letters from the north

Scandals, explosives, and the evolution of provisions

Previously in a post, I mentioned a letter written by 'ALMAN' who seemed in a tizzy about John Barrow's actions, which was addressed to him. Well, it seems like there was quite the scandal brewing and stewing between Barrow and various other Captains and officers that Sir Barrow pushed to the top echelon. It is a complicated story to retell: after John Ross's NorthWest Passage Expedition in 1818, Barrow and a few others claimed 'favorites' and these did not include Ross or some of the other 'best and brightest' but rather those officers who had significant sums of money and family noteriety. Such is the case, even today. Poor John Ross ended up never leading another mission after his search mission for Franklin, even though he presumably had served on 36 ships and had made many inventions such as the Royal William sextant. Alas, because of his familial background, in the end they wouldn't let him 'pass', even with so many accomplishments. This is quite interesting because Sir John Barrow came from more humbler background, too, and rose up through the ranks.
Ross was not on Barrow's side and it was reported (though I haven't yet read) that in Barrow's memoir in 1846 about his committment to Arctic exploration, he slandered Ross quite a few times. It was Barrow, Parry, Sabine, and James Ross (nephew to John Ross) vs. John Ross and Scoresby (inventer of such things as 'marine diver' that measured deep sea temperatures and who was more scientifically trained than anyone else). So it seems that 'ALMAN' might have been exasperated for good reason.

I came across a list of the scientific instruments that Edward Sabine (who was later to become president of the Royal Society) was to use during John Ross's 1818 expedition. Sabine's role was the 'supernumerary' on board the expedition and was supposed to know how to use:
magnetic needles, barometers, termometers, specific gravity instruments, Wallaston's macrometers, eletrometers, chronometers, pendulum clocks, artificial horizon, instruments used to obtain samples from the ocean floor (John Ross had invented the 'Deep Sea Clam'), and an apparatus for measuring the air in the water.
Sabine had only trained on scientific measurements for two months before serving this particular function onboard the expedition.

A letter that was published by the I.L. News by Mr. G. Shephard in 1849 recounted his experience in observing explosives being used on the Danube to blow up the ice and create 'roads' in the water. "A mere shell was exploded under the ice, which was nearly four feet in thickness. The effect it produced was terrific; large masses of ice were forced in all directions, or, in other words, rendered the space where the explosion had taken place completely navigable" (Oct. 6 1849, p 250). Incredibly, when I was then reading through the 1852 I.L. News, I came across an article about the first huge Franklin search mission by Captain Belcher and it references that they would be using explosives! I was shocked and so excited that I had found a link in texts between years! Fantastic!
The explosives were attributed to a 'Mr. Hay, lecturer on chemistry at Portsmouth Dockyard' though instead of Shepherd. But Shepherd was later mentioned in the article as having designed message balloons that the expedition would use: "The balloons are made on this occasion to float on the water, should they come down at sea. The messages are to be printed on satin of various colours, and on papers of all colours; and about 500,000 of them will be printed on both sides, leaving room to fill in in writing the latitude and longitude of the vessels at the time they are sent up" (April 17, 1852, p. 305). I have attached a photo of the 'message engraving' in the photos below.

As I still like to believe in Nelly, the LockNess sea creature (not a monster!), I read that on March 13, 1852 a sea serpent was killed by Charles Seabury and his ship the 'Monogahela' in Lat. 3degree 10' S & 131degree 50' W on January 13, 1852. The sea serpent measure a whopping 103 feet 7in long and 49ft 4in at its thickest. It had a tongue that was like a heart at its end and was reported to be male.

I wish I could write more about my findings from yesterday but I must move on: Today I woke and reorganized a bit to see exactly what I had found and what pieces I am missing and probably don't know that I am missing. Finally hearing back from the handler of the artifact collection from the National Maritime Museum who will give me access to the Franklin artifacts, I will go there sometime next week. This is good because I have gotten so swept up with visuals from the newspaper that I must get back to actual objects! Tangible in the hand, holding! or probably just 'looking' as some of the artifacts are brittle, like the bible and the books of church songs.

My intention today was to go past the Royal Geographic Society and see where it is and what it is like. You can still become a member of this Society, though I am not sure how much it is. (www.rgs.org) I ended up ensconced in their library, with only 2 hours before it closed! And there is a vast treasure trove of reports to parliament there that states requests that the various lieutenants, captains, and commanders made for more or new provisions. After 'testing' various equipment in the arctic, they did indeed evolve! and change their way of doing things. Though it still was not as evolved as the Inuit populations. One quite brilliant suggestion given by a John Christophers was of a new mode of traveling on the arctic land: placing long willow poles with 'a red bunting' on the end and a parchment notice in the ground every mile. The men instead of all going at once in a crew, would leave from the ship in sledge teams of 12 each day, as to 'refresh' the previous batch who left the day before should some of them not be well. I don't know if the British adopted this during the 1800's, at least I have not read any reports that they did. It seems so 'modern', and actually was sort of like a technique used by Scott in Antarctica: he left markers and provisions every 100 (?) or about that far as he went so that on his return trip, just in case, his team would have supplies and he would know how far away from base camp he was. Unfortunately, when he and his remaining 3 team members died in the freak blizzard, he was only about 180 miles from his last provisions marker.

Tomorrow I am going back to the Royal Geographic Society and have 5 documents waiting for me.

oh, one last piece of information: the day before Belcher and Pullen's ships sailed, they were regularly inspected: " During the day, Captain Washington, R.N., visited the whole of the vessels of the squadron, having brought down a box for the commanding officers of each. The contents of the boxes were six dozen of dolls, dressed by the ladies of Woolwich, and intended as presents for the Esquimaux. Mr. and Mrs. Keane have, with great liberality and kindness, sent to the Arctic ships a quantity of theatrical dresses for the use of the theatre, which has always produced such a fertile and successful source of amusement in previous expeditions" (April 24, 1852, p. 321). I will tell you more about these 'theatrical performances' created by the crew members! Let's just say, there were no women onboard, but there were women's characters written in the scripts! One must take responsibility for their own Entertainment, my friends!