Crossing the North Atlantic

Previous: “HBC Sailing ‘North About’ from ‘London River’, 1670-1920


Portolan chart of Zuane Pizzigano, 1424,” depicting the North Atlantic off Western Europe and Northern Africa with mysterious islands, posited to include mythical and actual landmasses, ranging from Antillia and Brasil to Eastern North America and Greenland. Image source: “File:Pizzigano.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons

Once past all topographical guideposts, sailors relied on aids to navigation such as charts, quadrants, compasses, and timepieces to cross the Atlantic. The accuracy of results obtained was dependent on individuals of variable talents and, as subsequent remarks in this and following pages show, instruments of sometimes questionable accuracy, or of limited usefulness.[1]

Astrolabe and nautical instruments depicted in Marquis of La Victoria, Diccionario demostrativo con la configuración o anatomía de toda la arquitectura naval moderna (Cádiz: 1719-1756).

Arguably, the fact that weather systems and currents tended as they did was more than convenient. These appear to have been critically important constants [see discussion, “HBC Sailing ‘North About’ from ‘London River’, 1670-1920“]. Assuming that a competent crew had been hired, then, with some attention paid to outfitting the ship, some care in the provisioning of food and fresh water, and with a modicum of attention paid to maintaining a westward course overall, ships’ captains would be hard pressed not to arrive at Cape Farewell (a.k.a. Uummannarsuaq, the southernmost tip of Greenland). Certainly, from 1670 to 1920, once they had set out on the North Atlantic crossing, HBC ships invariably did so, regardless of their condition or complement.

Location of Cape Farewell relative to the point of departure at Hoyhead, Orkney, and the point of access to Hudson Strait. Map adapted from Wapedia/Wikimedia Commons,

Successfully navigating the Cape and gaining entrance to Hudson Strait was the more demanding exercise, owing to the existence of ice – a virtual constant of that region. Here again, with or without working navigational aids, understanding the play of currents, vagaries of weather, and signals of land were of utmost importance.

Franklin expedition vessels off Cape Farewell

Setting a course through the northernmost extent of the North Atlantic put sailors to work in conditions much like those encountered on other transoceanic passages of that sea. However, this description of crossing the North Atlantic demonstrates ways in which the knowledge needed to complete that particular northern passage, and begin the next through Hudson Strait, is evidence of the importance of sailors’ cumulative experience on the HBC ocean arc. Individual awareness of foregone successes and failures, combined with sufficient seafaring experience to be able to weigh options and choose tactics best suited to meet contingencies encountered there as opposed to elsewhere, was necessary. Competency, the means of mitigating accident, was a learned attribute.[2]


A view of Hoyhead.

Commonly, the North Atlantic portion of the voyage began with departure from Hoyhead/Hoy-head/Keam of Hoy/Kame of Hoy, entered into HBC logbooks as something in the region of 58° 55′ North latitude.[3] Taking the ‘usual’ course entailed striking westward from this point, with uninterrupted sailing for approximately 2,253 kilometres or 1,400 miles to Cape Farewell.

Hills of Orkney receding from view

Occasionally, however, ships instead departed from the harbour of Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis in the Hebrides archipelago (after having gone ‘East About’ through the Channel), or headed further north by way of the ‘Fair Passage’ between the Orkneys and the Shetlands to the harbour at Lerwick, on the Shetland mainland, to pick up additional HBC recruits and strike out from there.[4]

Unless this was the case, up until 1884 when it became more conventional to refer to the Greenwich meridian as the world’s prime meridian longitudinally, Hoyhead served HBC navigators as the reference meridian as far as Resolution Island, which marked the entrance to Hudson Strait at “62:15 W” or thereabouts, at which point longitude would be reset to zero degrees.[5]

Ship ‘plowing through’ ocean waves

When sailing from Hoy – ship and complement “plowing through the heaving waves of the wide Atlantic” away from “the faint blue line of the lessening hills” – the last close sighting of land could vary.[6] Depending on the exact course followed, it might be of two islands eleven leagues from Hoyhead, separated by three miles of water, and known as the Stack and Skerry. HBC captain, William Coats, described Stack as “pritty high and white with fowls’ dung,” and the site of a yearly egg gathering expedition. He remarked Skerry as being “low flatt,” frequented by seals and visited annually by sealers.

Pyramidal ‘Sugar Loaf’ among the St. Kilda Islands

Alternatively, the last landmarks might be those Coats identified as Barra (perhaps Boreray Island, or possibly Sula Sgeir) and Rona, two islands visible as “high bold land … east and west five miles asunder” and twenty six leagues bearing “West ½ North” from Hoy. Then there were the four St. Kilday/Kilda islands, “more to westward” with “high bold land, the westermost of a pyramidal form like a sugar loaf.” Lastly, further west again, there was the solitary ‘rock’ of Rokel/Rockall, “well known to navigators” and shaped “not unlike the Stack, but higher and bigger, and white from some cause.”[7]

Illustration, depicting Rockall/Rokel c. 1889, in Harvie-Brown, J. A. & Buckley, T. E., A Vertebrate Fauna of the Outer Hebrides (Edinburgh: David Douglas, 1889). 86. Source: Wikimedia Commons,

The journey from Hoyhead to Hudson Strait usually took about four weeks, but with favourable winds could be much swifter. In 1851, Captain William Kennedy, formerly of the HBC and at the time sailing in search of the missing Franklin expedition, reportedly made the crossing in nineteen days.[8]

In 1862 James McDougall credited Captain David Herd of the Prince of Wales with having taken a mere seven days, averring that the captain, “who has been on this passage for 29 years said he never did the like before nor had he ever been so lucky as to have a fair wind across the Atlantic at this time of year … for 3 days she was going thro the water between 12 & 14 knots an hour [sic].”[9]

Ship’s apprentice J. Williams, aboard the Stork in 1908, observed of his voyage: “Ships are scarce in these northern latitudes, and after seeing a few fishing smacks around the north of Scotland not a ship was seen.”[10] In terms of visual points of interest, earlier seafarers as well tended to record the Atlantic crossing as “long, monotonous and dreary.”[11] According to Robert M. Ballantyne:

the same view of sky and water met our gaze each morning as we ascended to the deck … except where the topsails of our accompanying vessels fluttered for a moment on the distant horizon. Occasionally we approached closer to each other, and once or twice hailed with the trumpet: but these breaks in the gloom of our existence were few and far between.[12]

Sea, sky, and sails on the horizon

Although breaks in the visual monotony of a passage were limited to such events as the sighting of consorts, “myriads of porpoises,” the occasional whale, or a ship returning from the whaling grounds, natural conditions could vary widely.[13] As sailor A.R. Williamson commented after his crossing in 1911, even in “high summer” it was possible to encounter “fair winds and foul, moderate seas and rough – all chances and changes to be met in any ocean passage.”[14]

“Storm in north atlantic on january 2005. On board M/T Cap Diamant,” posted to YouTube by DJBouc, 12 December 2006, with comment “We was about 55-60 north during this storm. South of Iceland. … Every 2-3 minutes the waves was this high. About 90-100ft on my estimation. We was lucky that the waves was comming from the aft because from the head, the ship will have get many dammage. … I was apprentice (cadet) at this time and it was my first atlantic crossing. I never saw again such wave fortunately. I recorded this video at 10h00 morning time but the storm was bigger in the following night.”

The designation foul meant that the wind, whatever its strength, was blowing contrary to the intended bearing. A fair wind, though it sent the ship in the right direction, might generate rough weather and “very high” seas, which MacDougall described as, “a mass of foam, sprae [sic] blowing topmast high, sea breaking over our quarter.” [15] Passengers did not necessarily venture above board to witness such displays. They were as likely to remain sequestered in their berths, more concerned with the water that got into their bunks.[16] For his part, Williamson observed of the passage that it effectively proved the saying: “the man who went to sea for pleasure would go to hell for pastime.”[17]

HBC Ship’s Surgeon, Samuel Smith’s drawing of cabin disarray in his personal logbook kept during his a voyage to Hudson Bay, with the notation: “I went to bed at 11. was in a semicomatose state until 12 when a heavy sea came and pitched my legs out of bed I felt something & in getting up found my trunks &c as is depicted on the diagram above.” Source: Samuel Smith Logbook, Surgeon to the Hon. Hudson’s Bay Co. Ship Prince Arthur, From London to Moose Fort, Hudson’s Bay, June 13 to August 24, 1857, Toronto Public Library, Reference Library, Special Collections, p. 15.

