Published Fitzjames Letters

All Letters Fitzjames Letters Overview James Fitzjames to Elizabeth Coningham (1845) James Fitzjames to John Barrow Jr. (1845) James Fitzjames to William Coningham (1845)

James Fitzjames to Elizabeth Coningham (1845)

Also contains a continuing letter started on the 26th of June.


Her Majesty’s ship Erebus, at sea,
June 8, 1845, Ten p.m.

My Dearest Elizabeth1,—You appeared very anxious that I should keep a journal for your especial perusal. Now, I do keep a journal, such as it is, which will be given to the Admiralty; but, to please you, I shall note down from time to time such things as may strike me, either in the form of a letter, or in any other form that may at the time suit my fancy. I shall probably never read over what I may have written, so you will excuse inaccuracies.

I commence to night because I am in a good humour. Every one is shaking hands with himself. We have a fair wind, actually going seven knots, sea tolerably smooth, though we do roll a little; but this ship has the happy facility of being very steady below, while on deck she appears to be plunging and rolling greatly. Our lat. is now about 60° 0’, long. 9° 30’, so you will find out our “whereabouts.” The steamers Rattler and Blazer left us at noon yesterday, near the Island of Rona, seventy or eighty miles from Stromness. Their captains came on board and took our letters; one from me will have told you of our doings up to that time. There was a heavy swell and wind from north-west; but it began veering to west and south-west, which is fair. The steamers then ranged alongside us, one on each side, as close as possible without touching, and, with the whole force of lungs of officers and men, gave us (not three, but) a prolongation of cheers, to which, of course, we responded. Having done the same to the Terror, away they went, and in an hour or two were out of sight, leaving us with an old gull or two and the rocky Rona to look at; and then was the time to see if any one flinched from the undertaking. Every one’s cry was, “Now we are off at least!” No lingering look was cast behind. We drank Lady Franklin’s health at the old gentleman’s table, and, it being his daughter’s birth-day, hers too. But the wind, which had become fair as the steamers left (as if to give the latest, best news of us), in the evening became foul from north-west, and we were going northward instead of westward. The sky was clear, the air bracing and exhilarating. I had a slight attack of anguish headache the evening before, but am now clear-headed, and I went to bed thinking of you and dear William2, whose portrait is now looking at me; for I a writing at the little table you will see in the Illustrated News—only you must imagine that the said table is three feet long, or from the bed to the door, and the picture just looking down at me.

This morning we began to have a fair wind; before the day was half over it was right aft. The Terror is coming after us, the transport sailing close to us with as little sail possible, for she could run us out of sight if she chose; they fear the ice, doubtless, not being built to shake it away. In our mess we have the following, whom I shall probably from time to time give you descriptions of:—First Lieutenant, Gore; second, Le Viscomte3; third, Fairholme; purser, Osmar4; surgeon, Stanley; assistant-surgeon, Goodsir; ice-master, (so-called), Reid; mates,—Sargent, Des Vœux, Couch; second master, Collins; commander you know better than he does himself.

The most original character of all—rough, intelligent, unpolished, with a broad north-country accent, but not vulgar, good humoured, and honest hearted—is Reid, a Greenland whaler, native of Aberdeen, who has commanded whaling vessels, and amuses us with his quaint remarks and descriptions of the ice, catching whales, &c. For instance, he just said to me, on my saying we should soon be off Cape Farewell, at this rate, and asking if one might not generally expect a gale off it (Cape Farewell being the south point of Greenland), “Ah! now, Mister Jems, we’ll be having the weather fine, Sir! fine! No ice at arl about it, Sir, unless it be the bergs—arl the ice’ll be gone, Sir, only the bergs, which I like to see. Let it come on to blow, look out for a big ‘un. Get under his lee, and hold on to him fast, Sir, fast. If he drifts near the land, why, he grounds afore you do.” The idea of all the ice being gone, except the icebergs, is racy beyond description. I have just had a game of chess with the purser Osmar, who is delightful. He was with Beechey in the Blossom, when they went to Behring Straits to look out for Franklin, at the time he surveyed the north coast of America, and got within 150 miles of him; he was Petro Paulowski, in Kamschatka, where I hope to go, and served since on the lakes of Canada. I was at first inclined to think he was a stupid old man, because he had a chin and took snuff; but he is as merry hearted as any young man, full of quaint dry sayings, always good humoured, always laughing, never a bore, takes his “pinch after dinner,” plays a “rubber,” and beats me at chess—and, he is a gentleman.

