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    Sir William Edward Parry

    Encyclopedia Arctica 15: Biographies

    001      |      Vol_XV-0542                                                                                                                  

    (R. N. Rudmose Brown)


            Sir William Edward Parry (1790-1855), British admiral and arctic explorer,

    was born at Bath on December 19, 1790, the son of Caleb H. Parry, a physician

    of some celebrity of Devonshire descent. Educated at Bath Grammar School, he

    was a forward child, quick to learn, with an ear for music, and tall and athletic.

    His parents intended that he should study medicine; his going to swa was largely

    due to the chance that a friend of the family was Admiral W. Cornwallis. In

    June 1803 the Admiral agreed to take the boy on board his flagship Ville de Paris

    as a volunteer. War with France in those days made the Navy keen on recruits

    of any age. Parry had never seen the sea before the day of joining and had no

    strong leanings toward a naval career, but he soon made good and won the esteem

    of his officers. His ship was engaged in patrolling the Channel in the block–

    ade of French ports, especially Boulogne, from which was expected Napoleon's

    invasion of England. Only on one occasion, however, was there a brush with

    the enemy.

            Early in 1806 Parry was appointed a midshipman in the frigate Tribune ,

    which also patrolled the French coast. In 1808 he was transferred to the

    Vanguard in the Baltic fleet and, in charge of a gunboat attached to the Van–

    , he had several brushes with Danish gunboats. The Vanguard returned late

    in 1809 and Parry passed his examination for lieutenant in 1810 and joined the

    frigate Alexandria on convoy duty for the Baltic. There were several engagements

    with Danish schooners and gunboats but nothing very serious. For some time Parry's

    ship lay off Karlskrona, Sweden, "in case we should be inclined to Copenhagen

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    EA-Biography. Rudmose Brown: Sir William Edward Parry

    them." In 1811 the Alexandria was on the Leith station and Parry spent the

    winter of 1811-12 at Cromarty, Moray Firth, Scotland, where he became much

    interested in the construction of the Caledonian Canal. In protection of whales

    his captain had orders to go as far north as Latitude 76° N. but was baffled

    by pack ice around Bear Island and failed to reach Spitsbergen. Parry's in–

    terest in navigation led to his publishing in 1813 Nautical Astronomy by Night ,

    which gained a wide use in the Navy. Next he served in La Hogue on the Halifax

    (North American) station, crossing the Atlantic in the Sceptre . There were a

    few exciting incidents, for Britain was then at war with the United States and

    Parry saw the Shannon with her prize the Chesapeake enter Halifax harbor. When

    La Hogue in 1814 returned to England, Parry, determined to remain on the North

    American station, transferred to one ship after another until early in 1817

    when the serious illness of his father brought him home. Parry then contemplated

    a project for exploring Central Africa but this came to nothing.

            The end of the Napoleonic wars and the setting free of many sailors and

    adventurous spirits led, by 1818, to a minor boom in arctic voyages, with the

    problem of the Northwest Passage in the forefront. There was no more powerful

    advocate thw Sir John Barrow, secretary to the Admiralty and one of the founders

    of the Royal Geographical Society. His arctic interests seem to have dated from

    youth, when he made a summer voyage in a Greenland whaler - a not uncommon be–

    ginning for polar travelers in years to come. Barrow held that of the various

    passages between Atlantic and Pacific that might exist "the northeast holds out

    the least encouraging hope" but that there was much hope of the discovery of the

    shorter Northwest Passage and also of a polar one. "That the North Pole may be

    approached by sea has been an opinion entertained both by experienced navigators

    and by men eminent for their learning and science." From time to time a whaler

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    EA-Biography. Rudmose Brown: Sir William Edward Parry

    would report exceeding the parallel of 80° N. between Greenland and Spitsbergen

    and, allowing for roughness of observation, there seeme d hope of navigable waters

    to high latitudes, perhaps to the Pole, in favorable years. A Northwest Passage,

    however, did not exist south of the Arctic Circle. The probable insularity of

    Greenland made possible an east-west passage, most likely in high latitudes,

    but Barrow adds that "although a communication may, and in all probability does

    exist between the two oceans, it by no means follows that there must also be

    found a navigable passage for large vessels." Several whalers in recent years

    had claimed to have reached high latitudes north of Greenland. A Hamburg ship

    in 1817 had traced the coast of Greenland as far north as Latitude 70°. In the

    same year two English whalers claimed respectively to have sailed beyond Latitude

    72° and 75° N. On the other hand, Baffin's discoveries in 1616 of Baffin Bay

    and openings to the north and west were discredited by many sailors. Barrow said

    of the voyage, "It is most vague, indefinite and unsatisfactory and the account

    is most unlike the writing of William Baffin."

