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My blankets, last night, were perfectly frozen where I had been breathing.
The thermometer stood generally at 30 degrees below zero, a degree of cold which no constitution could long bear without sustaining injury. The ice around the vessel was frozen to the depth of between six and seven feet. The large water casks, though placed in the warmest part of the ship, soon became solid masses of ice, as I personally witnessed after the arrival of the Viewforth in our harbour
It is clear, it would have been their wisdom to have recourse to bodily exercise, in order to keep themselves in heat. But instead of acting upon this principle, not a few of them gave way to the depressing influence which severe cold exerts on a shivering frame. They shrunk from exposure to that chilling element. They felt inclined to lie in bed. This aggravated the evil. The evil was frightfully augmented when it happened, as was often inevitably the case, that the men got wet and were frost-bitten. An instance of this description is detailed by the surgeon. November 24. “ Next morning, between eight and nine o'clock, I heard a man hailing us astern.
I went immediately to his assistance, and found him quite benumbed from cold, and perfectly delirious. He had to be carried on board, and when once there, all hands being employed in cutting a dock in the ice, í had to do the best I could with him. His feet, and all that covered them, were frozen into one lump. Having cut away the legs and uppers of his boots, I found it necessary to go through the same operation with the soles and stockings. The latter tore away the flesh from the insensate mass. So completely frozen were the poor man's feet, that when he attempted to walk on the deck, the sound (I can compare it to nothing else) was like the knocking of a pair of clamps on the wooden floor. When carried to the fire, he was not satisfied with being near it, but he actually thrust his feet into the midst of it, and it was with the utmost difficulty I could prevail upon him to withdraw them. I had recourse to the usual methods of thawing them, and endeavoured, if possible, to restore circulation. The result was, that after the dead parts were removed, inflammation began, and was succeeded by mortification, till the poor fellow sunk under the weight of his sufferings.”
Scarcity of provisions. This was a serious evil. The
ordinary length of a voyage to the Straits, including the fishing season,' is six months; and as none anticipated a longer period for the View forth, the supplies, though ample enough for the usual time, were fearfully inadequate to meet the wants of the crew for eleven months. Accordingly, from the day in which the ship became icebound, and when no rational hope of escape, for that season, could be entertained, it became absolutely necessary, for their safety, to practise the most rigid economy. All were put on short allowance. October 1. My mind is made up for a winter in the Arctic regions. The worst of it is, all the ships are very short of provisions; we are now on one and a-half biscuit a-day, one half pound of beef, and about half a teacupful of meal.” November 5. have near one-fourth pound of pork, and one half-pound of beef a-day, and three pounds of bread in the week. Our meal is all done. Five casks of bread yet remain, which will be a great help, if the Lord spare us.
The work we are at just now, will very soon wear us out.
I have not had my clothes off these four days.” Dec. 12. “I feel I am really starving." January 16.
" Three pounds of bread per week, about a biscuit a-day. I am falling away to a shadow, through cold, and hunger, and thought."
On the 15th of November, the Middleton became a total wreck. The crew were divided between the Jane and Viewforth. Twenty-two of them came on board the latter vessel, in a state of utter destitution, a circumstance which materially contributed to diminish the means of supporting life. The consequences were alarming. What with the piercing cold, incessant toil, and scanty food, the most part of the sailors became so weak as to be unable to work. " Hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted in them.” The following extracts speak volumes. January 8. “ Many of our men are complaining, mostly of scurvy, and some of them are delirious. Oh! it is a terrible sight to see them in such a state, and wasted away to shadows. Yesterday witnessed a scene that baffles description. got a cask of blubber from the Jane three months ago, which we boil for oil to our lamp. I even saw them eating the fins, pieces of two or three pounds, the very smell of which was enough to sicken one. It shows plainly, that when a human being has not the means of subsistence, he throws off his proper nature, and assumes another more savage and desperate. Under the cravings of nature,
having nothing to appease it, man is quite another being, and will greedily devour what he would have before counted poison.” January 11. “ Six of our stoutest men are at present laid up, and can scarcely move a limb. Whenever they get any help to crawl out of bed, they swoon away.
