Scoresby, William (1789-1857) (DNB00)

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SCORESBY, WILLIAM (1789–1857), master-mariner, author, and divine, son of William Scoresby (1760–1829) [q. v.], was born at Cropton, near Whitby, on 5 Oct. 1789. In the spring of 1800 he accompanied his father to the whale fishing, but on his return was again sent to school, and stayed there till 1803, when he was entered on board the Resolution whaler, as his father's apprentice. Year after year he made the Greenland voyage with his father; in 1806, as chief officer of the Resolution, when she was pushed as far north as 81° 30′. In the autumn of 1806 he entered the university of Edinburgh, where he studied chemistry and natural philosophy, and attracted the notice of Professor John Playfair [q. v.], who showed him some kindness. In the course of the voyage of 1807 he made a survey of Balta Sound in the Shetland Isles, and constructed an original chart of it. On his return in September he volunteered for service with the fleet at Copenhagen, to assist in bringing the Danish ships to England, was sent out with other volunteers, and, after assisting in getting the ships ready, was put in command of a gunboat. He and others similarly appointed represented to the admiral that these gunboats, built for light draught in smooth water were not seaworthy. The remonstrance was unavailing; but scarcely had the vessel reached the open sea before she was found to be making water so fast that she had to be abandoned, Scoresby and his crew happily succeeding in getting on board the 74-gun ship Alfred. At Yarmouth he was put on board one of the prizes. At Portsmouth, on 21 Dec., he was discharged. He had had letters of introduction, but did not present them, wishing to get some experience of a seaman's life in the navy. He describes it as excessively hard; but in the Alfred, the only man-of-war he was in, he was not uncomfortable or ill-used; the squalor, discomfort, and hardship were on board the receiving ship, in the first instance, and the prize afterwards, where a small party of seamen—presumably men of indifferent character—had to be kept in order by a foul-tongued and hard-flogging lieutenant. His experiences were scarcely typical, though his account of them is interesting.

On his way home from Portsmouth he made the acquaintance of Sir Joseph Banks [q. v.], who introduced him to some of the leading men of the day. The acquaintance led to a correspondence which was continued till Banks's death. Probably at the suggestion of Banks, Scoresby began to make observations of natural phenomena and to study the natural history of the polar regions. He made a series of drawings of the forms of snowflakes as seen through a microscope, and collected many specimens of plants till then unknown. In November 1809 he renewed his studies at Edinburgh, and made the acquaintance of Professor Robert Jameson [q. v.], who was attracted by his familiar knowledge of life in the polar seas, and laid parts of his journals before the Wernerian Society, of which Scoresby became a member. On 5 Oct. 1810, the day on which he attained his majority, his father resigned to him the command of the Resolution, and his first voyage as captain, in the summer of 1811, proved most successful. In September he married Miss Lockwood, the daughter of a shipbroker of Whitby. After another prosperous voyage in the Resolution he changed into the Esk, a new and larger ship, in which he made the voyage of 1813, busying himself with scientific observations. He invented an apparatus, which he called a ‘marine diver,’ for obtaining deep-sea temperatures, and by it established for the first time that in the arctic seas the bottom temperatures are higher than the surface.

In the voyage of 1816, after making a promising start in the fishing, the Esk was nipped between two floes, and, as she got free, struck on a projecting tongue of ice, which left a large hole in her bottom. She was in imminent danger of sinking, but by the exertions of Scoresby, assisted by his brother-in-law Thomas Jackson, who commanded the John, which was fortunately in company, the leak was so far stopped that the ship was brought safely to Whitby; the owners gave Scoresby a gratuity of 50l., to which the underwriters added a handsome piece of plate. The voyage of 1817 proved unsuccessful, and, as the owners seemed dissatisfied, he resigned the command of the Esk, and was appointed by his father to the Fame, a teak-built ship of his own.

During the winter of 1817–18 he had a long correspondence with Sir Joseph Banks on the advisability of a voyage of discovery in the polar seas, and believed, with some reason, that his representations largely influenced the Royal Society and the government in their resolve to send out the expeditions of 1818. He had hoped that the Fame might be taken up for the purpose and himself appointed to the command; but learning from Mr. (afterwards Sir John) Barrow [q. v.] that the commander would certainly be an officer of the navy, he made his usual voyage to the Greenland fishing in the summer of 1818. During these years he was continually occupied with the problems of arctic geography, meteorology, and magnetism, and contributed numerous papers to the ‘Proceedings’ of the Wernerian Society. In January 1819 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and in February he communicated to the Royal Society of London a paper on the variations of the magnetic needle.

