Zoology of the Arctic Expedition


[Arctonauts] This publication was taken from both The Literary Gazette 1494 (06/Sep/1845) and The Leisure Hour (01/Oct/1869). Both the preamble texts have been kept and it will be noted between square brackets which publication these belong to. The letter copy itself is from The Literary Gazette, with diversions in transcription in The Leisure Hour being noted in footnotes.

[The Literary Gazette] Before presenting our readers with the following communication, the first from the Arctic Expedition, and of high interest to natural history, we may notice that Professor E. Forbes has been pursuing his submarine researches on the coasts of Zetland and the Hebrides, and with great success, adding much to the stores of knowledge his indefatigable exertions (with those of his dredging friends) have contributed to this brand of zoological inquiry.

To the Editor of the Literary Gazette.

[The Leisure Hour] As devoted a lover and cultivator of natural history as ever lived, though some scientific research may since have been carried further, I hope this last record of my lamented friend Harry Goodsir will be found of some public interest. He sailed with Franklin and Crozier on their fatal Arctic expedition, and perished with them. Not of rank enough to have his name blazoned and his fate lamented, like those of his leaders, he yet stood so high in the estimation of all who knew him, and stood on so high a ground as an illustrator of natural science, that even now, after the lapse of a quarter of a century, there are many still left to recall his memory to their hearts, as I do, with the deepest sorrow and regret.

The letter speaks for itself, and needs no introductory comment:—

July 7th, 1845.
Whale Fish Islands, Baffin’s Bay.

DEAR SIR,—After a passage of nearly two months, we have at length arrived at this place, which in all probability will be the last opportunity at present afforded me of acquainting you with the success of our proceedings so far as we have yet gone. I was very sanguine, before leaving England, of success as regarded the zoological productions of these latitudes, and certainly have not been disappointed.

Our passage out was rather tedious in consequence of the adverse nature of the winds, and during that part of it from Stromness to Cape Farewell we were forced to proceed so far to the north and cast of our course as to be in hourly expectation during the 11th of seeing Hecla in the distance. In this, however, all were disappointed, for the wind becoming favourable during the night we made for Capo Farewell, which we were off by Sunday, the 22d.

The whole of this time I was prevented making any observations in consequence of the boisterous state of the weather, with the exception of two days; the animals, however, which were then obtained, from their beauty and unknown character, made up for the previous and succeeding loss of time. It was during the 10th ult., while in lat. 61° 47’, and long. 14° 14’, that I first obtained specimens of a new species of Briareus, which proved a most important addition to our knowledge of these animals, inasmuch as cilia were observed fringing the bifurcated portions of the lateral extremities of the body. This fact decides the position of these very remarkable creatures in the animal scale, so that Quoy and Gaimand’s supposition regarding its mollusciform character is incorrect. At the same time a very beautiful crustacean was obtained—the type of a new genus of Pontia, allied to Irenæus­. It is characterised most prominently by the great size, by the enormous length of the four central tail-filaments, the inner of which are not armed with filaments, all the others being so; each of the antennæ are armed with a joint at the distal part of the first third, by which means the animal is able to bend them up so as to conceal them beneath its body; altogether it is one of the most beautiful and characteristic forms of the family I ever saw. All the Medusæ obtained at that time were ciliogrades; one of these, the most interesting, is peculiar in so far that instead of the ribs, bearing the cilia, being in a longitudinal direction, they are transverse—the cilia arising from either edge of the rib. The minute structure is very complicated, and, so far as I am at present aware, proves its affinity to the Diphydæ, as well as the Salpæ.

A small specimen of Clio was obtained along with the above-mentioned species, but it was only after entering Davis’s Straits on the 23d, that these beautiful Pteropoda were seen in abundance along with Spiratella. Both of these creatures when swimming in the water are very active and exceedingly beautiful, being adorned with the brightest colours. They only make their appearance on the surface of the water in the still of the evening, and in calm weather.[1] From observations made on them, I am enabled to corroborate those of Eschricht, with the exception of one or two points which want of time prevents me taking notice of in this place.

On Tuesday we saw land to the eastward, and the following morning passed several large icebergs. The wind, which had been falling away since Monday night, now fell off altogether, and my harvest began. Ever since I have been completely engaged without intermission in drawing those animals which cannot be preserved, and in describing all that are procured. I can assure you, although a labour of love, it is not without its fatigues; for my fellow-officers are so anxious to procure specimens for me that I never want fresh matter to work on. Owing to the constant light, also, I am enabled to work without intermission until all the specimens are secured. My work, therefore, does not cease until a change of weather puts a stop to it. On the 27th soundings were got in forty-one fathoms; so that a dredge was put over, which came up containing numerous valuable and interesting animals—a nondescript species of Coprella, Amphipoda in great numbers, several Asteriadæ, a Terebratula, along with several Mollusca, and the type of a new genus of Isopod allied to Murina, a very beautiful ascidian, and three species of fish—Cyclopterus, Liparis, Ammodytes, and a very beautiful species new to me.[2] Towards the evening of this day a large shoal of the Caring whale (D. locæna melas) passed the ship, apparently in their way towards the south.[3] The next day (28th) the dredge was again put down in 300 fathoms, and produced many valuable specimens, which are extremely interesting, both from their peculiar characters and the great depth at which they were got. Amongst the many that were obtained, I observed Ptusus, Turitellæ, Venus, Dentalium, some very large forms of Isopoda, along with Annelides, Zoophytes, Corallines, and many other forms of interest.[4] The species obtained on this last attempt, which were of most interest to me, on account of the bearings regarding the distribution of species, were the Brissus lyrifer of Forbes, and the Alaura rostrata, first got by myself at the mouth of the Frith of Forth.[5]

On the 1st inst. I procured several specimens of Sagitta and two of a small Medusa (Beroe), which presented some very interesting peculiarities regarding the process of development.[6] In this animal a thick germinal membrane of a red colour was observed lining the central cavity of the body, in which both male and female cells appeared to be developed. The ova after a certain time, having arrived at some size, project so far as to become pedunculated, and so hang from the membrane into the cavity. The male cells are also developed in the same membrane.