Once within 320 kilometres, or 200 miles, of Cape Farewell, birds again became numerous. John Franklin listed fulmar petrels (procellaria glacialis) among his sightings, as did Edward Parry. The latter’s list further included: kittiwakes (larus rissa); loons (uria brunichii); dovekies (colymbus grylle); rotges (alca alle); terns (sterna hirundo); and “a flock or two of ducks, of which the species was uncertain.”[18]

Like Franklin, Parry commented on “large flocks of Shearwaters, (procellaria puffinus), called by the Greenland whalers Cape hens, as being usually met with only in the neighborhood of Cape Farewell.”[19] These may have been the “Great numbers of curious birds” that McDougall reported seeing, on which the “plumage approached that of a sea gull but black heads, long neck and bill like a duck.”[20]

Aside from indicating land in the offing, part of the enjoyment the presence of birds afforded was the opportunity they provided to bored passengers for practicing marksmanship. Isaac Cowie reported, “We shot a number of ‘whale birds,’ of which large flocks were to be seen … and great numbers of ‘Mother Carey’s Chickens’ (the sign of coming storm).”[21]

In 1867 Captain Bishop with the Prince Rupert passed close enough to the island tip of Cape Farewell that it could be viewed through a telescope. Cowie described the landmark as showing:

on the west, a comparatively low rounded outline, followed by a succession of four lofty, sharp peaks, the western sides rising perpendicularly from the water, and the eastern slopes running down a sharp angle thereto, like the teeth of a saw. The color appeared black, flecked with snow.”[22]

View of Cape Farewell. Source: “The ice conditions and climatic variations in Greenland,”

Historically, however, HBC ships did not normally approach so close. As early as 1714 the formal ‘Sailing Orders and Instructions’ to ships’ captains included a caution to remain south of 57° 30′ North latitude until well west of Cape Farewell, on account of the “extremely dangerous” ice said to “hang near the verge of the cape most of the summer.”[23]

Peter Rindisbacher, watercolour, “Discovery of the first Ice in the neighbourhood of Greenland, June 26, 1821.” Source: Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1988-250-3.

On his first voyage to Hudson Bay in 1727, Captain Coats transgressed that directive while yet following his sailing orders in which the permissible degrees of travel had been extended to “ye Latitude of 59.”[24] He subsequently ran afoul of “hard blue ice,” against which HBC factor Thomas McCliesh, formerly a sailor, contended, “a ship may with as much safety run against a rock.”[25] In consequence, the newly built Mary under Coats’ command was lost along with her cargo. From the account of the sinking penned for the London Committee by McCliesh, who was also Coats’ father-in-law, and, as a passenger, witness to the event, it seems the encounter with ice may have had less to do with latitude than with there having been an exceptional amount of ice that year. Nevertheless, the London Committee revised its latitudinal boundary downward to 58° North for future instructions.[26]

Detail of William Bradford, oil painting, showing sailors salvaging cargo from ship Mary crushed by ice. The ship depicted is not Captain William Coats’ vessel, nor is it in the same locale, but presumably it is the one which met a similar fate in similar conditions in the “Whaling Disaster of 1871“(though the painting is apparently archived with the date 1866). See “Sealers Crushed by Icebergs,” (New Bedford Whaling Museum, Accession Number: 1972.33).

Generally, therefore, ships attempted to pass well south of the cape to proceed to Resolution Island, some seven hundred miles distant, though such caution was not always appreciated. Miles Macdonell, tasked with establishing the Selkirk Settlement at Red River in 1811, complained that on the voyage that year Captain Henry Hanwell Senior, in command of the HBC fleet, was “a timid overcautious seaman,” adding:

The Commodore kept us for fifteen days together about the Longtitude [sic] of Cape Farewell, in Latitude 57 degrees North, during which time, with the winds we had, might have gained considerable distance to the Northward – he could not think himself safe within a less distance than two degrees of Latitude of the Cape.”[27]

The location of the wait likely contributed to Macdonell’s further assessment of the voyage as “boisterous”: his ship appears to have lain waiting in the vicinity of the longitudinal zone designated by sailors as “the Stormy Forties,” (a name similarly applied to the same parallel of latitude in the southern hemisphere).[28]

E.A. Wilson, illustration, “Roaring Forties,” in Apsley Cherry-Garrard, The Worst Journey in the World: Antarctica, vol. 1 (London: Constable and Company, 1822), Project Gutenburg,, depicting the ocean sea in the southern hemisphere, with notation “The big swell which so often prevails in these latitudes is a most inspiring sight, and must be seen from a comparatively small ship like the Terra Nova for its magnitude to be truly appreciated. As the ship rose on the crest of one great hill of water the next big ridge was nearly a mile away, with a sloping valley between. At times these seas are rounded in giant slopes as smooth as glass; at others they curl over, leaving a milk-white foam, and their slopes are marbled with a beautiful spumy tracery. Very wonderful are these mottled waves: with a following sea, at one moment it seems impossible that the great mountain which is overtaking the ship will not overwhelm her, at another it appears inevitable that the ship will fall into the space over which she seems to be suspended and crash into the gulf which lies below.”

According to John Birbeck Nevins, surgeon on the Prince Rupert [VI] in 1842 and the Prince Albert in 1843, HBC sailors held that south of Greenland, “whatever the weather may have been in other places, it is generally rough or foggy between 40° and 50° west longitude.”[29]

Cowie observed of his 1867 voyage that just past Cape Farewell, there were “terrific cross swells,” which he attributed to “the meeting of the three different currents, setting along the east and west coasts of Greenland and from the Atlantic respectively. These, crashing together, threw up pyramids of water composed of the opposing swells.” Without sufficient wind in the sails to steady a vessel – whether by deliberate decision or because becalmed – it was certain to roll alarmingly. The Prince Rupert [VII], according to Cowie, “wallowed, dipped her yardarms and pitched and tossed, helplessly becalmed, in this meeting of aqueous mountains, while every moment the straining threatened to dismast her.”[30]

Ship tossed by sea

Regardless of the impatience of passengers such as Macdonell, only when well into Davis Strait would HBC captains head north. They effected the change in direction relatively rapidly once the winds were right, as their best course after duly clearing Cape Farewell’s ice was to veer almost directly northward and achieve 61o 30′ North, to avoid the strong, ice-laden current near the Labrador coast that carried at a speed of ten to twenty miles a day.[31]

Icebergs and currents, visible off Hatton’s Headland, in 21st-century “satellite image created by the MODIS Rapid Response System, NASA/GSFC,” showing Resolution Island (centre of frame) and Edgell Island (smaller and above the latter) off the southernmost tip of Baffin Island, 4 June 2001. Source Wikimedia Commons,

Having gained the higher latitude, the ship’s complement would keep a lookout for Resolution Island’s “distinctive” south cape, known as Hatton’s Headland, which marked the eastern entrance to Hudson Strait.[32] A sighting did not necessary signal success, however. In 1816 Captain Benjamin Bell of the Emerald was in sight of Resolution when, along with Hanwell Senior in the Prince of Wales [I], he encountered ice rapidly moving southward. For fifteen days both ships were caught up in the drifting ice and taken 130 kilometres off course, past the northern tip of the Labrador Peninsula.[33] Surgeon Nevins reported a similar occurrence in 1842 when the Prince Rupert [VI] was caught and carried well below Cape Chidleigh.[34]

Cape Chidley [a.k.a. Chidleigh], image detail, derived from, “North Labrador Coast,” photograph,

During the portion of the passage between Cape Farewell and Resolution, the temperature could drop noticeably. Thomas M’Keevor, a passenger aboard the Robert Taylor in 1812, reported, “The air feels very cold, owing, as the captain suspects, to our being near ice.”[35]

Typical marine mercury barometer with thermometer and brass gimbals that allowed the instrument to adjust to motion, used by the British Navy circa 1840.

