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List Of Contents | Contents of Letters From High Latitudes, by Lord Dufferin
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In the spring of 1833, on the breaking up of a frost,
'La Lilloise,' under the command of that brave officer,
succeeded in passing through the Banquise, nearly up to
latitude 69 degrees, and in surveying about thirty leagues
of coast to the south of that latitude. After having
returned to her anchorage off the coast of Iceland, he
sailed again in July for a second attempt. From that time
nothing has been heard of 'La Lillouse.'

The following year the 'Bordelaise' was sent to look for
the 'Lilloise,' but found the whole north of Iceland
blocked up by ice-fields; and returned, having been
stopped in the latitude of the North Cape.

As a voyage to the Danish colonies on the western coast
of Greenland formed part of the scheme of our arctic
navigation, we were aware at our departure from Paris,
that it was our business to make ourselves well acquainted
with the southern part of the ice-field, from Reykjavik
to Cape Farewell. But while we were touching at Peterhead,
the principal port for the fitting of vessels destined
for the seal fishery, the Prince, and M. de la Ronciere,
Commander of 'La Reine Hortense,' gathered--from
conversations with the fishermen just returned from their
spring expedition--some important information on the
actual state of the ice.  They learnt from them that
navigation was completely free this year round the whole
of Iceland; that the ice-field resting on Jan Mayen
Island, and surrounding it to a distance of about twenty
leagues, extended down the south-west along the coast of
Greenland, but without blocking up the channel which
separates that coast from that of Iceland. These unhoped-for
circumstances opened a new field to our explorations, by
allowing us to survey all that part of the Banquise which
extends to the north of Iceland, thus forming a continuation
to the observations made by the 'Recherche,' and to those
which we ourselves intended to make during our voyage to
Greenland. The temptation was too great for the Prince;
and Commander de la Ronciere was not a man to allow an
opportunity to escape for executing a project which
presented itself to him with the character of daring and

But the difficulties of the enterprise were serious, and
of such a nature that no one but a sailor experienced in
navigation is capable of appreciating. The 'Reine Hortense'
is a charming pleasure-boat, but she offers very few of
the requisites for a long voyage, and she was destitute
of all the special equipment indispensable for a long
sojourn in the ice. There was room but for six days'
coals, and for three weeks' water: As to the sails, one
may say the masts of the corvette are merely for show,
and that without steam it would be impossible to reckon
on her making any way regularly and uninterruptedly. Add
to this, that she is built of iron,--that is to say, an
iron sheet of about two centimbtres thick constitutes
all her planking,--and that her deck--divided into twelve
great panels, is so weak that it has been thought incapable
of carrying guns proportioned to her tonnage. Those who
have seen the massive vessels of the fishermen of Peterhead,
their enormous outside planking, their bracings and
fastenings in wood and in iron, and their internal knees
and stancheons, may form an idea from such
precautions--imposed by long experience of the nature of
the dangers that the shock--or even the pressure of the
ice--may cause to a ship in the latitudes that we were
going to explore.

The 'Cocyte' had also been placed at the disposal of
H.I.H.  Prince Napoleon. This vessel which arrived at
Reykjavik the same day that we did, the 30th of June--is
a steam schooner, with paddles, standing the sea well,
carying coals for twelve days, but with a deplorably slow
rate of speed.

We found besides at Reykjavik the war transport 'La
Perdrix' and two English merchant steamers, the 'Tasmania
and the 'Saxon,' freighted by the Admiralty to take to
Iceland coals necessary for our voyage to Greenland.
These five vessels, with the frigate 'Artemise,' which
performed he duties of guardship, formed the largest
squadron which had ever assembled in the harbour of the
capital of Iceland.

Unfortunately, these varied and numerous elements had
nothing in common, and Commodore de la Ronciere soon saw
that extraneous help would afford us no additional
security; and, in short, that the 'Refine Bortense'--
obliged to go fast--as her short supplies would not allow
long voyages, had to reckon on herself alone. However,
the [English] captain of the 'Saxon' expressing a great
desire to visit these northern parts, and displaying on
this subject a sort of national vanity, besides promising
an average speed of seven knots an hour, it was decided
that--at all events, that vessel should start alone with
the 'Refine Hortense,' whose supply of coals it would be
able to replenish, in the event--a doubtful one, it is
true--of our making the coast of Jan Mayen's Island, and
finding a good anchorage. The 'Reine Hortense' had--by
the help of a supplementary load on deck--a supply of
coals for eight days; and immediately on starting, the
crew as well as the passengers, were to be put on a
measured allowance of water.

