The Voyages and Adventures of Captain Hatteras/Chapter XX

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June 25th the Forward sighted Cape Dundas, at the northwest extremity of Prince of Wales Land. There they found more serious difficulties amid thicker ice. The channel here grows narrower, and the line of Crozier, Young, Day, and Lowther Islands ranged in a line, like forts in a harbor, drive the ice-streams nearer together. What would otherwise have taken the brig a day now detained her from June 25th to the end of the month; she was continually obliged to stop, to retreat, and to wait for a favorable chance to reach Beechey Island. Meanwhile a great deal of coal was consumed; though during the frequent halts only small fires were kept burning, sufficient to keep steam up day and night.

Hatteras knew as well as Shandon the reduced state of their supply; but feeling sure that he would find fuel at Beechey Island, he did not wish to lose a minute for the sake of economy; he had been very much delayed by running south; and, although he had taken the precaution of leaving England in April, he now found himself no farther advanced than previous expeditions had been at that time of year.

The 30th they passed Cape Walker at the northeast extremity of Prince of Wales Land; this is the farthest point seen by Kennedy and Bellot, May 3d, 1852, after an expedition across North Somerset. In 1851, Captain Ommaney of the Austin expedition had been fortunate enough to get fresh supplies there for his detachment.

This cape, which is very lofty, is remarkable for its reddish-brown color; in clear weather one can see as far as the entrance of Wellington Channel. Towards evening they saw Cape Bellot, separated from Cape Walker by MacLeon's Bay. Cape Bellot was so named in presence of that young French officer to whom the English expedition gave three cheers. At this place the coast consists of a yellowish limestone, very rough in appearance; it is protected by huge masses of ice which the north wind collects there in the most imposing way. It was soon no longer to be seen from the Forward's deck, as she was making her way amid the loose ice towards Beechey Island through Barrow Strait.

Hatteras, having resolved to go on in a straight line, in order not to be carried past the island, hardly left the deck during the subsequent days; he would go aloft to the cross-trees in order to pick out the most favorable path for the brig. All that skill, coolness, boldness, and even maritime genius could do, was done by him while sailing through the strait. It is true that fortune did not favor him, for at that season he ought to have found the sea nearly open. But by dint of sparing neither steam, his men, nor himself, he succeeded in his aim.

July 3d, at eleven o'clock in the morning, the ice-master saw land to the north; Hatteras soon made it out as Beechey Island, the general rendezvous for arctic explorers. Almost all the ships which sail in these latitudes touch here. Here Franklin passed his first winter before advancing into Wellington Channel. Here Creswell, MacClure's lieutenant, after a march of four hundred and sixty miles on the ice, rejoined the Phoenix and returned to England. The last ship which anchored at Beechey Island before the Forward was the Fox; MacClintock took in supplies there, August 11, 1855, and repaired the dwellings and storehouses; that was but a short time previous. Hatteras knew all these details.

The boatswain's heart beat strongly at the sight of this island; when he had last seen it he had been quartermaster on the Phoenix; Hatteras asked him about the coast, the place for anchoring, the possible change of the bottom. The weather was perfect; the thermometer marked 57°.

“Well, Johnson,” said the captain, “do you recognize this place?”

“Yes, Captain, it's Beechey Island! Only we ought to bear a little farther north; the coast is more easily approached there.”

“But the buildings, the stores?” said Hatteras.

“0, you can't see them till you get ashore; they are hidden behind those hillocks you see there!”

“And did you carry large supplies there?”

“Yes, they were large. The Admiralty sent us here in 1853, under the command of Captain Inglefield, with the steamer Phoenix and a transport, the Breadalbane, loaded with supplies; we carried enough to revictual a whole expedition.”

“But did not the commander of the Fox take a great deal away in 1855?” said Hatteras.

“0, don't be anxious, Captain!” answered Johnson; “there will be enough left for you; the cold keeps everything wonderfully, and we shall find everything as fresh and in as good condition as on the first day.”

“I'm not so anxious about the provisions,” answered Hatteras; “I have enough for several years; what I stand in need of is coal.”

