Saturday, October 26, 2013

Today in History - October 26, 1850 - Captain Robert McClure discovered the Arctic Northwest Passage. THE REST OF THE CAPTAIN JOHN CALDER STORY

Sir Robert John Le Mesurier McClure (or M'Clure) (28 January 1807 – 17 October 1873) was an Irish explorer of the Arctic. In January of 1850 Commander McClure and 66 crew sailed from England for the Pacific Arctic by way of the Strait of Magellan and by July made a port call in Hawaii. HMS INVESTIGATOR and crew sailed on turning eastward at Point Barrow in late August. By September the ship was searching for signs of the lost Franklin expedition in Prince of Wales Strait when the wind turned and ice moved in at position 73°10′ N, 117°10′ W. The ship was forced to made plans for wintering over in the ice of Prince of Wales Strait. McClure sent out search parties to survey the area.
On October 21, Commander McClure was on a seven-man sledge trip north-east when he observed distant mountain peaks. McClure provided confirmation of his sledge trip observations upon his return on the 31st, having seen an unblocked strait to the distant Melville Island from a 600-foot peak on Banks Island. This entry was placed in the INVESTIGATOR's ship log:

"October 31st, the Captain returned at 8.30. A.M., and at 11.30. A.M., the remainder of the parting, having, upon the 26th instant, ascertained that the waters we are now in communicate with those of Barrow Strait, the north-eastern limit being in latitude 73°31′, N. longitude 114°39′, W. thus establishing the existence of a NORTH-WEST PASSAGE between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans."

In 1851 HMS INVESTIGATOR circumnavigated Banks Island but was beset by sea ice on the northern part of the island in Mercy Bay in position 74°6′ N. 117°55′ W. requiring wintering over. In April 1953 Commander McClure lead his crew across 80 miles of sea ice to Winter Harbour on Mellville Island and met up with HMS RESOLUTE but once again beset by sea ice requiring wintering over. In 1854 both crews walked out some 200 miles to Beechey Island and met up with HMS NORTHSTAR. The ship transported both crews to England, arriving in October 1854. Commander Robert McClure and crew was the first to transit the Northwest Passage (by boat and sledge), as well as the first to circumnavigate the Americas.

Upon return to England, McClure was immediately court martialed and pardoned for the loss of the INVESTIGATOR, according to custom. The captain and crew was awarded shares in the £10,000 prize for completing a Northwest Passage. Commander McClure was knighted and decorated. He never made another Arctic voyage.


