The British Arctic Expedition of 1875–6 was the first major British naval expedition to the high Arctic where science was almost as important as geographical exploration. There were hopes that the expedition might find the hypothetical open polar sea and with it the longed-for North-west Passage, and it did reach the highest northern latitude to date. The Royal Society compiled instructions for the expedition, and selected two full-time naturalists (an unusual naval concession to science), of whom one, Henry Wemyss Feilden, proved a worthy choice.
Feilden was a soldier, who fought in most of the wars in his lifetime, including the American Civil War, on the Confederate side. On board HMS Alert, he kept a daily journal, a record important for its scientific content, but also as a view of the expedition as seen by a soldier, revealing admiration and appreciation for his naval colleagues; he performed whatever tasks were given to him, including the rescue of returning sledge parties stricken by scurvy. He also did a remarkably comprehensive job in mapping the geology of Smith Sound; some of his work, on the Cape Rawson Beds, was the most reliable until the 1950s. He was an all-round naturalist, and a particularly fine geologist and ornithologist. He was not just a collector; he pondered the significance of his findings within the context of the best modern science of his day: in zoology, Charles Darwin on evolution; in botany, Hooker on phytogeography, and in geology, Charles Lyell’s system. He illustrated his journal with his own sketches, and also enclosed the printed programmes of popular entertainments held on the ship, and verses for birthdays and sledging (there was a printing press onboard).
The journal gives a vigorous impression of a ship’s company well occupied through the winter, then increasingly active in sledging and geographical discovery in spring, before the scurvy-induced decision to head home in the summer of 1876. After his return, Feilden had dealings with many scientists and their institutions, finding homes for and meaning in his collections.
List of Maps and Illustrations
Preface and Acknowledgements
Abbreviations and Symbols
Weights, Measurements and Currency
INTRODUCTION: HENRY WEMYSS FEILDEN, THE NATURALIST IN HMS ALERT, 1875−6
1. Prelude and Preparation
2. Henry Wemyss Feilden
3. Instructions for the Expedition
4. Outward Bound
5. Winter Quarters
6. Sledging in Earnest
7. Out of the Ice and Homeward Bound
8. Home again: Science, Politics and the Military
9. Geology and Specimens
THE ARCTIC JOURNAL OF CAPTAIN HENRY WEMYSS FEILDEN, RA.
Prelude. 1 February−15 April 1875.
Part I. Outward Bound. 20 May–1 September 1875.
Part II. Winter Quarters. 2 September 1875−1 April 1876.
Part III. Sledging in Earnest. 2 April−9 June 1876.
Part IV. Sledging, Natural History, and Scurvy. 11 June−25 July 1876.
Part V. Out of the Ice and Homeward Bound. 26 July−28 October 1876.
Part VI. Science, Politics, and the Military. 29 October 1876−7 January 1787.
Appendix A. Letters from Henry Chichester Hart, naturalist in HMS Discovery, to Feilden, received by Feilden in HMS Alert, and inserted by him in his journal.
Appendix B. Letter from Richard W. Coppinger, surgeon in HMS Discovery, to Feilden, Repulse Bay.
Appendix C. Chorus: ʻThe Palaeocrystic Seaʼ.
Appendix D. Flora and Fauna in Feildenʼs Journal.
Appendix E. List of enclosures in Feilden’s journal at the Royal Geographical Society
Appendix F. H.M.S. ALERT. Winter Routine.
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