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At both these extreme points of the earth the cold is so dreadfully severe, and the ice so entirely close, that it has been impossible to penetrate so far.
Bold and courageous men have sailed as far as they could, towards the North or Arctic Pole, many years ago. But very little has been known about the South Polar regions until of late years. The desire of knowledge, and the importance of the subject, have lately caused an expedition to be sent, out under the command of Sir James Ross, at the expense of the English Government: and this expedition having returned home in safety, an account has been beautifully written by the Commander, and published in two volumes, which are perhaps the most interesting travels of modern days. But we must now mention that there was a particular purpose for this voyage, of a very remarkable nature; and to describe this, we must call our readers to recollect the use of the sailors' compass, that invaluable little instrument, by means of which they traverse the ocean, and are always able to know where the North lies by the pointing of the needle. If you have never seen a compass it is time you should, and by moving it in your hand, observe how steadily it will point northward, turn it where you will. Supposing that you understand the instrument a little, I must now tell you that it does not point exactly north (as every sailor knows), but a little on one side of it. It points, in fact, to a particular spot of the earth, called the Magnetic Pole, which has been found out, by this very Sir James Ross himself, and where he has planted the flag of our country, on making the grand discovery! This spot is in a part of the great continent of North America, very far to the North of Canada, but belonging, like that country, to the British dominions. When the ships approached it, it was found from the compass that they were very near the Pole of the magnet; and when Ross actually reached the place itself, the needle pointed towards it; and wherever he went, round about the hill, the needle still turned with him, and kept its direction towards it. This was full proof that they had found the Pole of the compass, that is, the place to which it points from all the northern parts of the earth. It is to this spot
that my compass now points, as it stands in my study; and so do all the thousands and millions of compasses in England, and on the vast ocean around us in its innumerable ships. This was a great discovery indeed. The pointing of the compass is a wonderful mystery; and here we learn to what place it points. It seems as if the gracious Providence of God had given this wonderful virtue to the magnet, on purpose to guide the sailor on his way over the desert of waters !
But I must now tell you of Sir James Ross's new voyage. The discovery of the North Pole of the compass, led to the desire to discover that at the South of the earth: for the needle there points to the south, as it does here to the north, and had been guessed at before nearly correctly; but Sir James Ross went out to make it sure.
He sailed in September, 1839, and was away more than four years.
He went three times to the extreme south, further than any one had ever gone before him; and in the two winter seasons, returned, not to England, but to some of the distant colonies in those parts. He could go to the most Southern Ocean only in the summer, and that but for a short time, because the sea is there a great mass of ice, which quite blocks out the hope of a passage at other times. He took under his command two fine ships, built on purpose by the Government, and made much stronger than any other ships, that they might stand the dreadful blows dealt them among the ice.
The “Erebus " and the “Terror" proved themselves noble ships ; for the trials they went through were tremendous, and yet they came home very little injured. But how great were the trials of the still more noble seamen, who endured such cold as we never knew, and such dangers as we can hardly think of without terror, and yet never repined or murmured, but laboured as willingly and cheerfully as if they were at home in England, with nothing to be afraid of. The courage and calmness of their minds were very much owing, no doubt, to the pious and religious example of their noble commander. Sir James Ross appears to be a man with the fear of God before his eyes, and with full and earnest trust in Him, as his only Preserver and Defender. In every danger he always looked to the Lord for safety, and offered public prayers and thanksgivings, with his whole crew, in danger and in deliverance; and never failed to read, with sincere and earnest piety, the service of his Church, almost as regularly as at home. It is not always that these good things are found among sailors; but there is much more true religion, thank God, upon the ocean now, than there once was. Many of our Queen's ships are now as regularly turned into churches on God's sacred day, as the churches on shore are opened for the crowds of worshippers to enter. The first summer of the expedition gave great discoveries, as rewards of the enterprise and skill of Ross and his two ships' crews. After traversing many thousand miles of ocean towards the south, and penetrating further than any ship had gone before, they saw the wonders of the frozen sea, and afterwards discovered a new land.