“Well, Captain, we left more than a thousand tons there; so you can feel easy about that.”

“Let us stand nearer,” resumed Hatteras, who, glass in hand, kept examining the shore.

“You see that point,” said Johnson; “when we've doubled it, we shall be near our anchorage. Yes, it's from there we started for England with Lieutenant Creswell and twelve sick men of the Investigator. But if we were fortunate enough to be of service to Captain MacClure's lieutenant, Bellot, the officer who accompanied us on the Phoenix, never saw his home again! Ah, that's a sad memory! But, Captain, I think it's here we ought to anchor.”

“Very well,” answered Hatteras.

And he gave the proper orders. The Forward lay in a little harbor sheltered from the north, east, and south winds, about a cable-length from the shore.

“Mr. Wall,” said Hatteras, “you will lower the launch and send six men to bring coal aboard.”

“Yes, sir,” answered Wall.

“I am going ashore in the gig with the doctor and the boatswain; Mr. Shandon, will you go with us?”

“At your orders,” answered Shandon.

A few minutes later the doctor, with gun and baskets for any specimens he might find, took his place in the gig with his companions; ten minutes later they stepped out on a low, rocky shore.

“Lead the way, Johnson,” said Hatteras; “do you remember it?”

“Perfectly, Captain; only here is a monument which I did not expect to find here.”

“That,” shouted the doctor, “I know what it is; let's go look at it; it will tell us of itself why it was put here.”

The four men went up to it, and the doctor, baring his head, said,

“This, my friends, is a monument raised to the memory of Franklin and his companions.”

In fact, Lady Franklin having, in 1855, sent a tablet of black marble to Dr. Kane, gave another in 1858 to MacClintock to be placed on Beechey Island.[1] MacClintock discharged his duty, and placed this tablet near a funeral pile raised to the memory of Bellot by Sir John Barrow.

This tablet bore the following inscription:

TO THE MEMORY OF
FRANKLIN, CROZIER, FITZ-JAMES,
AND ALL THEIR GALLANT BROTHER OFFICERS AND FAITHFUL COMPANIONS

Who have suffered and perished in the cause of science and the service of their country.

THIS TABLET

Is erected near the spot where they passed their first arctic Winter, and whence they issued forth to conquer difficulties or
TO DIE.

It commemorates the grief of their Admiring Countrymen and Friends, and the anguish, subdued by Faith, of her who has lost, in the heroic Leader of the Expedition, the Most Devoted and Affectionate of Husbands.


And so he bringeth them unto the Haven where they would he.”
1855

This stone, on a lonely shore of these remote regions, touched every one's heart; the doctor felt the tears rising in his eyes. On the very spot whence Franklin and his men sailed, full of hope and strength, there was now merely a slab of marble to commemorate them; and in spite of this solemn warning of fate, the Forward was about to follow the path of the Erebus and Terror.

Hatteras was the first to rouse himself; he ascended quickly a rather high hillock, which was almost entirely bare of snow.

“Captain,” said Johnson, following him, “from there we ought to see the stores.”

Shandon and the doctor joined them just as they reached the top of the hill.

But their eyes saw nothing but large plains with no trace of a building.

“This is very strange,” said the boatswain.

“Well, these stores?” said Hatteras, quickly.

“I don't know,... I don't see...” stammered Johnson.

“You must have mistaken the path,” said the doctor.

“Still it seems to me,” resumed Johnson after a moment's reflection, “that at this very spot”

“Well,” said Hatteras, impatiently, “where shall we go?”

“Let's go down again,” said the boatswain, “for it's possible I've lost my way! In seven years I may have forgotten the place.”

“Especially,” said the doctor, “when the country is so monotonous.”

“And yet...” muttered Johnson.

Shandon said not a word. After walking a few minutes, Johnson stopped.

“No,” he said, “I'm not mistaken.”

“Well,” said Hatteras, looking around.

“What makes you say so, Johnson?” asked the doctor.

“Do you see this little rise in the earth?” asked the boatswain, pointing downwards to a mound in which three elevations could be clearly seen.

“What does that mean?” asked the doctor.

