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THE ARCTIC EXPEDITION.
A SOLID POLE.
IT would be difficult to convey an idea of the pleasure and the sense of relief that was experienced throughout the country when the news was spreɛd abroad that the Arctic Expedition had returned home safe and sound. Some loss of life was experienced, and a considerable amount of suffering undergone on the sledge excursions; and there was some almost unanticipated sickness; but it was not more than would have attended upon an exploratory journey in Central Africa, where numbers were concerned; and there have not been wanting detractors of every thing that involves danger and enterprise to point out that, even geographically speaking, much has not been accomplished.
But if the only result had been the exploration of higher latitudes than had hitherto been reached, and the determination of the true character of the Polar circle, enough would have been done to satisfy the physical geographer. It had been advocated by many, from premises which appeared to be unusually plausible, that the Arctic Ocean was, beyond the ice-bound lands, an open sea-a Polynia as it was termed-supposed to abound in living things-fishy or feathery-and to be even frequented by larger animals, such as seals, walrusses, bears, and it was even suggested by an eminent zoologist-sea-cows or manati.
But instead of this, it has been found that the extreme Polar regions are covered with ancient ice of great thickness, and, indeed, increasing in thickness as the Pole is approached; and which sempieternal ice has been graphically described-borrowing terms accepted in geological chronology—as Palæo-crystic or Palæornic Ice. At the point where the "Alert" wintered, at almost the extreme north of Grant Land, and in Lat. N. 82° 27', instead of finding a continuous coast-line leading a hundred miles further towards the north, or an open sea, the explorers found themselves on the border of what was evidently a very extensive sea, with impenetrable ice on every side. This ice was of "most unusual and thickness, resembling in a marked degree, both in appearance and formation, low floating icebergs, rather than ordinary salt water ice."-(Report to the Admiralty.)
Seventy-three miles north of this point, and to accomplish which the sledge party under Commander Markham and Lieutenant Parr had to travel 276 miles, and in Lat. N. 82° 20′ 26," the ice attained a thickness of 150 feet, while the depth of water was found to be only 72 fathoms. Whether the depth of water continues to diminish as the Pole is approached, or the ice itself increases in
thickness, as is most probably the case, there is every reason to deduct from these observed facts, that the North Pole is coraposed not of fluid water, but of solid Palæornic ice, reposing on land— and this may probably be the case with the Antarctic, as well as with the Arctic Pole. It is precisely what the physical geographer would expect, that at a point where there would otherwise, have been no stability, where everything inclined from an unfixed point southwards, that Providence, in His infinite wisdom, should have provided for such instability and unfixedness by a mass of solid ice-a formation as permanent as that of the oldest glacier known-and which will for the future take its place as the "Polar Glacier" or "the Sea of Ancient Ice," or "Palæornic Ice," among the well-determined formations of the crust of the globe.
It was found, at the winter quarters of the "Alert," or what may be termed the borders of this ancient sea of ice, that when two of the ancient floes, met the intermediate lighter broken-up ice, which might happen to be floating about between them, was pressed up between the two closing'masses to a great height, producing a chaotic wilderness of angular blocks of all shapes and sizes, varying in height up to fifty feet above water, and frequently covering an area upwards of a mile in diameter. Such an icy road, which they felt at once was sure to be continuous, destroyed all hope of the Pole itself being reached by sledges. Nevertheless, it was determined by Captain Nares to advance as far as possible, and it was during the spring of this year that Markham and Parr made that gallant and resolute attempt which led to the proximate determination of the Pole being solid ice, and of an ancient Polar Glacier. They were absent seventy-two days from the ship; and on the 12th of May succeeded in planting the British flag in lat. 83° 20′ 26′′ N.
Owing to the extraordinary nature of the pressed-up ice, a roadway had to be opened by pickaxes for nearly half the distance travelled, before any advance could be safely made even with light loads; this rendered it always necessary to drag the sledge loads forward by instalments, and therefore to journey over the same road several times. The advance was consequently very slow, and only averaged about 1 mile daily-in fact, much the same rate attained by Sir Edward Parry in his somewhat similar attempt during the summer of 1827.
The result of this severe labour proves, according to the Official Report, the utter impractibility of travelling over the Polar Glacier to any great distance from land, and also that Baron Wrangel was perfectly correct in his expressed opinion that before the North Pole can be reached, it is first necessary to discover a continuous coastline leading towards it.
It is to be remarked that in the autumn of the year preceding. immediately the " Alert" was secured in winter quarters, provisions and boats were advanced by sledge parties along the shore to the north and westward, ready for use by the travelling parties in the following spring, the depôt being established within a mile of the furthest north position hitherto reached by civilised man. On the 14th of October, two days after the sun had bid the expedition good-bye for an absence of 142 days, the travellers returned from their con and arduous journey of twenty days' duration. Owing to a very heavy snowstorm which, by protecting the sloppy ice from the intense frost, caused very wet travelling, a number were frostbitten in the feet, and three amputations were necessary-one officer and two of the men being the sufferers.
Lieutenant Aldrich-engaged in pioneering the way for the main party, which was led by Commander Markham-advanced on the 27th of September three miles beyond Sir Edward Parry's most northern position, and from a mountain 2000 feet high, sighted land towards the W.N.W. extending to latitude 83° 7'. This was afterwards established as Cape Columbia, but no land was seen to the northwards. The existence of so-called President Land was thus disproved, both by Lieutenant Aldrich's observations, as well as by those of Commander Markham, who at the extreme point attained by his party saw no appearance of land to the northwards.