Within the last few days I have been examining the minute or microscopic structure of the ice forming the bergs. The first and most striking peculiarity regarding it is its perfect freshness and freedom from salt, producing most excellent water. So far south as this, and during this moist warm weather, it is disappearing very rapidly, and it is curious to observe how the action of melting goes on. When the surface of a mass is examined when melting, numerous flat concavities are seen upon it, all of the same size and form, without any interruption, excepting the ridges forming the walls of separation. Aportion being taken up in the hand, a loud crackling noise is heard issuing from it, small particles occasionally flying off.[7] Both of these phenomena appear to arise from the peculiar nature of the minute structure of the ice, which consists of three series of cells.[8] Two of these series traverse the mass in the same direction; the third at right angles to the course of the two former. One of the former series has the cells of some size, and quite globular—the size being very regular throughout; they have also exactly the appearance of nucleated cells, owing to the existence of a small globule of a peculiar fluid contained within it. The other series are of an oblong sausage-shape, and also contain small globules, but generally several instead of one. These may be formed in consequence of several of the smaller globular-shaped cells conjoining; but this is a mere conjecture, and not very likely to be correct because if it were so, these oblong cells would not assume the same direct linear course which they always have. It appears to me that the two series of cells just spoken of are the causes of the phenomena mentioned above as taking place when the mass is liquifying—several globules falling into one, and thereby forming a receptacle for water. The chuckling noise is easily accounted for. The mode of formation, however, and the nature of the fluid contained in the cells, is a much more difficult subject. Is it likely to be similar in any way, or similarly formed, to the fluid described by Sir David Brewster as existing in the small cells of topaz and some other precious stones?

The third series of cells are very minute, and thickly studded in very well-defined wavy bands, which run across the lines formed by the other series at right angles. These bands are of an opaque white colour, owing to the cells being so closely placed together, and in all probability the berg derives its opaque white snow-like colour from this circumstance. Regarding this, however, as well as many other points relative to these interesting bodies—such as the formation, etc.—I expect to have further and better opportunities of making observations. The shores of these islands offer many beautiful illustrations of the action of floating ice upon rocks.[9] (Their mineralogical structure is entirely granite, of a greyish colour, with occasional long narrow undulating bands of white and red quartz.) All within the tide-mark, and in some places considerably above it, being rounded-off, long irregular ridges and intervening sulci,[10] marking the action of the half-floating masses. Of the particular action, however, I will be enabled to speak more in detail after witnessing the breaking up of the ice next spring. The shores afford many species of seaweed; the islands themselves also produce some very beautiful mosses and lichens, with several of the higher forms of plants, all of which I have already gathered.

The Esquimaux are in a state of half-civilisation, there being a Danish settlement for the purpose of collecting seal-oil, narwal-teeth, %c. The sea produces numerous very beautiful forms of Medusæ, Mollusca, &c., and as we are to remain here until Thursday, the 10th, I expect to complete the Fauna, Flora, and Mineralogy of the whole group.—I am, &c.

H. D. S. G.[11]

[The Leisure Hour] W. Jerdan, Esq.

In the recently published “Memoirs of John Goodsir, Professor of Anatomy in the University of Edinburgh,”[12] will be found some short papers which were written in conjunction with his brother Harry. The introductory chapters of that work contain most interesting records of the early life and training of these brother anatomists and naturalists, who were an honour to their native county, Fife, and to Scotland.

[1] [Arctonauts note] Transcribed in The Leisure Hour as “and only in calm weather”.

[2] [Arctonauts note] Transcribed in The Leisure Hour as “a nondescript species of Carprella”

[3] [Arctonauts note] Transcribed in The Leisure Hour as “the lowing whale, Phocæna melas, passed”. Also started a new paragraph in TLH.

[4] [Arctonauts note] Quoted in The Leisure Hour as “Amongst the many that were got I observed Fusus, Turitellæ, Venus, Deutalium; some very large forms of Isopoda, along with Annelides, Zoophytes, Coralines, and many other forms of interest.”

[5] [Arctonauts note] Quoted in The Leisure Hour as “Alauna rostrata”.

[6] [Arctonauts note] Quoted in The Leisure Hour as “Medusa, Beroë”

[7] [Arctonauts note] Started a new paragraph in The Leisure Hour. Typo of ‘Aportion’ not in TLH.

[8] [Footnote only in The Literary Gazette] This structure is somewhat similar to that of the ice forming the Swiss glaciers described by Professor Forbes, as well as that described by Col. Jackson, occurring in the ice of the Næva.

[9] [Arctonauts note] Started a new paragraph in The Leisure Hour.

[10] [Footnote only in The Literary Gazette] I have, since the above was written, made out that this is the natural character of the stone.

[11] [Arctonauts note] The ending paragraph in The Leisure Hour contains the following after “the whole group.”: “You are already, ere you reach this part of this tiresome letter, heartily tired of it. You must excuse its many imperfections, for I am too anxious to get on with my work to be able to correct them. When you see any of my friends in London, pray be so good as to remember me to them, and / Believe me, yours very faithfully,


[12] [Footnote only in The Leisure Hour] “The Anatomical Memoirs of John Goodsir, F.R.S.” Edited by Professor W. Turner, with Biographical Memoir by Dr. H. Lonsdale 2 vols. A. & C. Black, Edinburgh.