In 1821 Parry noted the change in the surface temperature of the water and of the air: the water, which had been 45.5degrees Fahrenheit (7.5° Celsius) on the other side of Cape Farewell, dropped to 40.5 degrees Fahrenheit (4.72° Celsius) in Davis Strait; the air, at 41.5 degrees Fahrenheit (5.27° Celsius), had dropped from the previous measurement of 46.5degrees (8.05° Celsius).[36]

Passenger Isabel Finlayson described becoming “intensely cold,” at this point in her journey of 1840, adding that there were continuous showers of sleet and rain, the drops freezing to the deck, “while large masses of ice were hanging from all parts of the sail and rigging.” She also reported seeing a small but ‘dazzling’ iceberg.[37]

Location map showing sea currents and directions of ice flow, adapted from A.J.W. Catchpole and Marcia-Anne Faurer, “Ships’ Log-Books, Sea Ice and the Cold Summer of 1816 in Hudson Bay and Its Approaches,” Arctic 38, no. 2 (June 1985): 122.

In the region of Davis Strait and the opening to Hudson Strait, sea ice became a significant concern to a ship’s crew – ice being “generally menacing in Davis Strait in early summer.”[38] Over the winter, pack ice blocked passage through Davis and Hudson Straits. In late June and early July this ice would break up and flow southward with the Labrador Current, so that the summer season was largely ‘open.’[39]

Satellite image showing stream of ‘middle ice’ from Baffin Bay flowing south between Baffin Island and Greenland/

There was, however, also what whalers called the “middle ice” of Baffin Bay to watch for. This southward moving, “great stream” was composed of deteriorating winter ice from the north, and icebergs. The latter, having calved off the west coast of Greenland with the seasonal rise in temperature, continued to pass from Baffin Bay through Davis Strait until about mid August.[40] The icebergs travelling out of Davis Strait could be both numerous and large.

John Ross, watercolour, “N.B. Sketch of an Island of Ice seen by H.M. Ship Scipion on Davies Straits,” dated 1818. Source: Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1973-9-4.

Parry in the Fury reported “passing a great many.” Captain George Francis Lyon in the latter’s consort, Hecla, counted fifty-four “in sight at one time,” some of which stood out of the sea “not less than two hundred feet.”[41]

Print, “HM Ship Trent Passing Through the Dangerous Ice-Floes, June 7 1818,” Source; Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. R9266-2124 Peter Winkworth Collection of Canadiana.

Most of the Baffin Bay/Davis Strait ice passed directly across the east to west sea-lane, towards Newfoundland, though some drifted west into Hudson Strait. The southward drift carried numerous ice fields and could be exceptionally difficult to navigate. The westward drift of ice was usually slight however, and limited to icebergs.[42]

Ice, as indicated by the above references to ‘flows’, ‘fields’, ‘bergs,’ and the ‘blue’ variety, was said to hold different properties according to type. A list of terminology used by “whalers, sealers and others,” compiled by William Wakeham after voyaging through Hudson Strait in 1897, includes such varieties of ice as: floes, growlers, pans, fields, sheets, pack, porridge, sish, and collar ice. Wakeham noted as well such differentiations in the state of ice as packed, hummocky, lolly, slack, running abroad, nipping, and calving.[43]

Gurney Cresswell and W. Simpson, print, “Sledging Over Hummocky Ice,” dated 1854, depicting event on arctic ice “to have taken place in April, 1853.” Source: Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. R9266-762.

Absent from his list is any mention of “ice tongues,” an underwater feature described by Parry in a similarly detailed list from his journey of 1821, and by Frederick Schwatcka, who voyaged North in 1878.[44] Wakeham perhaps made no reference because the feature, according to Schwatka, was uncommonly seen.

Writing of ice for the edification of sailors in the 1700s, Coats was content to classify it according to three general ‘species’ – “I’les of ice”, “large, heavy, solid ice”, and small ice – all of which he regarded as more or less dangerous according to specific conditions.[45]

The paramount condition, in his opinion, was geographical location: ice outside of Hudson Strait was in some ways more dangerous than that inside the Strait. Coats warned, “You are carefully to avoid being entangled in ice before you have enterd Hudson’s Streight. Ice without is so hardned and wash’d, that it becomes like solid stone [sic].”[46] Parry agreed that meeting with ice outside of the Strait was perilous, observing:

The effects to be apprehended from exposure to the swell of the main ocean constitute the peculiar danger of first entering the ice about the mouth of Hudson’s Straits, which is completely open to the influence of the whole Atlantic. A very inconsiderable quantity of loose ice is sufficient to shelter a ship from the sea, provided it be closely packed; but when the masses are separated by wind or tide, so as to admit the swell, the concussions soon become too violent for a ship, strengthened in the ordinary way, to withstand for any length of time.”[47]

Caspar David Friedrich, oil painting, “Das Eismeer (irrtümlich verwechselt mit Die verunglückte Hoffnung, Die verunglückte Nordpolexpedition),” a.k.a. “The Sea of Ice/The Wreck of Hope,” (referring to an early expedition to the North Pole — the vessel’s wreckage is just visible. Source Wikimedia Commons,

Both Parry and Coats counselled staying out of the ice until well into Hudson Strait. Parry suggested a distance of eight to ten leagues past Cape Resolution was sufficient, while Coats recommended twelve to fifteen leagues.

Caspar David Friedrich, oil painting, “Wrack im Eismeer,” 1798, showing eighteenth-century vessel caught in ice. Source: Wikimedia Commons,

The latter’s greater caution was likely reflective of more harrowing personal experience. His first, disastrous encounter with ice in 1727 had taken place well without the Strait, “near the meridian of Cape Farewell”: while “worming through the ice with a small sail,” he recounted, two pieces “shutt uppon us [sic].”[48]

His observations on the danger of ice nearer the Strait’s entrance were likewise based on actual encounters. In 1739, he recalled, “we attempted to enter the streights six times between the 1st of July and the 12th, and could not effect it, so compact and close a body of ice lay across the entrance, which obliged us to stand out to sea [sic].”

Three ships, presumably the King George, Eddystone and Robert Taylor ‘inclosed’ in ice off Resolution Island in 1812. Source: Thomas M’Keevor, A Voyage to Hudson’s Bay, during the Summer of 1812,…, &c. &c. &c. (London: Printed for Sir Richard Phillips and Co., 1819), ii.

Coats doubtless declined engaging closely with the ice that year because previously, in 1736, he had found its quantity “so large at the entrance” that the ship had been “inclosed [sic].”[49] Though the Hudson’s Bay [IV] had moved within Cape Resolution six leagues, the ship was nevertheless “crushed to pieces,” when “the ice shutt upon us by the sides only (for it was dead calm at the time), and crush’d our sides in, and sunk her in twenty minutes, notwithstanding all our endeavors [sic].”[50] He advised, therefore, that it was best to “forbear,” until the ice entirely cleared for the requisite safe distance within the strait.

“An Island of Ice.” Source: Thomas M’Keevor, A Voyage to Hudson’s Bay, During the Summer of 1812, 2.

Of Coats’ three distinct species of ice, Macdonell described the first as “detached lumps of Ice called by the seamen Islands.”[51] According to Coats, the comparison to a land mass was made because the “immense bodys, [sic] are so deep immersed in the water, below the current of the tides, and are so fixed like land, without motion, or what is scarce sensible.”[52] Captain John Turner, aboard the King George in 1807, did not even bother to distinguish in his log whether the “many isles in sight” past Cape Farewell were of ice or not.[53] The threat of collision that such stationary icebergs might pose was manageable, for the most part through careful manoeuvring.