The second master Collins is the very essence of good nature, and I may say good humour. And now, good night, it is past eleven o’clock. I have written without stopping, all with the porcupine quill. God bless you!

6th.—To-day Sir John Franklin showed me such part of his instructions as related to the main purposes of our voyage, and the necessity of observing everything from a flea to a whale in the unknown regions we are to visit. He also told me I was especially charged with the magnetic observations. He then told all the officers that he was desired to claim all their remarks, journals, sketches, &c., on our return to England, and read us some part of his instructions to the officers of the Trent, the first vessel he commanded in 1818, with Captain Buchan, on an attempt to reach the North Pole, pointing out how desirable it is to note everything, and give one’s individual opinion on it. He spoke delightfully of the zealous co-operation he expected from all, and his desire to do full justice to the exertions of each.

To-day has been a gloomy day, as far as sunshine is concerned, and the wind has drawn round to the northward, though so little of it, that the old Erebus cannot keep her head the right way, or, as we term it, she “falls off,” with the roll of the sea. Seven or eight large grampuses came shooting past us to the south-west, which Mr. Goodsir declared were delightful animals. Last evening a shoal of porpoises were bounding about the bows of the vessel as she plunged into the sea, and a bird called a mullimauk, a sort of peterel, which the Arctic people look for as a sign of going toward the icy regions.

At dinner to-day Sir John gave us a pleasant account of his expectations of being able to get through the ice on the coast of America, and his disbelief in the idea that there is open sea to the northward. He also said he believed it to be possible to reach the Pole over the ice by wintering at Spitzbergen, and going in the spring before the ice broke up and drifted to the south, as it did with Parry on it.

Towards midnight.—I can’t quite make out why Scotchmen just caught always speak in a low, hesitating, monotonous tone of voice, which is not at all times to be understood—this is, I believe, called “cannyness.” Mr. Goodsir is “canny.” He is long and strait, and walks upright on his toes, with his hands tucked up in each jacket pocket. He is perfectly good humoured, very well informed on general points, in natural history learned, was Curator of the Edinburgh museum, appears to be about twenty-eight years of age, laughs delightfully, cannot be in a passion, is enthusiastic about all ‘ologies, draws the insides of microscopic animals with an imaginary-pointed pencil, catches phenomena in a bucket, looks at the thermometer and every other meter, is a pleasant companion, and an acquisition to the mess. So much for Mr. Goodsir.

7th. 11 P.M.—Pitching heavily, breeze increasing from W.N.W. It came on as the sun was thinking of setting, about nine, in the form of a bank, behind which he vanished; it then rose in the form of an arch, and I expected wind; but, having overspread the sky, it settled into a steadily increasing breeze. Barometer rising as rapidly as it fell, and I have been prognosticating a sort of gale in consequence. It was calm all last night, cloudy all to-day. Passed the day in working and making observations, when the sun did peep out, with Le Viscomte. There is nothing in this day’s journal that will interest or amuse you at all events, and I am not in a humour for describing any more messmates.

8th.—I like a man who is in earnest. Sir John Franklin read the church service to-day and a sermon so very beautifully, that I defy any man not to feel the force of what he would convey. The first Sunday he read was a day or two before we sailed, when Lady Franklin, his daughter, and niece attended. Every one was struck with his extreme earnestness of manner, evidently proceeding from real conviction. We had a heavy sea and stiff breeze to-day; but it moderated at four o’clock, and the sun came out clear and beautiful. In lat. 62°, at nine o’clock this evening, we tacked (if you know what it is), and stood to the south-west. We saw a ship from Peterhead to-day.

10th.—I was beginning to write last night, but the ship was tumbling about to such an extent that I went to bed, and had to turn out again immediately and get the top-sails reefed, as it blew very hard in squalls. The ship pitched about as much as I ever saw any vessel, but still very easily. Reid says he does not like to see the wind “seeking a corner to blow into.” I worked observations all yesterday, and to-day took several on deck. The weather moderated this morning, and all day we have had little wind and tolerably smooth sea. A clear, fine sunset a quarter to ten, and Goodsir examining “Mollusca,” in a meecroscope. He is in ecstacies about a bag full of blubber-like stuff, which he has just hauled up in a net, and which turns out to be whales’ food and other animals. I have been reading Sir John Franklin’s vindication of his government of Van Diemen’s Land, which was to come out a week or two after we sailed. He has ready all the sheets, and cuts up Lord Stanley a few, and says he is haughty and imperious.