Thus within four months of leaving England the mystery concerning the "open Polar Sea " was cleared up. The "Alert," advancing to the limits of navigation, had reached a higher northern latitude than any other ship!had previously been able to attain, and a sledge party had proceeded a few miles beyond the position gained, with so much labour and privation, by the gallant men commanded by Sir Edward Parry and Sir James Ross, the Union Jack, planted by them, passing into the guard and keeping of their countrymen, to be again pushed forward in advance during the following spring.
Instead of land extending far towards the north, as reported by the "Polaris," Robeson Channel was found to open directly upon the Polar Glacier, and a further argument in favour of the Paleornic ice resting on the soil at the Pole, 400 miles distant from the most northerly point attained on the Glacier, may be derived from the fact that the "Alert," no harbour being obtainable, was secured inside a sheltering barrier of grounded ice, close to the land. Whereas ordinary ice is usually from two feet to ten feet in thickness, that in the Polar Sea, in consequence of having so few outlets by which to escape to the southwards in any appreciable quantity, gradually increases in age and thickness, until it measures from 80 feet to 120 feet. Strange as it may appear, it is recorded
that this extraordinary thickness of the ice saved the ship from being driven on shore; for, owing to its great depth of flotation (it flowed at the head of Robeson Channel with its surface at the lowest part fifteen feet above the water-line), on nearing the shallow beach it grounded, and formed a barrier inside of which the ship was comparatively safe. If, then, the ice floated at this point some hundred of feet below water-line, and grounded in water not exceeding that depth, and the water was found to be only 72 fathoms in depth 400 miles from the Pole, either that shallowness may increase in advancing further north, or the ice, from its great antiquity, may have so far gained upon the bottom of the Polar Sea, that the two meet round and about the Pole, and we may have there, as all considerations of physical necessity concur in pointing out as most likely-a mass of solid ice resting on landa Palæornic glacier-not a Palæornic Sea, probably more ancient than any existing glacier on the face of the earth.
The "Discovery" wintered 70 miles south of the " Alert" in what is described as being a well sheltered harbour, on the west side of Hall's Basin, north of Lady Franklin Sound, in lat. 81° 44′ N., and a few miles north of Polaris Bay, which was in sight on the opposite side of the channel.
Owing to the high latitude attained-both the " Alert" and the "Discovery" wintering further north than any ships had previously -the darkness of the winter was of longer duration and greater intensity than had ever before been experienced. The cold was also very intense, but the winter was passed by all with much cheerfulness, and in hopeful spirits, penny readings, theatricals, and singing, being kept up regularly once a week, and a school on the lower deck, the officers being the teachers, was attended by nearly all the crew.
The ice remaining in motion in the neighbourhood of the "Discovery" until a late date, no sledge parties could be sent out during the autumn of 1875. The same state of things. prevented any communication being kept up between the two ships, although Lieutenant Rawson made two most determined attempts to do so, but without success. Owing to the broken-up ice in Robeson Channel remaining unfrozen, he and his crew were obliged to pass the winter on board the "Alert.”
The sledging campaign began soon after the return of the sun, on the 12th of March, when a first unsuccessful attempt was made
The lowest temperature observed was 72 deg. below Zero of Fahrenheit, or 104 deg. below freezing point. The mean temperature for thirteen consecutive days was 50 deg. below Zero-by far the coldest weather ever experienced before.
to reach the "Discovery." The well-known Dane-Petersenwas only kept alive on this occasion by Mr. Fgerton and Lieutenant Rawson alternately lying, one ata time, alongside of him, but he ultimately sank from exhaustion two months afterwards. The "Discovery" was, however, reached during the following week by the same two officers, and all doubts and anxieties as to the safety of the "Alert" were thus removed. Captain Stephenson after this visited the "Alert," and also made two trips across Hall's Basin to Greenland, while Captain Nares was engaged in similar excursions with Captain Fielden, the naturalist to the Expedition. In fact, with the exception of the chaplains and senior medical officers, who unfortunately had enough to do on board, all were busy with exploring parties.
The coast of Greenland was explored by travelling parties from the "Discovery," under the command of Lieutenants Bowmont and Rawson, and they succeeded in reaching a position in lat. 82° 18' N. long., 50° 40′ W., 70 miles north-east of Repulse Harbour. The land extended as far as lat. 82° 54′ N. long., 48° 33′ W., but very misty weather prevented its character being determined with
Lieutenant Archer explored Lady Franklin's Sound with a party from the "Discovery," and ascertained that it terminates at a distance of 65 miles from the mouth, with lofty mountains and glacier-filled valleys to the westward.
Lieutenant Fulford and Dr. Coppinger explored Petermann Fiord, and found it to be blocked up with a low glacier, which the extended across from shore to shore. In fact, with the exception of Hayes Sound, the opening of which extended a considerable distance, but which is so narrowed by innumerable islets as to prevent the ice clearing out until late in the season, the coast line of Smith's Sound has now been explored from north to south.
During the absence of the travellers, owing to their inability to procure any fresh game, as most former expeditions had done, an attack of scurvy broke out in each of the extended sledge parties, when at their furthest distance from any help. The return journeys were, therefore, a prolonged struggle homewards of graduallyweakening men, the available force to pull the sledge constantly decreasing, and the weight to be dragged as steadily increasing, as one after another the invalids were stricken down, and had to be carried by their weakened comrades. Relief was sent to some of the parties, but however vivid the description may be, it is difficult, we are told, for a stranger to the surrounding circumstances and scenery to realise the condition and appearance of these prostrated bands of men. Almost all suffered, some unfortunately perished. After their trials and sufferings, we are further told, there can no