“Captain Back” (p. 622-4)

The return of this enterprising officer from his search for Captain Ross is already known to our readers, and we will now proceed to lay before them a brief account of his proceedings in search of geographical discovery; for the news that Captain Ross was again in England, had reached before he set out from his winter-quarters. This, however, he did from Fort Reliance, on the 7th of June, 1834, and was occupied a month in transferring his party and boats, by means of rollers, across a tract of country for about 200 miles, in order to embark on the Thleweechodezeth, a river which it had been expected would convey him to the sea in Bathurst inlet. It was not before 7th July that he embarked on this river, with the surgeon of the expedition, Mr. King, and eight Europeans, and look leave of the rest of the party.

Captain Back says, the stream was at first deep, and interrupted by rapids, as it cuts its way transversely through a mountain range running east and west; but beyond this it proceeded to the northward, with little interruption, till in lat. 65° 40’ N., long. 106° 35’ W., it took a sudden turn to the east, thereby destroying the hopes up to this time entertained of its entering the sea near Bathurst inlet. It now became very broad, and broken as it were into a succession of small lakes, terminating in one so large that it shewed a clear horizon on several points of the compass; and here the expedition was much embarrassed by ice, so that for above twenty miles it was only enabled to advance by severe exertion. On recovering the clear water, however, the stream speedily again contracted, still trending easterly, and even south-east, and much broken by rapids and cascades, until at length, in lat. 65° 54’ N., long. 98° 10’ W., (not far therefore from the head of Wager Bay,) it burst with great fury between four granite mountains, and flowed thence tolerably directly towards the north. It also here became again very wide, from half a mile to a mile, and was even more broken with rapids and whirlpools than before; the adjoining country being in like manner rugged and hilly.  

The day before the party reached the sea, some Esquimaux were met for the first time, employed fishing at the foot of a fall. These people immediately placed themselves in attitudes of defence; but the ready approach to them of Captain Back, unarmed, immediately gained their confidence, and they were of use to him afterwards in assisting his boat and things across the portage which he was obliged to make. They reported that the sea was not far off; and on the 29th July Captain Back had the satisfaction of finding it in lat. 67° 7’ N., long. 94° 40’ W.   The view from the mouth of the river was bounded on each side by a narrow estuary, full of shoals and sandbanks, and a lofty headland (named afterwards “Victoria”) partly intercepted it. This headland belonged to the eastern mountains. The shores of the estuary gradually receded from each other; that of the west assuming a direction to the north and west, while the eastern trended to the eastward of north-east.

A day’s labour convinced Captain Back that his progress along the eastern shore was hopeless, and he therefore made for the opposite: satisfied that he was to the eastward of Ross’s Pillar, (or James Ross’s Furthest, of the Admiralty chart,) he determined to approach it as near as possible. He penetrated as far as lat. 68° 45’, in long. 96° 22’, with much difficulty, on account of the drift ice packed on the shore, and the violent gales of wind that set it so frequently in motion. From this point a clear horizon was seen in the N. N. W.; due north two large blue objects were seen, supposed by Captain Back to be islands; in the north-east was water and ice, and a water sky beyond; in the east was a clear sea, with one small island, about twenty miles distant; east- by-south, and to the southward of east, to the eastern land was clear open sea. From the point he had reached, Captain Back also found the current setting from the westward of north, and found some pine wood, which, from the species being common on the banks of the M’Kenzie, rendered it probable that it came from that river.

Having concluded his observations, and a difficult journey before him to return to his winter-quarters, Captain Back very properly decided on returning, and left this point on the 15th August. Previously, however, he ascended the highest hill he could find near it, to obtain as extensive a view as he could, and was pleased to find the accounts given him by the Esquimaux correspond so nearly with the truth. And we are now left to our own opinions as to whether the land of Captain Ross is not after all an island, and not the north-east extreme of North America. There are so many corroborating circumstances, that there can scarcely be but one opinion of the matter.

The departure of Captain Back on his return had not been premature, for already had the ice formed in the Thlecwechodezeth so strongly as to induce him to forsake his boat, which had suffered not a little, and to trust, with his party, to snow shoes. A good supply of provisions enabled them to withstand this additional fatigue, and they reached Fort Reliance on the 27th September, after an absence of three months. Captain Back lost no time in finding his way home by New York, the nearest route, and his party having proceeded to Hudson’s Bay, will return about the middle of November, the time of the arrival of the first ships belonging to the Company.

We may now mention a few words on the result of this expedition, which has excited rather than satisfied our curiosity; and we must refer our readers to the polar chart at p. 267 of our last volume, to follow our meaning. By Capt. Back’s position of the mouth of the river due south of the Boothian isthmus, it is evident that the sea extends further west than there laid down sccording [sic] to Captain Ross, and the probability is that the whole coast, from Cape Turnagain to the southern shore of Prince Regent Inlet is connected, the positions laid down by Captain Back in his last expedition lying about midway between them.

The coast being thus connected south of Capt. Ross’s Land, a sea being fairly found with a tide from the westward, if there were any doubt that it was nothing more than a series of islands found by that officer, it would be at once removed by the fact that Captain James Ross, when he reached that part of the coast which is called Ross’s Furthest, actually crossed over a strait, leaving islands to the south of him on his left, which islands may be those seen by Capt. Back due north of him when he was at his furthest northern point. We shall, however, wait the appearance of Captain Back’s narrative, and we believe this will be no great stretch of our patience, for it is not to come out in the shape of a huge quarto, after many months; but it is impossible to look at the general result of his search, and consider the important addition he has made to our geographical knowledge of that interesting portion of the northern regions, with such trifling means, without expressing our hopes that a little pocket expedition (that is, one on a small scale) may dash out there next year, and tell us the extent of loss which British North America has suffered by this extensive inroad of the sea, so unexpectedly found where all was supposed to rejoice in the security of terra firma. We shall not stay to point out the track, but we have no doubt that if a couple of boats were landed at Repulse Bay, and transferred across the isthmus, one of them taking a westerly course along the south shore of Prince Regent’s Inlet, and the other along the western shore of Melville Peninsula towards the strait of the Fury and Hecla, that the matter would be set at rest in a few weeks; and who would be so fit to command as Captain James Ross and Commander Back?