Their gums are hanging down separate from their teeth.” January 13. “ The people who are not at the pump, are allowed only two pounds of bread in the week, and one biscuit a-day. We are badly off with our three pounds, but I do not know how they live at all. One of them came to me to-day, and said I would do him the greatest favour he ever got in his life, by giving him only a fin of blubber. It is really awful: hunger, cold, fatigue, danger, all upon us at once; and it requires a fortitude to bear up under them, which few can command.” Only twelve hands had strength to do any thing in navigating the ship when she arrived off Stromness. And had not relief been then afforded, these few would have been soon in the condition of the poor widow of Sarepta, when she told Elijah, that she “had only a handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse, and that she was gathering two sticks, that she might dress it for herself
and die.” Two other elements entered into the
cup of suffering which was put into the hands of these mariners, while in the Arctic Regions, I mean darkness and disease. With regard to the latter, it is mournful to relate that disease also invaded the crew. Eleven of the crew of the Middleton, and four of that of the Viewforth, fell victims to it, and were consigned to a watery grave. Here are a few painful instances : Dec. 4. “Another awful day, such as I wish I may never forget, or again behold. What a helpless creature is man when the king of terrors lays hold of him! Another of our shipmates is gone, the poor fellow that was so ill last night; he slept away so quietly that nobody knew the angel of death had passed over him, till seven o'clock this morning. We sewed him in a piece of canvass, and, after making a hole in the ice, launched the body into the deep. All assembled around the body, 'twixt decks, and I read an exhortation which was very solemn and impressive; instructing us to be also ready, and what an awful thing it is to die without being reconciled to God. After committing him to the deep, we again met in the half deck, for prayer and praise; sung the fiftieth psalm, and read the fifteenth chapter of 1 Cor.,
and her son,
which I earnestly hope will leave a lasting impression on us all."
Dec. 15. 66 This has been another eventful day, occasioned by the removal of another of the company into the world of spirits. We committed the lifeless body to the fathomless deep at ten A.M.
We had first to saw a hole in the ice, which was ten feet thick.
It was a mournful burial, and dreadful was the angry blast that swept through the confused and icy tackling. The frost was so severe that we could hardly stand on the ice for so short a time as was sufficient to bury him.”
We have contemplated nature in a state of repose, when around the Viewforth lay an unbroken field of ice to the extent of three hundred miles. The seamen knew this, and made up their minds to encounter all the rigours of an Arctic winter. But when all refuge failed them, save the mercy of their heavenly Father, He on whom they reposed all their hopes, interposed timeously in their behalf, and, with an outstretched arm, rescued them from all the evils of their condition. " With God nothing is impossible.”
To describe the scene that followed the breaking up of the immense fields of ice, by which the Viewforth, and the other ships in like circumstances, were prevented from making their way homeward, were a task altogether impracticable. The war of elements commenced with indescribable fury. On the 2d of November, it blew a perfect hurricane. The solid masses of ice began to yield to the force of the agitation beneath them, and to break up in wild disorder, with a noise louder and more terrific than that of thunder. The icebergs were put in motion. One after another, impelled by the winds and tides, came down on each side of the ship, sweeping, irresistibly, every obstacle before it, and plowing up the fields of ice which had hitherto been deemed impenetrable: what but the power of Jehovah could have preserved the helpless bark, while driven southwards, about a thousand miles, through the broken ice, often heaved up mast high?
Sabbath, Nov. 15. “ Another awful and eventful day. The wind did not take off till nine A.m., and when daylight came, what a scene presented itself to our view! the wreck of the Middleton. I cannot express the feelings that went to our hearts when we first saw our companions in such a state. Every one regarded another in mute despair. Six of our men went over to assist them, as they saw a boat coming towards us; and what a melancholy
tale they brought back !" “ How thankful ought we to be to Thee, O Omnipotent God, for having sustained us through this dreadful night, and spared us as living monuments of thy mercy.” 18th. “We have been driving along this iron-bound coast at the rate of nearly four miles an hour. The ice drove us in with the land ; and what a terrible sight to see the great towering mountains frowning above us, and expecting, every moment, that the ship would be dashed in pieces. At one time we were afraid she was gone, and got our provisions and clothes
upon ice; but thanks be to God, our gallant ship is still spared." Dec. 6. “ This is the Lord's most holy day, a day in which man rests from his labours, and one in which He has dealt mercifully with us. It blows a complete gale, driving us fast along the land, and the ice squeezing as high as our bulwarks, yet we have escaped uninjured.” Dec. 10. “ The ice is now warring and crashing in a most awful manner. It would, indeed, be difficult for the imagination to conceive what is now going on around us, and the prospect that lies open to our view. The ship is now drifting, and working her way through interminable fields of ice, while regions of eternal frost everywhere meet the eye. The entire scene presents nothing but desolation in its most awful form. Frowning cliffs and naked glaciers show us there is no home for us here, should we be forced to leave the ship.”
Dec. 23. “ At two in the morning pitch dark. A pressure took the ship (it was blowing a gale of wind at the time), and lifted her up clean on the top altogether. She leaned again, and fell down in about half an hour ; and, to add to our dismal situation, she was stove, and, from that day to this, we have never left the pump a moment.” This was a very memorable occurrence : I request my readers to think of the situation of the Viewforth, now that an alarming leak was added to her other perils.
But it is proper to advert to the danger to which the crew of the Viewforth were exposed from icebergs. " On the 1st of October, came on a terrible mass of ice, higher than our ship’s masts, and aground in forty-five fathoms of water. Coming right upon a ridge of bergs which we had hardly conceived it possible to clear, the Jane was lifted up two feet out of the water, by a pressure of ice; the Middleton had the ice squeezed up as high as her channels, and our own got some severe contusions, but a gracious Providence watched over us. We drove through