Voyages and Maritime Papers: The Arctic Land Expedition.


Our readers are no doubt aware, that active measures are now in operation, to despatch a small party in search of Captain Ross and his companions, consisting of his nephew, Commander Ross, and the crew of his vessel. So desirable, so proper, and so important a measure, we trust is at length in a fair way of being accomplished. It is well known, that, since the summer of 1829, the year in which his vessel left England, nothing has been heard of her. Vain hopes and expectations have been formed that long before now she would have penetrated through Bhering’s Straits, and have arrived in some distant port of the Great Pacific Ocean. But time has passed on, no such welcome tidings have been received, and the friends and relations of the whole party are left in an anxious and painful state of uncertainty as to the fate of Ross and his adventurous companions. Mr. Charles Ross, naturally alive to the perilous condition of his brother, has been most active in planning the present expedition, and soliciting attention to it. We are happy to find that he has so far succeeded as to have obtained the support of Government, and to have excited a generous feeling of sympathy among the most influential and leading men connected with Government and the naval profession. He has been no less fortunate in finding many able advocates to forward his views, not only with pecuniary assistance, but with their advice in directing the whole proceedings. The Hudson’s Bay Company, with a noble liberality, have been the first to set the example, by sending out directions to prepare provisions for his party, when it was yet uncertain whether his wishes would be accomplished; others have liberally promoted the undertaking, and Captain Back, the intrepid companion of the celebrated Sir John Franklin, has well seconded the humane purpose, by offering to conduct in person the proceedings of the expedition. So far, we may say, Mr. Ross could not have succeeded better.

A meeting took place on the 1st of November, to promote the expedition; at which Vice-Admiral Sir George Cockburn presided, and gave an historical sketch of the whole design in the following terms:

“It will be generally admitted that an officer like Captain Ross, who has devoted his time to the service of science, and has braved in its pursuit the dangers of unknown and ungenial climes, demands the sympathy and assistance of his countrymen. Great Britain has taken the lead in geographical discovery, and there is not one in this country who does not feel pride and honour in the fame she has attained by the expeditions of Parry and Franklin. But if we wish to create future Parrys and Franklins, if we wish to advance British enterprise and courage, we must prove that the officer who is out of the sight of his countrymen is not forgotten, that there is consideration for his sufferings, and appreciation of his spirit. This reflection will cheer him in the hour of trial, and will permit him, when surrounded by dangers and privations, to indulge in hope—the greatest blessing of man. All know that in 1817 Captain Ross had been employed by the Admiralty to explore Baffin’s-bay, and more particularly the north-west passage; all are aware of the skill he displayed in this service. In descending, however, along the western coast, an opening was mistaken by him for an inlet, and the consequence was, that the expeditions of Parry and Franklin were fitted out, which left but a very small part of that coast unsurveyed. It was natural that Captain Ross, a man of sensitive mind, should feel hurt that the object of his exertions was thus, as it were, torn from his grasp, and that the mistake he had made should prey on his feelings. Accordingly, as soon as the Government, finding that the passage could be of little practical utility, had determined to go to no further expense, a ray of hope flashed across his mind that he should re-establish his character. His friends, with an honourable liberality, fitted out an expedition. A steam-vessel was prepared; but, as if misfortune was always to pursue Ross, his crew mutinied. Prudence would have dictated to him the propriety of abandoning the expedition here, but the acuteness of his feelings would not allow him to suffer a chance to be lost. His first object was to reach the wreck of the Fury—a vessel, indeed, the fate of which proved the necessity of having two strong ships for such an expedition. It was probable he had succeeded in this, but his vessel could scarcely resist the pressure of the ice, and he, with his nineteen companions, would therefore occupy the Fury. If this was their actual position, they had the means, indeed, of maintaining themselves in it, but none whatever of escape, without assistance from their countrymen. It was possible that this gallant band often ascended a rising ground, in the hope that they were not forsaken by their countrymen; and that they would not be left to perish without a hand being stretched forth to save them. I will not believe that nineteen sailors, who had felt no hope of gain but the advantage that would result from their exertions to this country, will be allowed to return in vain, at every season of darkness, to their miserable night, without a struggle being made for their lives. £3,000 would be sufficient for this purpose, and I cannot imagine that in London, where so much is contributed to ordinary charity—where the East India Company, the Trinity-house, and the Merchants’ Companies are—there will be a difficulty in raising such a sum. It is impossible. An officer, Captain Back, acquainted with the country, has, in a very manly manner, offered to conduct the expedition. Government also is not reluctant to lend its aid. Lord Goderich has not only taken a personal interest in the case, and contributed very liberally, but has recommended a grant from the Treasury of £2,000. Mr. Hay, the Colonial Under-Secretary, feels as much anxiety as I do. Thus assisted and encouraged, the expedition cannot be allowed to fall to the ground. Of Captain Back’s ability, there can be no doubt. On a former occasion he has saved the lives of a similar party, and, if assisted with money, I have not the slightest doubt of his succeeding in the objects of this expedition. Should it unfortunately happen that our countrymen are no longer alive, yet their fate at least will be ascertained, and, moreover, the survey of the north-eastern coast of America will be completed.”

