As Hatteras drew near this sound he felt his anxiety redoubling;
in fact, the success of his expedition was at stake; so far he
had done nothing more than his predecessors, the most successful
of whom, MacClintock, had consumed fifteen months in reaching
this spot; but that was little, indeed nothing, if he could not
make Bellot Sound; being unable to return, he would be kept a
prisoner until the next year.
Hence he took upon himself the care of examining the coast;
he went up to the lookout, and on Saturday passed many hours
The crew were all acquainted with the situation of the ship;
an unbroken silence reigned on board; the engine was slackened;
the Forward ran as near shore as possible; the coast was lined
with ice which the warmest summers could not melt; a practised
eye was needed to make out an entrance through them.
Hatteras was comparing his charts with the coast-line. The
sun having appeared for a moment at noon, Shandon and Wall
took an observation, the result of which was at once told him.
There was half a day of anxiety for all. But suddenly, at about
two o'clock, these words were shouted from aloft,—
“Head to the west, and put on all steam.”
The brig obeyed at once, turning to the point directed; the
screw churned the water, and the Forward plunged under a full
lead of steam between two swiftly running ice-streams.
The path was found; Hatteras came down to the quarter-deck,
and the ice-master went aloft.
“Well, Captain,” said the doctor, “we have entered this famous
sound at last!”
“Yes,” answered Hatteras; “but entering is not all, we have
got to get out of it too.”
And with these words he went to his cabin.
“He is right,” thought the doctor; “we are in a sort of trap,
without much space to turn about in, and if we had to winter
here!—well, we should n't be the first to do it, and where others
lived through it, there is no reason why we should not!”
The doctor was right. It was at this very place, in a little
sheltered harbor called Port Kennedy by MacClintock himself,
that the Fox wintered in 1858. At that moment it was easy to
recognize the lofty granite chains, and the steep beaches on each
Bellot Sound, a mile broad and seventeen long, with a current
running six or seven knots, is enclosed by mountains of an estimated
height of sixteen hundred feet; it separates North Somerset
from Boothia; it is easy to see that there is not too much
sailing room there. The Forward advanced carefully, but still
she advanced; tempests are frequent in this narrow pass, and the
brig did not escape their usual violence; by Hatteras's orders,
all the topsail-yards were lowered, and the topmasts also; in
spite of everything the ship labored fearfully; the heavy seas
kept the deck continually deluged with water; the smoke flew
eastward with inconceivable rapidity; they went on almost at
haphazard through the floating ice; the barometer fell to 29°;
it was hard to stay on deck, so most of the men were kept below
to spare them unnecessary exposure.
and Shandon remained
on the quarter-deck, in
spite of the whirlwinds
of snow and rain; and
the doctor, who had
just asked himself what
was the most disagreeable
thing to be done at
that time, soon joined
them there; they could
not hear, and hardly
could they see, one another;
so he kept his
thoughts to himself.
Hatteras tried to
pierce the dense cloud
of mist, for, according
to his calculation, they
should be through the
strait at six o'clock of
the evening. At that time exit seemed closed, and Hatteras was
obliged to stop and anchor to an iceberg; but steam was kept up
The weather was terrible. Every moment the Forward threatened
to snap her cables; there was danger, too, lest the mountain
should be driven by the wind and crush the brig. The
officers kept on the alert, owing to their extreme anxiety; besides
the snow, large lumps of frozen spray were blown about by
the hurricane like sharp arrows.
The temperature arose strangely in that terrible night; the
thermometer marked 57°; and the doctor, to his great surprise,
thought he noticed some flashes of lightning followed by distant
thunder. This seemed to corroborate the testimony of Scoresby,
who noticed the same phenomenon above latitude 65°. Captain
Parry also observed it in 1821.
Towards five o'clock in the morning the weather changed with
singular rapidity; the temperature fell to the freezing-point; the
wind shifted to the north and grew quiet. The western opening
of the strait could be seen, but it was entirely closed. Hatteras
gazed anxiously at the coast, asking himself if there really were
Nevertheless, the brig put out slowly into the ice-streams,
while the ice crushed noisily against her bows; the packs at this
time were six or seven feet thick; it was necessary carefully to
avoid them, for if the ship should try to withstand them, it ran the
risk of being lifted half out of the water and cast on her beam-ends.