H.M.S. Investigator
R. J. Le M. M'Clure, Commander
Wm. H. Haswell, Lieutenant
Samuel G. Cresswell, Do.
H. H. Sainsbury, Mate (Died on board HMS Resolute Nov. 14, 1853)
Robert Wynniatt, Do.
Stephen Court, Second Master (Rated Acting Master Apr. 19, 1853)
Alex. Armstrong, M.D., Surgeon
Henry Piers, Assistant-Surgeon
Joseph C. Paine, Clerk in charge
George J. Ford, Carpenter
George Kennedy, Acting Boatswain
Richard A. Ross, Quartermaster (Disrated A.B. Dec. 14, 1850)
John Davies, A.B. (Rated Quartermaster Apr. 15, 1853)
John Kerr, Gunner's Mate (Died on board HMS Investigator Apr. 13 1853)
Henry Bluff, Boatswain's Mate
Samuel Mackenzie, A.B.
Charles Steel, A.B.
Edward Fawcett, Boatswain's Mate
James Evans, Caulker
George Gibbs, A.B.
James Williams, Captain of the Hold
Peter Thompson, Captain of the Foretop
Samuel Relfe, A.B.
Thomas Morgan, A.B. (Died on board HMS North Star May 22, 1854)
John Eames, A.B. (Died on board HMS Investigator Apr. 11, 1853)
William Batten, A.B.
Charles Anderson, A.B.
Isaac Stubberfield, Ship's Cook
Frederick Taylor, A.B.
Henry Gauen, Carpenter's Mate
George Brown, A.B. (Rated Quartermaster Dec. 24, 1850)
Cornelius Hulott, Captain's Coxswain
William Whitefield, Carpenter's Crew
Michael Flynn, Quartermaster
Mark Bradbury, A.B.
James Nelson, A.B.
William Carroll, A.B.
George Olley, A.B.
John Calder, Captain of Forecastle (see below)
John Ramsay, A.B.
Henry Stone, Blacksmith
Henry Sugden, Sub. Officer's Steward
Henry May, Quartermaster
Joseph Facey, Sailmaker
James M'Donald, A.B.
George L. Milner, Gun-room Steward
John Wilcox, Paymaster and Paymaster's Steward
Robert Tiffeny, Captain of Maintop
John Boyle, A.B. (Died at Mercy Bay, Apr. 6, 1853)
Thomas Toy, A.B.
Samuel Bonnsall, A.B.
Ellis Griffiths, A.B.
Mark Griffiths, A.B.
John Keefe, A.B.
Thos. S. Carmichael, A.B.
John Woon, Sergeant of Marines
J. B. Farquharson, Corporal of Marines
George Parfitt, Private of Marines
Elias Bow, Private of Marines
James Biggs, Private of Marines (Rated Corporal, Apr. 15, 1853)
Thomas Bancroft, Private of Marines
Thomas King, Private of Marines
James Saunders, Private of Marines
Johan A. Mierching, [Miertsching, missionary and] Esquimaux Interpreter

John Calder spent five winters in the bitter, life-threatening cold of the Arctic. The crew was awarded with medals. Parliament awarded the crew 10,000 pounds, and John Calder was individually awarded a medal for "meritorious conduct."

In 1855, John Calder married in England and set sail again in the first year after returning home. This time, he sailed with his wife. But it was for the relatively calm trip to America. They initially settled in Chicago where he returned to his roots of butchering, feeding cattle and speculating. Then, in 1863, they moved from Chicago and settled in beautiful, balmy Kelly Township of Warren County, snuggled up next to Knox County. Our wandering adventurer took up farming and raising cattle on land that he purchased.

WARREN COUNTY - A western county, created by act of the Legislature, in 1825, but not fully organized until 1830, having at that time about 350 inhabitants; has an area of 540 square miles, and was named for Gen. Joseph Warren. It is drained by the Henderson River and its affluents, and is traversed by the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy (two divisions), the Iowa Central and the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroads. Bituminous coal is mined and lime stone is quarried in large quantities. The county's early development was retarded in consequence of having become the "seat of war," during the Black Hawk War. The principal products are grain and live-stock, although manufacturing is carried on to some extent. The county-seat and chief city is Monmouth. Roseville is a shipping point. Population (1880), 22,933. (1890), 21,281; (1900), 23,163.

Illinois is a long way from the Arctic, or even an ocean. Do you suppose that the itch to sail the ocean returned to him on the wing of a warm spring Prairie Breeze? Perhaps. Or perhaps the wind blowing across the prairie grasses was enough.

Chicago Daily - Sunday January 18th 1891, p. 26


John Calder, Who Farms Down Near Alexis, Has had Many Strange Experiences -- He Was with the Expedition that Discovered the Northwest Passage -- Memories of the Party That Went in Search of Franklin.

John Calder, a farmer living near Alexis, Ill., was with two Arctic expeditions sent out by the English Government in search of Sir John Franklin. For fourteen years before he settled in Chicago in 1855 Calder led a seafaring life. He is the son of a Somersetshire farmer, and after girdling the globe a time or two and taking a good look at the rest of humanity he returned to the occupation of his ancestors. Calder, if he were not buried in the obscurity of the quiet life he leads, would be famous for one thing at least. He is probably the only living man who has been around the Americas. The crew he was with on his second voyage was the first to make the trip, but they left the ship behind.

