Richard Shandon was a good sailor; for a long time he had
commanded whalers in the Arctic seas, with a well-deserved reputation
throughout all Lancaster. Such a letter was well calculated
to astonish him; he was astonished, it is true, but with the
calmness of a man who is accustomed to surprises.
He suited all the required conditions; no wife, child, nor relatives.
He was as independent as man could be. There being no
one whose opinion he needed to consult, he betook himself to
Messrs. Marcuart & Co.
“If the money is there,” he said to himself, “the rest is all
At the banking-house he was received with the respect due to
a man who has sixteen thousand pounds deposited to his credit;
having made that point sure, Shandon asked for a sheet of white
paper, and in his large sailor's handwriting he sent his acceptance
of the plan to the address given above.
That very day he made the necessary arrangements with the
builders at Birkenhead, and within twenty-four hours the keel of
the Forward was laid on the stocks.
Richard Shandon was a man about forty years old, strong, energetic,
and fearless, three qualities most necessary for a sailor, for
they give him confidence, vigor, and coolness. He was known to
be severe and very hard to please; hence he was more feared
than loved by his men. But this reputation was not calculated to
interfere with his selection of a crew, for he was known to be skilful
in avoiding trouble.
Shandon feared that the mysterious nature of the expedition
might stand in his way.
“In that case,” he said, “it's best not to say anything about
it; there will always be plenty of men who will want to know the
why and the wherefore of the whole matter, and, since I don't
know anything about it myself, I should find it hard to answer
them. This K. Z. is certainly an odd stick; but, after all, he
knows me, he depends on me, and that is enough. As for his
ship, it will be a good one, and if it's not going to the Arctic
Ocean, my name is not Richard Shandon. But I shall keep that
fact for myself and my officers.”
Thereupon Shandon began to choose his crew, bearing in mind
the captain's wishes about the independence and health of the
He knew a very capital fellow, and a good sailor, James Wall
by name. Wall might have been about thirty years old, and
had already made some voyages in the northern
seas. Shandon offered him the place of
second mate, and Wall accepted it at once;
all he cared for was to be at sea. Shandon
confided all the details of the affair to him
and to a certain Johnson, whom he took as
“All right,” answered James Wall, “that's
as good as anything. Even if it's to seek the
Northwest Passage, some have come back
“Not all,” said Johnson, “but that's no reason that we should
not try it.”
“Besides, if our guesses are right,” said Shandon, “it must be
said that we start with a fair chance of success. The Forward
will be a stanch ship and she will carry good engines. She can
go a great distance. We want a crew of only eighteen men.”
“Eighteen men,” answered Johnson; “that's the number the
American, Kane, took with him on his famous voyage towards the
“It's strange,” said Wall, “that a private person should try to
make his way from Davis Strait to Behring Strait. The expeditions
in search of Sir John Franklin have already cost England
more than seven hundred and sixty thousand pounds, without
producing any practical good. Who in the world wants to throw
away his money for such a purpose?”
“In the first place, James,” answered Shandon, “we are in the
dark about it all. I don't know whether we are going to the
northern or the southern seas. Perhaps there's some new discovery
to be tried. At any rate, some day or other a Dr. Clawbonny
is to come aboard who will probably know more about it
and will be able to tell us. We shall see.”
“Let us wait, then,” said Johnson; “as for me, I'm going to
look after some good men, and I'll answer now for their animal
heat, as the captain calls it. You can depend on me.”
Johnson was an invaluable man; he was familiar with high
latitudes. He had been quartermaster aboard of the Phoenix,
which belonged to one of the expeditions sent out in 1853 in
search of Franklin; he had been an eye-witness of the death of
the French lieutenant Bellot, whom he had accompanied in his
expedition across the ice. Johnson knew all the sailors in Liverpool,
and immediately set about engaging a crew.
Shandon, Wall, and he succeeded in filling the number by the
middle of December, but they met with considerable difficulty;
many who were attracted by the high pay were alarmed by the
danger, and more than one who had boldly enlisted came later to
say that he had changed his mind on account of the dissuasion of
his friends. They all tried to pierce the mystery, and pursued Shandon
with their questions. He used to refer them to Johnson.
“What can I say, my man?” the boatswain used to answer;
“I don't know any more about it than you do. At any rate you
will be in good company, with men who won't shirk their work;
that's something! So don't be thinking about it all day: take
it or leave it!” And the greater number took it.