“Buss Island map from John Seller’s “English Pilot.” Source: Wikimedia Commons,

For newcomers to Northern waters, the greater problem large bodies or expanses of ice posed to navigation – along with cloud formations – was their resemblance to actual land when viewed from a distance.[54] The ‘discovery’ of Busse/Buss Island somewhere outside of Frobisher Bay, by Captain Courtney and crew aboard the Emanuell of Bridgewater in 1578, may serve as an example. Additional sightings of Buss subsequently were alleged, but the majority of northern seafarers, including Franklin, searched for the reputed landmass in vain. Yet Buss, however shifting in location, remained a point of reference on maps to at least 1856.[55]

Example of a marine chronometer — “a clock that is precise and accurate enough to be used as a portable time standard; it can therefore be used to determine longitude by means of celestial navigation” — first devised in the eighteenth century. Source Wikimedia Commons,

Throughout the period examined here, the ability to distinguish landmarks was an important aspect of a Northern navigator’s skill sets. Even after chronometers had become reliable, compasses were not – insofar as the wandering of the North magnetic pole had to be accounted for.[56] Poor weather conditions over a number of days could leave mariners without a glimpse of celestial features from which to take their bearings.[57] If, on a North Atlantic crossing, based on the passage of time and reckoning by distance, sight of land was expected, the variety of formations water can assume could prove confusing. M’Keevor recounted one such instance in 1812:

About half past one, the man at the helm said he saw land. Owing to the very unfavourable state of the weather, we remained for a considerable time in suspense. The captain does not think that this can possibly be the case. At length, however, from its very striking appearance, he was induced to send for his telescope; is still rather doubtful; if land, he thinks, it must be Cape Farewell, in which case we are 200 miles behind where we supposed ourselves to be. In the end, it appeared to be merely what the seamen call a Cape Fly-away.[58]

Fata morgana (mirage), an illusion as deceptive as a cloud- or fog-bank generated Cape Fly-away, observed on a northern sea. Source: Wiki Info, Creative Commons license.

It is not clear from his account whether M’Keevor understood that this suspense provoking illusion had been caused by cloud, fog bank, by either of these in combination with massive amounts ice, or by formations of ice alone. It is obvious from his discussion, however, that he was fascinated by icebergs.

Samuel Smith, watercolour, “Icebergs … 1st seen at 3. A.M.,” logbook, 19.

Sightings of icebergs were as eagerly anticipated by passengers as sightings of land were by sailors: icebergs figuring “as samples of the rest of the voyage” – visual evidence of having entered decidedly Northern space.[59] Particularly after the mid-nineteenth century [see “Ice: A Victorian Romance,” online exhibit], authors of texts devised for popular consumption often lauded sightings of ice with such assertions as: “It is worth a year of the life of a man with a soul larger than a turnip, to see a real iceberg in all its majesty and grandeur.”[60] When stripped of rhetorical flourishes, descriptions of ice islands penned by seafarers are strikingly similar and commonly present the size as the most remarkable aspect. Nevins, however, opined that in clear weather with good visibility:

Every one would probably be disappointed by the first sight of an iceberg. At a considerable distance may be seen a small white mass, which perhaps does not look larger than the palm of the hand; and the sailors, being accustomed to judge of the size of objects at a distance, will say – “There is a large iceberg. It is as high as the top of our masts. That berg is not less than six hundred feet high.” The spectator might begin to think – “St. Paul’s is about four hundred feet high, so that is half as high again.” He would not perhaps remember that four or five hundred feet of its height were below water, and that he was too far off to see its real size; thus he would be disappointed, and think that it looked very small.[61]

Samuel Smith, watercolour, “Icebergs … one seen at a great distance off,” logbook, 19.

Joseph-René Bellot, on his first northern journey aboard the Albert with Captain Kennedy in 1851, likewise recorded his “first berg” as initially unimpressive, noting it looked “like a light block of ice,” and that he thought the crew was intent on fostering a hoax. Two hours later and ten miles closer, he admitted it was a “mountain” and that he shuddered as it passed the vessel.[62] Based on encountering other such “huge masses,” Bellot estimated the larger were “half a mile long and twice as high as the vessel.”[63]

Observers on other vessels in different years give more or less similar evaluations. Macdonell noted the larger isles “appeared to be the size of two or three acres in circumference & about 150 feet high.”[64] Surgeon Nevins claimed to have climbed “eighty feet up the mast” while passing one “so high … I could scarcely see over it,” and surmised it must have extended “five and six hundred feet below the water.”[65] M’Keevor reported an island that “could not be less than 300 feet high, and about a quarter of a mile in circumference.”[66]

George Back, watercolour, “An Iceberg, a Ship and Some Walrus near the Entrance of Hudson Strait,” dated c. 1840. Source: Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1979-49-1.

Captain Jonathan Fowler Sr., reported “a large Isle of Ice that I think not Inferior In bulk to St Pauls & the top of It not much lower. which. If we had touch’d the Consequence might have been such as I pray God I may never have occasion to wright [sic: punctuation in source].”[67]

Illustrated Iceberg Variation. Source: M’Keevor, Voyage to Hudson’s Bay, 4.

The shape of ‘bergs’ also excited some comment. In 1811, Red River Settler John McLeod described an ice mass as resembling a “field” elevated “one hundred and fifty feet above the surface of the water.”[68] Cowie reported one such “flat-topped” giant, but another as well that “appeared a mile long and its wavy pinnacles resembled a king’s crown in shape.”[69]

Photographed ‘Tabular’ Iceberg. Source: Robert E. Peary, The North Pole: Its Discovery in 1909 under the auspices of the Peary Arctic Club (1910; reprint, New York: Greenwood Press, 1968), 105.

Though the illustrations in M’Keevor’s published work belie it, he attested to seeing “many” which resembled “an ancient abbey with arched doors and windows, and all the rich embroidery of the Gothic style of architecture,” and compared others to Grecian temples.[70] Years earlier, in 1768, William Wales, scientifically minded observer aboard the Prince Rupert [III], described a “very large island of ice” as “adorned both on its top and sides with spires; and indented in the most romantic manner that can be imagined.”[71] Robert Ballantyne likewise reported a “fantastically formed” example with “lofty pinnacles” and “miniature cataracts” that “sparkled in the moonbeams as it floated past.” [72] Letitia Hargrave, perhaps reflecting disappointment, reported that her berg’s construction only inspired comparison to a haystack.

Samuel Smith, watercolour, “another from below the sun,” logbook, 19.

Photographs from the early twentieth century fall short of suggesting forms devised by human architects. They do show, however, that sun, wind, and waves could produce arresting configurations.[73]

Photographed Iceberg Variation. Source: Wilfred Thomas Grenfell, A Labrador Doctor: The Autobiography of Wilfred Thomason Grenfell (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1919), 321.

Although Wales had little more to say about his ‘island’ than it looked to be “nothing else” but “frozen snow,” the colour of icebergs figures in a number of historical texts as a feature of interest.[74] Ballantyne remarked on the “beautiful greenish-white colour,” of his pinnacled berg.[75] M’Keevor ascribed to the columns of his floating ‘temple’ an “azure hue,” but commented that depending on the quality of light, ice might display “rich golden” facets, “light purple” tints, and “rich crimson” suffusions, or emanate a “natural effulgence” at night or in fog.[76]

Finlayson, however, also wrote of the dingy greyness some icebergs displayed.[77] Cowie similarly commented that some were “ugly” and “stratified, and of a dirty bluish grey color.”[78] Regardless of aspect, the longevity of icebergs seemed to suggest a ‘monstrous’ power, sufficient to withstand unscathed an “incessant battle,” with the sea that left other species “rent and shattered.”[79]

Ships exposed to this battle, according to Coats, were in most danger from a second general category of ice, designated “large, heavy, solid ice” – the “specie we most dread to fall amongst.” This ice was not as large as the ‘islands,’ but lay deep enough in the water to feel “the full force and power of the tides,” and “plough and smash the small ice in so an amazing manner, as if God had endowed them with a furious spirit of perdition.” [80]

Bellot described such large pieces as “less solidly built,” than their massive counterparts and oscillating with wave action and collision “like drunken men.”[81] Finlayson and Cowie mentioned this variety of ice as well, though they classified it as a type of iceberg, but on a smaller scale. Both commented on the visual beauty of the smaller bergs.