At noon, for the first time, a magnificent solar phenomenon
could be observed, a halo with two parhelions; the doctor observed
it, and took its exact dimensions; the exterior arc was
only visible for about thirty degrees each side of the horizontal
diameter; the two images of the sun were remarkably clear;
the colors within the luminous area were, going toward the outside,
red, yellow, green, faint blue, and last of all white, gently
fading away, without any sharp line of termination.
The doctor remembered Thomas Young's ingenious theory
about these meteors; he supposed that certain clouds composed
of prisms of ice are hanging in the air; the sun's rays falling on
these prisms are refracted at angles of sixty and ninety degrees.
The halos can only be formed in a clear sky. The doctor thought
this an ingenious explanation.
Sailors, who are familiar with northern seas, consider this
phenomenon a forerunner of heavy snow. If this should be the
case, the position of the Forward was very critical. Hence
Hatteras resolved to push on; during the rest of that day and
the next night he took no rest, but examined the horizon through
his glass, entering every inlet, and losing no opportunity to get
out of the strait.
But in the morning he was compelled to stop before the impenetrable
ice. The doctor joined him on the quarter-deck.
Hatteras led him clear aft where they could talk without fear
of being overheard.
“We are caught,” said Hatteras. “It's impossible to go
“Impossible?” said the doctor.
“Impossible! All the powder on board the Forward would
not open a quarter of a mile to us.”
“What are we to do?” asked the doctor.
“I don't know. Curse this unlucky year!”
“Well, Captain, if we must go into winter-quarters, we'll do it.
As well here as anywhere else!”
“Of course,” said Hatteras in a low voice, “but we ought not
to be going into winter-quarters, especially in the month of June.
It is demoralizing, and bad for the health. The spirits of the
crew are soon cast down during this long rest among real sufferings.
So I had made up my mind to winter at a latitude nearer
“Yes, but, unluckily, Baffin's Bay was closed.”
“Any one else would have found it open,” cried Hatteras;
“that American, that—”
“Come, Hatteras,” said the doctor, purposely interrupting
him, “it's now only the 5th of June; we should not despair;
a path may open before us suddenly; you know the ice often
breaks into separate pieces, even when the weather is calm, as if
it were driven apart by some force of repulsion; at any moment
we may find the sea free.”
“Well, if that happens, we shall take advantage of it. It is
not impossible that beyond Bellot Strait we might get northward
through Peel Sound or MacClintock Channel, and then—”
“Captain,” said James Wall, approaching, “the ice threatens
to tear away the rudder.”
“Well,” answered Hatteras, “never mind; I sha' n't unship it;
I want to be ready at any hour, day or night. Take every precaution,
Mr. Wall, and keep the ice off; but don't unship it, you
“But—” began Wall.
“I don't care to hear any remarks, sir,” said Hatteras, severely.
Wall returned to his post.
“Ah!” said Hatteras, angrily, “I would give five years of my
life to be farther north! I don't know any more dangerous place;
and besides, we are so near the magnetic pole that the compass
is of no use; the needle is inactive, or always shifting its direction.”
“I confess,” said the doctor, “that it is not plain sailing; but
still, those who undertook it were prepared for such dangers, and
there is no need to be surprised.”
“Ah, Doctor! the crew has changed very much, and you have
seen that the officers have begun to make remarks. The high pay
offered the sailors induced them to ship; but they have their
bad side, for as soon as they are off they are anxious to get back.
Doctor, I have no encouragement in my undertaking, and if I
fail, it won't be the fault of such or such a sailor, but of the illwill
of certain officers. Ah, they'll pay dearly for it!”
“You are exaggerating, Hatteras.”
“Not at all! Do you fancy the crew are sorry for the obstacles
we are meeting? On the contrary, they hope I shall be
compelled to abandon my plans. So they do not murmur, and
when the Forward is headed for the south, it will be the same
thing. Fools! They imagine they, are returning to England!
But when I'm turned towards the north, you will see a difference!
