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An Account of the Voyages undertaken by the order of His Present Majesty, for making Discoveries in the Southern Hemisphere, and successively performed by Commodore Byron, Captain Wallis, Captain Carteret, and Captain Cook, in the Dolphin, the Swallow, and the Endeavour: Drawn from the Journals which were kept by the several Commanders, and from the Papers of Joseph Banks, Esq. [Vol. II]


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The Idea of a passage to the East Indies by the North Pole was Suggested as early as the year 1527, by Robert Thorne, merchant, of Bristol, as appears from two papers preserved by Hackluit; the one addressed to king Henry VIII, the other to Dr. Ley, the king he says. I know it to be my bounded duty to manifest this secret to your Grace, which hitherto, I suppose, has been hid. This secret appears to be the honour and advantage which would be derived from the discovery of a passage by the North Pole. He represents in the strongest terms the glory which the kings of Spain and Portugal had obtained by their discoveries East and West, and exhorts the king to emulate their fame by undertaking discoveries towards the North. He states in a very masterly style the reputation that must attend the attempt, and the great benefits, should it be crowned with success, likely to accrue to the subjects of this country, from their advantageous situation; which, he observes, seems to make the exploring this, the only hitherto undiscovered part, the king's peculiar duty.

To remove any objection to the undertaking which might be drawn from the supposed danger, he insists upon "the great advantages of constant day-light in seas, that, men say, without great danger, difficulty, and peril, yea, rather, it is impossible to pass; for they being past this little way which page 6 they named so dangerous (which may be two or three leagues before they come to the Pole, and as much more after they pass the Pole) it is clear from thenceforth the seas and lands are as temperate as in these parts."

In the paper addressed to Dr. Ley he enters more minutely into the advantages and practicability of the undertaking. Amongst many other arguments to prove the value of the discovery, he urges, that by sailing northward and passing the Pole, the navigation from England to the Spice Islands would be shorter, by more than two thousand leagues, than either from Spain by the Straits of Magellan, or Portugal by the Cape of Good Hope; and to shew the likelihood of success in the enterpize he says, it is as probable that the cosmographers should be mistaken in the opinion they entertained of the polar regions being impossible from extreme cold, as, it has been found, they were, in supposing the countries under the Line to be uninhabitable from excessive heat. With all the spirit of a man convinced of the glory to be gained, and the probability of success in the undertaking, he adds,—

"God knoweth, that though by it I should have no great interest, yet I have had, and still have, no little mind of this business: so that if I had faculty to my will, it should be the first thing that I would understand, even to attempt, If our seas Northward be navigable to the Pole or no.

Notwith-standing the many good arguments, with which he supported his proposition, and the offer of his own services, it does not appear that he prevailed so far as to procure an attempt to be made.

Borne, in his Regiments of the Sea, written about the year 1577, mentions this as one of the five ways to Cathay, and dwells chiefly on the mildness of climate which he imagines must be found near the Pole, from the constant presence of the sun during the summer. These arguments, however, were soon after controverted by Blundeville, in his Treatise on Universal Maps.

In 1578, George Best, a gentleman who had been with Sir Martin Frobisher in all his voyages for the discovery of the North West passage, wrote a very page 7 ingenious discourse, to prove all parts of the world habitable.

No voyage, however, appears to have been undertaken to explore the circumpoplar seas, till the year 1607, when "Henry Hudson was set forth, at the charge of certain worshipful merchants of London, to discover a passage by the North Pole to Japan and China." He sailed from Gravesend on the first of May, in a ship called the Hopewell, having with him ten men a boy. I have taken great pains to find his original journal, as well as those of some others of the adventures who followed him; but without success; the only account I have seen is an imperfect abridgment in Purchas, by which it is not possible to lay down his track; from which, however, I have drawn the following particulars:—He fell in with the land to the Westward in latitude 73°, on the twenty-first of June, which he named Hold-with-Hope. The twenty-seventh, he fell in with Spitsbergen, and met with much ice; he got to eighty degrees twenty-three minutes, which was the Northermost latitude he observed in. Giving an account of the conclusion of his discoveries, he says, "On the sixteenth of August I saw land, by reason of the clearness of the weather, Siretching far into eighty-two degrees, and, by the bowing and shewing of the sky, much farther; which, when I first saw, I hoped to have had a free sea between the land and the ice, and meant to have compassed this land by the North; but now finding it was impossible, by means of the abundance of ice compassing us about by the North, and joining to the land; and seeing God did bless us with a wind, we returned, bearing up the helm. He afterwards adds; And this I can assure at this present, that between seventy-eight degrees and an half, and eighty-two degrees, by this way there is no passage."—In consequence of this opinion, he was the next year employed on the North East discovery.

