Thursday, August 10, 2017

An Arctic Summer: July 31-August 10, 1773

A quick note: my name is Mike Romero, and I'm a Historic Interpreter at Colonial Williamsburg.  The postings I make on this site are my own personal opinions and research, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Colonial Williamsburg.  With that said, enjoy the read!

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Track of the Racehorse and Carcass with position plots
for 7/29 and 7/31.  Foggy weather described in the
meteorlogical journal likely prevented observations
in early August.  Red circle indicates islands off
"North East Land" where the ships were most likely
beset by ice as the journal describes on Ausgust 3-10.
The Phipps Expedition enters its third month at sea, continuing their attempts to penetrate the polar waters. They've been in close with the "main body" of the ice (which I take to be their encounters with the polar ice cap) for some time now, trying to explore small channels and bays in the hopes that they will prove to be an extended passage farther north.  Almost without fail, these passages are little more than a mile or two long before closing up.  As  we get into this post's journal entries, Racehorse and Carcass find themselves in an extensive field of loose ice near the main body, with the loose ice slowly packing closer and closer together around the ships.

"July 31st.  At nine in the morning, having a light breeze to the Eastward, we cast off, and endeavoured to force through the ice.  At noon the ice was so close, that being unable to proceed, we moored again to a field. In the afternoon we filled our cask with fresh water from the ice, which we found very pure and soft.  The Carcass moved, and made fast to the same field with us.  The ice measured eight yards ten inches in thickness at one end, and seven yards eleven inches at the other. At four in the afternoon the variation was 12°24' W: at the same time the longitude 19°0'15" E; by which we found that we had hardly moved to the Eastward since the day before. Calm most part of the day; the weather very fine; the ice closed fast, and was all round the ships; no opening to be seen any where, except an hole of about a mile and a half, where the ships lay fast to the ice with ice-anchors. We completed the water.  The ship's company were playing on the ice all day.  The pilots being much farther than they had ever been, and the season advancing, seemed alarmed at being beset."

Meteorological Data:
7/31 Weather on Expedition: 48°F at noon, light airs at E, fair.
7/31 Weather in Williamsburg (Weather Channel App): 82°F at noon with a heat index of 83°, light winds from the E, sunny.

"August 3d.  The weather very fine, clear, and calm; we perceived that the ships had been driven far to the Eastward; the ice was much closer than before, and the passage by which we had come in from the Westward closed up, no open water being in sight, either in that or any other quarter.  The pilots having expressed a wish to get if possible farther out, the ships companies were set to work at five in the morning, to cut a passage through the ice, and warp through the small openings to the Westward.  We found the ice very deep, having sawed sometimes through pieces twelve feet thick.  This labour was continued the whole day, but without any success; our utmost efforts not having moved the ships above three hundred yards to the Westward through the ice, at the same time that they had been driven (together with the ice itself, to which they were fast) far to the NE and Eastward, by the current; which had also forced the loose ice from the Westward, between the islands, where it became packed, and as firm as the main body."

Meteorological Data:
8/3 Weather on Expedition: 47° F at noon, light airs and fair weather.
8/3 Weather in Williamsburg (Weather Channel App): 89°F at noon with a heat index of 94°F, 7 mph winds from the SE, sunny.

After the light-hearted Arctic recreation of the 31st (I cannot help but picture Jack Aubrey and the crew of HMS Surprise staging a polar cricket tournament in such a setting), it seems the fears of the Greenland pilots have been realized; the ships are now trapped by pack ice.  As the ice drifts along in a large mass, the ships are carried with them, perhaps to as yet unseen shoals or fully aground, where they mat well be destroyed.  Light and flirty winds offer no help.  On the 5th, Captain Phipps sends Midshipman Walden and one of the Greenland pilots with a boat crew to a nearby island (which he now refers to as Walden's Island on his charts), instructing him to use the high ground there to search for a path back to open water.

"HMS Carcass Trapped in the Ice"
By Robert A. Wilson
The Mariner's Museum - Newport News, VA
"6th.  Mr Walden and the pilots, who were sent the day before to examine the state of the ice from the island, returned this morning with an account, that the ice, though close all about us, was open to the Westward, round the point by which we came in. They also told me, that when upon the island they had the wind very fresh to the Eastward, though where the ships lay it had been almost calm all day. This circumstance considerably lessened the hopes we had hitherto entertained of the immediate effect of an Easterly wind in clearing the bay.  We had but one alternative; either patiently to wait the event of the weather upon the ships, in hopes of getting them out, or to betake ourselves to the boats.  The ships had driven into shoal water, having but fourteen fathom.  Should they, or the ice to which they were fast, take the ground, they must be inevitably lost, and probably overset.  The hopes of getting the ships out was not hastily to be relinquished, nor obstinately adhered to, till all other means of retreat were cut off.  Having no harbor to lodge them in, it would be impossible to winter them here, with any possibility of their being again serviceable; our provisions would be very short for such an undertaking, were it otherwise feasible; and supposing, what appeared impossible, that we could get to the nearest rocks, and make some conveniences for wintering, being now in an unfrequented part, where ships never even attempt to come, we should have the same difficulties to encounter the next year, without the same resources; the remains of the ship's company, in all probability, not in health; no provisions; and the sea not so open, this year having certainly been uncommonly clear.  Indeed it could not have been expected that a very small part should survive the hardships of such a winter with every advantage; much less in our present situation.  On the other hand, the undertaking to move so large a body for so considerable a distance by boats, was not without very serious difficulties.  Should we remain much longer here, the bad weather must be expected to set in.  The stay of the Dutchmen to the Northward is very doubtful: if the Northern harbours keep clear, they stay till the beginning of September; but when the loose ice sets in, they quit them immediately. I thought it proper to send for the officers of both ships, and informed of my intention of preparing the boats for going away.  I immediately hoisted out the boats, and took every precaution in my power to make them secure and comfortable: the fitting would necessarily take up some days.  The water shoaling, and the ships driving fast towards the rocks to the NE, I ordered canvass bread-bags to be made, in case it should be necessary very suddenly to betake ourselves to the boats: I also sent a man with a lead and line to the Northward, and another from the Carcass to the Eastward, to sound wherever they found cracks in the ice, that we might have notice before either the ships, or the ice to which they were fast, took the ground; as in that case, they must instantly have been crushed or overset. The weather bad; most part of the day foggy, and rather cold."

Meteorological Data:
8/6 Weather on Expedition: No weather data recorded on August 6.
8/6 Weather in Williamsburg (Weather Channel App): 83°F at noon with a heat index of 85°F, light winds from the WSW, mostly cloudy.

"7th.  In the morning I set out with the Launch over the ice; she hauled much easier than I could have expected; we got her about two miles.  I then returned with the people for their dinner.  Finding the ice rather more open near the ships I was encouraged to attempt moving them.  The wind being Easterly, though but little of it, we set the sails, and got the ships about a mile to the Westward.  They moved indeed, but very slowly, and were not now by a great deal so far to the Westward as where they were beset.  However, I kept all the sail upon them, to force through whenever the ice slacked the least. The people behaved very well in hauling the boat; they seemed reconciled to the idea of quitting the ships, and to have the fullest confidence in their officers.  The boats could not with the greatest diligence be got to the water side before the fourteenth; if the situation of the ships did not alter by that time, I should not be justified in staying longer by them.  In the mean time I resolved to carry on both attempts together, moving the boats constantly, but without omitting any opportunity of getting the ships through."

Meteorological Data:
8/7 Weather on Expedition: 38°F at midnight, winds from the W, foggy.
8/7 Weather in Williamsburg (Weather Channel App): 82°F at noon with a heat index of 90°F, 10 mph winds from the SSW, rain.