Peter Rindisbacher, “The ship Prince of Wales runs aground on an iceberg during the night of July 24, 1821. Lat. 61.42 N. Long. 65.12(?) W.” Source: Library and Archives Canada, Negative C-001911, Item no. 00010. See Catchpole and Faurer, “Ships’ Log-Books, Sea Ice,” 124, for an alternate sketch of the same event by Rindisbacher; also Nevins, Narrative of Two Voyages,  27, for a sketch of a similar iceberg formation.

Cowie also attested to the instability of this variety, noting that a “tall spire-like berg … as we sailed by capsized, raising enormous rings of billows round, into which our yardarms dipped.”[82] A watercolour made by artist and eyewitness Peter Rindisbacher suggests Swiss settlers, destined for Red River aboard the Lord Wellington in 1821, had had a close encounter with such ice. Though they escaped collision, the HBC consort vessel, Prince of Wales [I], was “stove in” on contact.[83]

Peter Rindisbacher, watercolour, “A drifting Iceberg strikes the ship in the night of June 29, 1821,”. Source: Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1988-250-4.

The third category of ice according to Coats was “small ice.” He described it as being “the sport of the other two species of ice, and is much more affected by the winds than the tides; and this species is by far much the greatest quantity.”[84] The category was broad, containing “numbers infinite, some of the quality of a roode [sic: likely a square rod, or 272.25 square feet, about 83 square metres] some a perch [one rod, or 16.5 feet, about 5 metres], some an acre or two acres.”[85] In form, small ice ranged from “fleacht” [sic: sleacht, likely ‘slish’] to “masht,” or from detached pieces of ‘slack’ ice that were “small and about a foot or two above water, and eight or ten under water,” to shards of “loose, brashy ice.”[86]

Small ice, seen from the deck of the USCGC Polarsea. Video, “Marginal ice zone, Bering Sea, April 4, 2010,” posted to YouTube by farnorth2008, 16 April 2010.

The small ice was formed from fields of ice. These could be “of twenty or thirty miles in diameter, and ten or fifteen feet in thickness,” but were relatively fragile. Reportedly, the swell of the sea would break up a field “in a few hours.”[87] As well, the swirl of tide and currents about the entrance to Hudson Strait would sometimes carry fields in a “rotary motion,” so that their outer edges acquired “a velocity of several miles an hour,” and produced “a tremendous shock when one impinged upon another.” [88]

Coats remarked:

’tis incredible what an alteration the spring tides in the beginning of July make amongst the ice in the mouth of the steights, and what immense bodys it will shatter and break in shivers, which before was dreadful to look at when agitated and put into motion by those furious tides, which are so distracted and cut by those heavy sands of ice which makes them boyl up in edies and whirlpooles in a most amazing manner [sic].[89]

The whirlpools were a feature that John Davis had seen in 1587. Their cause – the tide –which he termed a “mighty overfal [sic],” was commemorated in cartographical references, for example the Molyneux Globe of 1593. In addition, his mention of the overfall was later considered a proof of his having made the voyage to the strait.[90]

Superimposed red arrow indicates the location of Davis’ “mighty overflow” that was shown on Joannes van Doetecum’s “Chart of the Northern Atlantic,” published by Cornelis Claesz, 1592 (Universiteitsbibliotheek, Amsterdam).

Coats warned that the eddies and swirls were to be “particularly and carefully” attended to and that this effect of the tide was at its “most furious about that narrow entrance” to Hudson Strait, the whirling water being “violent and surprising, especially when disturbed and distracted by ice.”[91] When broken up, within the strait, and away from swirling currents, Coats and seafarers before and after his time regarded small ice as a boon. As he explained, “In and amongst this we always endeavour to shelter our ships, where we ly [sic] easy, and quiet, and safe, and undisturbed.”[92]


HBC master mariners such as Coats and Herd had an informed understanding of ice, and an ability to interpret other natural features along their route. At the end of the ocean crossing, landforms and distinct species of wildlife were useful indicators of location – as they had been at its beginning. Even if these indicators were not visible, however, in foggy weather for example, the conditions of ice within Hudson Strait were sufficiently different from those at its entrance that they signalled whether or not the transition from ocean crossing to the next passage had been completed.[93]

The North Atlantic crossing was the first passage on an HBC ship’s outward voyage to demand different skill sets than those commonly held by mariners who sailed other routes out of London River. The next passage of the HBC ocean arc tested these skills still further. Ice was a determining feature of voyages through Hudson Strait, in that the length of time it took to reach Hudson Bay depended on the amount of ice and whether it was ‘open’ or ‘closed.’[94] Along with ice conditions, the proximity of land meant there was a greater range of observations for seafarers to make than on the open ocean. If the view seemed frost bound, it also displayed activity.

Next: Between ‘Disordered Shores’

[1] See also Katherine Neal, “Mathematics and Empire, Navigation and Exploration: Henry Briggs and the Northwest Passage Voyages of 1631,” Isis 93 (2002): 435–53; Arthur Herman, To Rule the Waves: How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World (New York: Harper Perennial 2005), 79–81.


[2] See J.L. Stocks, “The Test of Experience,” Mind, n.s., 28, no. 109 (January 1919): 79–81, for an early twentieth-century defence of the Aristotelian argument on the moral virtue of courage and the emotion of ‘cheer,’ as these were understood to exist among sailors faced with conditions that among the inexperienced elicited fear, or foolhardy responses. Following his reasoning, HBC sailors, competent by way of observation, would have exhibited “a mastery of dangerous situations” borne of knowing “there is promise of personal effort availing something.”

[3] HBCA C.1/1021 Ship’s Logs, Seahorse, 1751, 5.

[4] See, for example, HBCA, C.3/20, Portledge Books, 18451915, accounts for Prince Rupert, Captain D. Herd, 1847 and 1848. Also J. Williams, “The Last Voyage of the Stork,” The Beaver 19, no. 2 (September 1939): 44; and A.R. Williamson, “Voyage of the ‘Discovery’ 1911,” part I, The Beaver 62, no. 4 (spring 1983): 16. At least one HBC vessel departed from Bristol, the Prince Rupert [V] in 1835; as did Thomas James, The Strange and Dangerous Voyage of Captaine Thomas James, in his intended Discovery of the Northwest Passage into the South Sea (London: John Legatt, for John Partridge, 1633), in the Henrietta Maria, 1631. See also, Inverness Journal (12 April 1811), 1D, reporting HBC agents, Charles MacLean of Coll, and Donald MacKenzie of  Stornoway, advertising for “young able men, sailors, blacksmiths, coopers & carpenters,” also (21 June 1811), 4D-E, (6 September 1811), 3C, (22 November 1811), 4C-D, (7 February 1812), 4B-E, (28 February 1812), 4C-E, (27 March 1812), A-B, (22 May 1812), 4D-E, (5 June 1812), 4E, and (14 May 1813), 3C, recruiting for the Earl of Selkirk’s settlement at Red River. LAC, Thomas Douglas, 5th Earl of Selkirk Fonds, Microfilm A.27, Selkirk Papers, vol. I, John McLeod, letter, “Port York Hudsons Bay 27th Sept 1811,” (Canadian Library Association Ottawa, 1950), 149, records departure at Stornoway as “latitude 59°20 & longitude 39°.” See also Robert M. Ballantyne, Hudson’s Bay, or, Every-day life in the wilds of North America during six years’ residence in the territories of the honourable Hudson’s Bay Company (Edinburgh : W. Blackwood, 1848), 78; and Ian Maxwell, “Around the World: The Shetland and Orkney Islands,” Your Family Tree 39 (July 2006): 57, who notes “The most common occupation of the men in Shetland’s registers is either fisherman or seaman. … fishing and the sea has been the Shetland economy since before records began.”

