At that time the Hudsons Bay Company employed about a million men on its territories. It held supreme authority over them, an authority which could even inflict death. The governors of the factories could regulate salaries, and arbitrarily fix the price of provisions and furs; and as a result of this irresponsible power, they often realised a profit of no less than three hundred per cent.
We shall see from the following table, taken from the Voyage of Captain Robert Lade, on what terms exchanges were formerly made with those Indians who have since become the best hunters of the Company. Beavers skins were then the currency employed in buying and selling.
The Indians paid
For one gun, 10 beavers skins half a pound of powder, 1 four pounds of shot, 1 one axe, 1 six knives, 1 one pound of glass beads, 1 one laced coat, 6 one coat not laced, 5 one laced female dress, 6 one pound of tobacco, 1 one box of powder, 1 one comb and one looking glass, 2
But a few years ago beaver-skins became so scarce that the currency had to be changed. Bison-furs are now the medium of trade. When an Indian presents himself at the fort, the agents of the Company give him as many pieces of wood as he brings skins, and he exchanges these pieces of wood for manufactured articles on the premises; and as the Company fix the price of the articles they buy and sell, they cannot fail to realise large profits.
Such was the mode of proceeding in Fort Reliance and other factories; so that Mrs Paulina Barnett was able to watch the working of the system during her stay, which extended until the 16th April. Many a long talk did she have with Lieutenant Hobson, many were the projects they formed, and firmly were they both determined to allow no obstacle to check their advance. As for Thomas Black, he never opened his lips except when his own special mission was discussed. He was wrapped up in the subject of the luminous corona and red prominences of the moon; he lived but to solve the problem, and in the end made Mrs Paulina Barnett nearly as enthusiastic as himself. How eager the two were to cross the Arctic Circle, and how far off the 18th July 1860 appeared to both, but especially to the impatient Greenwich astronomer, can easily be imagined.
The preparations for departure could not be commenced until the middle of March, and a month passed before they were completed. In fact, it was a formidable undertaking to organise such an expedition for crossing the Polar regions. Everything had to betaken with them-food, clothes, tools, arms, ammunition, and a nondescript collection of various requisites.
The troops, under the command of Lieutenant Jaspar Hobson, were one chief and two subordinate officers, with ten soldiers, three of whom took their wives with them. They were all picked men, chosen by Captain Craventy on account of their energy and resolution. We append a list of the whole party:
1. Lieutenant Jaspar Hobson. 11. Sabine, soldier. 2. Sergeant Long. 12. Hope, do. 3. Corporal Joliffe. 13. Kellet, do. 4. Petersen, soldier 14. Mrs Rae 5. Belcher, do. 15. Mrs Joliffe. 6. Rae, do 16. Mrs Mac-Nab. 7. Marbre, do 17. Mrs Paulina Barnett. 8. Garry, do 18. Madge. 9. Pond, do 19. Thomas Black 10. Mac-Nab, do.
In all, nineteen persons to be transported several hundreds of miles through a desert and imperfectly-known country.
With this project in view, however, the Company had collected everything necessary for the expedition. A dozen sledges, with their teams of dogs, were in readiness. These primitive vehicles consisted of strong but light planks joined together by transverse bands. A piece of curved wood, turning up at the end like a skate, was fixed beneath the sledge, enabling it to cleave the snow without sinking deeply into it. Six swift and intelligent dogs, yoked two and two, and controlled by the long thong brandished by the driver, drew the sledges, and could go at a rate of fifteen miles an hour.