“You understand,” added Johnson, sometimes, “my only
trouble is in making my choice. High pay, such as no sailor
ever had before, with the certainty of finding a round sum when
we get back. That's very tempting.”
“The fact is,” answered the sailors, “that it is hard to refuse.
It will support a man all the rest of his life.”
“I won't hide from you,” continued Johnson, “that the voyage
will be long, difficult, and dangerous; that's all stated in our instructions;
it's well to know beforehand what one undertakes to
do; probably it's to try all that men can possibly do, and perhaps
even more. So, if you have n't got a bold heart and a strong
body, if you can't say you have more than twenty chances to one
of staying there, if, in short, you are particular about leaving
your body in one place more than another, here rather than
there, get away from here and let some bolder man have your
“But, at least,” said the confused sailor,—“at least, you know
“The captain is Richard Shandon, my friend, until we receive
Now it must be said that was what the commander thought;
he allowed himself to think that at the last moment he would receive
definite instructions as to the object of the voyage, and that
he would remain in command of the Forward. He was fond of
spreading this opinion about, either in conversation with his officers
or in superintending the building of the brig, of which the
timbers were now rising in the Birkenhead ship-yard like the
sides of a huge whale.
Shandon and Johnson conformed strictly with the recommendation
about the health of the crew; they all looked hardy and
possessed enough animal heat to run the engines of the Forward;
their elastic limbs, their clear and ruddy skin, showed that they
were fit to encounter intense cold. They were bold, determined
men, energetic and stoutly built; they were not all equally vigorous.
Shandon had even hesitated about accepting some of
them; for instance, the sailors Gripper and Garry, and the harpooner
Simpson, who seemed to him too thin; but, on the other
hand, they were well built, they were earnest about it, and they
All the crew were members of the same church; in their long
voyage their prayers and the reading of the Bible would call them
together and console them in the hours of depression; so that it
was advisable that there should be no diversity on this score.
Shandon knew from experience the usefulness of this practice
and its good influence on the men, so valuable that it is never
neglected on board of ships which winter in the polar seas.
When all the crew had been engaged, Shandon and his two officers
busied themselves with the provisions; they followed closely
the captain's instructions, which were definite, precise, and detailed,
in which the quality and quantity of the smallest articles
were clearly set down. Thanks to the drafts placed at the commander's
order, every article was paid for, cash down, with a discount
of eight per cent, which Richard carefully placed to the
credit of K. Z.
Crew, provisions, and outfit were all ready in January, 1860;
the Forward was approaching completion. Shandon never let a
day pass without visiting Birkenhead.
On the morning of the 23d of January he was, as usual, on
one of the double-ended ferry-boats which ply between the two
shores of the Mersey; everything was enveloped in one of the ordinary
fogs of that region, which compel the pilot to steer by compass,
although the trip is one of but ten minutes.
However, the thickness of the fog could not prevent Shandon
from noticing a short, rather stout man, with a refined, agreeable
face and pleasant expression, who came towards him, seized both
his hands, and pressed them with a warmth and familiarity which
a Frenchman would have said was “very southern.”
But if this stranger was not from the South, he had escaped it
narrowly; he spoke and gesticulated freely; his thoughts seemed
determined to find expression, even if they had to burst out. His
eyes, small like the eyes of witty men, his large and mobile mouth,
were safety-valves which enabled him to rid himself of too strong
a pressure on his feelings; he talked; and he talked so much and
joyously, that, it must be said, Shandon could not make out what
he was saying.
Still the mate of the Forward was not slow in recognizing this
short man whom he had never seen; it
flashed into his mind, and the moment
that the other stopped to take breath,
Shandon uttered these words,—
“The same, in person, Commander!
For nearly a quarter of an hour I have
been looking after you, asking for you of
every one and everywhere. Imagine my
impatience. Five minutes more and I
should have lost my head! So this is you, officer Shandon? You
really exist? You are not a myth? Your hand, your hand! Let
me press it again in mine! Yes, that is indeed the hand of Richard
Shandon. Now, if there is a commander Richard, there is a
brig Forward which he commands; and if he commands it, it will
sail; and if it sails, it will take Dr. Clawbonny on board.”
“Well, yes, Doctor, I am Richard Shandon, there is a brig Forward,
and it will sail.”
“There's logic,” answered the doctor, taking a long breath,—“there's logic. So I am delighted, enchanted! For a long time I've been waiting for something of this sort to turn up, and I've been wanting to try a voyage of this sort. Now, with you—”
“Excuse me—” said Shandon.
