Book of Discovery - M. B. Synge

Parry's Polar Voyage

Parry had left England the preceding April in an attempt to reach the North Pole by means of sledges over the ice. To this end he had sailed to Spitzbergen in his old ship the Hecla, many of his old shipmates sailing with him. They arrived off the coast of Spitzbergen about the middle of May 1827. Two boats had been specially built in England, covered with waterproof canvas and lined with felt. The Enterprise  and Endeavour  had bamboo masts and paddles, and were constructed to go on sledges, drawn by reindeer, over the ice.

"Nothing," says Parry, "can be more beautiful than the training of the Lapland reindeer. With a simple collar of skin round his neck, a single trace of the same material attached to the sledge and passing between his legs, and one rein fastened like a halter round his neck, this intelligent and docile animal is perfectly under the command of an experienced driver, and performs astonishing journeys over the softest snow. Shaking the rein over his back is the only whip that is required."

Leaving the Hecla  in safe harbour on the Spitzbergen coast, Parry and James Ross, a nephew of John Ross, the explorer, with food for two months, started off in their two boat-sledges for the north. They made a good start; the weather was calm and clear, the sea smooth as a mirror—walruses lay in herds on the ice, and, steering due north, they made good progress.

Next day, however, they were stopped by ice. Instead of finding a smooth, level plain over which the reindeer could draw their sledges with ease, they found broken, rugged, uneven ice, which nothing but the keen enthusiasm of the explorer could have faced. The reindeer were useless, and they had to be relinquished; it is always supposed that they were eaten, but history is silent on this point. The little party had to drag their own boats over the rough ice. They travelled by night to save snow-blindness, also that they could enjoy greater warmth during the hours of sleep by day.

[Illustration] from Book of Discovery by M. B. Synge

Parry describes the laborious journey: "Being 'rigged' for travelling," he says, "we breakfasted upon warm cocoa and biscuit, and after stowing the things in the boats we set off on our day's journey, and usually travelled about five and a half hours, then stopped an hour to dine, and again travelled five or six hours. After this we halted for the night as we called it, though it was usually early in the morning, selecting the largest surface of ice we happened to be near for hauling the boats on. The boats were placed close alongside each other, and the sails supported by bamboo masts placed over them as awnings. Every man then put on dry socks and fur boots and went to supper. Most of the officers and men then smoked their pipes, which served to dry the awnings. We then concluded our day with prayers and, having put on our fur dresses, lay down to sleep," alone in the great ice desert. Progress was slow and very tedious. One day it took them four hours to cover half a mile. On 1st July they were still labouring forward; a foot of soft snow on the ground made travelling very exhausting. Some of the hummocks of ice were as much as twenty-five feet above sea-level; nothing was to be seen but ice and sky, both often hidden by dense fog. Still the explorers pushed on, Parry and Ross leading the way and the men dragging the boat-sledges after. July 12th was a brilliant day, with clear sky overhead—"an absolute luxury." For another fortnight they persevered, and on 23rd July they reached their farthest point north. It was a warm, pleasant day, with the thermometer at thirty-six in the shade; they were a hundred and seventy-two miles from Spitzbergen, where the Hecla  lay at anchor.

"Our ensigns and pendants were displayed during the day, and severely as we regretted not having been able to hoist the British flag in the highest latitude to which we had aspired, we shall perhaps be excused in having felt some little pride in being the bearers of it to a parallel considerably beyond that mentioned in any other well-authenticated record." On 27th July they reluctantly turned to the south, and on 21st August they arrived on board the Hecla  after an absence of sixty-one days, every one of the party being in good health. Soon after they sailed for England, and by a strange coincidence arrived in London at the same time as Franklin.

Many an attempt was yet to be made to reach the North Pole, till at last it was discovered by Peary, an American, in 1909.


Front Matter

A Little Old World
Early Mariners
Is the World Flat
Herodotus the Traveller
Alexander Explores India
Pytheas Finds British Isles
Julius Caesar as Explorer
Strabo's Geography
The Roman Empire and Pliny
Ptolemy's Maps
Pilgrim Travellers
Irish Explorers
After Mohammed
Vikings Sail Northern Seas
Arab Wayfarers
Travellers to the East
Marco Polo
Mediaeval Exploration Ends
Mediaeval Maps
Prince Henry of Portugal
Bartholomew Diaz
Christopher Columbus
A Great New World
Vasco da Gama Reaches India
Discovery of Spice Islands
Balboa Sees Pacific Ocean
Magellan Sails Round World
Cortes Conquers Mexico
Explorers in South America
Cabot Sails to Newfoundland
Cartier Explores Canada
Search for a Northwest Passage
Frobisher Searches for Passage
Drake's Famous Voyage
Davis Straight
Barents Sails to Spitzbergen
Hudson Finds His Bay
Baffin Finds His Bay
Raleigh Searches for El Dorado
Champlain and Lake Ontario
Discoverers of Australia
Tasman Finds Tasmania
Dampier Discovers a Straight
Behring Finds his Straight
Cook Discovers New Zealand
Cook's Third Voyage
Bruce in Abyssinia
Mungo Park and the Niger
Vancouver and his Island
Mackenzie and his River
Parry and Lancaster Sound
The Frozen North
Franklin's Land Voyage
Parry's Polar Voyage
The Search for Timbuktu
Landers Discover the Niger
Ross Discovers North Pole
Flinders Names Australia
Sturt's Discoveries in Australia
Ross in the Antarctic Seas
Franklin Discovers Passage
David Livingstone
Burton and Speke in Africa
Livingston Traces Nyassa
Expedition to Victoria Nyanza
Baker Finds Albert Nyanza
Livingstone's Last Journey
Through the Dark Continent
Nordenskiold's NE Passage
The Exploration of Tibet
Nansen Reaches Farthest North
Peary Reaches the North Pole
The Quest for the South Pole
Dates of Chief Events