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A strange sail in the NE quarter…

April 26, 2012

ARCdoc is drawing on a number of sources to build up a picture of the climate of the far North Atlantic and the Arctic. The focus to date has been on transcribing weather observations from logbooks kept by the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) and whaling ships, with a view to turning our attention to the Royal Navy discovery ships’ logbooks, once this is complete.

When you are working on a particular source it is easy to think of those particular ships operating in isolation, but in fact the HBC, whalers and Royal Navy were all operating in similar areas at one time or another and on occasion, they did ‘bump’ into one another.

It is rather helpful  when this occurs because this offers us the chance to compare their encounters. A rather nice illustration of this occurs in July 1821 when HBC ships the Prince of Wales and Eddystone, together with the Lord Wellington (transporting settlers) meet with the discovery ships HMS Hecla and Fury in the Davis Straits, off Resolution Island.

From the Prince of Wales logbook:

13th July 1821 “at 8 two ships in sight from the mast head WSW off us 12 or 14 miles appearing to be grappling which we take to be the discovery ships”.

16th July 1821 “the discovery ships grapple near us and Captain Parry sent his boat for me to go on board the Fury”

From the logbook kept on board HMS Fury:

14th July 1821: “At noon strangers ENE 7 or 8 miles”

16th July 1821: “At 8 moderate and cloudy, 3 strangers and Hecla close to. Hauled sails. Sent letters on board the Prince of Wales for England. Captain Davidson of that ship came on board”.

As well as the logbook observations, many of the Captains of the discovery ships later recounted their adventures in printed narrative accounts. These accounts can prove useful in providing more detailed  information about the encounter, as we see in Parry’s description of their ships meeting in his ‘Journal of a second voyage for the NW passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific, performed in the years 1821-22-23 in Hecla under the orders of Captain William Edward Parry RN,FRS and commander of the expedition’ London: 1824

The Meeting of the Hudson’s Bay Company Ships Prince of Wales and Eddystone with Captain W.E. Parry’s Ships Hecla and Fury

16th July 1821:  “The ice being rather less close on the morning of the 16th, we made sail to the westward, at 7:45 am and  continued ‘boring’ in that direction the whole day, which enabled us to join the three strange ships. They proved to be, as we supposed, the Prince of Wales, Eddystone and Lord Wellington, bound to Hudson’s Bay. I sent a boat to the former, to request Mr Davidson, the master, to come on board, which he immediately did. From him we learned that the Lord Wellington, having on board one hundred and sixty settlers for the Red River, principally foreigners, of both sexes and every age, had now been twenty days among the ice, and had drifted in various direction at no small risk to the ship. Mr Davidson considered he had arrived here rather too early for advancing to the westward, and strongly insisted on the necessity of first getting to the northward, or in-shore, before we could hope to make any progress; a measure, the expediency of which is well known to all those accustomed to the navigation of icy seas”.

Mr Davidson’s comment that he “considered they had arrived too early for advancing westward” is an interesting and useful one as it shows us how familiar the HBC master’s were with the environment they operated in and in particular, their knowledge of the timing and extent of sea ice in the Davis Straits.


When we come to the analysis stage of the project, combining the data from the ships’ logbooks with secondary sources such as the one above, will undoubtedly provide us with a richer picture of the weather conditions and  presence of ice experienced on those voyages.

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