From the first moment the Royal Society and other sponsors began planning the expedition, they realized that there was a very strong possibility that one or both ships might have to be abandoned.  As such, both Racehorse and Carcass were large enough to support both ship's companies, and enough boats were provided to accommodate everyone should the larger vessels need to be left behind.  The seamen were picked from experienced, reliable hands, and the officers were selected with equal care.  Even so, I find it worth mentioning that the crews are facing the possibility of such future hardship with relative aplomb.  Granted, British seamen of the time are known for their bravery and dedication, but one would have thought there would be at least a little grumbling.  I thing that this is owed in no small part to the leadership of Captains Phipps and Lutwidge and their officers, and the fact that they already had contingency plans in place for most situations they could expect to face.  Fortunately, as the launches are slowly dragged towards the open water, the ice binding both ships begins drifting to the west and loosening up a bit, hinting that the expedition's situation might not be so dire.

"9th.  A thick fog in the morning: we moved the ship a little through some very small openings.  In the afternoon, upon its clearing up, we were agreeably surprized to find the ships had driven much more than we could have expected to the Westward.  We worked hard all day, and got them something more to the Westward through the ice; ut nothing in comparison to what the ice itself had drifted.  We got past the Launches; I sent a number of men for them, and got them on board.  Between three and four in the morning the wind was Westerly, and it snowed fast.  The people having been much fatigued, we were obliged to desist from working for a few hours.  The progress which the ships had made through the ice was, however, a very favourable event: the drit of the ice was an advantage that might be as suddenly lost, as it had been unexpectedly gained, by a change in the current:  we had experienced the inefficacy of an Easterly wind when fa in the bay, and under the high land; but having now got through so much of the ice, we began again to conceive hopes that a brisk gale from that quarter would soon effectually clear us."

Meteorological Data:
8/9 Weather on Expedition: 34°F at noon, variable winds, foggy.
8/9 Weather in Williamsburg (Weather Channel App): 79°F at noon with a heat index of 82°, light winds from ESE, partly cloudy and mild.

"10th.  The wind springing up to the NNE in the morning, we set all the sail we could upon the ship, and forced her through a great deal of very heavy ice: she struck often very hard, and with one stroke broke the shank of the best bower anchor.  About noon we had got her through all the ice, and out to sea.  I stood to the NW to make the ice, and found the main body just where we left it.  At three in the morning, with a good breeze Easterly, we were standing to the Westward, between the land and the ice, both in sight; the weather hazey."

Meteorological Data:
8/10 Weather on Expedition: 33°F at noon, winds from the ENE, cloudy.
8/10 Weather in Williamsburg (Weather Channel App): 79°F at noon with a heat index of 82°F, light winds from the ESE, sunny.

We've had a fairly mild spell in Williamsburg weather-wise.  Still warm and occasionally humid, but this is definitely not characteristic of the early Augusts I've experienced here in the past.  Even Phipps and company seem to be enjoying relatively easy weather for the region...upper 40's then dropping into the low to mid 30's by the time they escape the ice.  Granted, they've got incredibly hard labor to deal with in dragging boats for miles and chopping at the pack ice in an attempt to get the vessels clear.  Luckily, the worst days of the expedition are behind them.  My next post will detail the final days of the expedition and bring "An Arctic Summer" to a close.  Stay tuned!

Phipps, Constantine John.  A Voyage Towards the North Pole Undertaken at His Majesty's Command. (J. Nourse, 1773.)

Saturday, July 29, 2017

An Arctic Summer: July 23-29, 1773

A quick note: my name is Mike Romero, and I'm a Historic Interpreter at Colonial Williamsburg.  The postings I make on this site are my own personal opinions and research, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Colonial Williamsburg.  With that said, enjoy the read!

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Track of the Racehorse and Carcass with position plots
for June 29, June 30, July 5, July 10, July 23, and July 29.
Having finally reached the main body of northern ice, Captain Phipps and company waste little time in trying to penetrate through to the far side of the world.  Almost immediately, the work done to reinforce the hulls of Racehorse and Carcass comes in handy, as both ships collide with large bodies of ice.  Phipps had previously tried to penetrate the ice in this particular region on two occasions earlier in the month, but the advancing summer allows them to get just a bit farther.  As channels or streams appear to open up in the ice, the expedition explores each one as far as is practicable, hoping each time they'll discover a sea passage across the North Pole.

"23d.  At midnight, tacked for the body of the ice. Latitude observed 80°13'38"  Rainy in the morning; fair in the afternoon: still working up to the Northward and Eastward, with the wind Easterly.  At six in the evening, the Cloven Cliff bearing South about six leagues, sounded in 200 fathom, muddy ground; the lead appeared to have sunk one third of its length in the mud.  At two in the morning, with little wind, and a swell from the South West, I stood to the Northward amongst the loose ice: at half past two the main body of the ice a cable's length off, and the loose ice so close that we wore ship, not having room or way enough to tack; struck very hard against the ice in getting the ship round, and got upon one piece, which lifted her in the water for near a minute, before her weight broke it.  The ships had been so well strengthened, that they received no damage for these strokes; and I could with the more confidence push through the loose ice, to try for openings.  Hacluyt's Head Land bore S 50° W distant about seven leagues."

Meteorological Data:
7/23 Weather on Expedition: 36°F at noon, winds from the E, rain.
7/23 Weather in Williamsburg (Weather Channel App): 94°F with a heat index of 106°F at noon, 8 mph winds from the W, sunny.

"24th.  By this situation of the ice we were disappointed of getting directly to the Northward, without any prospect after so many fruitless attempts of being able to succeed to the Westward; nor indeed, could I with an Easterly wind and heavy swell attempt it, as the wind from that quarter would not only pack the loose ice close to the Westward, but by setting the sea on it, make it as improper to be approached as a rocky lee shore.  To the Eastward on the contrary it would make smooth water, and detach all the loose ice from the edges; perhaps break a stream open, and give us a fair trial to the Northward; at all events, with an Easterly wind we could run out again, if we did not find it practicable to proceed.  Finding the ice so fast to the Northward and Westward, it became a desirable object to ascertain how far it was possible to get to the Eastward, and by that means pursue the voyage to the Northward.  These considerations determined me to ply to the Eastward, and make another push to get through where I had been three times repulsed.  In working to the Eastward, we kept as near the body of ice as possible.  At noon the Cloven Cliff bore SWbS about seven leagues.  At six we were working to the NE, and at nine we steered to the SE, the ice appearing more open that way: we had fresh gales and cloudy weather.  The ship struck very hard in endeavouring to force through the loose ice. At midnight the wind freshened, and we double reefed the topsails.  It was probably owing to the fresh gales this day, as well as to the summer being more advanced, that we were enable to get farther than in any of our former attempts this way.  We continued coasting the ice, and at two in the morning the north part of Vogel Sang and Hacluyt's Head Land in one bore S 65° W; Cloven Cliff S 52° W; the nearest part of the shore about three leagues off.  When I left the deck, at four in the morning, we were very near the spot where the ships had been fast in the ice on the 7th in the evening, but rather farther to the Eastward; we had passed over the same shoal water we had met with that day, and we were now in twenty fathom, rocky ground; still amongst loose ice, but not so close as we had hitherto found it."

Meteorological Data:
7/24 Weather on Expedition: 39°F at noon, winds from the E, cloudy.
7/24 Weather in Williamsburg (Weather Channel App): 88°F with a heat index of 95°F at noon, 8mph winds from the WSW, partly cloudy.

