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List Of Contents | Contents of Letters From High Latitudes, by Lord Dufferin
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brought up astern of the "Reine Hortense," and are getting
our hawsers bent, ready for a start in half an hour's
time. My next letter, please God, will be dated from
Hammerfest. I suppose I shall be about fifteen or twenty
days getting there, but this will depend on the state of
the ice about Jan Mayen. If the anchorage is clear, I
shall spend a few days in examining the island, which by
all accounts would appear to be most curious.

I happened first to hear of its existence from a very
intelligent whaling Captain I fell in with among the
Shetlands four years ago. He was sailing home to Hull,
after fishing the Spitzbergen waters, and had sighted
the huge mountain which forms the northern extremity of
Jan Mayen, on his way south. Luckily, the weather was
fine while he was passing, and the sketch he made of it
at the time so filled me with amazement, that I then
determined, if ever I got the chance, to go and see with
my own eyes so great a marvel. Imagine a spike of igneous
rock (the whole island is volcanic), shooting straight
up out of the sea to the height of 6,870 feet, not
broad-based like a pyramid, nor round-topped like a
sugar-loaf, but needle-shaped, pointed like the spire of
a church. If only my Hull skipper were as good a draughtsman
as he seemed to be a seaman, we should now be on our way
to one of the wonders of the world. Most people here hold
out rather a doleful prospect, and say that, in the first
place, it is probable the whole island will be imprisoned
within the eternal fields of ice, that lie out for upwards
of a hundred and fifty miles along the eastern coast of
Greenland; and next, that if even the sea should be clear
in its vicinity, the fogs up there are so dense and
constant that the chances are very much against our
hitting the land.  But the fact of the last French
man-of-war which sailed in that direction never having
returned, has made those seas needlessly unpopular at

It was during one of these fogs that Captain Fotherby,
the original discoverer of Jan Mayen, stumbled upon it
in 1614. While sailing southwards in a mist too thick to
see a ship's length off, he. suddenly heard the noise of
waters breaking on a great shore; and when the gigantic
bases of Mount Beerenberg gradually disclosed themselves,
he thought he had discovered some new continent. Since
then it has been often sighted by homeward-bound whalers,
but rarely landed upon. About the year 1633 the Dutch
Government, wishing to establish a settlement in the
actual neighbourhood of the fishing-grounds, where the
blubber might be boiled down, and the spoils of each
season transported home in the smallest bulk,--actually
induced seven seamen to volunteer remaining the whole
winter on the island. [Footnote:  The names of the seven
Dutch seamen who attempted to winter in Jan Mayen's Island
were: Outgert Jacobson, of Grootenbrook, their commander;
Adrian Martin Carman, of Schiedam, clerk; Thauniss
Thaunissen, of Schermehem, cook; Dick Peterson, of
Veenhuyse; Peter Peterson, of Harlem; Sebastian Gyse, of
Defts-Haven; Gerard Beautin, of Bruges.] Huts were built
for them, and having been furnished with an ample supply
of salt provisions, they were left to resolve the problem,
as to whether or no human beings could support the
severities of the climate. Standing on the shore, these
seven men saw their comrades' parting sails sink down
beneath the sun,--then watched the sun sink, as had sunk
the sails;--but extracts from their own simple narrative
are the most touching record I can give you of their

"The 26th of August, our fleet set sail for Holland with
a strong north-east wind, and a hollow sea, which continued
all that night. The 28th, the wind the same; it began to
snow very hard; we then shared half a pound of tobacco
betwixt us, which was to be our allowance for a week.
Towards evening we went about together, to see whether
we could discover anything worth our observation; but
met with nothing." And so on for many a weary day of
sleet and storm.