In March 1609, old style, "A voyage was set forth by the right worshipful Sir Thomas Smith, and the rest of the Muscovy Company, to Cherry Island, and for a further discovery to be made towards, page 8 the, North Pole, for the likelihood of a trade or a passage that way, in the ship called the Amity, of burthen seventy tuns, in which Jonas Poole was master, having fourteen men and one boy."—He weighed from Blackwall, March the first, old style; and after great severity of weather, and much difficulty from the ice, he made the South part of Spitsbergen on the 16th of May. He sailed along and founded the coast, giving names to several places, and making many very accurate observations. On the 20th, being near Fair Foreland, he sent his mate on shore;—and, speaking of the account he gave at his return, says, "Moreover, I was certified that all the ponds and lakes were unfrozen, they being fresh water; which putteth me in hope of a mild summer here, after so sharp a beginning as I have had; and my opinion is such, and I assure myself it is so, that a passage may be as soon attained this way by the Pole, as any unknown way whatsoever, by reason the son doth give a great heat in this climate, and the ice (I mean that freezeth here) is nothing so huge as I have seen in seventy-three degrees."

These hopes, however, he was soon obliged to relingquish for that year, having twice attempted in vain to get beyond 79° 50′. On the 21st of June, he stood to the Southward, to get a loading of fish, and arrived in London the last of August. He was employed the following year (1611) in a small bark called the Elizabeth, of 50 tuns. The instructions for this voyage, which may be found at full length in Purchas, are excellently drawn up: They direct him, after having attended the fishery for some time, to attempt discoveries to the North Pole as long as the season will permit; with a discretionary clause, to act in unforeseen cases as shall appear to him most for the advancement of the discovery, and interest of his employers. This however proved an unfortunate voyage: for having staid in Cross Road till the 16th of June, on account of the bad weather, and great quantity of ice, he sailed from thence on that day, and steered W b N fourteen leagues, where he found a bank of ice: he returned to Cross Road; from page 9 whence, when he sailed, he found the ice to lie close to the land, about the latitude of 80°, and that it was impossible to pass that way; and the strong tides making it dangerous to deal with the ice, he determined to stand along it to the Southward, to try is he could find the sea more open that way, and so get to the Westward, and proceed on his voyage. He found the ice to lie nearest S W and S W b S and ran along it about an hundred and twenty leagues. He had no ground near the ice at 160, 180, or 200 fathoms: perceiving the ice still to trend to the Southward, he determined to return to Spitsbergen for the fishery, where he lost his ship.

In the year 1614, another voyage was undertaken, in which Baffin and Fotherby were employed. With much difficulty, and after repeated attempts in vain with the ship, they got with their boats to the firm ice, which joined to Red-Beach; they walked over the ice to that place, in hopes of finding whale-fins, &c. in which they were disappointed. Fotherby adds, in his account, "Thus, as we could not find what we desired to see, so did we behold that which we wished had not been there to be seen; which was great abundance of ice, that lay close to the shore, and also off at sea as far as we could discern." On the eleventh of August, they sailed from Fair-Haven, to try if the ice would let them pass to the Northward, or Northeastward; they steered from Cape Barren, or Vogel Sang, N E b E eight leagues, where they met with the ice, which lay E b S and W b N. The fifteenth of August they saw ice frozen in the sea of above the thickness of an half-crown.

Fotherby was again fitted out the next year in a pinnace of twenty tons, called the Richard, with ten men. In this voyage he was prevented by the ice from getting farther than in his last. He refers to a chart, in which he had traced the ship's course on every traverse, to shew how far the state of that sea was discovered between eighty and seventy-one degrees of latitude, and for twenty-six degrees of longitude from Hackluit's headland. He concludes the account of his voyage in the following manner:

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"Now, if any demand my opinion concerning hope of a passage to be found in those seas, I answer; that it is true, that I both hoped and much desired to have passed further than I did, but was hindered with ice; wherein although I have not attained my desire, yet forasmuch as it appears not yet to the contrary, but that there is a spacious sea betwixt Groinland and king James his new land, [Spitsbergen] although much pestered with ice; I will not seem to dissuade this worshipful company from the yearly adventuring of 150 or 200 pounds at the most, till some further discovery be made of the said seas and lands adjacent."