"25th.  At seven in the morning we had deepened our water to fifty-five fathom, and were still amongst the loose ice.  At noon we had deepened our water to seventy fathom, with muddy bottom, at the distance of about three miles from the nearest land.  By two in the afternoon we had passed Deer Field, which we had so often before attempted without success; and finding the sea open to the NE, had the most flattering prospect of getting to the Northward.  From this part, all the way to the Eastward, the coast wears a different face; the mountains, though high, are neither so steep or sharp-pointed, nor of so black a colour as to the Westward.  It was probably owing to this remarkable difference in the appearance of the shore, that the old navigators gave to places hereabouts the names of Red Beach, Red Hill, and Red Cliff.  One of them, speaking of this part, has described the whole country in a few words: "Here (says he) I saw a more natural earth and clay than any that I have seen in all the country, but nothing growing thereupon more than in other places."  At two in the afternoon we had little wind, and were in sight of Moffen Island, which is very low and flat.

The Carcass being becalmed very near the island in the evening, Captain Lutwidge took that opportunity of obtaining the following exact account of its extent, which he communicated to me.

"At 10 PM, the body of Moffen Island bearing EbS distant two miles; sounded thirteen fathoms; rocky ground, with light brown mud, and broken shells.  Sent the master on shore, who found the island to be nearly of a round form, about two miles in diameter, with a lake or large pond of water i the middle, all frozen over, except thirty or forty yards around the edge of it, which was water, with loose pieces of broken ice, and so shallow they walked through it, and went over upon the firm solid ice.  The ground between the sea and the pond is from half a cable's length to a quarter of a mile broad, and the whole island covered with gravel and small stones, without the least verdure or vegetation of any kind. They saw only one piece of drift wood (about three fathom long, with a root on it, and as thick as the Carcass's mizen mast) which had been thrown up over the high part of the land, and lay upon the declivity towards the pond.  They saw three bears, and a number of wild ducks, geese, and other sea fowls, with birds nests all over the island.  There was an inscription over the grave of a Dutchman, who was buried there in July 1771.  It was low water at eleven o'clock when the boat landed, and the tide appeared to flow eight or nine feet; at that time we found a current carrying the Ship to the NW from the island, which before carried us to the SE (at the rate of a mile an hour) towards it.  On the West side is a fine white sandy bottom, from two fathoms, at a ship's length from the beach, to five fathoms, at half a mile's distance off."

The soundings all about this island, and to the Eastward, seem to partake of the nature of the coast. To the Westward the rocks were high, and the shores bold and steep to; here the land shelved more, and the soundings were shoal, from thirty to ten fathom.  It appears extraordinary that none of the old navigators, who are so accurate and minute in their descriptions of the coast, have taken any notice of this island, so remarkable and different from everything they had seen on the Western coast; unless we should suppose that it did not then exist, and that the streams from the great ocean up the West side of Spitsbergen, and through the Waygat's Straits, meeting here, have raised this bank, and occasioned the quantity of ice that generally blocks up the coast hereabouts.--At four in the afternoon, hoisted out the boat, and tried the current, which set NEbE, at the rate of three quarters of a mile an hour. At midnight, Moffen Island bore from SEbS to SbW, distant about five miles."

Meteorological Data:
7/25 Weather on Expedition: 39.5°F at noon, winds from NWbN, hazy.
7/25 Weather in Williamsburg (Weather Channel App): 89°F with a heat index of 92°F at noon, 2mph winds from the SSW, mostly cloudy.

"Nelson and the Bear" by Richard Westall, 1806.

Somewhere near this point in the voyage, one of the more popular anecdotes of Horatio Nelson's early life is said to have taken place.  Robert Southey tells the story best in his 1813 The Life of Horatio Lord Viscount Nelson:

"One night, during the mid-watch, he stole from the ship with one of his comrades, taking advantage of a rising fog, and set off over the ice in pursuit of a bear.  It was not long before they were missed. The fog thickened, and Captain Lutwidge and his officers became exceedingly alarmed for their safety. Between three and four in the morning the weather cleared, and the two adventurers were seen, at a considerable distance from the ship, attacking a huge bear.  The signal for them to return was immediately made; Nelson's comrade called upon him to obey it, but in vain; his musket had flashed in the pan; their ammunition was expended; and a chasm in the ice, which divided him from the bear, probably preserved his life.  'Never mind,' he cried; 'do but let me get a blow at this devil with the butt-end of my musket, and we shall have him.'  Captain Lutwidge, however, seeing his danger, fired a gun, which had the desired effect of frightening the beast; and the boy then returned, somewhat afraid of the consequences of his trespass.  The captain reprimanded him sternly for conduct so unworthy of the office which he filled, and desired to know what motive he could have for hunting a bear.  'Sir,' said he, pouting his lip, as he was wont to do when agitated, 'I wished to kill the bear, that I might carry the skin to my father.'"

A more recent biography of Lord Nelson states that no record exists of Nelson venturing out on his own to shoot a bear; the story first appears in 1809 as part of The Life of Admiral Lord Nelson, KB, from His Lordship's Manuscripts by James Stainer Clarke and John McArthur.  The authors attribute the story to Captain Lutwidge of the Carcass himself, so who knows what really happened?  It certainly makes for a great seaman's yarn.

"29th.  At midnight the latitude by observation was 80°21'.  At four, tacked close to the ice, hauled up the foresail and backed the mizen topsail, having too much way amongst the loose ice.  At noon, latitude observed was 80°24'56".  An opening, which we supposed to be the entrance of Waygat's Straits, bore south; the Northernmost land NEbE; the nearest shore distant about four miles.  In the afternoon the officer from the deck came down to tell me, we were very near a small rock even with the water's edge; on going up, I saw it within little more than a ship's length on the lee bow, and put the helm down: before the ship got round, we were cloe to it, and perceived it to be a very small piece of ice, covered with gravel.  In the evening, seeing the Northern part of the islands only over the ice, I was anxious to get round it, in hopes of finding an opening under the land.  Being near a low flat island opposite the Waygat's Straits, not higher, but much larger than Moffen Island, we had an heavy swell from the Southward, with little wind, and from ten to twenty fathom: having got past this island, approaching to thee high land to the Eastward, we deepened our water very suddenly to 117 fathom. Having little wind, and the weather very clear, two of the officers went with a boat in pursuit of some sea-horses, and afterwards to the low island.  At midnight we found by observation the latitude 80°27'3", and the dip 82°2'1/2.  At four in the morning I found, by Bouguer's log, that the current set two fathom to the Eastward.  At six in the morning the officers returned from the island; in their way back they had fired at, and wounded a sea-horse, which dived immediately, and brought up with it a number of others.  They all joined in an attack upon the boat, wrested an oar from one of the men, and were with difficulty prevented from staving or oversetting her; but a boat from the Carcass joining ours, they dispersed.  One of that ship's boats had  been attacked in the same manner off Moffen Island.  When I left the deck at six in the morning, the weather was remarkably clear, and quite calm. To the NE, amongst the islands, I saw much ice, but also much water between the pieces; which gives me hopes that when a breeze sprung up, I should be able to get to the Northward by that way."

Meteorological Data:
7/29 Weather on Expedition: 42°F at noon, winds from the ESE, clear.
7/29 Weather in Williamsburg (Weather Channel App): 74° at noon, 9mph winds from the N, overcast with intermittent rain.

