“Proposed Settlement in Davis Strait” (2, p. 464-6)

To the Editor of the Nautical Magazine.

Hull, 21st May, 1837.

Mr. Editor,—I confess that I was not a little startled to find, in the very next pages to those in the Nautical Magazine in which my letter to you is inserted, what at first appeared to me an answer from your correspondent “Baffin,” and who dates also from Hull, although I cannot imagine that he has ever navigated the bay from which he takes his name. I agree, however, so far with “Baffin,” that it is high time “some energetic measure should be adopted by Government, to prevent the recurrence of such disastrous and distressing events” as those which have recently attended the northern whale-fishery. “Baffin” is also perfectly right when he does not consider that one settlement would be adequate to the purposes in view; but if he had added that twenty would not be adequate, he would have been just as near the truth. The fact is, that in the three additional places he has mentioned there is no harbour at all! If ever “Baffin” has been in Baffin’s Bay, let me call to his recollection, that Ponds Bay (the first he has mentioned) is a large open bay, with no harbour whatever in it; that Coutts Inlet (the second place he has mentioned) is as wide as the British Channel at Dover; and lastly, that Home Bay is one of the positions that would be obnoxious to a great pressure of ice. I have said thus much, to prove that “Baffin” was either locally ignorant, or that he should recollect himself better.

I must now point out the absurdity of establishing four settlements, with the uncertainty of doing what could be effectually accomplished at one-twentieth of the expense, and without the risk of being never heard of, should the ice (as it did for many years) never quit the coast. “Baffin” says, if a good harbour could be found: but I can tell him, that if a good harbour, or one such as a ship could safely spend the winter in, was found, it would not be open on that coast above one month in the year; so that the ship must manage to get damaged in that lucky month, or she could not be repaired there, and the fortunate, or rather unfortunate, crew of the ship that was wrecked, who could reach either of these depots, must make up their minds to remain there at least ten months, and at the end must consider themselves lucky fellows if they get away at all the next season! With respect to the sailors abandoning their ships, I can give “Baffin” the case of the Active: even after that ship was well stored with provisions from the other ships, and frozen fast in a safe bay, the crew could not be persuaded to remain on board her; and I could name several others who behaved in the same way. Captain James Ross was therefore perfectly right, when he expressed his fear that the men would abandon their ships, and especially if they had not been successful, as they would then have nothing to lose, while they would be supported during the winter at the depot at the Government expense.

I have in my last exposed the impolicy of establishing one colony, or station, which, if successful, would do away with the nursery for seamen; but if the whole four settlements were successful, would not that success complete the destruction of the fishery? “Baffin,” who says he is deeply interested in the success of the whale-fishery, may in that case lay up or dispose of his ships, and go out as Governor-General of the new Yankee (Esquimaux) colony; and I venture to predict that Governor “Baffin” will remain no longer than one year, if he can help it. In short, for many reasons besides those I have stated, the plan carries absurdity on the face of it. I am far from supposing that the whaler’s friend Baffin” has any other motive in view, than the well-being of that gallant and enterprizing class of men whose case calls so loudly for consideration; but I cannot conclude without adding, that I have consulted many of the most experienced owners and captains in that trade, on this interesting subject, and that they have been unanimously of opinion, that the expensive plan of colonizing the west coast of Baffin’s Bay, were it practicable, would not alleviate the misery complained of, or be of any service to the fishery; but, that by adopting the plan which I have proposed, of re-establishing the bounty, and thereby obliging every ship to carry a sufficient quantity of provisions, preserved meats, lime-juice, sugar, and clothing, to sustain the crew on board their ships, in the event of being frozen in; which, if not wanted in one season, would do for the next, or each succeeding voyage, and if properly packed in tin cases, &c., as in the discovery ships, it would only be a first cast that would be required. Ships’ crews would then have more comfort than they could have any where else; there would be no inducement or plea for abandoning the ship, and they would be constantly enjoying the hope of getting away at least early in the spring, instead of dwelling on the chances of never getting off at all. Let us hope that some truly philanthropic M.P. will yet take the business up; and I am confident that if truly and justly represented to Government, of whatever denomination, any effectual measure for curing this crying evil would not meet with a dissenting voice.

I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
A. B.