c50_sm_fig01.jpg - 42438 Bytes
THE story of Arctic exploration is a long and a thrilling one. Many centuries ago the Scandinavian pirates, who infested every shore, had, as already related, discovered Iceland, and fixed their colonies along its bays. To them it was at first a safe retreat, where they might divide their spoils; but even the earliest of their number did not regard themselves as original discoverers, for on landing they found the remains of horns, bells, crosses, and even books, which led them to believe that the Scotch or Irish had been before them. This, indeed, does not seem improbable, when the fact is remembered that from the most northern point of Scotland to the southern capes of Iceland, the distance is less than five hundred miles, and that the Faroe Islands, situated more than half way, were known from very early times, certainly before the ninth century.

However, the first authentic record of Arctic voyages begins with that of Flocco, A.D. 861, whose ravens, loosed at regular intervals during his voyage, guided him to Iceland, which he called "Snowland," a name retained for two hundred years after his day. The first permanent settlement on this far distant land was by a party of Norwegian exiles, whose numbers were recruited by friends from the mother country, and soon these settlers became a flourishing colony.


As told in a previous chapter, Greenland was directly after discovered and settled, and the people were for a while prosperous, but at length disaster came that blotted them out of existence. On the west coast they were involved in hostilities with the Indians, and the population of over one hundred villages perished in the conflict. The fate of the settlement along the east coast is uncertain. Established in 983, at the beginning of the fifteenth century there were one hundred and ninety villages, divided into twelve parishes, having a bishop, several convents and monasteries, and a lineal succession of sixteen bishops, when, as the seventeenth was on his way to take possession of his See, he found all communication with the coast cut off by vast masses of ice which had moved down from the Arctic Ocean. This ice-veil in front of the Greenland continent has never since been removed. Only once do we catch a glimpse of the unfortunate Greenland colonists. In the sixteenth century, a vessel from Norway was driven near the coast; the sailors saw houses and people in the fields driving their cattle, but the ice prevented a landing, the ship was forced to stand out to sea, and the colonists disappeared from view forever. Time and again were efforts made to reach them, but each resulted in failure; the eastern colonies of Greenland completely disappeared from history.

After Scandinavian times, the authentic history of Arctic exploration is continued by the Zenoes of Venice, who in 1380 made voyages to Greenland and brought back accounts of what they saw. According to their statements the Scandinavian settlements there were both extensive and civilized. There were monasteries where the monks heated
c50_sm_fig02.jpg - 163415 Bytes
their rooms with hot-water pipes leading from a volcanic spring; there were churches, warm baths and flower gardens; but the stories of the Zenoes received little credence, being regarded as the idle tales of gossipping travellers.


We are not accustomed to regard Columbus as an Arctic explorer, but his own letters speak of a visit to Iceland, and there are hints that he knew of Greenland and that he knew of the countries to the south that are mentioned by the Zenoes. After the discovery of America, Arctic voyages began to be made with a practical object in view, for the Spaniards, then in the height of their power, claimed all America for themselves, and after the discovery of the passage to India by the Cape of Good Hope, monopolized the South Seas and dealt severely with all intruders. Other nations desired a share of the trade of the New World, but unable to get it because of the vigilant watch kept up by the Spaniards, began to search for other passages to India and the east. There was a firm belief that such routes existed, and rewards were offered by the authorities of several nations to navigators for any discovery that proved to be of value.


The Spaniards could not see with indifference the efforts of other nations to find a short route to the east, and for fear lest one of the expeditions should be successful determined to prosecute the investigation for themselves. As early as 1524, Estevan Gomez sailed from Corunna to discover a north-west passage, but what course he took, where he went and what he found are not known. The efforts of the Spanish government were warmly seconded by the Spanish in America, for in 1542 Mendoza, the Viceroy of Mexico, sent two able seamen to examine the north-western coast, but with no result; nor did any better success attend an expedition sent out for the same purpose by the Madrid government in 1544.

It seems strange that the English took so little interest in the discoveries that were setting the world in a whirl, but the records are imperfect, and perhaps more was done than has been reported. It is certain, however, that so little encouragement was given to Cabot that he left England in disgust, and no more expeditions were undertaken until the reign of Henry VIII., when two ships, the "Dominus Vobiscum" and another, were sent to the north-west, where the former was lost, but no records of the voyage have been preserved. This unsatisfactory result did not prevent the fitting out of an expedition in 1553, under the command of Sir Hugh Willoughby. This was undertaken with a new idea. Heretofore all attempts to reach India had been by way of the west, but Willoughby, contrary to the general opinion, believed that by sailing to the north-east, and passing around Europe and Asia, he could reach the Golden Shores. The expedition came to disaster, for on the coast of Lapland the ships were caught in the ice, and three years later the crews were all found dead. Better fortune attended Richard Chancellor, who sailed in the same direction and reached Archangel, whence by land he went to Moscow, and was received by the Czar. Ivan Vasilovitch was interested in the visit of the English party, but apparently infinitely more so in the beard which depended from the chin of one of their number, as he well might be, for we are told it was bright yellow, and five feet two inches long. How far Master George Killingworth's phenomenal beard helped on the treaty afterwards made is not certain, but the commerce resulting from Chancellor's voyage opened the way to future explorations, and English ships soon penetrated as far as Nova Zembla, and did a large trade along the Russian coast.