An example of the "sea-horses" engaging
the men from Racehorse and Carcass.
In the portion of the appendix relating to natural history, Phipps refers to Trichechus Rosmarus (from Linneus) or the Arctick Walrus, which the Russians refer to as Morse, corrupted by British sailors to sea-horse.  Apparently these animals are found "every where about the coast of Spitsbergen, and generally where-ever there is ice, though at a distance from the land.  It is a gregarious animal, not inclined to attack, but dangerous if attacked, as the whole herd join their forces to revenge any injury received by an individual.  The incident of Racehorse's boat provoking an attack by a herd of walrus and subsequently being rescued by reinforcements from Carcass may well have been young Nelson's first taste of combat; Southey mentions that Nelson unhesitatingly "exposed himself to danger" coming to the aid of his comrades.

The summer is heating up in both locations; literally in Williamsburg with heat indexes well above 100°F for several days before a slightly cooler front rolled through, figuratively on the Phipps Expedition as the crews contend with the ice and rampaging arctic fauna.

1. Phipps, Constantine John.  A Voyage Towards the North Pole Undertaken at His Majesty's Command. (J. Nourse, 1773.)
2. Southey, Robert.  The Life of Horatio Lord Viscount Nelson.  (Amazon Digital Service, 2012.)
3. Knight, Roger.  The Pursuit of Victory: The Life and Achievement of Horatio Nelson.  (Basic Books, 2005.)

Sunday, July 23, 2017

"Stone Walls Do Not A Prison Make"

A quick note: my name is Mike Romero, and I'm a Historic Interpreter at Colonial Williamsburg.  The postings I make on this site are my own personal opinions and research, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Colonial Williamsburg.  With that said, enjoy the read!

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A plan of Mill Prison near Plymouth, England.
As the American Revolution raged from 1775 to 1783, combatants on both sides discovered just how fickle the fortunes of war could be.  Depending on the day, the Continental Army is driven out of New York, General Burgoyne is captured at Saratoga, the Continental Navy is sent running from Penobscot, John Paul Jones captures the Serapis in a dilapidated old tub, Charleston is besieged and taken by the British, and the combined Franco-American army is victorious at Yorktown.  Thousands of prisoners were taken on both sides, marched to remote camps, held aboard disease-ridden prison hulks, and incarcerated in prison facilities on both continents.

However, for some in the Continental and Virginia Navies, being taken prisoner was not the end of the story...

On February 6, 1777, the Virginia Navy brig Mosquito departed the Virginia Capes, bound for the West Indies to cruise against British shipping.  In late March, Mosquito captures the transport Noble bound for Antigua carrying beef, bacon, candles, flour...and smallpox.  With her crew quarantined and forced to undergo inoculation, Mosquito is held at Guadeloupe for nearly three months.  Shortly after departure on the evening of June 4, Mosquito is sighted, overhauled, and captured by the 20-gun HMS Ariadne.

Her officers, including Captain John Harris, Lieutenants Byrd Chamberlayne and George Chamberlaine, and Marine Captain Alexander Dick are conveyed to Forten Prison in England while the rest of Mosquito's crew languishes in Barbados.  Considered rebels rather than prisoners of war, the Virginia officers are only granted two thirds of the rations normally allotted.  Despite severe punishments including solitary confinement and even further reductions in rations, Captain Dick and several other prisoners manage to get away:

     "The pavements of the lower floors were all laid with bricks.  Some managed to take up the bricks,      and dig down until they got below the wall, then dig outside the pickets.  This was all done by        concealing the dirt in some parts of the prison....At this time ten men....all officers, made          their escape, to wit: Second Lieutenant Benjamin Chew, Jess Harding, Robert Ewart, Benjamin            Whalen...Captain Meredith of Hampton, Captain Dick, a Mr. Moore, a Mr. Martin, Colonel Webber and      Colonel Bibbitrong."

Lieutenants Chamberlayne and Chamberlaine also somehow managed an escape and were back in Virginia before June 25, 1778.  At this point, the Navy Board Journal mentions they were "given leave of absence for a fortnight."  Duty called, apparently.

Richard Dale, veteran of the
Virginia Navy, Continental Navy,
and a future Commodore
in the United States Navy.
Richard Dale joins the Virginia Navy in late 1775, but is captured by the crew of HMS Liverpool in March 1776.  While confined in a prison ship off Norfolk, Dale is compelled by a former schoolmate serving with the British to take part in an engagement against rebel forces on the Rappahannock River.  Dale is wounded, but resolves to return to the patriot cause at the earliest opportunity.

After the British vessel Dale is travelling aboard is captured by Captain John Barry of the brig Lexington, he volunteers to serve in the Continental Navy.  Serving well under Barry, Dale is rated midshipman and later master's mate by Lexington's next captain. Unfortunately, in late 1776, Dale is captured by the British a second time along with several other members of Lexington's crew.  His second incarceration is short; Dale is exchanged in January 1777 and returns to his ship.  Later that year, under Captain Henry Johnston, Lexington is cruising with a small squadron off Ireland where their exploits quickly draw the attention of the Royal Navy. Lexington is pursued and captured in September 1777, and Dale's third round of incarceration begins at Mill Prison.

As at Forten Prison, American prisoners are forced to subsist on reduced rations and punished harshly for attempting escape.  Dale and another prisoner manage to dig a tunnel under the prison walls, but are recaptured in London while attempting to find passage to Dunkirk.  Dale spends forty days confined in a pit known as the "Black Hole" as a reward.  Following this round in solitary confinement, Dale begins keeping a journal which he uses to continue his education in mathematics, stocks and barter, and a dictionary of naval terms necessary for commanding a ship.  In February of 1779, Dale escapes for good: he never records the exact details, but is able to steal the uniform of a British officer and simply walk out of the prison.

Dale eventually makes his way to L'Orient, where he joins the crew of Bonhomme Richard as master's mate and later first lieutenant under John Paul Jones. In the later years of the American Revolution, Dale serves aboard the frigate Trumbull (where he is briefly captured a FOURTH time) and ascends to command the privateer Queen of France.  In the early 1790's, Dale becomes one of the first six officers of the United States Navy, supervising construction of the USS Chesapeake in Virginia.

Captain Gustavus Conyngham
became one of King George's
most hated rebels after commanding
a series of successful privateer
cruises along the British coast.
Gustavus Conyngham has been referred to as "the most successful of all Continental Navy captains."  (Not a difficult title to earn given the poor caliber of captains such as Dudley Saltonstall and James Nicholson, but this is beside the point.)  Born in Ireland in 1747, Conyngham immigrates to Philadelphia, learning the shipping trade and eventually rising to the command of a small merchant vessel named the Charming Peggy.  Conyngham is in Britain at the outbreak of the American Revolution, and attempts to load his vessel with a cargo of various good and stores that he believes will be of great use to the American war effort.  Nearly captured and trapped in Dutch waters, Conyngham sells Charming Peggy to Dutch officials to avoid its seizure by the British.

Eventually travelling to Paris and meeting with Benjamin Franklin, Conyngham is commissioned as a captain in the Continental Navy and appointed to command the lugger Surprise on March 1, 1777.  Cruising in Surprise and later Revenge (mounting political pressure from the British nearly results in his imprisonment by the French as an attempt to maintain their 'neutrality' at the time, causing his original commission to be confiscated and relinquishing command of Surprise) off the British Isles, Conyngham takes approximately two dozen prizes, causing the costs associated with shipping to rise to a (then) all-time high in Britain. Conyngham is frequently denounced as a pirate in the British press, and King George himself reputedly expressed a desire to personally witness Conyngham's hanging.