On the 8th of September they "were frightened by a noise
of something falling to the ground,"--probably some
volcanic disturbance. A month later, it becomes so cold
that their linen, after a moment's exposure to the air,
becomes frozen like a board. [Footnote: The climate,
however, does not appear to have been then so inclement
in these latitudes as it has since become. A similar
deterioration in the temperature, both of Spitzbergen
and Greenland, has also been observed. In Iceland we have
undoubted evidence of corn having been formerly grown,
as well as of the existence of timber of considerable
size, though now it can scarcely produce a cabbage, or
a stunted shrub of birch. M. Babinet, of the French
Institute, goes a little too far when he says, in the
Journal des Debats of the 30th December, 1856, that for
many years Jan Mayen has been inaccessible.] Huge fleets
of ice beleaguered the island, the sun disappears, and
they spend most of their time in "rehearsing to one
another the adventures that had befallen them both by
sea and land." On the 12th of December they kill a bear,
having already begun to feel the effects of a salt diet.
At last comes New Year's Day, 1636.  "After having wished
each other a happy new year, and success in our enterprise,
we went to prayers, to disburthen our hearts before God."
On the 25th of February (the very day on which Wallenstein
was murdered) the sun reappeared.  By the 22nd of March
scurvy had already declared itself:  "For want of
refreshments we began to be very heartless, and so
afflicted that our legs are scarce able to bear us." On
the 3rd of April, "there being no more than two of us in
health, we killed for them the only two pullets we had
left; and they fed pretty heartily upon them, in hopes
it might prove a means to recover part of their strength.
We were sorry we had not a dozen more for their sake."
On Easter Day, Adrian Carman, of Schiedam, their clerk,
dies. "The Lord have mercy upon his soul, and upon us
all, we being very sick." During the next few days they
seem all to have got rapidly worse; one only is strong
enough to move about.  He has learnt writing from his
comrades since coming to the island; and it is he who
concludes the melancholy story.  "The 23rd (April), the
wind blew from the same corner, with small rain. We were
by this time reduced to a very deplorable state, there
being none of them all, except myself, that were able to
help themselves, much less one another, so that the whole
burden lay upon my shoulders,--and I perform my duty as
well as I am able, as long as God pleases to give me
strength. I am just now a-going to help our commander
out of his cabin, at his request, because he imagined by
this change to ease his pain, he then struggling with
death." For seven days this gallant fellow goes on
"striving to do his duty;" that is to say, making entries
in the journal as to the state of the weather, that being
the principal object their employers had in view when
they left them on the island; but on the 30th of April
his strength too gave way, and his failing hand could do
no more than trace an incompleted sentence on the page.

[Figure: fig-p090.gif]

Meanwhile succour and reward are on their way toward the
forlorn garrison. On the 4th of June, up again above the
horizon rise the sails of the Zealand fleet; but no glad
faces come forth to greet the boats as they pull towards
the shore; and when their comrades search for those they
had hoped to find alive and well,--lo! each lies dead in
his own hut,--one with an open Prayer-book by his side;
another with his hand stretched out towards the ointment
he had used for his stiffened joints; and the last
survivor, with the unfinished journal still lying by his

The most recent recorded landing on the island was effected
twenty-two years ago, by the brave and pious Captain,
now Dr. Scoresby,[Footnote: I regret to be obliged to
subjoin that Dr. Scoresby has died since the above was
written.] on his return from a whaling cruise. He had
seen the mountain of Beerenberg one hundred miles off,
and, on approaching, found the coast quite clear of ice.
According to his survey and observations, Jan Mayen is
about sixteen miles long, by four wide; but I hope soon,
on my own authority, to be able to tell you more about

Certainly, this our last evening spent in Iceland will
not have been the least joyous of our stay. The dinner
on board the "Reine Hortense" was very pleasant. I renewed
acquaintance with some of my old Baltic friends, and was
presented to two or three of the Prince's staff who did
not accompany the expedition to the Geysirs; among others,
to the Duc d'Abrantes, Marshal Junot's son. On sitting
down to table, I found myself between H.I.H. and Monsieur
de Saulcy, member of the French Institute, who made that
famous expedition to the Dead Sea, and is one of the
gayest, pleasantest persons I have ever met. Of course
there was a great deal of laughing and talking, as well
as much speculation with regard to the costume of the
Icelandic ladies we were to see at the ball. It appears
that the dove-cots of Reykjavik have been a good deal
fluttered by an announcement emanating from the gallant
Captain of the "Artemise" that his fair guests would be
expected to come in low dresses; for it would seem that
the practice of showing their ivory shoulders is, as yet,
an idea as shocking to the pretty ladies of this country
as waltzes were to our grandmothers. Nay, there was not
even to be found a native milliner equal to the task of
marking out that mysterious line which divides the prudish
from the improper; so that the Collet-monte faction have
been in despair. As it turned out, their anxiety on this
head was unnecessary; for we found, on entering the
ball-room, that, with the natural refinement which
characterises this noble people, our bright-eyed partners,
as if by inspiration, had hit off the exact sweep from
shoulder to shoulder, at which--after those many
oscillations, up and down, which the female corsage has

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