While rapid progress was thus made in the north-east, discussion of the north-west pass was carried on with great vigor; its existence was believed in, and one Spanish captain claimed that he had come home from India through it. The account which he gave of his voyage was widely circulated, and stimulated the imagination of the famous Martin Frobisher, who made the finding of the supposed north-west passage the object of his life. So little confidence, however, had capitalists in the stories circulated with regard to it, that fifteen years of almost constant effort elapsed before Frobisher could induce any one to furnish him an outfit. In 1576 he succeeded; two vessels, the "Gabriel" of thirty-five, the "Michael" of thirty, and a pinnace of ten tons, were placed at his disposal; he passed Greenland and entered Frobisher's Strait, thinking it the promised passage, but was stopped by the ice and forced to return. The voyage was so unsatisfactory that no other would have been made had it not been for a singular accident: A sailor brought home a black stone as a memento, and being asked by his wife what he had for her, presented the stone as the sole result. In her anger she threw it in the fire, whence it was rescued some hours later, split into fragments by the heat, and showing a yellow substance which looked like gold. The news of the discovery soon spread, and being told at court, another expedition was quickly fitted out, consisting of a large ship of "nine score tunnes," and two smaller vessels. With this equipment Frobisher returned to the strait, and began to load his ships with ore. Having done so, he set up a monument, which two hundred years later was discovered none the worse for its exposure, and returned loaded with ore and curiosities, among the rest the "horne of a great fishe, two yardes long, growing out of his snoute." Not even after this expedition were the scientists undeceived as to the nature of Frobisher's ore, the supposed gold being merely specks of mica, but such faith was felt that a fleet of fifteen vessels was at once prepared, three of which were to remain, with one hundred persons as colonists, while the others were to bring back the gold.

Under bright auspices the fleet sailed in 1578, but the season was bad, all the straits were full of ice, some of the ships were sunk by collision with the bergs, others were shattered by storms, no settlement was made, little ore was collected, and in August the damaged vessels set out on their return to England, where the unwelcome discovery was made that the mineral collected contained not one particle of the precious metal.


All attempts thus far had been failures, but the Earl of Warwick now started on a new plan, and determined to attack the problem from a different direction. He accordingly fitted out a vessel, giving the command to a brave soldier named Edward Fenton, and directed him to proceed to India by the usual route, but to endeavor to return by the north-west. The Spaniards, however, learning of his intention, sent a fleet to the Strait of Magellan to intercept him, and learning the fact, he did not venture to run the risk of encountering the Spanish force, but returned to England, winning laurels by the way in a conflict with the vice-admiral of the Spanish fleet, whose ship he sunk in a Portuguese port.

The merchants of London had not yet relinquished hope of a north-east passage, but in 1580 sent out two vessels under command of Arthur Pet and Charles Jackman, the former of whom returned two years later, having been caught in the Nova Zembla ice, without being able to go further, and no news was ever received of the latter. These two failures put an end to north-east exploration for a long time but directed renewed attention to the north-west.


In 1583, a fleet was fitted out for the famous Sir Humphrey Gilbert, the object being discovery, colonization and conquest. Five ships, from 200 tons to 10 tons capacity, were manned by 260 men of all professions, among the number being five musicians with their instruments, for the purpose of amusing the savages who might be encountered. The first stop was made on the coast of New Brunswick, where possession was taken of the country and laws were made for the government of the colonists and the regulation of their intercourse with the natives. Examinations were made of the coast to the north and south, in search of some strait to the Pacific, but nothing was found, and the expedition started on the return voyage. Gilbert had all along sailed in a 10 ton and unsafe craft called the "Squirrel," and when starting home, was urged to leave the little boat and take passage on the "Golden Hinde," but declined to do so, a rumor having reached his ears that the sailors of the fleet believed him to be afraid of the sea. A terrific storm came on and the last seen of the "Squirrel" was when she passed close under the stern of the larger vessel, and Gilbert was heard to call out, "Courage, my lads, we are as near heaven on sea as on land!" In the morning the little boat was no longer to be seen, for she had been swamped by the waves and all on board were lost.