His Majesty almost gets his wish; having crossed the ocean and completed a successful cruise in the West Indies, Revenge is captured by HMS Galatea off New York on April 27, 1779.  British leaders are ecstatic at his capture; Conyngham spends weeks nearly starving in a New York prison before being taken to the waterfront in a hangman's cart, and put aboard a packet for London to be tried and hanged as a pirate.  Mounting political pressure from America and France prevent Conyngham's execution (General George Washington himself threatens to execute six captured British officers if Conyngham is hanged), and he is incarcerated in Mill Prison instead.  Like other inmates of Mill Prison, Conyngham was offered his freedom if he would consent to join the Royal Navy; not only does he refuse, Conyngham encourages many other American prisoners to sign a document stating their refusal to join the Royal Navy no matter how terrible conditions become. Conyngham is tossed into the "Black Hole" mentioned earlier for his trouble, repeating the experience following each of many attempted escapes.

In one instance, Conyngham mingles with a group of visitors, and simply walks out of the prison gates, though he is recognized by a woman before he can leave the crowd and quickly apprehended.  Later, Conyngham attempts to disguise himself as one of the prison doctors by dressing in a suit of dark clothes and wire-rimmed frames (without the glass) and imitating the doctor's peculiar gait; he passes through the prison gates and makes it as far as nearby Plymouth before being recognized by one of the prison peddlers.  Conyngham and fifty-three other sailors finally escape Mill Prison for good by tunneling beneath the walls on November 3, 1779.  (Perhaps he heard about Captain Dick's escape from Forten Prison the previous year.)

Conyngham successfully makes his way to the continent, sails with John Paul Jones aboard Alliance for a time...only to be captured aboard Experiment on March 17, 1780 and returned to Mill Prison.  Conyngham is eventually exchanged and begins fitting out the Dutch vessel Layona for another cruise, when word of a peace treaty reaches him. Conyngham returns to America, serving in the United States Navy during the Quasi-War with France, and is later elected to the Common Council of Philadelphia.

While some of these stories may read like historical fiction or even tragi-comedy at times (thinking of Conyngham imitating the prison doctor always makes me smile), the great perseverance in adversity and unwavering dedication to duty demonstrated by these early Americans helped create the traditions of service and personal sacrifice still followed by the US Armed Forces today.  My ongoing respect and thanks for all who serve or have served.

1. Cross, Charles B.  A Navy for Virginia: A Colony's Fleet in the Revolution.  (The Virginia Independence Bicentennial Commission, 1981).
2. Stewart, Robert A.  The History of Virginia's Navy of the Revolution.  (Mitchell and Hotchkins, 1933).
3. McGrath, Tim.  Give Me a Fast Ship: The Continental Navy and America's Revolution at Sea.  (The Penguin Group, 2014).

Monday, July 10, 2017

An Arctic Summer: July 5-10, 1773

A quick note: my name is Mike Romero, and I'm a Historic Interpreter at Colonial Williamsburg.  The postings I make on this site are my own personal opinions and research, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Colonial Williamsburg.  With that said, enjoy the read!

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Track of the Racehorse and Carcass with position plots
for June 29, June 30, July 5, and July 10, 1773.
The polar expedition undertaken by Constantine John Phipps commanding the converted bomb vessels HMS Racehorse and Carcass finally reaches ice in the northern waters approximately one month after sailing from the Nore.  Now begins the often tedious (and occasionally dangerous) process of trying to trace a path by sea across the North Pole to the ocean on the other side of the world.

"5th.  At five the officer informed me, that we were very near some islands off Dane's Gat, and that the pilot wished to stand farther out; I ordered the ship to be kept NbW, and hauled farther in, when clear of the islands.  At noon I steered North, seeing nothing of the land; soon after I was told that they saw the ice: I went upon deck, and perceived something white upon the bow, and heard a noise like the surf upon the shore; I hauled down the studding sails, and hailed the Carcass to let them know that I should stand for it to make what it was, having all hands upon deck ready to haul up at a moment's warning: I desired that they would keep close to us, the fog being so thick, and have every body up ready to follow our motions instantaneously, determining to stand on under such sail as should enable us to keep the ships under command, and not risk parting company.  Soon after two small pieces of ice not above three feet square passed us, which we supposed to have floated from the shore.  It was not long before we saw something on the bow, part black and part covered with snow, which from the appearance took to be islands, and thought we had not stood far enough out; I hauled up immediately to the NNW and was soon undeceived, finding it to be ice which we could not clear upon that tack; we tacked immediately, but the wind and sea both setting directly upon it, we neared it very fast, and were within little more than a cable's length of the ice, whilst in stays.  The wind blowing fresh, the ships would have been in danger on the lee ice, had not the officers and men been very alert in working the ship.  The ice, as far as we could then see, lay nearly EbN and WbS.  At half past seven in the evening, the ship running entirely to the Southward, and the weather clearing a little, I tacked, and stood for the ice.  When I saw it, I bore down to make it plain; at ten the ice lay from NW to East, and no opening.  Very foggy, and little wind, all day; but not cold.  At eleven came on a thick fog.  At half past midnight, heard the surge of the ice, and hauled the wind to the Eastward."

Meteorological Data:
7/5 Weather on Expedition: 41°F at noon, winds from the SW, foggy.
7/5 Weather in Williamsburg (Weather Channel App): 86°F with a heat index of 95° at 2PM, sunny with 8mph winds from the SE.

"7th.  At five in the morning the wind was Northerly, and the weather remarkably clear.  Being near the ice I ranged along it.  It appeared to be close all round; but I was in hopes that some opening might be found to get through to a clear sea to Northward.  I ran in amongst the small ice, and kept as close as possible to the main body, not to miss any opening.  At noon, Cloven Cliff W1/2S seven leagues.  At one in the afternoon, being still amongst the loose ice, I sent the boat to one of the large pieces to fill water.  At four we shoaled the water very suddenly to fourteen fathom: the outer part of Cloven Cliff bore W1/2N: Redcliff S1/4E.  The loose ice being open to the ENE, we hauled up, and immediately deepened our water to twenty-eight fathom; muddy ground, with shells.  At half past four, the ice setting very close, we ran between two pieces, and having little wind were stopped.  The Carcass being very near, and not answering her helm well, was almost on board of us.  After getting clear of her, we ran to the Eastward.  Finding the pieces increase in number and size, and having got to a part less crowded with drift ice, I brought to, at six in the evening, so see if we could discover the least appearance of an opening: but it being my own opinion, as well as that of the pilots and officers, that we could go no farther, nor even remain there without the danger of being beset, I sent the boat on board the Carcass for her pilots, to hear their opinion; they both declared that it appeared to them impracticable to proceed that way, and that it was probable that we should soon be beset where we were, and detained there.  The ice set so fast down, that before they got on board the Carcass we were fast.  Captain Lutwidge hoisted our boat up, to prevent her being stove.  We were obliged to heave the ship through for two hours, with ice anchors, from each quarter; nor were we quite out of the ice till midnight.  This is about the place where most of the old discoverers were stopped.  The people in both ships being much fatigued, and the Carcass not able to keep up with us, without carrying studding-sails, I shortened sail as soon as we were quite out, and left orders to stand to the Northward under an easy sail: I intended, having failed in this attempt, to range along the ice to the NW, in hopes of an opening that way, the wind being fair, and the weather clear; resolving, if I found it all solid, to return to the Eastward, where probably it might by that time be broken up, which the very mild weather encouraged me to expect."

No observations of latitude and longitude were recorded on the suspects that cloud cover prevented it.  However, on the sixth, Phipps was at approximately 79°57'N latitude, seemingly as far northward as other recorded European explorers managed to sail before being forced to turn back.  Time will tell us how much farther Phipps will be able to get.

Meteorological Data:
7/7 Weather on Expedition: 39.5°F at noon, winds from the W, cloudy.
7/7 Weather in Williamsburg (Weather Channel App): 89°F with a heat index of 97°F at 2PM, sunny with 14mph winds from the W.