[5] See for example, HBCA, C.1/1021 Ship’s Logs, Seahorse, 1751; C.1/411, and C.1/413, Ship’s Logs, King George, 1802; and C.1/419, Ship’s Logs, King George, 1807. A.R.T. Jonkers, Andrew Jackson, and Anne Murray, “Four Centuries of Geomagnetic Data from Historical Records,” Reviews of Geophysics 41, no. 2 (June 2003): 53, note that in shipping generally, “Until the advent of the Greenwich meridian in the 1750s (chosen because the Royal Observatory was built there), English oceanic navigation adhered to a rather idiosyncratic practice. It fundamentally differed in two aspects from the Dutch and French manner: (1) Each major land sighting provided a new, local meridian from which to reckon. (2) Position east or west from a reference meridian was often measured in meridian distance (expressed in spherical degrees or miles) rather than in longitudinal degrees.”

[6] Ballantye, Hudson’s Bay, 10.

[7] William Coats, The Geography of Hudson’s Bay: being the remarks of Captain W. Coats, in many voyages to that locality, between the years 1727 and 1751, ed. John Barrow (London: Hakluyt Society, 1852), 7, notes that Stack and Skerry were “caled in the maps Solesskery [sic].” William Edward Parry, Journal of a Second Voyage for the Discovery of a North-West Passage From the Atlantic to the Pacific, Performed in the Years 1821–22–23, In His Majesty’s Ships Fury and Hecla(New York: E. Duyckinck, G. Long, Collins & Co., Collins & Hannay, W.B. Gilley, and Henry I. Megarey, 1824), 2, called them “remarkable” and commented that his charts underestimated their distance from Hoy. See also J. Birbeck Nevins, A narrative of two voyages to Hudson’s Bay: with traditions of the North American Indians (London: Printed for the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1847), 2.

[8] Ian K. Steele, The English Atlantic 1675–1740: An Exploration of Communication and Community (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), 86, [Google Books preview] states “ The ocean crossing, from the Downs to Resolution Island, averaged just over 6 weeks and ranged from 1 to 2 months.” LAC, Selkirk Papers, Miles Macdonell, letter to Lord Selkirk, York Factory, 1 Oct 1811, 4, testifies that the 1811 voyage was of “uncommon length,” taking sixty-one days to reach York Factory in Hudson Bay from Stornoway. Coats, Geography, 11, indicates the 1741 voyage took twenty-one days from Hoyhead to Resolution Island. See also H.M.S. Cotter, “Some Famous H.B.C. Captains and Ships,” part I, The Beaver 1, no. 7 (April 1921): 4; H.M.S. Cotter, “Famous H.B.C. Captains and Ships,” part II, The Beaver 1, no 9 (June 1921): 32, 33; G.A. Cuthbertson, “The ‘Erik’s’ Saga,” The Beaver 16, no. 1 (June 1936): 53; and “S.S. Pelican,” The Beaver 9, no. 1 (June 1929): 215. “Bellot: His Adventures and Death in the Arctic Regions,” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine 12, no. 67 (December 1855): 97.

[9] James McDougall, “Young Apprentice,” part II, The Beaver 32, no. 3 (September 1952): 11.

[10] Williams, “Last Voyage of the Stork,” 44.

[11] See Anthony Beale, letter, “from Albany Fort, 1 Aug. 1712,” in Letters from Hudson Bay, 1703–40, ed. K.G. Davies, with A.M. Johnson (London: Hudson’s Bay Record Society, 1965), 20; James Knight, letter, “York Fort 19 Sept 1714,” in Letters from Hudson Bay, 34; Isaac Cowie, The Company of Adventurers: A Narrative of Seven Years in the Service of the Hudson’s Bay Company during 1867–1874, On the Great Buffalo Plains with Historical and Biographical notes and comment (Toronto: William Briggs, 1913), 84, also 85; Ballantyne, Hudson’s Bay, 3, 1011; MacLeod, Selkirk Papers, letter, “Port York Hudson’s Bay 27th Sept 1811,” 149.

[12] Ballantyne, Hudson’s Bay, 1011. He reports ‘hailing’ other ships, as opposed to signalling, which, according to Peter Kemp, ed., “Signals at sea,” The Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976), 8013, was done by flag, lantern flare, or guns and was not a codified practice among merchant vessels until 1857 when the Board of Trade dealt with standardizing it.

[13] E. Chappell, Narrative of a Voyage to Hudson’s Bay in His Majesty’s Ship Rosamond, containing some account of the north eastern coast of America and of the tribes inhabiting that remote region (London: J. Mawman, 1817), 2326, “Observed great quantities of a peculiar kind of sea-weed, in the shape of stars” and “numberless sea-birds round the ship, particularly Solan geese” for some distance into the journey, but eventually reported “No birds to be seen, excepting two solitary sea-gulls, which are to be met with at any distance from the land.” John Franklin, Narrative of a journey to the shores of the Polar Sea in the years 1819, 20, 21 and 22 (London: John Murray, 1823), 12, writes of seeing “shoals of grampusses sporting about, which the Greenland seamen termed finners from their large dorsal fin.” It seems likely he was referring to Grampus griseus, the gray, blunt-nosed dolphin common in northern seas but he may well have meant orca. Parry, Journal of a Second Voyage, 3, reported seeing “a number of bottle-nose whales.” See also Henry Kelsey, The Kelsey Papers, ed. John Warkentin (Regina: Canadian Plains Research Center, University of Regina,  1994), xix; HBCA, C.1/1026, Ship’s Logs, Seahorse, 1756, 2 July; C.1/1029 Ship’s Logs, Seahorse, 1759, 22 July; C.1/411, and C.1/413, Ship’s Logs, King George, 1802, 12 July, 19 July, 22 July; and Cowie, Company of Adventurers, 85, for reports of ship sightings.

[14] Williamson, “Voyage of the ‘Discovery’,” part I, 18.  See also James, Strange and Dangerous Voyage, 3.

[15] LAC, Selkirk Papers, Miles Macdonell, 44; McDougall, “Young Apprentice,” part II, 2 10.

[16] Cowie, Company of Adventurers, 81; Ballantye, Hudson’s Bay, 1011; also HBCA, E.12/5-7, “My Notebook,” Isobel  G[raham] Finlayson Journal, 1840, 37.

[17] Williamson, “Voyage of the ‘Discovery’,” part I, 17. See also Arthur S. Morton, A History of the Canadian West to 1870–71, Being a History of Rupert’s Land (The Hudson’s Bay Company Territory) and of the North-West Territory (Including the Pacific Slope) (London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1939), 50.

[18] Parry, Journal of a Second Voyage, 3.

[19] Franklin, Narrative of a journey, 12. Parry, Journal of a Second Voyage, 3.

[20] McDougall, “Young Apprentice,” part II, 10: the birds were probably Shearwaters, but may have been Brunnich’s guillemot; see also Chappell, Narrative of a Voyage to Hudson Bay, 32.

[21] Cowie, Company of Adventurers, 86. These birds are another species of petrel. William Wales, “Journal of a Voyage, made by order of the Royal Society, to Churchill River, on the North-west Coast of Hudson’s Bay; Of Thirteen Months Residence in that Country; and of the Voyage Back to England; in the Years 1768 and 1769,” Philosophical Transactions (1683–1775) 60 (1770): 102, reported that seeing driftwood was another signal that Cape Farewell was nearby.

[22] Cowie, Company of Adventurers, 8687. See also Coats, Geography, 11.

[23] John Alwin, “Mode, Pattern and Pulse: Hudson’s Bay Company Transport, 1670–1821,” Ph.D. diss. (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba, 1978), 61 n.2; Coats, Geography, 11; HBCA, A.6/3, fo. 128, London Correspondence Outward, Official, 1696–1715, Sailing Orders and Instructions to Captain Richard Harle, 25 May 1714; Chappell, Narrative of a Voyage to Hudson Bay, 48; Steele, English Atlantic, 86. Google Earth 4.2, Direct X8, 13 November 2007 (accessed 7 January 2008), shows the island lies at approximately 59°45′ north latitude.

