Captain Ross's Expedition

In the year 1818 the British Government fitted out two expeditions to

the North Pole. Captain Buchan, commanding the Trent and the Dorothy

was directed to attempt a passage between Spitzbergen and Nova

Zembla, over the Pole, into the Pacific, and Captain Ross, commanding

the Isabella and the Alexander, to attempt the north-west passage from

Davis' Straits and Baffin's Bay, into the Frozen Ocean, and thence

into the Pacific. Ross reached 77 deg. 40 min. latitude, and more

accurately determined the situation of Baffin's Bay, which until then

was believed to extend 10 deg. further to the east than it actually

does. Although he sailed up Lancaster Sound, he did not advance far

enough to ascertain if it was open, not having arrived there until

October 1st, when danger from the ice obliged him to quit the coast.

Lieutenant Parry, who had accompanied Captain Ross, was sent, in

conjunction with Captain Lyon, in the year 1819, on a second voyage

into Baffin's Bay, and having penetrated as far as to gain the first

prize offered by Parliament (L5000) and having made the most western

point ever reached in the Polar seas, he was entrusted with the

direction of the Hecla and Fury, on a similar expedition in 1821.

These ships returned in October 1823, without achieving the principal

object for which they were dispatched. In 1824 Parry and Lyon were

again sent out for the discovery of a north-west passage, in the Hecla

and Fury. After wintering in Prince Regent's Bay, the ships sailed

southwardly, and, in consequence of storms and icebergs, it became

necessary to abandon the Fury, and with her crew on board the Hecla,

Captain Parry returned to England in October 1825. The Admiralty sent

Parry, in the Hecla, in 1827, to reach, if possible, the North Pole.

Having journeyed thirty-five days over the ice, beginning at 81 deg.

12 min. 15 sec. he was compelled to retrace his course. So far the

exertions of the British Government.

Piqued by the real, or supposed neglect of government, Captain Ross,

in the spring of 1829, undertook an expedition on his own resources,

with the view of effecting a passage into the Polar Sea, and to reach

Behring's Straits along the northern coast of the American continent.

The ship--the Victory--was lost in the first year out, and Ross and

his crew had worn through the remaining time on board the wreck of the

Fury. When picked up in Lancaster Sound, they were in four of the

Fury's boats, which they had "found uninjured, and in the same

condition in which they had been left."

The following letter, addressed by the gallant Navigator to the

Admiralty, puts us in possession of all the adventures and discoveries

of this memorable expedition.

On board the Isabella, of Hull, }

Baffin's Bay, Sept. 1833. }

Sir,--Knowing how deeply my Lords Commissioners, of the Admiralty are

interested in the advancement of nautical knowledge, and particularly

in the improvement of geography, I have to acquaint you, for the

information of their Lordships, that the expedition, the main object

of which is to solve, if possible, the question of a north-west

passage from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean, particularly by Prince

Regent's Inlet, and which sailed from England in May, 1829,

notwithstanding the loss of the fore-mast and other untoward

circumstances, which obliged the vessel to refit in Greenland, reached

the beach on which his Majesty's late ship Fury's stores were landed,

on the 13th of August.

We found the boats, provisions, &c. in excellent condition, but no

vestige of the wreck. After completing in fuel and other necessaries,

we sailed on the 14th, and on the following morning rounded Cape

Garry, where our new discoveries commenced, and, keeping the western

shore close on board, ran down the coast in a S. W. and W. course, in

from 10 to 20 fathoms, until we had passed the latitude of 72 north in

longitude 94 west; here we found a considerable inlet leading to the

westward, the examination of which occupied two days; at this place we

were first seriously obstructed by ice, which was now seen to extend

from the south cape of the inlet, in a solid mass, round by E. to

E. N. E.; owing to this circumstance, the shallowness of the water,

the rapidity of the tides, the tempestuous weather, the irregularity

of the coast and the numerous inlets and rocks for which it is

remarkable, our progress was no less dangerous than tedious, yet we

succeeded in penetrating below the latitude of 70 north, in longitude

92 west, where the land, after having carried us as far east as 90,

took a decidedly westerly direction, while land at the distance of 40

miles to southward, was seen extending east and west. At this extreme

point our progress was arrested on the 1st of October by an

impenetrable barrier of ice. We, however, found an excellent wintering

port, which we named Felix Harbor.