"8th.  Little wind in the morning, and a swell setting on the ice, we were obliged to get the boats a-head, to tow the ship clear; which they effected with difficulty.  A breeze springing up when we were within two cables lengths of the main body of the ice, stood in for the land, and tacked at two, to stand to the NW for the ice; but the weather coming thick between five and six, I stood in again for the land. It clearing up soon after, I bore away again NW for the ice.  At ten, spoke with a Greenland Ship which had just left the ice all close to the NNW.  Between eleven and twelve the wind came to the SW, with an heavy swell, and thick weather.  Double-reefed the topsails, and tacked at twelve, to stand in for Hacluyt's Head Land, not thinking it proper to run in with the fast ice to leeward in thick weather, without even the probability of an opening; and proposing if that weather continued, to complete the ship's water, and be ready with the first wind, off or along the ice, to look out for an opening, and run in.  To avoid any inconvenience which from the experience of the preceding day I perceived might happen, from too many running to one place on any sudden order, I divided the people into gangs under the midshipmen, and stationed them to the ice hooks, poles, crabs, and to go over upon the ice when wanted."

According to the roster in the appendix, Racehorse has a complement of 92 officers and men, including 50 Able Seamen.  As the expedition sails into potentially hazardous waters, Phipps wisely learns from the experiences of the past few days and proactively divides the crew into multiple response teams, ready to react to a variety of situations.  Better to plan ahead than to react on the fly, possibly losing critical time as the crew attempts to react to dangers such as sudden weather shifts or the always feared lee shore.

Meteorological Data:
7/8 Weather on Expedition: 39.5°F at noon, winds from the WbS, cloudy.
7/8 Weather in Williamsburg (Weather Channel App): 92°F with a heat index of 98°F at 3PM, sunny with 11mph winds from the W.

"10th.  We lost the Carcass twice in the night, from the very thick fog, and were working all night amongst the ice, making very short tacks; the opening being small, and the floating ice very thick about the ship.  The situation of the people from the very fatiguing work and wet weather, made the most minute precautions necessary for the preservation of their health: we now found the advantage of the spirits which had been allowed for extraordinary occasions; as well as the additional clothing furnished by the Admiralty.  Notwithstanding every attention, several of the men were confined with colds, which affected them with pains in their bones; but, from the careful attention given them, few continued in the sick list above two days at a time.  At nine in the morning, when it cleared a little, we saw the Carcass much to the Southward of us.  I took the opportunity of the clear weather to run to the Westward, and found the ice quite solid there; I then stood through every opening to the Northward, but there also soon got to the edge of the solid ice.  I was forced to haul up to weather a point which ran out from it.  After I had weathered that, the ice closing fast upon me, obliged me to set foresail, which, with the fresh wind and smooth water, gave the ship such way as to force through it with a violent stroke.  At one in the afternoon, immediately on getting out into the open sea, we found a heavy swell setting to the Northward; though amongst the ice, the minute before, the water had been as smooth as a mill pond.  The wind blew strong at SSW.  The ice, as far as we could see from the mast head, lay ENE: we steered that course close to it, to look for an opening to Northward.  I now began to conceive that the ice was one compact impenetrable body, having run along it from East to West above ten degrees.  I purposed however to stand over to the Eastward, in order to ascertain whether the body of ice joined to Spitsbergen.  This the quantity of loose ice had before been rendered impracticable; but thinking the Westerly winds might probably by this time have packed it all that way, I flattered myself with the hopes of meeting with no obstruction till I should come to where it joined the land; and in case of an opening, however small, I was determined at all events to push through it.  The weather clearer, and the land in sight."

Meteorological Data:
7/10 Weather on Expedition: 39.5°F at noon, winds from the SSW, thick fog.
7/10 Weather in Williamsburg (Weather Channel App): 91°F with a heat index of 95°F at noon, sunny with 6mph winds from the SW.

It looks like Phipps's men are starting to feel the effects of the climate they're sailing through; coupled with the harder than usual labor of constantly tacking and working their ships through the ice, it's no wonder some of the men are starting to take sick.  It's interesting to see Phipps refer to 'one compact impenetrable body' of ice, an early documentation of the northern polar ice cap.  So far, he's traced the perimeter of the ice through ten degrees of longitude, a distance of approximately 100 nautical miles at latitude 80°29' (where the table of day's works in the appendix lists his position).

Phipps and company have spent much of this week in the upper 30's and low 40's, with weather not terribly hostile just yet.  Williamsburg, oddly enough, has had a fairly mild summer thus far...I don't think we've quite cracked a hundred degrees without the heat index just yet.  Just like with Racehorse and Carcass, though, I think the fun is only just beginning.

Phipps, Constantine John.  A Voyage Towards the North Pole Undertaken at His Majesty's Command. (J. Nourse, 1773.)

Friday, June 30, 2017

An Arctic Summer: June 23-30, 1773

A quick note: my name is Mike Romero, and I'm a Historic Interpreter at Colonial Williamsburg.  The postings I make on this site are my own personal opinions and research, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Colonial Williamsburg.  With that said, enjoy the read!

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Pass the word for the Doctor!
Captain Phipps has seen a Redpoll.
In the final days of June 1773, Racehorse and Carcass continue to make great progress towards the north.  When time allows, the crew conducts several observations of the depth and temperature of the local sea.  As increasingly cold temperatures indicate that the western ice may be drawing near, Phipps diverts towards the northeast, for known landmasses he can use as a reference in navigating the ice fields.

"23d.  Very foggy all day; the wind fair; altered the course and steered NE and ENE, to get more into the mid channel, and to avoid falling in with the Western ice, which, from the increasing coldness of the weather, we concluded to be near.  At seven o'clock in the morning, being by our reckoning to the Northward of 72°, we saw a piece of drift wood, and a small bird called a Redpoll. Dip observed at nine in the evening to be 81°30'."

"26th.  Little wind all day; the weather very fine and moderate.  The latitude observed at noon was 74°25'.  The thermometer exposed to the sun, which shone very bright, rose from 41° to 61° in twenty minutes.  By each of two lunar observations which I took with a sextant of four inches radius, at half past one, the longitude was 9°57'30" E; which agreed within thirty-seven minutes with an observation made by the watch at half an hour after three, when the longitude was 8°52'30" E.  Dip 79°22'."

My reproduction brass sextant.
The above entry is one of particular personal interest for me.  In the appendix, 'Account of the Astronomical Observations and Time-Keepers, by Mr. Lyons,' I discovered that "the observations for finding the time at sea, were taken with a brass Hadley's Sextant of eighteen inches radius, made by Dollond; and sometimes by Captain Phipps, with a smaller of four inches radius, made by Ramsden, which commonly agreed with the other within a minute."  The small sextant used by Captain Phipps fits the description of the modern reproduction brass sextant I was gifted with by an anonymous benefactor last summer.  While I haven't been able to find any surviving examples of four-inch brass sextants constructed by Ramsden yet, I can still point guests to Phipps's journal as evidence that instruments similar to mine in size and construction were available in the 1770's.

Meteorological Data:
6/26 Weather on Expedition: 40.5°F at noon, winds from NE by N, fair weather, almost calm, cloudy.
6/26 Weather in Williamsburg (Weather Channel App): 83° at noon, sunny, low humidity, calm.

"29th.  The wind Northerly; stood close in with the land. The coast appeared to be neither habitable nor accessible; it was formed by high, barren, black rocks, without the least marks of vegetation; in many places bare and pointed, in other parts covered with snow, appearing even above the clouds: the vallies between the high cliffs were filled with snow or ice.  This prospect would have suggested the idea of perpetual winter, had not the mildness of the weather, the smooth water, bright sunshine, and constant day-light, given a cheerfulness and novelty to the whole of this striking and romantick scene.