I swear solemnly that no living being shall make me
swerve from my course! Give me a passage, an opening through
which my brig can go, and I shall take it, if I have to leave
half her sheathing behind!”
The desires of the captain were destined to be satisfied in a
measure. As the doctor had foretold, there was a sudden change
in the evening; under some influence of the wind, the ice-fields
separated; the Forward pushed on boldly, breaking the ice with
her steel prow; all the night they advanced, and towards six
o'clock they were clear of Bellot Strait.
But great was Hatteras's anger at finding the way to the north
closed! He was able to hide his despair; and as if the only open
path were the one of his choice, he turned the Forward towards
Franklin Sound. Being unable to go up Peel Sound, he determined
to go around Prince of Wales Land, to reach MacClintock
Channel. But he knew that Shandon and Wall could not be
deceived, and were conscious of the failure of his hopes.
Nothing especial happened on the 6th of June; snow fell, and
the prophecy of the halo came true.
For thirty-six hours the Forward followed the sinuosities of the
coast of Boothia, without reaching Prince of Whales Land. Hatteras
put on all steam, burning his coal extravagantly; he still
intended to get further supplies on Beechey Island; on Thursday
he arrived at Franklin Sound, and he still found the way northward
His position was a desperate one; he could not return; the ice
pushed him onward, and he saw his path forever closing behind
him, as if there were no open sea where he had passed but an
Hence, not only was the Forward unable to go toward the
north, but she could not stop for a moment lest she should be imprisoned,
and she fled before the ice like a ship before a storm.
Friday, June 7th, she arrived near the coast of Boothia, at the
entrance of James Ross Sound, which had to be avoided because
its only exit is to the west, close to the shore of America.
The observations taken at noon showed them to be in latitude
70°5'11", and longitude 96°46'45"; when the doctor heard this
he examined his chart, and found that they were at the magnetic
pole, at the very point where James Ross, the nephew of Sir
John, came to determine its situation.
The land was low near the coast, and it rose only about sixty
feet at the distance of a mile from the sea.
The boiler of the Forward needed cleaning; the captain anchored
his ship to a field of ice, and gave the doctor leave to go
ashore with the boatswain. For himself, being indifferent to
everything outside of his own plans, he shut himself up in his
cabin, and studied the chart of the Pole.
The doctor and his companion easily reached land; the first-named
carried a compass for his experiments; he wanted to test
the work of James Ross; he easily made out the mound of stones
erected by him; he ran towards it; an opening in the cairn let
him see a tin box in which James Ross had placed an account of
his discovery. No living being had visited this lonely spot for
At this place a needle
suspended as delicately as
possible assumed a nearly
vertical position under the
magnetic influence; hence
the centre of attraction was
near, if not immediately
beneath, the needle.
The doctor made the
experiment with all care.
But if James Ross, owing
to the imperfection of his
instruments, found a declination
of only 89°50', the
real magnetic point is found
within a minute of this spot. Dr. Clawbonny was more fortunate,
and at a little distance from there he found a declination
“This is exactly the magnetic pole of the earth!” he cried,
stamping on the ground.
“Just here?” asked Johnson.
“Precisely here, my friend!”
“Well, then,” resumed the boatswain, “we must give up all
the stories of a magnetic mountain or large mass.”
“Yes, Johnson,” answered the doctor, laughing, “those are
empty hypotheses! As you see, there is no mountain capable of
attracting ships, of drawing their iron from them anchor after
anchor, bolt after bolt! and your shoes here are as light as anywhere
in the world.”
“But how do you explain—”
“There is no explanation, Johnson; we are not wise enough
for that. But what is mathematically certain is that the magnetic
pole is at this very spot!”
“Ah, Dr. Clawbonny, how glad the captain would be to say as
much of the North Pole!”
“He'll say it, Johnson; he'll say it!”
“God grant it!” was the answer.
The doctor and his companion raised a cairn at the spot where
they tried their experiment, and the signal for their return being
made, they returned to the ship at five o'clock of the evening.
1^ Translation error. Verne: vingt-neuf pouces, twenty-nine inches.
2^ Translator's error. Verne: vendredi, 8 juin (Friday, June 8, 1860). This is the correct date, since 36 hours passed since June 6.