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- Schwatka's Search - 1/41 -


Canadian Institute for Historical Microreproductions.

[Frontispiece: LIEUTENANT SCHWATKA]

SCHWATKA'S SEARCH

SLEDGING IN THE ARCTIC IN QUEST OF THE FRANKLIN RECORDS

BY

WILLIAM H. GILDER SECOND IN COMMAND

INTRODUCTION.

On the 25th of September, 1880, the leading English newspaper published the following words:--

"Lieutenant Schwatka has now resolved the last doubts that could have been felt about the fate of the Franklin expedition. He has traced the one untraced ship to its grave beyond the ocean, and cleared the reputation of a harmless people from an undeserved reproach. He has given to the unburied bones of the crews probably the only safeguard against desecration by wandering wild beasts and heedless Esquimaux Which that frozen land allowed. He has brought home for reverent sepulture, in a kindlier soil, the one body which bore transport. Over the rest he has set up monuments to emphasize the undying memory of their sufferings and their exploit. He has gathered tokens by which friends and relatives may identify their dead, and revisit in imagination the spots in which the ashes lie. Lastly, he has carried home with him material evidence to complete the annals of Arctic exploration."

The record of Schwatka's expedition is written in these pages. Much of it has already been published in detached letters by the 'New York Herald', which engaged the author to act as its correspondent during the journey. Other hands than his have reduced it to its present shape, for his restless energy has again driven him toward the North, and has enlisted him among the crew of the 'Rodgers', which is seeking the lost 'Jeannette'. Beyond a mere concatenation of the chapters it has been nowhere altered with a view to literary effect or sensational color. The notes from which it is drawn were made from day to day; and if critics find in it facts which are either improbable or unpalatable, they may, at least, have the satisfaction of knowing that it is a faithful narrative of carefully sifted evidence.

This needs to be said because the statements of the writer have already been questioned in one or two details. He says that the party experienced such cold weather as was almost without precedent in Arctic travel, the temperature falling to seventy-one degrees below zero. He says that the party killed more than five hundred reindeer, besides musk-oxen, bears, walrus, and seal, in regions where Rae and McClintock could scarcely find game at all, and where the crews of the 'Erebus' and 'Terror' starved to death. He says that of the last survivors of Franklin's party the majority were officers, arguing that the watches and silver relics found with their skeletons go far to prove their rank. These statements have been doubted. The accuracy of the thermometers being questioned, they were tested and found to be curiously exact. The facilities for procuring game were assisted by the use of improved weapons; and besides, as Sir Leopold McClintock has justly shown, it was merely a tradition, not an ascertained fact, that these sub-arctic regions were destitute of animal life. The method by which the official position of the bodies was determined is indisputably open to objection. "Watches and silver relics," writes Vice-admiral Sir George Richards, "do not necessarily indicate a corresponding number of officers. Such light valuable articles would naturally be taken by the survivors."

But the point which has provoked more criticism than all the rest is the native evidence that the distressed crews were in the last resort reduced to cannibalism. This is set down just as it was heard, being worth neither more nor less than any testimony on an event which happened so many years ago. Between the risk of giving pain to living relatives, and the reproach of having suppressed essential parts of the story, no traveller should hesitate for an instant. Dr. John Rae, the veteran of Franklin search parties, writes to the author in the following words: "As my name is mentioned in connection with the subject of cannibalism, I must state that when I came home in 1854 I felt bound to report in as condensed a form as possible all the information given us by the Esquimaux, including the most painful part. I would have felt it my duty to do this even had my dearest friends been among the lost ones, for had I withheld any part of the sad story, it would have come to light through my men, and I should have been accused, with some show of justice, of garbling my report. I consider it no reproach, when suffering the agony to which extreme hunger subjects some men, for them to do what the Esquimaux tell us was done. Men so placed are no more responsible for their actions than a madman who commits a great crime. Thank God, when starving for days, and compelled to eat bits of skin, the bones of ptarmigan up to the beak and down to the toe-nails, I felt no painful craving; but I have seen men who suffered so much that I believe they would have eaten any kind of food, however repulsive."