“There,” answered Johnson, “are the three tombs of Franklin's sailors. I'm sure of it! I'm not mistaken, and the stores must be within a hundred paces of us, and if they're not there, it's because...”

He durst not finish his sentence; Hatteras ran forward, and terrible despair seized him. There ought to stand those much-needed storehouses, with supplies of all sorts on which he had been counting; but ruin, pillage, and destruction had passed over that place where civilized hands had accumulated resources for battered sailors. Who had committed these depredations? Wild animals, wolves, foxes, bears? No, for they would have destroyed only the provisions; and there was left no shred of a tent, not a piece of wood, not a scrap of iron, no bit of any metal, nor what was more serious for the men of the Forward a single lump of coal.

Evidently the Esquimaux, who have often had much to do with European ships, had finally learned the value of these objects; since the visit of the Fox they had come frequently to this great storehouse, and had pillaged incessantly, with the intention of leaving no trace of what had been there; and now a long drift of half-melted snow covered the ground.

Hatteras was baffled. The doctor gazed and shook his head. Shandon said nothing, but an attentive observer would have noticed a wicked smile about his lips.

At this moment the men sent by Wall arrived. They took it all in at a glance. Shandon went up to the captain and said:

“Mr. Hatteras, we need not despair; fortunately we are near the entrance to Barrow Strait, which will carry us back to Baffin's Bay.”

“Mr. Shandon,” answered Hatteras, “we are fortunately near the entrance of Wellington Channel, and it will lead us to the north.”

“And how shall we go. Captain?”

“Under sail, sir. We have two months' fuel left, and that is more than we shall need for next winter.”

“Permit me to say,” began Shandon.

“I permit you to follow me to the ship, sir,” was Hatteras's answer.

And turning his back on his first officer, he returned to the brig and locked himself in his cabin.

For two days the wind was unfavorable; the captain did not come on deck. The doctor profited by this forced delay to examine Beechey Island; he collected a few plants which a comparatively high temperature let grow here and there on some rocks which projected from the snow, such as heather, a few lichens, a sort of yellow ranunculus, a plant like sorrel with leaves a trifle larger, and some sturdy saxifrages.

The fauna of this country was much richer; the doctor saw large flocks of geese and cranes flying northward; partridges, eider-ducks, northern divers, numerous ptarmigans, which are delicious eating, noisy flocks of kittiwakes, and great white-bellied loons represented the winged tribe. The doctor was lucky enough to kill some gray hares, which had not yet put on their white winter coat of fur, and a blue fox, which Duke skilfully caught. A few bears, evidently accustomed to fear men, could not be approached, and the seals were very timid, probably for the same reason. The harbor was full of a very good tasting shellfish. The genus articulata, order diptera, family culicides, division nemocera, was represented by a simple mosquito, a single one, which the doctor, though much bitten, had the pleasure of catching. As a conchologist, he was less fortunate, and he was obliged to content himself with a sort of mussel and some bivalves.


1^  A modern account (with photographs) of the memorials on Beechey Island is given by [1]. From Powell's account, two interesting observations can be made.

First, Verne's account of two tablets is not entirely accurate. In addition to the inscription given by Verne, the tablet on Beechey Island ends with the inscription:

This stone has been entrusted to and is affixed in its place by the officers and crew of the American expedition commanded by
Lt. H. J. Hartstene
In search of Dr. Kane and his companions.

The second tablet is attached to its foot on Beechey Island, explaining the delay until 1858:

This tablet having been left at Disco by the American expedition which was unable to reach Beechey Island in 1855. was put on board the Discovery yacht Fox, and is now set up here by Captain McClintock, R. N. commanding the final expedition of search for ascertaining the fate of Sir John Franklin and his companions, 1858.

Second, Verne translated the English inscription into French for his work. The inscription given here (and in the Osgood translation) is the original English inscription. Other translators have re-translated Verne into English, and so end up with approximations to the original.

  1. Brian D. Powell (2006). "The memorials on Beechey Island, Nunavut, Canada: an historical and pictorial survey.". Polar Record 42 (223): 325–333.