Parry's Voyages for the Discovery of the North-West Passage
Under circumstances of leisure and inactivity, such as they were now placed in, and with every prospect of its continuance, Captain Parry was desirous of finding some amusement for the men during this long and tedious interval. He proposed, therefore, to get up a play occasionally on board the Hecla; and his proposal being readily seconded by the officers, Lieutenant Beechy having been chosen manager, the performance was fixed for the 5th of November, to the great delight of the ships' companies. In order still further to promote good humor, and to afford amusing occupation during the hours of constant darkness, they set on foot a weekly newspaper, which was to be called the North Georgia Gazette and Winter Chronicle, and of which Captain Sabine undertook to be the editor, under the promise of being supported by original contributions from the officers of the two ships. The meridian altitude of the sun was observed, for the last time, on the 16th of October.
On the 26th the light was sufficient to allow of reading and writing in the cabins, from half past nine till half past two. The rest of the hours were spent by lamp light. It now became rather a painful experiment to touch any metallic substance in the open air, with the naked hand; the feeling produced by it exactly resembling that occasioned by the opposite extreme of intense heat; and taking off the skin from the part affected. They found it necessary, therefore, to use great caution in handling the sextants and other instruments; particularly the eye-pieces of the telescopes, which, if suffered to touch the face, occasioned an intense burning pain; but this was easily remedied by covering them over with soft leather. The month of November set in with mild weather. The fourth was the last day that the sun, independently of refraction, would be seen above the horizon for ninety-six days; but the weather was too thick for making any observations. On the 5th, their theatre was opened, with the representation of Miss in her Teens; which afforded the men a great fund of amusement. Even fitting up the theatre and taking it to pieces again, was a matter of no small importance; as it kept the men employed a day or two before and after each performance, which was a considerable object gained.
On the 11th, the thermometer fell to 26? for the second time. The wolves began to approach the ships boldly, howling most piteously on the beach near, and sometimes coming along side the ships, when everything was quiet at night; but they seldom saw more than one or two together, and therefore could form no idea of their number. The white foxes used also to visit the ships at night, and one of these was caught in a trap, set under the Griper's bows.
The stars of the second magnitude in Ursa Major were perceptible to the naked eye, a little after noon on the 11th of December, and the Aurora Borealis appeared faintly in the south-west at night. The cold continued to increase. About the middle of the month, a serious loss took place in the bursting of the bottles of lemon juice; in some boxes of which, two thirds of the contents were found to be destroyed. The vinegar also froze in the same manner, and lost much of its acidity, when thawed. A few gallons of highly concentrated vinegar congealed into a consistence like honey.
Theatrical entertainments took place regularly once a fortnight, and continued to prove a source of infinite amusement to the men; and more than one or two plays were performed, with the thermometer below zero, on the stage on board the Hecla.
The North Georgia Gazette, which we have already mentioned, was a source of great amusement, not only to the contributors, but to those who, from diffidence of their own talents, or other reasons, could not be prevailed on to add their mite to the little stock of literary composition, which was weekly demanded; for those who declined to write were not unwilling to read, and more ready to criticise than those who wielded the pen but it was that good humored sort of criticism that could not give offense.
On Christmas day the weather was raw and cold, with a considerable snow drift, although the wind was only moderate from northwest. Divine service was performed on board. The men's usual proportion of fresh meat was increased, as also their allowance of grog, and the day passed with much of the same kind of festivity by which it is usually distinguished at home.
On the first of January scurvy made its appearance among them. Mr. Scallon, gunner of the Hecla, had complained for some days, and the symptoms were now decidedly scorbutic. It was found to be owing to the dampness of his bedding, and proper measures were taken to prevent an increase of the malady. By raising mustard and cress in small boxes near the cabin stove, they were able to give Mr. Scallon and one or two more patients nearly an ounce of salad per day. The vegetables thus raised were necessarily colorless from the privation of light; but they had the same taste as if raised in ordinary circumstances. So effectual were they in the case of Mr. Scallon, that he recovered in less than a fortnight.
Toward the end of the month they began to look out for the sun from the mast head. On the morning of the third of February, the weather being clear, a cross, consisting of the usual vertical and horizontal rays, was seen about the moon. At twenty minutes before noon the sun was seen from the Hecla's maintop, at the height of fifty-one feet above the sea, being the first time it had been seen for eighty-four days, twelve days less than its actual stay below the horizon. There was now, from eight o'clock till four, sufficient light for any kind of work, and on the seventh they began to collect ballast for the Hecla, to make up for the expenditure of stores.