|The Growth of the British Empire|
|by M. B. Synge|
|Book V of the Story of the World Series. Treats the revolutions in South America and Mexico, the Boer War in South Africa, and the exploration of Central Africa, the Greek and Italian wars for independence, the Crimean War, the American Civil War, the opening of trade with Japan and China, and the rebellion in India. Ages 13-18 |
A GREAT ARCTIC EXPEDITION
"Not here. The white North has thy bones;
and thou Heroic sailor-soul,
Art passing on thine happier voyage now
Toward no earthly pole."
TO the north of the fur-traders' country lay the icy Arctic regions. Since the days, when Henry
 Hudson had perished among the ice and snow of the far north, Arctic exploration had been at a stand-still; till
early in the nineteenth century, the old fascination seized upon men once more. The search had been by no means
confined to Englishmen. Men of other nations had been at work. The Behring Sea was named by a Russian of that
name: one of the most famous voyages was made by an American.
Parry, the Champion of the North, and Ross had both made great discoveries in the frozen regions of the north,
but no one had found the north-west passage. One—Sir John Franklin—who had already distinguished
himself in Arctic exploration, was now selected to command two ships, in order to solve the mystery once and
"I might find a good excuse for not letting you go, Sir John, in the rumour that informs me, you are sixty
years of age," the First Lord of the Admiralty had said, when discussing the subject with him.
"No, no, my lord," cried the old explorer with enthusiasm; "I am only fifty-nine."
Two stoutly-built ships, the Erebus and Terror, were selected for the service, and with a crew of 129 men and
officers, Sir John Franklin left England for the last time on May 19, 1845. They were all in the highest
spirits, fully resolved to set at rest for ever the vexed question, of a north-west passage. A last farewell
was waved from the
 shore, and the Erebus and Terror disappeared from view and were never seen again.
Two years passed away, and no tidings reached England from the Franklin expedition. The ships were provisioned
for three years. But the year 1847 passed in silence, giving rise to anxiety. Then a large reward was offered
by Lady Franklin to any one, who should bring information of the missing ships. In the summer of 1848, an old
Arctic explorer started forth to try and discover the fate of Franklin. He was actually within 300 miles of the
Erebus and Terror four months after they had been abandoned, but he returned with no tidings.
Other ships followed. Larger rewards were offered. America took up the search, but all was in vain, public
anxiety increased, as ship after ship returned without bringing any news.
It was not till 1854, nine years after the expedition had started, that traces were found of the missing men.
An Eskimo was found with a gold cap-band round his head. He was asked where it came from.
"From the place where the dead white men were," he answered.
Pressed for further news, the Eskimo said that four years ago, forty white men had been seen, dragging a boat
and sledges over the ice, near King William's Land, their ships having been crushed by the ice. They had found
 bodies of thirty men, they said; evidently the survivors were too exhausted to bury them.
This information was received with the greatest interest in England. Still the fate of the expedition was
undecided. At last Lady Franklin herself fitted out a new expedition. She bought a steam yacht, called the Fox,
and gave the command of it to Captain M'Clintock, who had already seen service in the Polar seas.
On July 1, 1857, the Fox sailed with a crew of twenty-five. At the end of the month, she arrived off the coast
of Greenland, passed through Davis Straits and Baffin Bay to Melville Bay, where, in attempting to cross over
to Lancaster Sound, she was stopped by ice. By the middle of August, the little Fox was firmly frozen into the
ice. For 242 days, she drifted hopelessly southward, until April came and relieved her from her icy fetters.
Through Lancaster Sound she now bravely steamed, to Beechey Island, where stood the lonely graves of three
sailors, from the Erebus and Terror. Here Franklin must have spent his first winter, and M'Clintock erected a
memorial, sent out by Lady Franklin, bearing the touching words: "And so He bringeth them unto the haven, where
they would be."
Then M'Clintock sailed on through the Barrow Straits, steering south; but the summer was all too short, and the
winter of 1858, found the Fox ice-bound in Bellot Straits. The long dreary
 days were spent in making preparations for sledge expeditions in the spring. By the middle of February, there
was enough light for M'Clintock to start off in a sledge, drawn by dogs, along the western shores of a
peninsula of North America, called Boothia, after its discoverer Sir Felix Booth.
For fourteen days the explorers travelled over the frozen snow, without meeting a living soul. They were
growing disheartened, when they discovered four Eskimo following them. Seeing a naval button on one of them,
they at once asked where it came from.
"It came," said the Eskimo, "from some white people, who were starved upon an island in a river."
At last they were on the trace of the lost expedition. That night, they slept in a snow-hut built by the
Eskimo, and next morning numbers of natives assembled, bearing relics belonging to the dead men. There were
silver spoons, buttons, knives, and sundry other things. They also said, that a ship with three masts had been
crushed by the ice near King William's Sound. Further discoveries were soon made. In another Eskimo village,
they found silver plate bearing the crest and initials of Sir John Franklin. The natives said there was a wreck
some five days' journey off.
"Many of the white men," they said, "dropped by the way as they went to the Great Fish river: some were buried
and some were not."
 One day, the explorers came upon a human skeleton, lying on its face, half buried in the snow, showing that the
Eskimos were right. "They fell down and died as they walked along."
And now their reward was at hand. Hidden in a cairn of stones was a blue ship's paper; it was weather-stained
and ragged, but it revealed at last the secret of Franklin's expedition,—that secret, for which the whole
world had been waiting for ten long years.
The first record was cheery enough. In 1846, all was going well with Sir John Franklin in command. But round
the margin of the paper, another story was written in another hand. Two years had passed: Sir John Franklin was
dead, the Erebus and Terror, beset with ice for two years, had been abandoned, nine officers and fifteen men
had died. The survivors were starting for the Great Fish river. That was all.
Many more relics were collected. There were cooking-stoves, watches, blankets, naval instruments, there was a
well-marked Bible and a copy of 'The Vicar of Wakefield,'—all these were carefully brought back to
But, amid all the tragedy and pathos of the lost expedition, stands out the cheering news of success. Franklin
had discovered the North-West Passage, though he had not accomplished it in his ships. He had supplied the
missing link, and with him lies the glory of the discovery.
 M'Clintock now hastened to England with his great news. And England put up a national memorial to the "great
navigator and his brave companions, who sacrificed their lives in completing the discovery of the North-West
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