Capt. Robert J. L. M. McClure, the commander of her Majesty’s ship Investigator, which weighed anchor in Plymouth sound Jan. 20, 1850, with its consort the Enterprise, and spread its fresh sails for the Polar Sea by way of the Straits of Magellan, his Second Lieutenant, S.G. Cresswell, and the Surgeon, Dr. Alex Armstrong, discovered the Northwest passage from the summit of a hill on the north shore of Prince Albert Land, Oct. 10, 1850.

The primary object of the expedition in command of Capt. McClure was the relief of Sir John Franklin and his party. Two years previous the Investigator had sailed on a similar mission, with orders to proceed to Baffin Bay and enter the Polar Sea from the eastward. It was commanded at that time by Sir James Ross, but returned in 1849 without having found any traces of the lost explorer. The Investigator was built for Arctic service, and was a sailing vessel, bark-rigged, of 422 tons. It was especially fortified to cope with the ice. Its crew consisted of sixty-six men, all selected for their physical capabilities, great courage, and efficiency for an expedition of this character. Many of them had visited the frozen regions of the north more than once and fully realized the gravity of the undertaking. They were all volunteers.

On the memorable day when Capt. McClure and his officers from their high point of observation, discovered the route that England had desired, four on his men half-way down the ice-covered mountain were preparing a meal. One of the number, Captain of the forecastle, was John Calder. He probably is the only survivor of the crew. Capt. McClure died in 1873. The crew was rescued by her Majesty’s ships Resolute and Intrepid and reached England in 1854. A year later Capt. Calder, with his bride, sailed for America.

Capt. Calder at Home.

One cold afternoon last week a Tribune correspondent found the Captain comfortably seated by a bright fire in his pleasant home in Kelly Township, Warren County.

“It’s pretty cold,” said he, as he asked his visitor to take a seat by his inviting fire. “Not for a man who started out in earnest to find the North Pole, is it?” “O, that was forty years ago,” he replied, “and I have forgotten nearly all about it.

There is a good deal in what a man is used to. I have seen almost every kind of climate and I don’t know but what Illinois is as good as any. I first shipped when I was 21 for Australia and for ten years following I traveled pretty much all over the world. I struck a climate down in South America once that just about suited me, but the natives were fighting so much among themselves that there was no comfort living there and I got out. Guess they get along better now.”With the last expression the old man raised his other foot up to the fire. “You want to know something about my Artic exploration do you:” he said, after his shins and those of his visitor had been well toasted. “I ‘spose a good many things occurred up there you’d like to know about, but there’s a good deal that I don’t care to tell."

“My trip with Capt. McClure was kind of an accident. I’d been up in the Artic regions with Sir James Ross and hadn’t been back a great while when the McClure expedition was equipped. I didn’t hear a word regarding the sailing of the Investigator until just the day before she started. I (saw) a friend on the street who told me he had read in a London paper that another expedition in search of Franklin was about to leave. I went to London that night and found the ship next day at Woolwich. I shipped as Captain of the forecastle. We had everything that was supposed to be necessary for our comfort and convenience. We were well supplied with rations, clothing, and fuel. I remember one man, who had never been in the Arctic regions asked me what he should take with him. I replied: ‘All the moral courage you can get hold of.’ Next to food and raiment this is what a man needs most.

“I presume if I were to refresh my mind I could recall a good many incidents. I understand that several books have been written about this expedition, but I have not seen any of them. Early in the sixties I met a man in Chicago who was a member of the crew. Since that time I have not heard anything from any of the party except Capt. McClure whose death I saw chronicled in a Chicago paper. For all I know I am the only member of the Investigator’s crew who is now living. As you have probably read in the histories of the Investigator sailed for Baring Strait by way of the Straits of Magellan.

