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!

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.)