First they were met by small floating pieces of ice scattered over the sea. Then they came to what they call the Pack, which means an immense plain of broken fragments of larger size, lying close to each other and covering the surface, so as scarcely to allow the ships to pass, with all the force of their sailing and the assistance of the boats. Here and there was a little smooth water, and then they got on better; but during two of the summers they were out, they had to spend about six weeks in the Pack, before they could force their way out of it. But bad as this was, it was nothing to the icebergs, which are like real mountains, or islands, made entirely of ice, and floating about in the sea, as the wind or tide carries them. Some of these are of the size of houses, some as big as large ships, others very much larger, so as to resemble mountains.
The ships were always in danger of running down upon these dreadful icebergs, or of hearing them come floating along too fast to be escaped ; and if one of them had struck a ship in a gale of wind, it must at once have been crushed to pieces, and all the crew must have perished in the freezing waves. Once both ships were very nearly lost indeed, against some of these bergs. A strong gale of wind was blowing, and suddenly they
came upon a long range of them, looking like a row of enormous castles in the sea; it was a dark night, and both ships had to turn away in a moment to avoid being driven against these dreadful frowning rocks of ice. The “ Terror” changed its course, but in turning from the icebergs, she ran into the other ship, the “ Erebus,” and tore away a great part of the sails and yards, necessary to her sailing. Now she was in a dreadful plight; in great danger, but unable to use her sails which were broken away. They heard the raging of the waves breaking against the berg; they were driven close to it by the wind, so that the yard-arms touched the rocky face of the ice, but the waves, returning, kept them for a few minutes away. Meantime, the captain turned the sails back, although his orders were almost drowned by the noise of the waves and the wind; and soon a little way was gained, and then a little more, till she wore away. Still she had to sail between two fast bergs, to get away into a safe place. This they tried, almost without a chance of success; but their efforts were favoured and. blessed; at last they sailed out of the very jaws of destruction, and got under the lee side of the berg, which now afforded them shelter from the storm.. This will serve to show what icebergs are.
But still there were larger tracts of ice to be seen by the fearless voyagers. Soon they came to a whole country or continent of iceberg, where cliffs of ice, some hundreds of feet in height, extended in a line for many hundreds of miles. They sailed along them for many days, till they seemed to have no end. One long barrier of white cliff, of this great height, continued beside them as they sailed, all made of ice, not rock or land, and floating on the ocean, though going down very deep below the surface. It was moving towards the warmer sea, where at last it would begin to melt and break, and turn into pack-ice; and if it went far enough, would all melt away into water, and be seen no more ! There is scarcely any thing more wonderful in all the works of God, than these icebergs.
Well, at last they found an opening in the barrier, and through it they ventured to sail, although it was very
narrow, and they could scarcely tell whether it would give them a passage. But it did. They passed in safety through it, with wall on this side and a wall on that, higher than the tops of their masts, and seeming ready to close in upon them, and crush the two ships like walnuts. Then they gained the open sea, and sailed away, and soon they were rewarded by discovering a great land, never seen before by mortal eye. Mountains and hills rose up before them, as high as those of the old world. Covered with snow all over, yet out of one broke forth volumes of smoke and flame. It was volcanic mountain, even in that frozen region. They gave the name of their ship to this mountain, calling it « Mount Erebus." The land they called after their Queen, “ Victoria Land." And the line of vast mountains beyond, were named “ Albert Mountains.” They were not permitted to go much further, nor to travel on the land. But the observations they made with the compass, of which they had a great many in both ships, enabled them to make sure that the pole of the magnet, to which all the needles point, was in a certain spot beyond the Albert mountains, although they were not able to reach it more nearly. Thus was their great discovery accomplished in the first year. The two next summers were not quite so favourable, and they did not get nearer the Pole they were in search of; but the line of coast was further explored, and another tract of land visited and named. After this they returned to England, and all the time they were away in these cold seas, and among so many hardships, all the crew enjoyed the most perfect health, and there was not a sick man on board. Constant activity kept them in health; and the excitement of their discoveries, with the sense that they were doing their duty, made them cheerful and happy, unmurmuring and contented. They are now reaping the rewards of their adventures. Honours have been granted to the highminded and courageous commander; and we hope that every one who sailed under him will be the better for their persevering obedience and steadiness of conduct, rewarded by their country, and promoted in the service to which they belong.