“With you,” continued Clawbonny, paying him no attention,
“we are sure of going far without turning round.”
“But—” began Shandon.
“For you have shown what stuff you are made of, and I know
all you've done. Ah, you are a good sailor!”
“If you please—”
“No, I sha' n't let your courage and skill be doubted for a
moment, even by yourself. The captain who chose you for mate
is a man who knew what he was about; I can tell you that.”
“But that is not the question,” said Shandon, impatiently.
“What is it, then? Don't keep me anxious any longer.”
“But you won't let me say a word. Tell me. Doctor, if you
please, how you came to join this expedition of the Forward?”
“By a letter, a capital letter; here it is, the letter of a brave
captain, very short, but very full.”
With these words he handed Shandon a letter running as follows:
Inverness, January 22, 1860.
To Dr. Clawbonny, Liverpool.
If Dr. Clawbonny wishes to sail on the Forward for a long voyage,
he can present himself to the mate, Richard Shandon, who has been
advised concerning him.
Captain of the Forward.
“The letter reached me this morning, and I'm now ready to
go on board of the Forward.”
“But,” continued Shandon, “I suppose you know whither we
“Not the least idea in the world; but what difference does it
make, provided I go somewhere? They say I'm a learned man;
they are wrong; I don't know anything, and if I have published
some books which have had a good sale, I was wrong; it was very
kind of the public to buy them! I don't know anything, I tell
you, except that I am very ignorant. Now I have a chance offered
me to complete, or, rather, to make over my knowledge of medicine,
surgery, history, geography, botany, mineralogy, conchology,
geodesy, chemistry, physics, mechanics, hydrography; well, I accept
it, and I assure you, I did n't have to be asked twice.”
“Then,” said Shandon in a tone of disappointment, “you don't
know where the Forward is going.”
“0, but I do, commander; it's going where there is something
to be learned, discovered; where one can instruct himself, make
comparisons, see other customs, other countries, study the ways of
other people; in a word, it's going where I have never been.”
“But more precisely?” cried Shandon.
“More precisely,” answered the doctor, “I have understood
that it was bound for the Northern Ocean. Well, good for the
“At any rate,” said Shandon, “you know the captain?”
“Not at all! But he's a good fellow, you may depend on it.”
The mate and the doctor stepped ashore at Birkenhead; Shandon
gave his companion all the information he had, and the mystery
which lay about it all excited highly the doctor's imagination.
The sight of the Forward enchanted him. From that
time he was always with Shandon, and he came every morning to
inspect the hull of the Forward.
In addition he was specially intrusted with the providing of
the ship's medicine-chest.
For Clawbonny was a physician, and a good one, although he
had never practised much. At twenty-five he was an ordinary
young doctor, at forty he was a learned man; being known
throughout the whole city, he became a leading member of the
Literary and Philosophical Society of Liverpool. His moderate
fortune allowed him to give some advice which was no less valuable
for being without charge; loved as a thoroughly kind-hearted
man must be, he did no harm to any one else nor to himself;
quick and garrulous, if you please, but with his heart in his
hand, and his hand in that of all the world.
When the news of his intended journey on board the Forward
became known in the city, all his friends endeavored to dissuade
him, but they only made him cling more obstinately to his intention;
and when the doctor had absolutely determined on anything,
he was a skilful man who could make him change.
From that day the rumors, conjectures, and apprehensions
steadily increased; but that did not interfere with the launching
of the Forward on the 5th of February, 1860. Two months later
she was ready for sea.
On the 15th of March, as the captain's letter had said, a
Danish dog was sent by rail from Edinburgh to
Liverpool, to the address of Richard Shandon.
He seemed morose, timid, and almost wicked;
his expression was very strange. The name of
the Forward was engraved on his collar.
The commander gave him quarters on board, and sent a letter,
with the news of his arrival, to Leghorn.
Hence, with the exception of the captain, the crew of the Forward
was complete. It was composed as follows:—
1. K. Z., captain; 2. Richard Shandon, first mate, in command;
3. James Wall, second mate; 4. Dr. Clawbonny; 5.
Johnson, boatswain; 6. Simpson, harpooner; 7. Bell, carpenter;
8. Brunton, first engineer; 9. Plover, second engineer; 10.
Strong (negro), cook; 11. Foker, ice-master; 12. Wolston,
gunner; 13. Bolton, sailor; 14. Garry, sailor; 15. Clifton,
sailor; 16. Gripper, sailor; 17. Pen, sailor; 18. Warren, stoker.