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A Book of Discovery by  M. B. Synge


 

 

PARRY'S POLAR VOYAGE

[388] PARRY had left England the preceding April in an attempt to reach the North Pole by means of sledges over the ice. To this end he had sailed to Spitzbergen in his old ship the Hecla, many of his old shipmates sailing with him. They arrived off the coast of Spitzbergen about the middle of May 1827. Two boats had been specially built in England, covered with waterproof canvas and lined with felt. The Enterprise  and Endeavour  had bamboo masts and paddles, and were constructed to go on sledges, drawn by reindeer, over the ice.

"Nothing," says Parry, "can be more beautiful than the training of the Lapland reindeer. With a simple collar of skin round his neck, a single trace of the same material attached to the sledge and passing between his legs, and one rein fastened like a halter round his neck, this intelligent and docile animal is perfectly under the command of an experienced driver, and performs astonishing journeys over the softest snow. Shaking the rein over his back is the only whip that is required."

Leaving the Hecla  in safe harbour on the Spitzbergen coast, Parry and James Ross, a nephew of John Ross, the explorer, with food for two months, started off in their two boat-sledges for the north. They made a good start; the weather was calm and clear, the sea smooth as a mirror—walruses lay in herds on the ice, and, steering due north, they made good progress.

Next day, however, they were stopped by ice. Instead [389] of finding a smooth, level plain over which the reindeer could draw their sledges with ease, they found broken, rugged, uneven ice, which nothing but the keen enthusiasm of the explorer could have faced. The reindeer were useless, and they had to be relinquished; it is always supposed that they were eaten, but history is silent on this point. The little party had to drag their own boats over the rough ice. They travelled by night to save snow-blindness, also that they could enjoy greater warmth during the hours of sleep by day.


[Illustration]

THE BOATS OF PARRY'S EXPEDITION HAULED UP ON THE ICE FOR THE NIGHT.

Parry describes the laborious journey: "Being 'rigged' for travelling," he says, "we breakfasted upon warm cocoa and biscuit, and after stowing the things in the boats we set off on our day's journey, and usually travelled about five and a half hours, then stopped an hour to dine, and again travelled five or six hours. After this we halted for the night as we called it, though it was usually early in the morning, selecting the largest surface of ice we happened to be near for hauling the boats on. The boats were placed close alongside each other, and the sails supported by bamboo masts placed over them as [390] awnings. Every man then put on dry socks and fur boots and went to supper. Most of the officers and men then smoked their pipes, which served to dry the awnings. We then concluded our day with prayers and, having put on our fur dresses, lay down to sleep," alone in the great ice desert. Progress was slow and very tedious. One day it took them four hours to cover half a mile. On 1st July they were still labouring forward; a foot of soft snow on the ground made travelling very exhausting. Some of the hummocks of ice were as much as twenty-five feet above sea-level; nothing was to be seen but ice and sky, both often hidden by dense fog. Still the explorers pushed on, Parry and Ross leading the way and the men dragging the boat-sledges after. July 12th was a brilliant day, with clear sky overhead—"an absolute luxury." For another fortnight they persevered, and on 23rd July they reached their farthest point north. It was a warm, pleasant day, with the thermometer at thirty-six in the shade; they were a hundred and seventy-two miles from Spitzbergen, where the Hecla  lay at anchor.

"Our ensigns and pendants were displayed during the day, and severely as we regretted not having been able to hoist the British flag in the highest latitude to which we had aspired, we shall perhaps be excused in having felt some little pride in being the bearers of it to a parallel considerably beyond that mentioned in any other well-authenticated record." On 27th July they reluctantly turned to the south, and on 21st August they arrived on board the Hecla  after an absence of sixty-one days, every one of the party being in good health. Soon after they sailed for England, and by a strange coincidence arrived in London at the same time as Franklin.

Many an attempt was yet to be made to reach the North Pole, till at last it was discovered by Peary, an American, in 1909.


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