The three voyages of John Davis, undertaken in the years 1585-86-87, brought no more substantial result than the exploration of the strait which bears the name of that daring navigator, and in the establishment of a considerable trade with the Esquimaux, who were conciliated by the musicians taken along. But in spite of their taste for music, the savages proved to be so mischievous and thievish that Davis was soon glad to be rid of them and pursue his investigation without their assistance. He satisfied himself that the way to India lay through the strait he had discovered, but was so far from being able to convince his employers that in spite of his arguments they declined to send him out again; he sought service with the Dutch and in their employ made five voyages to Java and back, the fact being cited by the historians of that time as "A wonderful showe of the goodnesse of God."

Nine years after Davis had quitted the English service a curious story came to England from Aleppo. The British agent wrote home to his government that he had seen and talked with an old Greek sailor named Juan de Fuca, who claimed that in returning from the Indies he had discovered a strait on the west coast of North America, and announcing his discovery in Mexico, had been sent as pilot to an expedition designed to occupy and fortify it. A mutiny broke out among the Spaniards and the expedition returned without result. No attention was, at the time, paid
c50_sm_fig03.jpg - 113470 Bytes
to the story, and no attempt made to profit by the discovery, but long after the strait was found exactly where the old Greek said it was, and, in his honor, was called after his name. His supposition that it was the eagerly soughtfor passage was not unnatural, as the Bay of Vancouver, into which it leads, is sufficiently large to justify the belief that it penetrated far inland.


About this time the Dutch vessels were so much troubled by the Spanish cruisers that the Holland government determined to put forth every effort to find a passage to India, which should not lie open to the Spanish men-of-war, and Barentz was sent to try the north-east. He made three voyages, between 1594 and 1597, in one of which he rediscovered Spitzbergen, thought to have been first seen by Willoughby; but in the last voyage his ship was caught in the ice on the eastern coast of Nova Zembla, and damaged beyond hope of repair. The crew were forced to pass the winter on this desolate coast, and their story is interesting, as furnishing the first authentic record of the severity of an Arctic winter. All the phenomena, illustrating the effects of extreme cold, so well known through the narratives of later travellers, were here observed, and for the first time described. The wine and liquors froze, oil became solid, the frost peeled the skin from the faces and hands of the unhappy men; they were subjected to the utmost misery from hunger and cold, and yet throughout their journals, which are still extant, there breathes a piety so sweet and resigned that it is hard to tell whether to pity their misfortune more than admire their resignation. When spring came they committed themselves to the sea in their open boats, and in forty days made a journey of more than 1100 miles. Several of their number, including their commander, died from the hardships to which all were equally exposed; but the remainder had the good fortune to fall in with a Dutch vessel at Cola, in which they returned to Holland.


A long roll of honorable names now follows, each being identified with some additional step towards our knowledge of the Polar regions. William Adams, the great pilot, took a Dutch ship to a latitude higher than had been attained by Barentz; Waymouth, in the service of England, skirted the Greenland coast and prepared the way for Hudson, who followed and discovered the strait and bay which bear his name. James Hall, sent out by the Danish government, either to search for the lost colonies of Greenland or to find gold, it is not certain which, examined the western coast of Davis Strait and reported the discovery of several large inlets, one of which he conjectured might be the passage to the Pacific. There was Sir Thomas Button, who the year after Hudson's abandonment by his crew, was sent out to follow the track of that ill-fated commander and explore the great bay which had been discovered by him. Button sailed around it, naming Nelson's river, and wintering on the south coast; but finding all northern passages choked with ice, returned the following year. The next Arctic navigator was Gibbons, who followed Button in an effort to explore Hudson Bay, but was driven back by the ice, and carried by a floe into Labrador Bay, where he stayed for five months, the place being, in derision, named by his crew, "Gibbons, his Hole." There was Bylot, who had been with Hudson, Button and Gibbons, who located a number of islands to the west of Davis Strait. On a second voyage this enterprising seaman was accompanied by Baffin, from whose scholarly notes of the progress made much valuable information has been derived. Baffin himself was soon to make a name as an explorer, which he did by penetrating through Davis Strait and exploring a portion of the bay which bears his own name.

All these and many more explorers who diligently examined the north-east coast of America between 1603 and 1615, contributed no little to the general stock of information, although the particular discoveries made by any one were perhaps of no great importance. But the imperfect date of geographical knowledge, the superstitious beliefs, and the fragmentary records that were made, all peculiar to that early time, combine to cloud the real results obtained; and as every discovery was made subordinate to the finding of gold, or the means for extending commerce, -- the prime ambitions of the age, -- it is not improbable that many discoveries of great geographical importance were made, but were so little regarded that they were left unrecorded.