Here ends, I find, my third sheet; so if you don’t like your letter thus far pray don’t read the following which I intend to write. There is nothing to interest you now, and we are not far on our journey, so I wind up this and call it a letter, just for the sake of adding that I am, as ever, yours, &c.

More of the 10th.—Crouch5 is a little, black-haired, smooth-faced fellow—good humoured in his own way, writes, reads, works, draws, all quietly. Is never in the way of anybody, and always ready when wanted; but I can find no remarkable point in his character, except, perhaps, that he is, I should think, obstinate. Stanley, the surgeon, I knew in China. He was in the Cornwallis a short time, where he worked very hard in his vocation. Is rather inclined to be good looking, but fat, with jet black hair, very white hands, which are always abominably clean, and the shirt sleeves tucked up; giving one unpleasant ideas that he would not mind cutting one’s leg off immediately-“if not sooner.” He is thoroughly good natured and obliging and very attentive to our mess. Le Viscomte you know. He improves, if possible, on closer acquaintance. Fairholme, you know or have seen, is a smart, agreeable companion, and a well informed man. Sargent, a nice pleasant-looking lad, very good natured. Des Vœux I knew in the Cornwallis. He went out in her to join the Endymion, and was then a mere boy. He is now a most unexceptionable, clever, agreeable, light-hearted, obliging young fellow, and a great favourite of Hodgson’s, which is much in his favour besides.

Graham Gore, the first lieutenant, a man of great stability of character, a very good officer, and the sweetest of tempers, is not so much a man of the world as Fairholme or Des Vœux, is more of a Le Viscomte’s style without his shyness. He plays the flute dreadfully well, draws sometimes very well, sometimes very badly, but is altogether a capital fellow.

Here ends my catalogue. I don’t know whether I have managed to convey an impression of our mess, and you know me sufficiently to be sure that I mention their little faults, failings, and peculiarities in all charity. I wish I could, however, convey to you a just idea of the immense stock of good feeling, good humour, and read kindliness of heart in our small mess. We are very happy, and very fond of Sir John Franklin, who improves very much as we come to know more of him. He is anything but nervous or fidgety; in fact, I should say remarkable for energetic decision in sudden emergencies; but I should think he might be easily persuaded where he has not already formed a strong opinion.

Our men are all fine, hearty fellows, mostly North-countrymen, with a few man-of-war’s men. We feared at Stromness that some of them would repent, and it usual to allow no leave—the Terror did not. But two men wanted to see—one his wife whom he had not seen for four years, and the other his mother whom he had not seen for seventeen—so I let them go to Kirkwall, fourteen miles off. I also allowed a man of each mess to go on shore for provisions. They all came on board to their leave; but finding we were not going to see till the following morning, four men (who probably had taken a leetle too much whiskey, among them was a little old man who had not seen his wife for four years) took a small boat that lay alongside and went on shore without leave. Their absence was soon discovered, and Fairholme, assisted by Baillie, and somebody or other, brought all on board by three o’clock in the morning. I firmly believe each intended coming on board (if he had been sober enough), especially the poor man with the wife—but, according to the rules of the service, these men should have been severely punished—one method being to stop their pay and give it to the constables, or others, who apprehended them. It struck me, however, that the punishment is intended to prevent misconduct in others, and not to revenge their individual misconduct—men know very well when they are in the wrong—and there is clearly no chance of any repetition of the offence until we get to Valparaiso, or the Sandwich Islands; so I got up at four o’clock, had every body on deck, sent Gore and the Sergeant of the marines below, and searched the whole deck for spirits, which were thrown overboard. This took two good hours; soon after which we up anchor and made sail out. I said nothing to any of them. They evidently expected a rowing, and the old man with the wife looked very sheepish, and would not look me in the face; but nothing more was said, and the men have behaved not a bit the worse ever since. I don’t know why I tell you all this. I meant to go to bed when I finished the other sheet; but went to look at some beautiful specimens of crustaceous animals in the microscrope, one of which, about a quarter of an inch long, is an entirely new animal, and has a peacock’s tail. Goodsir is drawing it. And now I must really say good night; it is past one o’clock.