A few hours before getting under way, the expedition was
completed by the junction of a new companion, quite
unexpected. We found in Reykjavik harbour a yacht belonging
to Lord Dufferin. The Prince, seeing his great desire to
visit the neighbourhood of Jan Mayen, offered to take
his schooner in tow of the 'Reine Hortense.' It was a
fortunate accident for a seeker of maritime adventures;
and an hour afterwards, the proposition having been
eagerly accepted, the Englishman was attached by two long
cables to the stern of our corvette.

On the 7th of July, 1856, at two o'clock in the morning,
after a ball given by Commander de Mas on board the
'Artemise,'--the 'Reine Hortense,' with the English
schooner in tow, left Reykjavik harbour, directing her
course along the west coast of Iceland, towards
Onundarfiord, where we were to join the 'Saxon' which
had left a few hours before us. At nine o'clock, the
three vessels, steering east-north-east, doubled the
point of Cape North. At noon our observation of the
latitude placed us about 67 degrees. We had just crossed
the Arctic circle. The temperature was that of a fine
spring day, 10 degrees centigrade (50 degrees Farenh.).

The 'Reine Hortense' diminished her speed. A rope thrown
across one of the towing-ropes enabled Lord Dufferin to
haul one of his boats to our corvette. He himself came
to dine with us, and to be present at the ceremony of
crossing the polar circle. As to the 'Saxon,' M. de la
Ronciere perceived by this time that the worthy Englishman
had presumed too much on his power. The 'Saxon' was
evidently incapable of following us. The captain, therefore,
made her a signal that she was to take her own course,
to try and reach Jan Mayen; and if she could not succeed,
to direct her course on Onundarfiord, and there to wait
for us. The English vessel fell rapidly astern, her hull
disappeared, then her sails, and in the evening every
trace of her smoke had faded from the horizon.

In the evening, the temperature grew gradually colder;
that of the water underwent a more rapid and significant
change. At twelve at night it was only three degrees
centig.  (about 37 degrees Fahr.). At that moment the
vessel plunged into a bank of fog, the intensity of which
we were enabled to ascertain, from the continuance of
daylight in these latitudes at this time of the year.
There are tokens that leave no room to doubt that we are
approaching the solid ice. True enough:--at two o'clock
in the morning the officer on watch sees close to the
ship a herd of seals, inhabitants of the field ice. A
few minutes later the fog clears up suddenly; a ray of
sunshine gilds the surface of the sea; lighting up millions
of patches of sparkling white, extending to the farthest
limit of the horizon. These are the detached hummocks
which precede and announce the field ice; they increase
in size and in number as we proceed. At three o'clock in
the afternoon we find ourselves in front of a large pack
which blocks up the sea before us. We are obliged to
change our course to extricate ourselves from the ice
that surrounds us.  This is an evolution requiring on
the part of the commander the greatest precision of eye,
and a perfect knowledge of his ship. The 'Reine Hortense,'
going half speed, with all the officers and the crew on
deck, glides along between the blocks of ice, some of
which she seems almost to touch, and the smallest of
which would sink her instantly if a collision took place.
Another danger, which it is almost impossible to guard
against, threatens a vessel in those trying moments. If
a piece of ice gets under the screw, it will be inevitably
smashed like glass, and the consequences of such an
accident might be fatal.

The little English schooner follows us bravely; bounding
in our track, and avoiding only by a constant watchfulness
and incessant attention to the helm the icebergs that we
have cleared.

But the difficulties of this navigation are nothing in
clear weather, as compared to what they are in a fog.
Then, notwithstanding the slowness of the speed, it
requires as much luck as skill to avoid collisions. Thus
it happened that after having escaped the ice a first
time, and having steered E.N.E., we found ourselves
suddenly, towards two o'clock of that same day (the 9th),
not further than a quarter of a mile from the field ice
which the fog had hidden from us. Generally speaking,
the Banquise that we coasted along for three days, and
that we traced with the greatest care for nearly a hundred
leagues, presented to us an irregular line of margin,
running from W.S.W. to E.N.E., and thrusting forward
toward the south-capes and promontories of various sizes,
and serrated like the teeth of a saw. Every time that we
bore up for E.N.E., we soon found ourselves in one of
the gulfs of ice formed by the indentations of the
Banquise. It was only by steering to the S.W.  that we

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