It appears that the Russia company, either satisfied with his endeavours and despairing of further success, or tired of the expence of the undertaking, never employed any more ships on this discovery.

All these voyages having been fitted out by private adventurers, for the double purpose of discovery and present advantage; it was natural to suppose, that the attention of the navigators had been diverted from pursuing the more remote and less profitable object of the two, with all the attention that could have been wished. I am happy, however, in an opportunity of doing justice to the memory of these men; which, without having traced their steps, and experienced their difficulties, it would having traced their steps, and experienced their difficulties, it would have been impossible to have done. They appear to have encountered dangers, which at that period must have been particularly alarming from their novelty, with the greatest fortitude and perseverance; as well as to have shewn a degree of diligence and skill, not only in the ordinary and practical, but more scientific parts of their profession, which might have done honour to modern seamen, with all their advantages of later improvements. This, when compared with the accounts given of the state of navigation, even within these forty years, by the most eminent foreign authors, affords the most stattering and satisfactory proof of the very early existence of that decided superiority in naval affairs which has carried the power of this country to the height it has now attained.

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This great point of geography, perhaps the most important in its consequences to a commercial nation and maritime power, but the only one which had never yet been the object of royal attention, was suffered to remain without further investigation, from the year 1615 till 1773, when the Earl of Sandwich, in consequence of an application which had been made to him by the Royal Society, laid before his Majesty, about the beginning of February, a proposal for an expedition to try how far navigation was practicable towards the North Pole; which his Majesty was pleased to direct should be immediately undertaken, with every encouragement that could countenance such an enterprize, and every assistance that could contribute to its success.

As soon as I heard of the design, I offered myself, and had the honour of being entrusted with the conduct of this undertaking. The nature of the voyage requiring particular care in the choice and equipment of the ships, the Racehorse and Carcass bombs were fixed upon as the strongest, and therefore properest for the purpose. The probability that such an expedition could not be carried on without meeting with much ice, made some additional strengthening necessary: they were therefore immediately taken into dock, and fitted in the most compleat manner for the service. The complement for the Racehorse was fixed at ninety men, and the ordinary establishment departed from, by appointing an additional number of officers, and entering effective men instead of the usual number of boys.

I was allowed to recommend the officers; and was very happy to find, during the course of the voyage, by the great assistance I received on many occasions from their abilities and experience, that I had not been mistaken in the characters of those upon whom so much depended in the performance of this service. Two masters of Greenlandmen were employed as pilots for each ship. The Racehorse was also furnished with the new chain-pumps made by Mr. Cole, according to Captain Bentinck's improvements, which were found to answer perfectly well. We also made use of Dr. Irving's apparatus for distilling fresh water page 12 from the sea, with the greatest success. Some small but useful alterations were made in the species of provisions usually supplied in the navy; an additional quantity of spirits was allowed for each ship, to be issued at the discretion of the commanders, when extraordinary fatigue or severity of weather might make it expedient. A quantity of wine was also allotted for the use of the sick. Additional cloathing, adapted to the rigor of that climate, which from the relations of former navigators we were taught to expect, was ordered to be put on board, to be given to the seamen when we arrived in the high latitudes. It was foreseen that one or both of the ships might be sacrificed in the prosecution of this undertaking; the boats for each ship were therefore calculated, in number and size, to be fit, on any emergency, to transport the whole crew. In short, every thing which could tend to promote the success of the undertaking, or contribute to the security, health, and convenience of the ships' companies, was granted.

As a voyage of this kind would probably afford many opportunities of making experiments and observations in matters relative to navigation, I took care to provide myself with all the best instruments hitherto in use, as well as others which had been imperfectly, or never, tried.

In the Journal which follows, I mean to confine myself to the occurrences of the voyage as they succeeded in order of Time; which, for the convenience of the generality of readers, I have reduced from the nautical to the civil computation.

A voyage of a few months to an unhabited extremity of the world, the great object of which was to ascertain a very interesting point in geography, cannot be supposed to afford much matter for the gratification of mere curiosity.