[24] HBCA, A.6/5, fo. 14, Official general outward correspondence, 1727–1737; also “By Ship of Sail to Hudson Bay, 1723: Extract From Sailing Orders and Instructions to Capt. Geo. Spurril, Commander of ye Hudson’s Bay Fregate [sic],” The Beaver 3, no. 10 (July 1923): 381; Davies with Johnson, Letters from Hudson Bay, 127 n.1; Steele, English Atlantic, 86.

[25] Davies with Johnson, Letters from Hudson Bay, 127.

[26] Coats, Geography, 11.

[27] Macdonell, Selkirk Papers, 46. Chappell, Narrative of a Voyage to Hudson Bay, 46, notes that Hanwell Sr. had about thirty years of sailing to and from the Bay by this point. See also Williamson, “Voyage of the ‘Discovery’,” Part I, 16.

[28] Nevins, Narrative of Two Voyages, 2.

[29] Ibid.; HBCA, “Nevins, John Birbeck (1818–1903) (fl. 1842–1843),” Biographical Sheet, online index (accessed 2004–2007).

[30] Cowie, Company of Adventurers, 86.

[31] Coats, Geography, 12, 23; Chappell, Narrative of a Voyage to Hudson Bay, 47; Steele, English Atlantic, 86.

[32] Nevins, Narrative of Two Voyages, 3; Alwin, “Mode, Pattern and Pulse,” 40, 62.

[33] A.J.W. Catchpole and Marcia-Anne Faurer, “Ships’ Log-Books, Sea Ice and the Cold Summer of 1816 in Hudson Bay and Its Approaches,” Arctic 38, no. 2 (June 1985): 124.

[34] Nevins, Narrative of Two Voyages, 3. Williamson, “Voyage of the ‘Discovery’,” Part I, 19, avers that in years when the sun and moon were “in position to exert the maximum effect causing the highest tides on earth, one result is to push a submarine stream of water far enough north to reach arctic ice. This ice then undergoes partial thawing, breaks up and is carried south in the Labrador Current” in larger than normal quantities that made traversing the current a “hazardous, even impossible task,” and attributes the failure of the Eaglet in 1668 to this cause.

[35] Thomas M’Keevor, A Voyage to Hudson’s Bay, during the Summer of 1812: Containing a particular account of the icebergs and other phenomena which present themselves in those regions: also, a description of the Esquimeaux and North American Indians, their manners, customs, dress, language, &c. &c. &c. (London: Printed for Sir Richard Phillips and Co., 1819), 4.

[36] Parry, Journal of a Second Voyage, 3.

[37] HBCA, E.12/5-7, Finlayson, “Notebook,” 38. See also Chappell, Narrative of a Voyage to Hudson Bay, 35.

[38] Alwin, “Mode, Pattern and Pulse,” 62; see also A.H. Markham, “Hudson’s Bay and Hudson’s Strait as a Navigable Channel,” Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society and Monthly Record of Geography, new monthly ser., 10, no. 9 (September 1888): 551–52, and comments on Henry Hudson and Bylot with Baffin; E.E. Rich, ed., Copy-Book of Letters Outward &c Begins 29th May, 1680 Ends 5 July, 1687 (Toronto: Champlain Society, 1948), xxix.

[39] Thomas McKenzie quoted, in William Wakeham, Report of the Expedition to Hudson Bay and Cumberland Gulf in the Steamship ‘Diana’ under the Command of William Wakeham, Marine and Fisheries Canada in the year 1897 (Ottawa: S.E. Dawson, Printer to the Queen’s Most Excellent Majesty, 1898), 54, who stated that American whalers did not count on entering the Strait before mid July: “They have found by experience that generally they can not get in before that date. It is useless to go earlier.” See also “The New Route from England to Eastern Asia, and the Hudson Bay Route,” Science 10, no. 231 (July 1887): 15.

[40]Sir John Franklin and the Arctic Regions,” The North American Review 71, no. 148 (1850): 176. Edward C. Shaw, “Captain William Kennedy, An Extraordinary Canadian,” MHS Transactions, 3d ser., 27 (1970–71) (accessed 9 July 2006). See Catchpole and Faurer, “Ships’ Log-Books, Sea Ice,” map, 122, showing sea currents.

[41] Parry, Journal of a Second Voyage, 6.

[42] See for example, Hans Rollman, with Heather Russell, transcript, “Brief Account of the Vessel Employed in the Service of the Mission on the Coast of Labrador … from the Year 1770 to the Present Time,” Periodical Accounts 21, (accessed 4 January 2008), and references to “vast mountains of ice and icefields” encountered off the coast of Labrador in 1777 and 1845. McKenzie, in Wakeham, Report of the Expedition to Hudson Bay, 54, attested that ice from  Baffin Bay “never goes any distance into the strait; though bergs may sometimes be driven in.” See also A.H. de Trémaudan, The Hudson Bay Road (14981915) (Toronto: J.M. Dent and Sons, 1915), 67; and Alwin, “Mode, Pattern and Pulse,” 17–18.

[43] Wakeham, Report of the Expedition to Hudson Bay, 5–6. See, “Ice,” Appendix C, this thesis.

[44] Parry, Journal of a Second Voyage, xiv; Frederick Schwatka, “An Arctic Vessel and Her Equipment,” Science 3, no. 64 (April 25, 1884): 506, 507.

[45] Coats, Geography, 19, 20.

[46] Ibid., 12.

[47] Parry, Journal of a Second Voyage, 7–8; also Coats, Geography, 12 n.2. See also James, Strange and Dangerous Voyage, 13:7–14:8.

[48] Coats, Geography, 12. Williamson, “Voyage of the ‘Discovery’,” part I, 19, suggested a ship should be “at least 30 to 40 miles inside Hudson Strait,” before engaging with ice. Fifteen leagues approximates 83 kilometres, or 56 miles.

[49] See, for example, M’Keevor, illustration, Voyage to Hudson’s Bay, ii, showing three ships, presumably the King George, Eddystone and Robert Taylor ‘inclosed’ in ice off Resolution Island in 1812.

[50] Coats, Geography, 12, 18.

[51] Macdonell, Selkirk Papers, 44. See, M’Keevor, illustration, “An Island of Ice,” Voyage to Hudson’s Bay, 2.

[52] Coats, Geography, 20. See also Nevins, Narrative of Two Voyages, 7.

[53] HBCA, C.1/419, Ship’s Log, King George, 1807, 17 August.

[54] See “Ice in the Sea,” Bowditch – The American Practical Navigator, National Imagery and Mapping Agency, 1995 <; (accessed 10 March 2008), 345.

[55] Alice M. Johnson, “The Mythical Land of Buss,” The Beaver 22, no. 3 (December 1942): 43–47.

[56] See Nevins, Narrative of Two Voyages, 30–31; Nicolas Jérémie, Twenty years of York Factory, 1694–1714: Jérémie’s account of Hudson Strait and Bay, ed. Robert Douglas and James Nevin Wallace (1720; trans. ed., Ottawa: Thorburn and Abbott, 1926), 17; E.G.R. Taylor, “Hudson Strait and the Oblique Meridian,” Imago Mundi 3 (1939): 48–52; and Jonkers, Jackson and Murray, “Four Centuries of Geomagnetic Data,” 1–2.

[57] See Chappell, Narrative of a Voyage to Hudson Bay, 23, 26–27.

[58] M’Keevor, Voyage to Hudson’s Bay, 4. Chappell, Narrative of a Voyage to Hudson Bay, 34–35, notes, “Nothing can exceed the uncertainty that prevails, in almost every chart and book of navigation, respecting the longitude of the Cape in question” and provides an interesting discussion of the problem. In observing that “so little pains have been taken to ascertain the longitude of Greenland’s southernmost extremity,” [italics in source] and given the numbers of whalers and HBC ships that had made the voyage anyway, he raises a question as to the usefulness of such precise knowledge to sailors.