11th and 12th.—All yesterday it blew very hard, with so much sea that we shipped one or two over the quarter-deck, by which I got a good drenching once. The sea is of the most perfect transparency—a beautiful, delicate, cold-looking green, or ultramarine. Long rollers, as if carved out of the essence of glass bottles, came rolling towards us; now and then topped with a beautiful pot-of-porter-looking head. At sunset the wind moderated, and was calm at night. This morning a fair wind until four o’clock, P.M., when thick fogs blew over at last, and settled this evening into a strong northerly breeze (fair for us), by which we are going on at a good rate, with another sea getting up in an opposite direction to the last, and between the two we are rolling somewhat. We are now only six miles from Iceland—south of it.

14th.—Yesterday evening the sea went down much, and the wind became very light. This morning the wind was quite fair, having been so more or less all night; but instead of having clear weather as with the north-east wind, it came to south-east and brought hard rain and thick fog all day. We are now, however, (eleven P.M.), going seven knots and a quarter in a thick fog, with the Terror on one side and transport on the other, keeping close for fear of losing sight of us. To-day we arranged all our books in the mess, and find that we have a very capital library. Reid still amuses us. He has just told me how to boil salt fish when it is very salt. He saw the steward towing it overboard, and roared out:—”What are you making faces at there? That’s not the way to get the sarlt oout.” It appears, that when it boils it is to be taken off the fire and kept just not boiling. This is Saturday night. Reid and Osmar are drinking “Sweethearts and wives;” and they wanted me join. I said I had not one, and did not want the other. Good night.


Elizabeth6, Nothing has been written for you these last few days—not because I had nothing to say, or did not think of you but because I have had plenty to do in the writing and calculating way; and because, just as I was beginning to get paper and ink ready, I found I was in bed, and fell asleep. To-day is “Waterloo-day,” and we drank the Duke’s health at Sir John’s table. There was a talk before we left England of a brevet on this day; if this be true, I think it more than probably that I shall get the rank of Captain. With this idea, I took a glass of brandy and water at ten o’clock, which, allowing for differences of longitude, answers to half-past seven in London, and drank your healths, in petto—fancying you might be drinking wine. In fact, we took an imaginary glass of wine together, and I don’t care how soon we may take a real one. Now I am laughing, for Reid has just said scratching his head—“Why, mister Jems, you never seem to me to sleep at arl; you’re always writin!” I tell him that when I do sleep I do twice as much as other people in the same time. Now for the journal.

15th.—Wind fair and strong, with a high sea; but we carried on much sail, heeling over much; and we actually fancy we went nine knots. In the evening it moderated, and the weather was clear and cool.

16th.—Calm day, sea glassy smooth, cloudy weather, no sun. After breakfast I went on board the Terror, to see Captain Crozier about my “Fox” observations (Fox being a dipping-needle invented by him). Fairholme and Le Viscomte7 followed in the India-rubber boat, which was being tried when you came to Woolwich. Crozier and Little, first lieutenant, and lieutenant Griffiths, the agent for transport, dined on board with Sir John.

17th.—The sun shone out, and we had a smooth day; air cold. Since the 11th the thermometer on deck in the shade has never been above 50 degrees or below 45 degrees, night or day; generally 46 degrees or 48 degrees. At night cloudy, with a bright light on the horizon to the north-east, which Gore says is Aurora Borealis. Reid calls it “ice-blink.” I say it is the reflection of sunset, though it is north-east. It looks like a large town on fire, twenty miles off.

To-day (18th) we set to work, and got a catalogue made of all our books and find we have amongst us a most splendid collection. The “crow’s-nest” is up—which is unusually a cask lined with canvas—at the fore-top-mast-head, for a man to stand in to look out for channels in the ice. With us it is a sort of canvass cylinder, hooped, and is at the main-top-gallant-mast-head (if you know where that is). Reid, who will have the peculiar privilege of being perched up there, says it is a very expensive one.

19th.—Twelve o’clock at night. I suppose we are 140 or 150 miles from Cape Farewell. Blowing hard, but not a rough sea, although there is a swell. When I say hard, I mean fresh; we can carry much sail, and do. I can scarcely manage to get Sir John to shorten sail at all. Still cloudy. At half-past ten, a bright light appeared in the north-west, which was set down as Aurora, but turned out really to be the reflection of sunset. The clouds and mist moved off as if a blanket were being withdrawn, leaving an orange-coloured clearness underneath in the form of an arch with a well-defined dark horizon, which clearness turned out to be a real clear sky, cold looking and fine; and now the officer of the watch comes to tell me the wind is lighter, and we certainly are quieter. “Shake a reef out, set the fore-top-gallant-sail” (the main being set). “Call me at six if anything happens.” Good night, good night!