Early in January, 1830, we had the good fortune to establish a

friendly intercourse with a most interesting consociation of natives,

who, being insulated by nature, had never before communicated with

strangers; from them we gradually obtained the important information

that we had already seen the continent of America, that about 40 miles

to the S. W. there were two great seas, one to the west, which was

divided from that to the east by a narrow strait or neck of land. The

verification of this intelligence either way, on which our future

operations so materially depended, devolved on Commander Ross, who

volunteered this service early in April, and accompanied by one of the

mates, and guided by two of the natives, proceeded to the spot, and

found that the north land was connected to the south by two ridges of

high land, 15 miles in breadth, but, taking into account a chain of

fresh water lakes, which occupied the valleys between, the dry land

which actually separates the two oceans is only five miles. This

extraordinary isthmus was subsequently visited by myself, when

Commander Ross proceeded minutely to survey the sea coast to the

southward of the isthmus leading to the westward, which he succeeded

in tracing to the 99th degree, or to 150 miles of Cape Turnagain of

Franklin, to which point the land, after leading him into the 70th

degree of north latitude, ended directly; during the same journey he

also surveyed 30 miles of the adjacent coast, or that to the north of

the isthmus, which, by also taking a westerly direction, forming the

termination of the western sea into a gulf. The rest of this season

was employed in tracing the sea coast south of the isthmus leading to

the eastward, which was done so as to leave no doubt that it joined,

as the natives had previously informed us, to Ockullee, and the land

forming Repulse Bay. It was also determined that there was no passage

to the westward for 30 miles to the northward of our position.

This summer, like that of 1818, was beautifully fine, but extremely

unfavorable for navigation, and our object being now to try a more

northern latitude, we waited with anxiety for the disruption of the

ice, but in vain, and our utmost endeavors did not succeed in

retracing our steps more than four miles, and it was not until the

middle of November that we succeeded in cutting the vessel into a

place of security, which we named "Sheriff's Harbor." I may here

mention that we named the newly discovered continent to the southward

"Boothia," as also the isthmus, the peninsula to the north, and the

eastern sea, after my worthy friend, Felix Booth, Esq., the truly

patriotic citizen of London, who, in the most disinterested manner,

enabled me to equip this expedition in superior style.

The last winter was in temperature nearly equal to the mean of what

had been experienced on the four preceding voyages, but the winters of

1830 and 1831 set in with a degree of violence hitherto beyond

record--the thermometer sunk to 92 degrees below the freezing point,

and the average of the year was 10 degrees below the preceding; but

notwithstanding the severity of the summer, we travelled across the

country to the west sea by a chain of lakes, 30 miles north of the

isthmus, when Commander Ross succeeded in surveying 50 miles more of

the coast leading to the north-west, and by tracing the shore to the

northward of our position, it was also fully proved that there could

be no passage below the 71st degree.

This autumn we succeeded in getting the vessel only 14 miles to the

northward, as we had not doubled the Eastern Cape, all hope of saving

the ship was at an end, and put quite beyond possibility by another

very severe winter; and having only provisions to last us to the 1st

of June, 1833, dispositions were accordingly made to leave the ship in

present port, which (after her) was named Victory Harbor. Provisions

and fuel being carried forward in the spring, we left the ship on the

28th of May, 1832, for Fury Beach, being the only chance left for

saving our lives; owing to the very rugged nature of the ice, we were

obliged to keep either upon or close to the land, making the circuit

of every bay, thus increasing our distance of 200 miles by nearly one

half; and it was not until the 1st of July that we reached the beach,

completely exhausted by hunger and fatigue.

A hut was speedily constructed, and the boats three of which had been

washed off the beach, but providentially driven on shore again, were

repaired during this month; and the unusual heavy appearance of the

ice afforded us no cheering prospect until the 1st of August, when in

three boats we reached the ill-fated spot where the Fury was first

driven on shore, and it was not until the 1st of September we reached

Leopold South Island, now established to be the N. E. point of America

in latitude 73 56, and longitude 90 west. From the summit of the lofty

mountain on the promontory we could see Prince Regent's Inlet,

Barrow's Strait and Lancaster Sound, which presented one impenetrable

mass of ice, just as I had seen it in 1818. Here we remained in a

state of anxiety and suspense, which may be easier imagined than

described. All our attempts to push through were vain; at length being

forced by want of provisions and the approach of a very severe winter,

to return to Fury Beach, where alone there remained wherewith to

support life, there we arrived on the 7th of October, after a most

fatiguing and laborious march, having been obliged to leave our boats

at Batty Bay. Our habitation, which consisted of a frame of spars, 32

feet by 16, covered with canvas, was, during the month of November

enclosed, and the roof covered with snow, from 4 to 7 feet thick,

which being saturated with water when the temperature was fifteen

degrees below zero, immediately took the consistency of ice, and thus

we actually became the inhabitants of an iceberg during one of the

most severe winters hitherto recorded; our sufferings aggravated by

want of bedding, clothing and animal food, need not be dwelt upon. Mr.