The appeal of Sir G. Cockburn was not made in vain: a liberal subscription was at once commenced, and a committee has since been formed, to regulate the expenditure of the sums collected.

In our last number, we gave a sketch of the route proposed to be adopted by Captain Back. We will not stop to inquire why this undertaking was not set afoot before. When we reflect on what may be the probable condition of Captain Ross, our most strenuous exertions shall be devoted towards promoting it now. Captain Ross had a stock of provisions, when he sailed, which it was calculated would last three years; and there is good reason for believing, that he and his party might augment that stock, by the addition of seals and walrusses, even if he did not succeed in reaching the wreck of the Fury. It may, therefore, be reasonably concluded, that they have not fallen victims to hunger among the many dangers by which they would be surrounded: but while one plausible reason can be advanced for believing that they may still be safe, humanity demands the immediate employment of all our efforts to rescue them from their perilous condition, ere yet it be too late. Should even our worst fears be realized, should they have already perished, can we calmly dismiss such thoughts, without making the smallest attempt to ascertain whether it has really been so—to find out at least what has been their unhappy fate?

England stands acknowledged as the great depository of freedom, knowledge, and religion; and with blessings such as these, and that unrivalled character as the advocate of every humane design to which her numerous and splendid charitable institutions entitle her—shall it be said of us, that we permitted nineteen of our countrymen to depart from our shores on a perilous voyage; and, after an absence of more than three years, when there existed a probability of their prolonging a miserable existence in the hopes of relief being sent them, that we withheld that relief? Shall we allow it to be said of us by the rest of the world, (as it assuredly will be, if we do not timely prevent it,) that we cared not for them? that we thought of their sufferings with apathy, and were indifferent to the terrors that awaited them, when it was our duty to succour them, and a trifling general subscription would enable us to do so? Let us not then become the scorn of surrounding nations, by omitting such a duty. We call on all our countrymen (for it is a national cause) to avert so foul a charge. We call on them every where to follow the splendid example set them by some truly philanthropic individuals, and to contribute as well as they are able, towards the equipment of this expedition. The agents for the Nautical Magazine being duly authorized, will gladly transmit to the committee any sums which they may receive, to promote the ‘Land Arctic Expedition.’

Too much cannot be said of the laudable conduct of Captain Back in coming forward, as he has done, to lead the party; but it must be remembered, that his exertions will necessarily be limited by the means placed at the disposal of the committee. The sum required is not yet subscribed, but we do sincerely trust and hope that no ill-timed parsimony on the part of our countrymen, will paralyze the efforts of this gallant officer, in a cause which is founded in humanity, and cannot fail to be advantageous to science.