Our consort, the Enterprise, we soon lost sight of after striking the Pacific. There was little in the trip around South America that is worth mentioning. We hurried along as fast as we could for the Polar Sea. Capt. McClure and all the crew were very anxious to reach that latitude with as little delay as possible. I remember one morning along about the 1st of August we were off the northwest coast of Russian America when the Plover was sighted. She was an English vessel surveying along the coast. A heavy wind came up from the west and started the ice toward it. It was in imminent danger of being crushed, but we had no time to delay. All on board were ordered to bend their efforts to send our vessel onward.

“We cruised along past the Mackenzie River, and at Point Drew we touched shore. There we saw some Esquimaux, but found no trace of Franklin. We pushed along through the ice till we entered the Prince of Wales Strait.

“The ice about us rendered it necessary to be very cautious. This was in September and we soon discovered we were in a drifting pack of ice. Our position was hazardous. One night we came in contact with a large floe piece, which struck the starboard quarter, carried away a big hawser, and started all the anchors. We were in this perilous condition for several days, not knowing at what moment we might be crushed to death. The winter of 1850-’51 was spent in the strait near a small island.

Traveling Parties Start Out.

“The vessel had only been frozen in a short time when Capt. McClure organized the crew into three traveling parties. One of these went southward, the other went up Baring Island, and Capt. McClure’s party, with which I was connected, went northeastward on Prince Albert Land. I have slept under a tent many a night when the thermometer registered between 50° and 60° below zero.

“It was on this trip that Capt. McClure discovered the the northwest passage by observation. McClure was very ambitious to make this discovery, as he felt that it might prove an advantage to commerce. He was as brave a man as ever headed an Arctic expedition. No matter how intense the cold or how much he suffered, a word of complaint was never heard from him. These traveling parties often endured great hardships.

“You would hardly believe it, but I have cut holes in my boots to let the water through which we were traveling flow out and in to prevent it freezing around my feet. I remember an incident of another one of these traveling parties. We were proceeding along the northwestern coast of Banks Land and two of our men whose condition became very serious caused us to start back for the boat. On our way back we shot a polar bear. We at once removed the hide, and, as customary opened the stomach. A piece of court-plaster and a few raisins were all that it contained. These articles he had evidently got from civilized man and the question was whether he had picked them up from some other expedition. It was quite evident they had not been in the animal’s stomach very long. When we returned to the ship Capt. McClure sent out several fatigue parties, but after a day or two the investigation was dropped.

Perils in the Ice.

“That spring we started around Baring Island or Banks Land, passed Nelson Point, and cruised northward. One of our most dangerous experiences occurred just out of Burnett Bay on the west of Baring Island. The vessel was raised at one time eight or ten feet out of the water. About everyone on board concluded that his time had come. The ship got in an ice gorge but like other miraculous escapes we came out all right. We met with another narrow escape at Cape Austin, and in September we encountered a severe northwestern gale and drifted into Mercy Bay, doomed to spend another winter in the ice. It was probably the most perilous voyage made in the Polar Sea. During the winter we killed a few reindeer, wolves, and a musk-ox.

“It was the hope of Capt. McClure to have reached Melville Island before winter, but when circumstances forced the abandonment of this idea another traveling party was formed, headed by the Captain himself, and started for Melville Island. The party reached Winter Harbor after a journey of eighteen days, hoping to find one or more ships composing Capt. Austin’s expedition, but we were disappointed. Sir Edward Perry wintered here way back in teh winter of 1819-’20.

Relic of a Former Party

“I ran across a peculiarly-shaped rock. It was about eight feet high and almost square. On the top of the rock I found a flat tin case containing a record of a visit of a party under command of Capt. McClintock June 6, 1851. The record stated where the Austin expedition wintered, and said that a depot of provisions had been established at Cape Spencer, distant nearly 600 miles. There was not a word about Franklin or any information regarding our long-lost consort. The expedition we supposed, had returned to England, as we afterward learned it had, and the Investigator was the only vessel in Arctic regions at that time. We left a dispatch in the tin box when we returned to our ship.

