“My friends!” interposed the Doctor; “pray be calm. This is a scientific point we are discussing.”
But Hatteras was deaf to reason now, and said angrily—
“I’ll tell you the facts, sir.”
“And I’ll tell you,” retorted the irate American.
“Gentlemen,” said Clawbonny, in a firm tone; “allow me to speak, for I know the facts of the case as well as and perhaps better than you, and I can state them impartially.”
“Yes, yes!” cried Bell and Johnson, who had been anxiously watching the strife.
“Well, go on,” said Altamont, finding himself in the minority, while Hatteras simply made a sign of acquiescence, and resumed his seat.
The Doctor brought a chart and spread it out on the table, that his auditors might follow his narration intelligibly, and be able to judge the merits of McClure for themselves.
“It was in 1848,” he said, “that two vessels, the Herald and the Plover, were sent out in search of Franklin, but their efforts proving ineffectual, two others were despatched to assist them— the Investigator, in command of McClure, and the Enterprise, in command of Captain Collison. The Investigator arrived first in Behring’s Straits, and without waiting for her consort, set out with the declared purpose to find Franklin or the North-West Passage. The gallant young officer hoped to push north as far as Melville Sound, but just at the extremity of the Strait, he was stopped by an insurmountable barrier of ice, and forced to winter there. During the long, dreary months, however, he and his officers undertook a journey over the ice-field, to make sure of its communicating with Melville Sound.”
“Yes, but he did not get through,” said Altamont.
“Stop a bit,” replied Clawbonny; “as soon as a thaw set in, McClure renewed his attempt to bring his ship into Melville Sound, and had succeeded in getting within twenty miles, when contrary winds set in, and dragged her south with irresistible violence. This decided the captain to alter his course. He determined to go in a westerly direction; but after a fearful struggle with icebergs, he stuck fast in the first of the series of straits
which end in Baffin’s Bay, and was obliged to winter in Mercy Bay. His provisions would only hold out eighteen months longer, but he would not give up. He set out on a sledge, and reached Melville Island, hoping to fall in with some ship or other, but all he found in Winter Harbour was a cairn, which contained a document, stating that Captain Austin’s lieutenant, McClintock, had been there the preceding year. McClure replaced this document by another, which stated his intention of returning to England by the North-West Passage he had discovered, by Lancaster Sound and Baffin’s Bay, and that in the event of his not being heard of, he might be looked for north or west of Melville Island. Then he went back to Mercy Bay with undaunted courage, to pass a third winter. By the beginning of March his stock of provisions was so reduced in consequence of the utter scarcity of game through the severity of the season, that McClure resolved to send half his men to England, either by Baffin’s Bay or by McKenzie River and Hudson’s Bay. The other half would manage to work the vessel to Europe. He kept all his best sailors, and selected for departure only those to whom a fourth winter would have been fatal. Everything was arranged for their leaving, and the day fixed, when McClure, who was out walking with Lieutenant Craswell, observed a man running towards them, flinging up his arms and gesticulating frantically, and on getting nearer recognized him as Lieutenant Prim, officer on board the Herald, one of the ships he had parted with in Behring’s Straits two years before.
Captain Kellett, the Commander, had reached Winter Harbour, and finding McClure’s document in the cairn, had dispatched his lieutenant in search of him. McClure accompanied him back, and arranged with the captain to send him his batch of invalids. Lieutenant Craswell took charge of these and conveyed them safely to Winter Harbour. Leaving them there he went across the ice four hundred and seventy miles, and arrived at Isle Beechy, where, a few days afterwards, he took passage with twelve men on board the Phoenix, and reached London safely on the 7th of October, 1853, having traversed the whole extent between Behring’s Straits and Cape Farewell.”
“Well, if arriving on one side and leaving at the other is not going through, I don’t know what is!” said Hatteras.