In May 1819 he moved with his family to Liverpool, where he was occupied during the year in superintending the building of the Baffin, specially fitted for the Greenland trade, at a cost of 9,500l. She was launched on 15 Feb. 1820, sailed on 18 March, and returned on 23 Aug. with the largest cargo that had ever been brought in from Greenland. During his absence there was published ‘Account of the Arctic Regions and Northern Whale Fishery’ (2 vols. 8vo, 1820), a work on which he had been engaged for the last four years. It was at once recognised as the standard work on the subject, and may be considered as the foundation-stone of arctic science. In 1821 and again in 1822 he made the accustomed voyage.

On his return to Liverpool in 1822 he was met by the news of the death of his wife, to whom he was tenderly attached. From his youth he had had strong religious convictions, which had been intensified by the fervent piety of his wife. On his return from the voyage of 1823 he resolved to prepare himself for the ministry, and in this view was entered at Queens' College, Cambridge, intending to take a degree as a ‘ten years' man;’ at the same time he studied Latin and Greek, his only relaxation being the writing of scientific papers. In June 1824 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society. By July 1825 he was able to pass his examination at Cambridge with honour, and on 10 July he was ordained by the archbishop of York to the curacy of Bessingby, near Bridlington Quay, with the modest stipend of 40l. a year. His former career had brought him an average income of 800l.

In January 1827 he was elected a corresponding member of the Institute of France, and in May became chaplain of the mariners' church at Liverpool. He married again in 1828, and in April 1832 was elected to the incumbency of Bedford chapel at Exeter. In 1834 he obtained the degree of B.D. as ‘a ten-years' man,’ and in 1839 proceeded to that of D.D. About the same time he accepted, from the Simeon trustees, the presentation to the vicarage of Bradford, a parish of a hundred thousand souls, where the work, both spiritual and temporal, was severe and the emoluments small.

After five years at Bradford his health gave way; six months' leave of absence, which he spent in a voyage to the United States, failed to effect a permanent cure, and in January 1847 he resigned the living. He went for a second tour in Canada and the United States, and during his absence, in January 1848, received news of his second wife's death. He returned to England in the following March, and, having married for a third time, in September 1849, he lived for the most part at Torquay, near his wife's family. He took voluntary clerical work, and occupied himself with science and literature. In 1850 he published ‘The Franklin Expedition,’ 8vo; and in 1851, ‘My Father, being Records of the Adventurous Life of the late W. Scoresby,’ 8vo.

During these later years he was working specially on the subject of magnetism, and in February 1856 he made a voyage to Australia and home, in order to carry out a series of systematic observations. The Liverpool and Australia Steam Navigation Company gave him a free passage, with every facility for observing. Scoresby was back in Liverpool by 13 Aug. While preparing his journals and observations he completely broke down, and, after six weeks of suffering, he died at Torquay on 21 March 1857. On the 28th he was buried at Upton church, where there is a monument to his memory, erected by subscription. By his first wife he had two sons, both of whom predeceased him.

Scoresby was a voluminous writer, the larger part of his work consisting of contributions to scientific journals or of sermons. His nephew has enumerated ninety-one publications, as well as ‘a variety of articles, lectures, essays, addresses, tracts, &c., in different theological, scientific, and literary journals.’ His more important works, besides those already named, are: 1. ‘Journal of a Voyage to the Northern Whale Fishery and Discoveries on the East Coast of Greenland,’ 8vo, 1823. 2. ‘Memorials of the Sea,’ 12mo, 1833. 3. ‘Magnetical Investigations,’ 2 vols. 8vo, 1839–52. 4. ‘Zoistic Magnetism,’ 8vo, 1850. 5. ‘Journal of a Voyage to Australia for Magnetical Research,’ edited by Archibald Smith [q. v.], 8vo, 1859.

[Life by his nephew, R. E. Scoresby-Jackson, with a portrait after a photograph; his works, especially the Account of the Arctic Regions; Journal of the Royal Geographical Society, vol. xxxviii. p. cxxxviii.]

J. K. L.