[59] Cowie, Company of Adventurers, 86, 85.

[60] George W. Melville, quoted in Willis J. Abbot, American Merchant Ships and Sailors (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., I902), 197; also M’Keevor, Voyage to Hudson’s Bay, 9; and Timothy Mitchell, “Frederic Church’s The Icebergs: Erratic Boulders and Time’s Slow Changes,” Smithsonian Studies in American Art 3, no. 4 (autumn 1989): 3, 7–8, on nineteenth century “consciousness about the North.” Godden Mackay Logan, “Antarctica: Discovery and Exploration,” Mawson’s Huts Historical Site – Draft Conservation Management Plan (August 2000): 13–30; and Elizabeth Leane, “Antarctic Travel Writing and the Problematics of the Pristine: Two Australian Novelists’ Narratives of Tourist Voyages to Antarctica,” in Proceedings of Imaging Nature: Media, Environment and Tourism, Cradle Mountain, 27–29 June 2004, ed. L. Lester and C. Ellis, Faculty of Arts, University of Tasmania, July 2005 (accessed 15 February 2008), 110, offer similar perceptions of icebergs and the Polar South.

[61] Nevins, Narrative of Two Voyages, 67.

[62] See “Bellot,” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, 97; Wakeham, Report of the Expedition to Hudson Bay, 52, also compares ice at the mouth of Hudson Strait to “mountains.”

[63] See “Bellot,” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, 97.

[64] Macdonell, Selkirk Papers, 44. HBCA, E.12/5-7, Finlayson, “Notebook,” 60, agrees; Letitia Hargrave, The Letters of Letitia Hargrave, ed. Margaret Arnett MacLeod (Toronto: Champlain Society, 1947), 57, on the same voyage estimated “160 feet above water.”

[65] Nevins, Narrative of Two Voyages, 7.

[66] M’Keevor, Voyage to Hudson’s Bay, 9. R. Glover, “La Pérouse on Hudson Bay,” The Beaver 30, no. 4 (March 1951): 44, reports “banquises” that were “about 200 or 300 feet high.”

[67] HBCA, C.1/1024, Ship’s Logs, Seahorse, 1754, [20 July?] 18.

[68] McLeod, Selkirk Papers, 149. See also Parry, Journal of a Second Voyage, xiv, who defined ‘fields’ as sheets of “great thickness, and too great extent to be seen over from a ship’s mast.” See Robert E. Peary, photograph, The North Pole: Its Discovery in 1909 under the auspices of the Peary Arctic Club (1910; reprint, New York: Greenwood Press, 1968), 105, for a photograph of a tabular iceberg.

[69] Cowie, Company of Adventurers, 87.

[70] M’Keevor, Voyage to Hudson’s Bay, 910, also illustration, 4. See also Luke Fox, quoted in Markham, “Hudson’s Bay and Hudson’s Strait,” 553, who compares the largest pieces of ice to “a great church.” Chappell, Narrative of a Voyage to Hudson Bay, 54, notes “the scattered fragments of ice bearing a strong resemblance to the ruins of temples, statues, columns, &c. spread in confusion over a vast plain.”

[71] Wales, “Journal of a Voyage,” 105.

[72] Ballantyne, Hudson’s Bay, 13.

[73] Hargrave, Letters, 57. Chappell, Narrative of a Voyage to Hudson Bay, 48, reported an “immense mountain of solid ice, in the shape of an English barn.” See, Wilfred Thomas Grenfell, photograph, in A Labrador Doctor: The Autobiography of Wilfred Thomason Grenfell (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1919), 321.

[74] Wales, “Journal of a Voyage,” 104.

[75] Ballantyne, Hudson’s Bay, 13.

[76] M’Keevor, Voyage to Hudson’s Bay, 10, 9 n.1. See Mitchell, “Frederic Church’s The Icebergs,” 9, who describes the “checklist of the characteristics most commonly noted” – aside from size – in written and painterly descriptions of icebergs as: “the ultramarine cavern, the terraces, the fantastic shapes, the sapphire seams.”

[77] HBCA, E.12/5-7, Finlayson, “Notebook,” 60.

[78] Cowie, Company of Adventurers, 87. George Binney, “Hudson Bay in 1928,” The Geographical Journal 74, no. 1 (July 1929): 23, notes that ice from Fox Channel was “distinguished by its muddy hue.”

[79] “Bellot,” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, 97; Coats, Geography, 20; Ballantyne, Hudson’s Bay, 13.

[80] Coats, Geography, 20.

[81] “Bellot,” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, 97.

[82] HBCA, E.12/5-7, Finlayson, “Notebook,” 38; Cowie, Company of Adventurers, 87.

[83] J. Russell Harper, “Rindisbacher, Peter,” Dictionary of Canadian Biography, online (accessed 15 Februray 2008). HBCA, C.1/794, Ship’s Logs, Prince of Wales, 1821, 24 July; Catchpole and Faurer, “Ships’ Log-Books, Sea Ice,” 124. The Prince of Wales [I] took in water but the damage was repaired after her cargo was transferred to the Eddystone. See also Oliver Warner, “Voyaging to York Factory,” The Beaver 37, no. 3 (winter 1957): 22; Peter Rindisbacher, watercolour, “The ship Prince of Wales runs aground on an iceberg during the night of Jul. 24, 1821. Lat. 61.42 N. Long. 65.12(?) W.,” Library and Archives Canada, Negative C-001911, Item no. 00010; and Nevins, Narrative of Two Voyages,  27, for a sketch of a similar iceberg formation.

[84] Coats, Geography, 20.

[85] Luke Fox, quoted in Markham, “Hudson’s Bay and Hudson’s Strait,” 553.

[86] Ibid.; Cowie, Company of Adventurers, 87.

[87] W. Parker Snow, “Voyage in Search of Sir John Franklin,” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine 2, no. 11 (April 1851): 589.

[88] Ibid.; see also Coats, Geography, 20.

[89] Coats, Geography, 19.

[90] John Davis, quoted in Markham, “Hudson’s Bay and Hudson’s Strait,” 551. See also C.1/416, Ship’s Log, Prince George, 1805, 30 July, in which Captain John Turner remarks “a very strong Rippling of Tide” near Cape Resolution.

[91] Coats, Geography, 13, 18–19, 23; see also James, Strange and Dangerous Voyage, 14:8, who notes “Here runnes a quicke tyde into the Straight; but the ebbe is as strong as the flood [sic].”

[92] Coats, Geography, 20. See Markham, “Hudson’s Bay and Hudson’s Strait,” 553, who quotes Luke Fox as writing of small ice that “these are they which do enclose you; so as in much wind, from the topmast head, you shall not see any water for them. But while you lie amongst them it is so smooth as you shall not feel the ship stirre.” Markham then comments “It would not be possible to give a more accurate account of the conditions of ice in Hudson Strait at the present day, than is furnished by this description written … more than 250 years ago.”

[93] See, for example, HBCA, C.1/417, Ship’s Log, King George, 1806, 12–14 July, in which Captain John Turner, who assumed he was off Cape Farewell, did not enter ‘Latitude Observed,’ but only ‘Latitude by Account’ in his log. Although he does not mention fog specifically, he does record cloudy conditions, and “Close dark weather” which apparently prevented the taking of observations.

[94] See David Herd, quoted in Great Britain, Parliament, House of Commons, Select Committee on the Hudson’s Bay Company, Report from the Select Committee on the Hudson’s Bay Company together with the proceedings of the committee, minutes of evidence, appendix and index (London: HMSO, 1858), 257. See also A.J.W. Catchpole, “Hudson’s Bay Company ships’ log-books as sources of sea ice data, 1751-1870,” in Climate Since AD 1500, ed. Raymond S. Bradley and Philip D. Jones (New York: Routledge, 1995), 17–39; and Catchpole and Faurer, “Ships’ Log-Books, Sea Ice,” 121–28, for extended discussions of summer sea ice in Hudson Strait and Hudson Bay and indications of its impact on HBC voyaging.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s