24th.—In Davis’ Straits. Cape Desolation at noon to-day, bearing east ninety miles, but we can’t see it. We have just done with a glorious gale of wind, which has been sending us on in grand style. I wrote last on Thursday night, and shall sum up from thence. On Friday, the 20th (and Thursday night also, though I did go to bed so quietly), we kicked and plunged and danced in a tremendous manner, the sea running all manner of ways; the day was nearly calm, with a very heavy swell, the ship rolling deeply. A number of “bottle noses,” a species of whale about twenty-eight feet long, came dancing about us; their head is very peculiar, and unless they are very close, so as to see their beak under water, one fancies their foreheads are snouts poked up above the water. All this night we jumped and danced again with a strong breeze dead foul for us, which at midnight had turned into a complete gale; the air cold, though the thermometer stood fixed at 42 degrees. On Saturday calm again, and smooth water. Molimaules, and trees with the bark rubbed off by ice, floating about. Sir John at dinner; most amusing with anecdotes of an Indian chief, whom he met in the journey in which he suffered so much—named, I think, Akatcho, who appears to have been a fine character.

Saturday, 22nd.—It began to blow hard suddenly at seven in the morning from east (you must recollect that our course is westerly). We struggled through the church service on the lower deck, the ships rolling and tumbling much, the sea curling astern beautifully.

Yesterday, 23rd.—We had the highest sea I ever saw; it was very fine. I know nothing finer than a gale of wind, particularly when you are running before it. We had a few seas on our decks, one of which found its way down on to our table, just as we had done dinner. I dined at our mess to-day, Sir John finding his guests could not hold on and eat too. We are packed close and can’t move very far. But the good humour of everyone is perfect; and we do dance before it so finely—I mean before the wind. It rained hard all yesterday and all night, and this morning a glorious sun and a clear blue air sent us all up to dry ourselves and our clothes. We have gradually altered our course, and are now steering due north. At noon to-day Cape Desolation was due east ninety miles, we are in Davis Straits. The sea is now moderately smooth and the wind still fair. I am writing this at half-past ten in broad daylight. Sir John says that in his voyage to Hudson’s Bay he passed the very spot we were on yesterday, and was sailing through ice. We have not yet seen ice or land. The sea is beginning to get colder. The air still at 41°, but to-day it felt delightfully cold. The monkey has, however, just put on a blanket, frock and trowsers, which the sailors have made him (or rather her), so I suppose it is getting cold. Adieu for the present.

Wednesday, 25th.—At one this morning I was on deck looking at the west coast of Greenland and an iceberg—although the land was forty miles off; and the berg six or eight. We sailed along it before the wind until noon, and the thermometer, when I went on deck had gone down to 39°, though it still keeps at 42° in the day. The coast of Greenland looks rugged, and sparkling with snow, the shadows and ravines forming deep black marks; we regret not being a little nearer to see it better. This morning one snowy iceberg was to be seen a long way off. I am now writing, 11 P.M., lat. 63°, near about a place marked on the chart as Lichtenfells. The sea, as the sun set half an hour ago, was of the most delicate blue in the shadows: perfectly calm—so calm that the Terror’s mast-heads are reflected close alongside, though she is half a mile off. The air is delightfully cool and bracing, and everybody is in good humour either with himself or his neighbours. I have been on deck all day, taking observations. Goodsir is catching the most extraordinary animals in a net, and is in ecstasies. Gore and Des Vœux are over the side, poking with nets and long poles, with cigars in their mouths, and Osmar laughing; he is really an original, and a delightfully dry fellow. I am very sleepy and tired, but did not like to go to bed without writing on the first day in which we have seen Arctic Land. Reid says “We shall soon see the Huskimays,” which he says are vulgarly called “Yacks” by the whalers, and “Huski’s” for shortness.


Her Majesty’s ship Erebus, at sea,
June 26th, 1845

A delightful day we have had, quite calm, hot sun; thermometer 42°. All sorts of beasts being caught in nets. We take turn to fish with a net at the end of a long pole, and bring up most strange animals. Crozier dined on board, and Hodgson came, looking very ill. We saw several icebergs a long way off, which we hoped would come near us; the scenery and rugged peaks of Greenland twenty miles off.

