Voyage of H.M.S. Cove, Captain James Ross, in Search of the Lost Whalers.


While[1] the Cove was at Stromness on her outward course, Captain Ross received intimation from the Admiralty of the arrival of the Abram, of Hull, and of her having drifted southward with the pack to the 54th degree of north latitude. In consequence of this information, he deemed it expedient to depart to a certain extent from the instructions of the Admiralty. Accordingly, he made for the pack-edge in the above-mentioned latitude, but, owing to the unfavourable weather, he did not succeed in gaining it until the 7th of April. Between that date and the 27th of May, Captain Ross made a careful examination of the main pack-edge between the 54th and 65th degree of latitude, and failing to discover any traces of the Lady Jane or William Torr, he stood over to Holsteinburgh, for the purpose of falling in with the bomb-vessel which he expected to join him there on the 1st of June. Here the Cove remained for some days, obtaining a supply of water, and completing the requisite repairs. The Undaunted, of Kirkcaldy, had previously announced to Captain Ross the arrival of the Lady Jane in England; but of the William Torr[2] no tidings could be procured. The Terror bomb-vessel not appearing,[3] the Cove proceeded to Whale-fish Islands, the last-appointed rendezvous for the Terror, and arrived there on the 14th of June. On the 19th of the same month the commander received a communication from the Admiralty, intimating, that in consequence of the arrival of the Abram, and of a statement made by Mr. William Tather, master of the Jane, the sailing of the Terror had been countermanded as unnecessary.

Captain Ross was directed to proceed homewards, after making every practicable endeavour to relieve the William Torr, in the quarter where he might consider her most likely to be found, on receiving the additional information. Though regretting that he had not the means of penetrating to the west land of Baffin’s Bay, the commander, guided by the statement of Mr. Tather— that the William Torr was seen on the 16th of October, 45 miles S.E. of Cape Searle, and drifting to the southward—deemed it his duty to advance to the quarter thus decidedly indicated, and thence endeavour to prosecute his inquiries at one of the northern settlements on the coast of Labrador. Before his departure he proceeded through the Waygatz Strait, for the purpose of communicating with the whaling ships to the northward. On the 1st of July he reached Fore-Island Point, in lat. 70. 40. N., and long. 67 W., where he found about fifty vessels detained by the ice. Repassing the Waygatz Strait, he bore to the westward, and reached the packing, lat. 69. N., and long. 57½ W., and gained the spot where the William Torr was alleged to have been last seen, on the 13th of July. A careful examination of the pack was made at this place. On the 14th of July the Cove fell in with three whalers, the Eclipse, Commerce, and Resolution, the masters of which vessels, as well as those to the northward, gave the most solemn assurances that, although they believed the William Torr to be to the southward, still they would use their best endeavours to examine the whole of the west land for the crew. In the face of many difficulties arising from foggy weather and heavy south-easterly swells, Captain J. Ross persevered in exploring the pack to the southward. His progress was impeded by a barrier of heavy and extensive floes drifting to the southward, at a distance of from 50 to 70 miles from the land.

After many ineffectual attempts to penetrate this barrier, he at last succeeded in again entering the pack, and in advancing through it to the settlement of Okkah, in lat. 57½ N., where it was hoped that the missionaries of the Unitas Fratrum, resident at that place, would be able to communicate some information respecting the William Torr. No account, however, of that vessel, or the crew, could be given by the missionaries, who declared that it was impossible for any ship, or the crew of any ship, to have approached that shore to the north or south, within three hundred miles of the settlement, without their being speedily apprized of the fact. Under all the circumstances—having closely examined the pack from the 54th to the 69th degree of north latitude—it appeared to Captain Ross that all that the vessel under his command was capable of effecting had been accomplished. Presuming upon the correctness of the information furnished by Mr. Tather, he feared that the William Torr, if she had not returned to England, had been wrecked in the pack; but he still indulged the hope that she had wintered on the west coast of Baffin’s Bay, in which case her crew would most certainly have been discovered by some of the whale ships.

The Cove weighed anchor on the 4th of August, passed through Pentland Frith on the 19th ult., and arrived in sound condition, and with all hands in perfect health, after a most perilous, and, we grieve to add, an unsuccessful service.

Despatches, containing the above information, having been forwarded to the Lords of the Admiralty by Captain J. C. Ross, immediately upon his arrival, their Lordships have transmitted to him a reply, in which they express their satisfaction at the zeal and judgment displayed by him in the execution of the duty confided to him, as well as at the good conduct and activity of the officers and men under his command.

[1] See p. 116, stating his departure on the 6th of January from Hull; and p. 241 for the arrival of the Lady Jane.

[2] The only tidings received of this unfortunate ship appear to be the following extract from the Hull Packet.—“ The William Torr, Greenock, August 27. The Antilles arrived here to-day from Venice and Trieste, sailed from the latter port on the 25th of June, and got down the Adriatic in four days; had afterwards much calm weather in the Mediterranean, and parsed Gibraltar four weeks ago. On the 17th ult., lat. 46 deg. 11m. N., long. 170 deg 30 m W., picked up a large oil cask, branded ‘William Torr,’ supposed to belong to the missing whaler.”

[3] This vessel was to have been taken out by Commander Belcher, R.N.