I had an opportunity of making many observations near the Black Point.  Latitude observed at noon 77°59'11".  The difference of latitude, from the last observation on the 27th at midnight to this day at noon, would according to the old method of marking the log have been two hundred and thirteen miles; which agrees exactly with the observation. At three in the afternoon, brought to and sounded 110 fathom; soft muddy ground: hoisted out the boat and tried the stream; found it, both by the common and Bouguer's log (which agreed exactly) to run half a knot North; Black Point bearing ENE.  At four the longitude by the watch was 9°31' E: at eight the variation, by the mean of nineteen observations, 11°53' W.  I could not account from any apparent cause for this great change in the variation: the weather was fine, the water smooth, and every precaution we could think of used to make the observations accurate.  The dip was 80°26'.  Plying to the Northward."

Meteorological Data:
6/29 Weather on Expedition: 39°F at noon, winds from N by E, hazy.
6/29 Weather in Williamsburg (Weather Channel App): 85°F with 87°F heat index at 1 PM, 9 mph winds from SSW, sunny.

Track of the Racehorse and Carcass with
position plots for June 20, 23, 26, 29, and 30, 1773.
"30th.  At midnight the latitude by observation was 78°0'50".  At four in the morning, by Lord Charles Cavendish's thermometer, the temperature of the water at the depth of 118 fathoms was 31° of Fahrenheit's; that of the air was at the same time 40°1/2.  At nine in the morning we saw a ship in the NW, standing in for the land. Having little wind this morning, and that Northerly, I stood in for the land, with an intention to have watered the ship, and got out immediately, but was prevented by the calm which followed.  At noon the latitude observed was 78°8'; the dip 79°30'.  At two in the afternoon we sounded in 115 fathom; muddy bottom: at the same time we sent down Lord Charles Cavendish's thermometer, by which we found the temperature of the water at that depth to be 33°; that of the water at the surface was at the same time 40° and in the air 44°1/2.  Fahrenheit's thermometer plunged in water brought up from the same depth, stood at 38°1/2.  This evening the master of a Greenland Ship came on board, who told me, that he was just come out of the ice which lay to the Westward about sixteen leagues off, and that three ships had been lost this year, two English, and one Dutch.  The weather fine, and rather warm.  At six in the evening the longitude by my watch was 9°28'45" E."

Meteorological Data:
6/30 Weather on Expedition: 42° F at noon, calm and cloudy.
6/30 Weather in Williamsburg (Weather Channel App): 86°F with 92°F heat index at noon, 8 mph winds from SSW, sunny.

In Williamsburg, we had a relatively cool beginning to the week, but now we're starting to get a taste of the Virginia summer to come; temperatures and humidity are rising.  Aboard Racehorse and Carcass, the men are chilly, but the real trials are still to come.  My next blog post should have Phipps and company contending with and charting ice in the north.

Phipps, Constantine John.  A Voyage Towards the North Pole Undertaken at His Majesty's Command. (J. Nourse, 1773.)

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

An Arctic Summer: June 12-20, 1773

A quick note: my name is Mike Romero, and I'm a Historic Interpreter at Colonial Williamsburg.  The postings I make on this site are my own personal opinions and research, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Colonial Williamsburg.  With that said, enjoy the read!

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Track of the Racehorse and Carcass with
position plots for June 13, 15, 17 and 20, 1773.
After weighing anchor from the Nore on June 4th, the converted bomb vessels Racehorse and Carcass under the command of Captain Constantine Phipps crosses the North Sea and proceeds well into the Norwegian Sea as the month progresses.  By June 20th, the expedition is already north of Iceland.  While they have yet to reach any ice, Phipps takes multiple opportunities of testing various mathematical instruments and navigational tools.  I've included six of Phipps' journal entries from mid to late June for us to examine this time around.

"12th.  The wind at SE, and the ship well advanced, I ordered the allowance of liquor to be altered, serving the ship's company one-fourth of their allowance in beer, and the other three-fourths in brandy; by which means the beer was made to last the whole voyage, and the water considerably saved.  One half of this allowance was served immediately after dinner, and the other half in the evening.  It was now light enough all night to read upon deck."

According to the Regulations and Instructions in force in 1772, seamen were allotted a gallon of beer each day.  If beer is unavailable, other spiritous liquors may be substituted in different proportions; half a pint of brandy being equal to a gallon of beer.  Spirits were often diluted with water (4 parts water to 1 part spirits was the precedent set by Edward "Old Grog" Vernon in the early 1740's) in open view of the assembled crew on deck.  Based on the Phipps' journal for June 12th, it seems the men are now receiving a quart of beer and five cups of brandy grog each day.  The beer was likely "small beer" of the time, known for low alcohol content with a comparatively high caloric value.  It's no wonder Phipps wanted to preserve his supply, considering the trials of the voyage to come in later months.

A chart from the 1772 edition of Regulations and Instructions Relating to His Majesty's Service at Sea
detailing the provisions allotted to Royal Navy seamen each day.

"13th.  The weather still fine, but considerably less wind than the day before, and in the afternoon more Northerly.  The longitude at ten in the morning was found by my watch 0°6' W.  We took three observations of the moon and sun for the longitude; the extremes differed from one another near two degrees: the mean of the three gave the longitude 1°37' E.  At noon the latitude observed was 59°32'31".  We found a difference of 36' between the latitude by dead reckoning and observation, the ship being so much more Northerly than the reckoning.  The distance by this log was too short by forty-three miles.  A log marked forty-five feet, according to the old method, would have agreed with the observation within two miles in the two days' run.  The circumstance of steering upon a meridian, which afforded me such frequent opportunities of detecting the errors of the log, induced me to observe with care the comparative accuracy of the different methods of dividing the line, recommended by mathematicians, or practised by seamen.  In the afternoon I went on board the Carcass to compare the time-keepers by my watch.  At six in the evening the longitude by my watch 0°4' E.  This evening, the sun set at twenty-four minutes past nine, and bore about NNW by the compass.  The clouds made a beautiful appearance long after to the Northward, from the reflection of the sun below the horizon.  It was quite light all night: the Carcass made the signal for seeing the land in the evening."

The various logs referred to here are variants of the chip log, a tool used to measure the approximate speed of a ship through the water by counting knots in a measured line.  The distances between knots varied depending on the type of glass being used to measure time; a log with 51 feet between knots in the line was commonly used with a 30 second glass, for example.  See the British Tars article "The Tools Needed for Dead Reckoning" for more information on this and other navigational tools. Incidentally, it was this article that led to me beginning to interpret naval history in earnest, so a quick thank you to blogger Kyle Dalton for getting me started on this journey!

"15th.  By an observation at eight in the morning, the longitude of the ship was by the watch 0°39' W: Dip 74°52'.  At half past ten in the morning, the longitude, from several observations of the sun and moon was 0°17'W; at noon being in latitude 60°19'8", by observation, I took the distance between two ships by the Megameter; and from that base determined the position of Hangcliff, which had never before been ascertained, though it is a very remarkable point, and frequently made by ships.  According to these observations it is in latitude 60°9' and longitude 0°56'30" W.  In the Appendix I shall give an account of the manner of taking surveys by this instrument, which I believe never to have been published before.  At one, observed the dip to be 75°.  A thick fog came on in the afternoon, with a flat calm; we could not see the Carcass, but heard her answer the signals for keeping company.  Variation, from the mean of several observations, 25°1' W."

