letters from the north

Oh, and there are volcanoes too!

My search this morning began with a long bus ride and then a vortex of little sea children all holding hands swarming into the museum. And then another wave crashing in with slightly older children in blue uniforms. Each time I go to the museum, even though I am going into the library and that the museum is free, it is required that I get a ticket at the desk. I will have collected a plethora of tickets, each marked with a new date for my visual diary.

I began with a rare book that I had ordered up from the deep dark stacks of the museum. It was a letter to John Barrow, Secretary of the Admiralty (who really was the main man) from someone named 'ALMAN' about what he called 'the Extraordinary and Unusual Hyperborian Discoveries' that Captain Parry made in 1826. I couldn't quite figure out what ALMAN'S argument (and disgruntled nature) was all about, though I think he was trying to voice his unhappy dismay over something J. Barrow had said or claimed about the arctic and Parry's voyage. He ends with stating that more important than a mere trade route, going to the North Pole and losing so many men to its 'discovery' is worth it if, in the name of science and scientific research, it is found and documented, especially with a British flag firmly planted into the cold ground. I am finding that this theme of 'FOR SCIENCE!' was more common than I had first thought. Or perhaps it was equal to that of 'trade and commerce' and 'conquering the land'.

The Illustrated London News was my key source for entertainment today: years 1845 & 1849. This newspaper came out weekly and was chalk full of drawings (hence 'illustrated'), or rather prints. Many of the headlines were as funny as much of today's newspapers are: Clairvoyance, Sea Serpent Seen, Icebergs (complete with lovely diagrams), and the Extraordinary Voracity of Codfish! I haven't read yet the Codfish headline because I didn't get time today. But I promise to tell you about it tomorrow or Thursday. My intention for looking through this newspaper was to find how this newspaper depicted the artic for the general public, textually and visually in its illustrations. I certainly was not let down. I came across THE article, that I had read about in my other more current Franklin books, about the first ship lead by british Captain Kellett, who happened to be floating off of San Francisco, going up into the Berring Strait to see if Franklin was there. Of course, Franklin was not there and the article published this sad announcement. But I had found it! My first physical thing! That smelled like a tired page that had been stuck too snugly next to other books, though it had a more recent blue cover binding. The pages and pages of paper with imprints, almost like a bully typewriter pushing and shoving each poor letter into the yellow, thin paper so that it learns its lesson.

Old Captain Ross, who lead one of the first search and rescue missions, also had a full spread about this trip, complete with fabulous illustrations, which I will post above when I am finished here.

Another book I went through today was 'The Polar World: a description of Man and Nature in the Arctic and Antarctic regions of the globe written by G. Hartwig in 1869. This book was intended for the public reader as he claims in his preface. You might know him from his 'other' books such as 'The Sea and its Living Wonders' or 'The Harmonies of Nature'.... The book meanders through the various geographical levels of the Arctic so I skipped to the chapter he devotes to the Inuit as I wanted to see what kind of wording he used to describe them. Surprisingly! He seemed quite fond of the Inuit and painted a positive, almost honorable, for the time, portrait of them. Hartwig says, "The weapons of the Esquimaux, and their various fishing and hunting implements, likewise show great ingenuity and skill", though he then negates this by saying, "In intelligence and susceptibility of civilization the Esqimaux are far superior to the neighboring Indian' (334). Too bad he couldn't just stick with his flow. Overall, I was surprised that he proclaimed some of these things given that the British refused to adopt any of the 'ingenius' survival tactics that the 'Esqimaux' had invented.

So this brings me to the 'volcano' that I have dedicated today's post title to: The volcano of the North (and South!) Poles! In the 1770's, Hon. Daines Barrington, who as I read yesterday was quite the crazy eccentric and happened to be a judge, kept rallying behind the British to send forth more exploratory missions to the North. Around 1780, the British finally relented and offered 20,000 pounds to anyone who could reach the North Pole. Quite a bit of money. Reading in "Polar Portraits: Collected Papers" by A.G.E. Jones in the article 'High Arctic Altitude', a Mr James Wyatt, who happened to be up above Scandanavia near Spitzbergen sailing around (perhaps whaling) claims to have gone almost all the way to the North Pole! His letter, published in the Ipswich Journey on August 1786, gives this account of his great discovery!:

"...But to my great surprise in latitude 87 degree N. we found no ice. I therefore determined to go to the North Pole, well knowing that the discovery of a passage of that importance, if successful, would more than indemnify me for the voyage, and as the ship was my own i could therefore stand the loss. In latitude 89 degree N. we were alarmed with a rumbling noise like thunder at a distance...but we still kept our course... and the noise increased the further North we got; when the noise became excessively loud, we discovered something like an ice hill about 3 leagues off; the sailors called out land...We ascended the hill which was some height; but what was my astonishment when i reached its summit, to behold...the elements at war: something issuing out to the northward quite white, and flying upwards with prodigious force.
The few crystalline substance like glass fell near me, which were hexagonal and reflected the light. Upon tasting it I found it was nitre; I collected some and put them into a cut glass smelling bottle, and for sometime after they continued to shine in the dark: by this I shall endeavor to account for the Aurora Borealis. The particle emitting light I own suprised me a little, altho' I new that some diamonds have the property of imbibing the sunds rays and shining in the dark. I had not been so long at the top of the hill before a most dreadful eruption issued forth, which proved to me there was a volcano that threw out nitre at the North Pole....
There is, no doubt, a similiar volcano of nitre at the South Pole..." (p. 8-9)

Ah, yes, he ends by requesting that the Parliament award him his reward money for passing so very high in latitude. Alas, I know from reading yesterday that they did not give him any money, asserting that his story was false. BUT! They wronged him! There DOES happen to be a volcano, not at the North Pole but rather at the South Pole called Mount Erebus. Poor gent, if he had waited another 100 years, he could have known this.