C. Thomas, the carpenter, was the only man who perished at this beach,

but three others, besides one who had lost his foot, were reduced to

the last stage of debility, and only thirteen of our number were able

to carry provisions in seven journies of 62 miles each to Batty Bay.

We left Fury Beach on the 8th of July, carrying with us three sick

men, who were unable to walk, and in six days we reached the boats,

where the sick daily recovered. Although the spring was mild, it was

not until the 15th of August that we had any cheering prospect. A gale

from the westward having suddenly opened a lane of water along shore,

in two days we reached our former position, and from the mountain we

had the satisfaction of seeing clear water across Prince Regent's

Inlet, which we crossed on the 17th, and took shelter from a storm

twelve miles to the eastward of Cape York. The next day, when the gale

abated we crossed Admiralty Inlet, and were detained six days on the

coast by a strong N. E. wind. On the 25th we crossed Navy Board Inlet,

and on the following morning, to our inexpressible joy, we descried a

ship in the offing, becalmed, which proved to be the Isabella of Hull,

the same ship which I commanded in 1818. At noon we reached her, when

her enterprising commander, who had in vain searched for us in Prince

Regent's Inlet, after giving us three cheers, received us with every

demonstration of kindness and hospitality, which humanity could

dictate. I ought to mention also that Mr. Humphreys, by landing me at

Possession Bay, and subsequently on the west coast of Baffin's Bay,

afforded me an excellent opportunity of concluding my survey, and of

verifying my former chart of that coast.

I have now the pleasing duty of calling the attention of their

lordships to the merit of Commander Ross, who was second in the

direction of this expedition. The labors of this officer, who had the

departments of astronomy, natural history and surveying, will speak

for themselves in language beyond the ability of my pen; but they will

be duly appreciated by their lordships and the learned bodies of which

he is a member, and who are already well acquainted with his


My steady and faithful friend, Mr. William Thom of the royal navy, who

was formerly with me in the Isabella, besides his duty as third in

command, took charge of the meteorological journal, the distribution

and economy of provisions, and to his judicious plans and suggestions

must be attributed the uncommon degree of health which our crew

enjoyed; and as two out of three who died in the four years and a half

were cut off early in the voyage, by diseases not peculiar to the

climate, only one man can be said to have perished. Mr. M'Diarmid the

surgeon, who had been several voyages to these regions, did justice to

the high recommendation I received of him; he was useful in every

amputation and operation which he performed, and wonderfully so in his

treatment of the sick; and I have no hesitation in adding, that he

would be an ornament to his Majesty's service.

Commander Ross, Mr. Thom and myself, have, indeed, been serving

without pay; but in common with the crew have lost our all, which I

regret the more, because it puts it out of my power adequately to

remunerate my fellow sufferers, whose case I cannot but recommend for

their lordships' consideration.

We have, however, the consolation, that results of this expedition

have been conclusive, and to science highly important, and may be

briefly comprehended in the following words: The discovery of the Gulf

of Boothia, the continent and isthmus of Boothia Felix, and a vast

number of islands, rivers and lakes; the undeniable establishment that

the north-east point of America extends to the 74th degree of north

latitude; valuable observations of every kind, but particularly on the

magnet; and to crown all, have had the honor of placing the

illustrious name of our Most Gracious Sovereign William IV, on the

true position of the magnetic pole.

I cannot conclude this letter, sir, without acknowledging the

important advantages we obtained from the valuable publications of Sir

Edward Parry and Sir John Franklin, and the communications kindly made

to us by those distinguished officers before our departure from

England. But the glory of this enterprise is entirely due to Him,

whose divine favor has been most especially manifested towards us, who

guided and directed all our steps, who mercifully provided, in what we

had deemed a calamity, His effectual means of our preservation; and

who even after the devices and inventions of man had utterly failed,

crowned our humble endeavors with complete success.

I have, &c.

JOHN ROSS, Captain, R. N.

To Captain the Hon. George Elliot, &c. }

Secretary Admiralty. }

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