“By the beginning of 1853 we were getting to be in pretty bad shape. Our provisions were getting short and we had been troubled a good deal with scurvy among the men. On the 5th of April the first death occurred. John Boyle, an able seaman died from dysentery, and the melancholy occurrence depressed the spirits of the crew to an alarming extent. I tell you things looked pretty bilious. The next day I was in the hold getting ready to go on duty on the ship, when I heard the greatest commotion on deck. One of the men came running to me and told me that Lieut. Pim of the H.M.S. Resolute from Melville Island was aboard. There is no use for me to attempt to describe the feelings of that crew or the way the men acted. Their joy and gratitude were beyond expression. Lieut. Pim had come across from Melville Island on his sledge, drawn by five Esquimaux dogs and two men. On the arrival of the Resolute and Intrepid at Dealy Island, off Melville Island, the year before they found our record, deposited at Winter harbor by Capt. McClure in April, 1852. After the rest of a day or two Lieut. Pim and a party from our crew went to Melville Island, and June 2, at 6 p.m., two months later, the Investigator was abandoned and the entire crew was taken to the Resolute and Intrepid. For all I know the Investigator is still imprisoned in the ice in Mercy Bay.

Back to England.

“We wintered on the Resolute and Intrepid, and late the following spring sailed for England, and landed at Ramsgate Oct. 6, 1854. Our crew was clear around the Americas, and is the only crew that ever made the trip. It was a perilous undertaking. Up in that country one finds two months of winter and ten months of very cold weather. I don’t know what would have become of us if we had not been rescued just at the time we were. The question of rations was becoming a serious one. Game was scarce and hard to shoot. It is surprising how little subsistence those animals of the polar regions require. The bears get hold of a good many walruses, but reindeer and the musk ox have a slim chance. They seem to get enough, though. But it is a fight for life with every kind of living creature up there. Of course you see some beautiful scenery. The ice formations sometimes are simply grand. I suppose I have see the most beautiful things ever seen by any man. I refer to the aurora borealis. I couldn’t describe it.

Discomforts of the Explorers.

“Yes, we could tell the difference between night and day in the winter season and kept close track of the time. While it is pretty dark when it is daytime here there is a kind of dawn up there you can see to get around. A peculiar feature of Arctic life is the discomfiture one feels sleeping in the ship after having been out on a land expedition and having spent many nights on the ice. It is caused by the difference in the atmosphere. It is pretty airy sleeping under a canvas tent when the thermometer registers 60° below zero. The coldest I ever saw was 66° below zero, but it was when I was with Sir James Ross. We wore the same kind of clothing people do here, only it was heavier and more of it. The best overcoat I could Find was to make a garment out of this heavy ducking and line it with a heavy blankey. It kept out the wind and cold.

“Nature works some funny freaks up there. I have seen logs of wood 600 feet above the surface. This was up along the north shore of Banks Land. It was probably drift wood from the McKenzie and Copper Mine Rivers that had got mixed up in an ice gorge. We came pretty near getting boosted up a time or two ourselves, but it is a good big gorge that piles the ice 600 feet high.

Mrs. Calder, who is a well-preserved, motherly little woman of 60 years, tripped into an adjoining room, and in a bureau drawer where a number of sacred souvenirs are kept found a couple of medals, of which both are justly proud. One was given Mr. Calder by the English Government as a special recognition of his services, while each member of the crew received one similar to the other one. The inscription on the first is as follows:

Capt. Calder, as he is always called, is 70 years old, but is still rugged as ever.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

WOW that is a great story. It makes the Northwest Passage history come alive. Thank you for sharing it with us. This makes the NW Passage very special to know some of the personal details. I cannot imagine spending four 9 month winters with minus -60F temperatures in a wooden ship, canvas tent or snow caves. AMAZING will to survive.

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