The Megameter was an instrument constructed on similar principles to the object-glass Micrometer, and was suitable only for measuring distances less than 10°.  A 1772 treatise by M de Charnieres endeavored to making determining longitude with assistance from the Megameter into more common practice.

"17th.  Wind fair, and blowing fresh at SSW, continued the course NNE: ordered the people a part of the additional clothing: saw an English sloop, but had no opportunity of sending letters on board, the sea running high.  At ten in the morning, longitude by the watch 0°19'45" W: at noon, the latitude observed was 62°59'27".  The ship had out-run the reckoning eleven miles.  I tried Bouguer's log twice this day, and found it give more than the common log.  Variation 19°22' W."

Meteorological Data:
6/17 Weather on Expedition: 52° F, winds from the SSW, cloudy at noon.
6/17 Weather in Edgewater, MD (Where the blogger was travelling with family; details from Weather Channel app.): Forecast high was 93° F, mostly sunny and humid.

The blogger takes a shot at explaining how Captain Phipps
determined his latitude above the equator using
a midnight sighting of the sun.
"19th. Wind to the NW.  Took the meridian observation at midnight for the first time: the sun's lower limb 0°37'30" above the horizon; from which the latitude was found 66°54'39" N: at four in the afternoon, longitude by the watch 0°58'45" W: at six the variation 19°11' W."

"20th.  Almost calm all day.  The water being perfectly smooth, I took this opportunity of trying to get soundings at much greater depths than I believe had ever been attempted before.  I sounded with a very heavy lead the depth of 780 fathom, without getting ground; and by a thermometer invented by lord Charles Cavendish for this purpose, found the temperature of the water at that depth to be 26° of Fahrenheit's thermometer; the temperature of the air being 48°1/2.

We began this day to make use of Doctor Irving's apparatus for distilling fresh water from the sea; repeated trials gave us the most satisfactory proof of its utility: the water produced from it was perfectly free from salt, and wholesome, being used for boiling the ship's provisions; which convenience would alone be a desirable object in all voyages, independent of the benefit of so useful a resource in case of distress for water.  The quantity produced every day varied from accidental circumstances, but was generally from thirty-four to forty gallons, without any great addition of fuel.  Twice indeed the quantity produced was only twenty-three gallons on each distillation; this amounts to more than a quart for each man, which, though not a plentiful allowance, is much more than what is necessary for subsistence.  In cases of real necessity I have no reason to doubt that a much greater quantity might be produced without an inconvenient expence of fuel."

Water was not officially included in a seaman's provisions at this time, though ships would generally take on enough water to last half as long as other provisions.  Water was generally available from scuttlebutts on deck; a seaman could drink his fill at the scuttlebutt, though a marine sentry stood guard to ensure that no water was taken away.  In times of shortage, or when a ship was far from a source of replenishment, water was rationed jealously.  Being able to distill fresh water from the sea in any quantity could be a great boon to naval vessels if the method was indeed practical.

Meteorological Data:
6/20 Weather on Expedition: 48.5° F, calm and cloudy at noon.
6/20 Weather in Williamsburg (According to Weather Channel.): 77° F, 76% humidity, overcast at 1:00 PM.

The summer isn't too far advanced for either Phipps or myself, though depending on the day, we're both starting to experience uncomfortable temperatures or weather and taking steps to compensate. For Phipps, that means breaking out additional winter clothing on June 17.  For me, that means filling my cannikin with gatorade for my first quart of fluids each day.  We're still only getting started, so stay tuned!

1. Phipps, Constantine John.  A Voyage Towards the North Pole Undertaken at His Majesty's Command. (J. Nourse, 1773.)
2. His Majesty in Council.  Regulations and Instructions Relating to His Majesty's Service at Sea, The Twelfth Edition. (1772.)
3. McDonald, Janet.  Feeding Nelson's Navy: The True Story of Food at Sea in the Georgian Era. (Frontline Books, 2014.)

Saturday, May 27, 2017

An Arctic Summer: May 27, 1773

A quick note: my name is Mike Romero, and I'm a Historic Interpreter at Colonial Williamsburg.  The postings I make on this site are my own personal opinions and research, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Colonial Williamsburg.  With that said, enjoy the read!

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John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich,
First Lord of the Admiralty and
Fellow of the Royal Society in 1773.
Captain Phipps of the Racehorse spends much of May 1773 preparing his ship for the coming expedition.  Stores of all kinds are taken on board, and the First Lord of the Admiralty himself (also a Fellow of the Royal Society) inspects the vessel prior to her departure. Towards the end of the month, Phipps receives his official orders for the expedition, described in the following journal entry:

"22d.  We received on board the powder, with eight six-pounders and all the gunner's stores.  Lord Sandwich gave us the last mark of the obliging attention he had shewn during the whole progress of the equipment, by coming on board himself, before our departure, that the whole had been compleated to the wish of those who were embarked in the expedition.  The Easterly winds prevented our going down the river till the 26th, when I received my instructions for the voyage, dated the 25th; directing me to fall down to the Nore in the Racehorse, and there taking under my command the Carcass, to make the best of my way to the Northward, and proceed up to the North Pole, or as far towards it as possible, and as nearly upon a meridian as the ice or other obstructions might admit; and, during the course of the voyage, to make such observations of every kind as might be useful to navigation, or tend to the promotion of natural knowledge: in case of arriving at the Pole, and even finding free navigation on the opposite meridian; not to proceed any farther; and at all events to secure my return to the Nore before the winter should set in.  There was also a clause authorizing me to proceed, in unforeseen cases, according to my own discretion; and another clause directing me to prosecute the voyage on board the Carcass, in case the Racehorse should be lost or disabled."

With Racehorse ready for sea, all that remains is to rendezvous with Carcass and get the expedition started in earnest.  As with any vessel, the captain and crew must adjust her fittings and trim based upon the performance of the ship and the needs of the coming mission.  The journal entry for May 27th shows that the best laid plans on paper don't always coincide with actual circumstances at sea:

Model of a British bomb ketch from the mid-1700's,
similar in design to HMS Carcass.
(Mariner's Museum, Newport News, VA)
"27th.  I anchored at the Nore, and was joined by Captain Lutwidge, in the Carcass, on the 30th: her equipment was to have been all respects the same as that of the Racehorse, but when fitted, Captain Lutwidge finding her too deep in the water to proceed to sea with safety, obtained leave of the Admiralty to put six more guns on shore, to reduce the complement to eighty men, and return a quantity of provisions proportional to that reduction.  The officers were recommended by Captain Lutwidge, and did justice to his penetration by their conduct in the course of the voyage.  During our stay here, Mr. Lyons landed with the astronomical quadrant at Sheerness fort, and found the latitude to be 51°31'30", longitude 0°30' East.  The Easterly winds prevented our moving this day and the following."

While not officers (yet), two members of Carcass' company in particular are worth a mention: coxswains Horatio Nelson and Nicholas Biddle. Nelson's naval career is well known.  Nicholas Biddle would have a brief but very laudable career in the Continental Navy, culminating in a 1778 engagement off Barbados commanding the Continental frigate Randolph against the 64-gun HMS Yarmouth.  Worthy of a future blog post of his own, the former slave and early abolitionist Olaudah Equiano serves aboard Racehorse, assisting Dr. Charles Irving who had developed a method for distilling drinkable water from seawater.  Equiano's autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, would be published in 1789.

Meteorological observations begin on June 4, 1773.  With my next entry in this series, we'll begin seeing who has a more pleasant summer's day: my colleagues and I on the streets of Colonial Williamsburg, or the officers and men of Racehorse and Carcass.

Phipps, Constantine John.  A Voyage Towards the North Pole Undertaken at His Majesty's Command. (J. Nourse, 1773.)