On the other hand, Sir George Richards shows strong reasons why the Esquimaux should not be believed. "They are said to give as their reasons," he writes, "that some of the limbs were removed as if by a saw. If this is correct, they were, probably, the operators themselves. We learn from the narrative that they were able to saw off the handles of pickaxes and shovels. At all events the intercourse between the natives and such of Franklin's crews as they met is surrounded by circumstances of grave suspicion, as learned from themselves, and this suspicion gathers strength from various circumstances related on Schwatka's journey. Be this as it may, I take my stand on far higher ground. Of course such things have happened. Strong, shipwrecked mariners, suddenly cast adrift on the ocean, have endeavored to extend life in this way when they were in hourly expectation of being rescued. But how different the case in point! The crews of the 'Erebus' and 'Terror', when they abandoned their ship, were, doubtless, for the most part, suffering from exhaustion and scurvy; death had been staring them in the face for months. The greater part of them probably died from exhaustion and disease long before they got a hundred miles from their ships, and found their graves beneath the ice when it melted in summer, or on the beach of King William Land. It is possible that no more than half a dozen out of the whole crew ever reached the entrance to the Great Fish River. We need not call in starvation to our aid. I fully believe that by far the greater portion perished long before their provisions were consumed. The only thing that would have restored men to convalescence in their condition would have been nursing and the comforts of hospital treatment, not a resort to human flesh."

Apart from these objections, of which the reader is only forewarned, the importance of the results achieved by Lieutenant Schwatka's expedition has not been gainsaid by any one possessing the least acquaintance with Arctic matters. It made the largest sledge journey on record, having been absent from its base of supplies for eleven months and twenty days, and having traversed 2,819 geographical, or 3,251 statute miles. It was the first expedition which relied for its own subsistence and for the subsistence of its dogs on the game which it found in the locality. It was the first expedition in which the white men of the party voluntarily assumed the same diet as the natives. It was the first expedition which established beyond a doubt the loss of the Franklin records. McClintock recorded an opinion that they had perished: Schwatka recorded it as a fact.

The success of this latest Arctic journey has been attributed to small, as well as to greater causes. The advantages of summer exploration were manifest. The Esquimaux of the party gave invaluable aid, building snow-huts with the skill to which none but natives attain, coating the sledge-runners with ice according to a method which only natives understand, and by their good offices enabling the expedition to hold communication and have dealings with the wild tribes with whom they came in contact. The dogs were chosen with the utmost circumspection, and justified this care by their wonderful endurance. Game was abundant. Such minor devices as the use of blue lights proved efficacious in the dispersal of wolves. Woolen foot gear, made by friendly natives, supplied a need which has often proved fatal in the Arctic. Good management kept all the Esquimaux loyal, and Schwatka's strong will helped the travellers to live while the dogs were falling exhausted and dying by the way.

Among the relics that were brought home was the prow of the boat seen by Sir Leopold McClintock in Erebus Bay, the sled on which it had been transported, and the drag-rope by which the sled was drawn. There were also two sheet-iron stoves from the first camp on King William Land, a brush marked "H. Wilkes," some pieces of clothing from each grave, together with buttons, canteens, shoes, tin cans, pickaxes, and every thing that could in any way tend to identify the occupants of the different graves or those who died without burial. They were offered to the British Admiralty, and, having been gratefully accepted, were added to the relics already deposited at the Museum in Greenwich Hospital, and at the United Service Institution in London.

CONTENTS.

CHAPTER I. NORTHWARD

CHAPTER II. THE WINTER CAMP

CHAPTER III. OUR DOGS

CHAPTER IV. IN THE SLEDGES

CHAPTER V. NATIVE WITNESSES

CHAPTER VI. THE MIDNIGHT SUN

CHAPTER VII. RELICS

CHAPTER VIII. IRVING'S GRAVE

CHAPTER IX. ARCTIC COSTUMES

CHAPTER X. OVER MELTING SNOWS

CHAPTER XI. AMATEUR ESQUIMAUX

CHAPTER XII. WALRUS DIET


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