27.—To-day has been hot and calm and delightful; got bottom in 40 fathoms, and pulled up starfish and shells, and strange beasts, and, what is better, pulled up plenty of large codfish—enough for a good feed or two for all hands. This afternoon a thick fog suddenly came over us, with a north wind, in which the thermometer fell to 35°, where it now stands, and we are sailing in smooth water, and small whales bounding about in all directions. Lat 64°. The fog has cleared away, and we have lost the Transport. This morning a brig came close to us, and her skipper came on board—a rough old fellow, from Shetland. He has come to fish for cod on the banks, and for salmon in the “Fiords,”—a new scheme quite in these parts. He came to see the little old man who had the wife at Stromness, who had been a mate with him.

29th.—To-day we have had the sea smooth as glass, very cloud, and a cold air; thermometer 35°; and to my delight passed several icebergs, within a mile of a large one. The effect was very fine, for the horizon happened to be a dark distinct line, and these bergs, catching an occasional gleam of sunshine, shone like a twelfth cake. I had fancied icebergs were large transparent lumps, or rocks of ice. They look like huge masses of pure snow, furrowed with caverns and dark raines. I went on board the Terror in the evening, for it was quite calm, and found Hodgson better. When we came on board, we pulled up for Goodsir, beasts, star-fish, mud, and shells, from a depth of 250 fathoms, and caught more cod. Last night I remained up till a late hour trying to read a watch by the light of certain blubbers, remarkable jelly-fish, which emit a bright philosphorescent light when shaken in a basin. Land in sight, under dense masses of clouds. We have found the Transport and a Danish brig is close to us.

30.—The coast of Greenland is now very fine. We are nearer than ever—about twenty-five miles—but it looks close, and dense clouds overhang the whole rugged and snowy coast. I saw several glaciers to-day, but the clouds were too dense to sketch anything, though the effect is very fine of the mass of cloud and snow relieved by dark blue craigs. To-day, at 6 o’clock in the evening, we crossed the Arctic circle, lat. 66° 30’ and the sun’s declination happening to be more than 23° 10’, he will not set to us to-night at all. I regret that it is too cloudy to see him at midnight. This evening sea smooth, no icebergs.

July 1.—To-morrow we expect to get to Disco, or rather, to the Whale-fish Islands close to it, where we shall unload the Transport of provisions and coals, and start as soon as we can. I shall, therefore, continue my journal up to the present time, and if you hear nothing more from me you must be satisfied that we have arrived at Disco, and are gone on in prosecution of our journey.

This morning was damp and foggy, but it cleared away, and we were now sailing with the dark blue land on our right, twenty miles off, relieved by snowy peaks, and a line of craggy icebergs, as far as the eye can reach ahead. In a few hours we shall be among them. I have just been up in the crow’s nest, and the appearance of these icy craigs and pinnacles is beautiful and singular; far in, close to the land, is a perfect glacier, equal to any Swiss one. Still on we go,—on, on—the three of us, though the transport wishes herself back again, no doubt. This evening we sailed in among a shoal of some hundred walruses, tumbling over one another, diving and splashing with their fins and tails, and looking at us with their grim, solemn-looking countenances and small heads, bewiskered and betusked. There are sixty-five icebergs in sight.

In talking to Sir John Franklin, whose memory is as good as his judgement appears to be correct, it appears that one great difficulty is to get from where we are to Lancaster Sound. Parry was fortunate enough, in his first voyage, to sail right across in nine or ten days—a thing unheard of before or since. In his next voyage he was fifty-four days in toiling to get through fields of ice, and did not get in till September, yet Lancaster Sound is the point we look to as the beginning of our work. If we are fortunate we shall be there by the 1st of August, which will be time enough; sooner would probably put us among the clearing ice. No expedition has ever been able to leave Disco before the 4th or 5th of July, though some have sailed a month before we did, except Ross in his first voyage, and he got away by the 16th of June, and was, I believe, a month going sixty miles further. So you see all is conjecture; we may do well this year, and again, we may not.

Midnight, 1st.—I have just been on deck to look at the splendid icebergs we were passing through, and saw one about 200 feet high topple over and come down with a crash, which raised a cloud of foam and spray and mist like an avalanche. It is a fine, clear sunshiny night; the Danish brig is closer in-shore, occasionally hidden from our view by the bergs; 180 were in sight at one time.

