expedition."

April brought warmer weather, though the ground was still covered with snow, and much boat-building went on. In May swans had appeared on the lake, then came geese, then ducks, then gulls and singing birds. By June the boats were afloat, and on the 24th the whole party embarked for the Mackenzie River and were soon making their way to the mouth. Here the party divided. Franklin on board the Lion, with a crew of six, accompanied by Back on board the Reliance, started westwards, while Richardson's party was to go eastwards and survey the coast between the mouth of the Mackenzie River and the Copper Mine. On 7th July, Franklin reached the sea, and, with flags flying, the Lion  and the Reliance  sailed forth [385] on the unknown seas, only to ground a mile from shore. Suddenly some three hundred canoes full of Eskimos crowded towards them. These people had never seen a white man before, but when it was explained to them that the English had come to find a channel for large ships to come and trade with them, they "raised the most deafening shout of applause." They still crowded round the little English boats, till at last, like others of their race, they began to steal things from the boats. When detected they grew furious and brandished knives, they tore the buttons off the men's coats, and for a time matters looked serious till the English showed their firearms, when the canoes paddled away and the Eskimos hid themselves.


[Illustration]

FRANKLIN'S EXPEDITION CROSSING BACK'S INLET.

With a fair wind the boats now sailed along the coast westward, till stopped by ice, which drove them from the shore. Dense fogs, stormy winds, and heavy rain made this Polar navigation very dangerous; but the explorers pushed on till, on 27th July, they reached the mouth of a broad river which, "being the most westerly river in the British dominions on this coast and near the line of demarcation between Great Britain and Russia, I named it [386] the Clarence," says Franklin, "in honour of His Royal Highness the Lord High Admiral." A box containing a royal medal was deposited here, and the Union Jack was hoisted amid hearty cheers.

Still fogs and storms continued; the farther west they advanced, the denser grew the fog, till by the middle of August, winter seemed to have set in. The men had suffered much from the hard work of pulling and dragging the heavy boats; they also endured torments from countless swarms of mosquitoes. They were now some three hundred and seventy-four miles from the mouth of the Mackenzie River and only half-way to Icy Cape; but Franklin, with all his courage and with all his enthusiasm, dared not risk the lives of his men farther. "Return Reef" marks his farthest point west, and it was not till long after that he learnt that Captain Beechey, who had been sent in the Blossom by way of Behring Strait, had doubled Icy Cape and was waiting for Franklin one hundred and sixty miles away.

On 21st September, Fort Franklin was reached after three months' absence. Dr. Richardson had already returned after a successful coast voyage of some eight hundred miles.

When he had left Franklin he had, on board the Dolphin, accompanied by the Union, sailed along the unknown coast eastward. Like Franklin's party, his expedition had also suffered from fogs, gales, and mosquitoes, but they had made their way on, naming inlets, capes, and islands as they passed. Thus we find Russell Inlet, Point Bathurst, Franklin's Bay, Cape Parry, the Union and Dolphin Straits, named after the two little ships, where the Dolphin  was nearly wrecked between two masses of ice. They had reached Fort Franklin in safety just before Franklin's party, and, being too late to think of getting home this year, they were all doomed to another [387] winter at the Fort. They reached England on 26th September 1827, after an absence of two years and a half.

Franklin had failed to find the North-West Passage, but he and Richardson had discovered a thousand miles of North American coast, for which he was knighted and received the Paris Geographical Society's medal for "the most important acquisition to geographical knowledge" made during the year. It was a curious coincidence that the two Arctic explorers, Franklin and Parry, both arrived in England the same month from their various expeditions, and appeared at the Admiralty within ten minutes of one another.


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