2nd.—The weather was so thick that we could not see when we had gone far enough, but found ourselves in the forenoon right under a dense, black-looking coast topped with snow, with long furrows and ravines of snow, and canopied with a mass of clouds and mist. In bold relief, at the foot of this black mass, the most fantastically formed and perfectly white bergs shone out. This was Disco, and we showed our colours to the Danish flag, hoisted on the house or hut of the Governor of the Danish settlement, called Lievely, near its south end. We are now beating up to Whale-fish Islands, which are in the bay, formed by the south end of Disco and the main land, where we clear the transport, &c., and shall probably be in to-morrow morning early, as we are now (ten P.M.) eighteen miles from them. The scenery is grand, but desolate, beyond expression. I could not help thinking of the French-man, who, after a long account of the misery of the rain and fogs of England, wound up with—“Pour quitter ce triste sol je m’embarque a Liverpool.” Osmar has just come from on deck (midnight), and is dancing with an imaginary skipping-rope. I said to him— “What a happy fellow you are, Osmar; you are always in good humour.” His answer is—“Well, Sir, if I am not happy here, I don’t know where else I could be.” Reid says we shall see the “Huskimays” to-morrow morning.

3rd.—This morning, instead of going into Whale-fish Islands, by some mistake, Reid fancied we were wrong, and away we went up to the end of the bay, thirty miles, to the north of the Waighut Channel, looking for them—the bay full of the most glorious icebergs, packed close along the shore. At noon we found out our mistake, and had our sail for nothing, which would be good fun but for the delay. I went on board the Terror in the evening, and found Captain Crozier knew the mistake, but fancied we had given up the idea of going there. Fortunately, the wind favoured us right round the bay, and we had a delightful sail. We are now running into the Whale-fish Islands.

4th, evening.—You will bear in mind that all this time the sun is up. Finding ourselves at last off these rocky islands, we sent Levescomte8 in the gig to reconnoitre, as Captain Crozier, who had been here some years ago, did not recognise the place—a certain flag-staff on a hill having been carried away. Very soon out paddled five “Huskimays,” in the smallest possible canoes, all in a row, and two going a-head kept near the ship and piloted her into a safe place among the rocks, where we are now moored in a channel just four times the ship’s length in breadth, and perfectly land-locked. I was ashore all day on Boat Island, observing, with “Fox,” and got very wet and cold; but plunging into cold water, when I got on board, made me quite warm.

Sunday 6th.—A fine sunshiny night, and we had a delightful sunshiny day, quite warm, the air clear, ice glistening in all directions. The fine bold land of Disco, black, and topped with snow—clear—the sea covered with bits of ice, which are rushing through the channel as they break from the icebergs, which fall with a noise like thunder. Every man nearly on shore, running about for a sort of holiday, getting eider ducks’ eggs, &c.; curious mosses and plants being collected, as also shells. Levescomte and I on the island since six in the morning, surveying. It is very satisfactory to me that he takes to surveying, as I said he would. Sir John is much pleased with him. All yesterday I was on the island with Fairholme, with the dipping-needle. We have a little square wooden house to cover ourselves. Very large mosquitoes biting us. I shall send you one. The transport will probably be cleared tomorrow evening or Tuesday, and shall get off on Wednesday evening or Thursday; that is, the 9th or 10th—and hard work too.

A man just come over from Lievely, a Dane, who has married an Esquimaux, says that they believe it to be one of the mildest seasons and earliest summers ever known, and that the ice is clear away from this to Lancaster Sound. Keep this to yourself, for Sir John is naturally very anxious that people in England should not be too sanguine about the season. Besides, the papers would have all sorts of stories, not true. I do believe we have a good chance of getting through this year, if it is to be done at all; but I hope we shall not, as I want to have a winter for magnetic observations. And now here goes a new pen into the porcupine, to say that your journal is at an end, at least for the present. I do hope it has amused you, but I fear not; for what can there be in an old tub like this, with a parcel of sea bears, to amuse a “lady fair?” This, however, is a façon de parler, for I think, in reality, that you will have been amused in some parts and interested in others, but I shall not read back for fear of not liking it, and tearing it up.


  1. My Dearest was in the publication by The Leader, whilst Elizabeth was added because we know it was send to her.
  2. William was retracted in all publications.
  3. (sic) Le Vesconte
  4. (sic) Osmer
  5. (sic) Couch
  6. Elizabeth was retracted in the original publications.
  7. (sic) Le Vesconte
  8. (sic) Le Vesconte.