            Lastly, the occurrence of good ice conditions north and west of Spitsbergen

    in 1816 and 1817 was held, probably quite erroniously, to herald even more open

    conditions in 1818. Under these circumstances the advocacy of Sir John Barrow

    was successful in ordering the dispatch of two polar expeditions in 1818. One,

    consisting of H.M.S. Dorothea , Captain D. Buchan, and H.M.S. Trent , Lieutenant

    J. Franklin, was to try the polar route. It sailed north of Spitsbergen but

    accomplished little. The other was composed of H.M.S. Isabella , 385 tons, Cap–

    tain J. Ross, and the hired brig, Alexander , 252 tons, Lieutenant W. E. Parry.

    The Isabella carried 57 officers and men, and the Alexander 37. Both, which were

    of course wooden vessels, were strengthened for their task. Parry notes that his

    vessel was much slower and less wieldy than that of Ross, and so he had difficulties

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    EA-Biography. Rudmose Brown: Sir William Edward Parry

    in keeping up with Isabella.

            They left the Thames on April 18, 1818, and, calling at Lerwick, Shet–

    lands, rounded Cape Farewell on May 27th. On June 17th, their progress was

    stopped by pack ice in the neighborhood of Vaigat Island in about Latitude

    70° N. The position of this island was accurately determined. Here Ross and

    Parry joined an ice-bound fleet of over 40 whalers and were forced to stay

    until June 20th. Following the advice of the whalers, Ross hugged the Green–

    land shore as he struggled north, battling with gales and heavy pack ice. His

    ships suffered minor damage but gradually gained northing. The strength of

    the ships saved them when jammed among heavy floes but they had the usual dif–

    ficulties to face in crossing Melville Bay; the narrowest escape from being

    crushed was on August 8th when the ships were being sawn out of young floes.

    If the floes had not receded the ships might have been lost.

            On the same day land was seen in Latitude 75° 54′ N. and near Cape York

    a small number of Eskimos with dog sledges were met. Ross had great difficulty

    in allaying the fears of these natives who never before had seen ship or white

    men. They had hunting knives of meteoric iron which was said to be found near

    Cape York. This small group of Eskimos have a culture that depends on ice hunt–

    ing throughout the year, using the vast ice fields of Inglefield Gulf and Wol–

    stenholme Bay. They have abandoned the technique of summer hunting with kayak

    and umiak, and of caribou st alking and salmon fishing. Ross called these people

    Arctic Highlanders. Now they are called Polar Eskimos. North of Cape York so–

    called "red" or "pink" snow was observed upon the cliffs which Ross named Crimson

    Cliffs. This phenomenon had been recorded by arctic travelers over a long period

    of time in various localities but it was only subsequent to this voyage that the

    cause was determined as being the presence in the melting snows of early summer

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    EA-Biography. Rudmose Brown: Sir William Edward Parry

    of countless microscopic fungi.

            Ross pressed on impatiently, passing without examination the mouths of

    Wolstenholme and Whale sounds. His farthest north was Latitude 76° 54′N. The

    entrance of Smith Sound was blocked by ice but neither it nor Jones Sound was

    adequately examined and Ross seems to have assumed that neither was a through

    channel. Then Baffin's Lancaster Sound was reached with an entrance clear of

    ice and a depth of 660 to 1,000 fathoms. The ships stood in, everyone on the

    alert, expectantly looking for the long-lost passage. Parry especially had

    great hopes, though Ross said that the "general opinion was that it was only

    an inlet." After running westward for 30 miles, or as Ross says 80 miles, he

    (Ross) states that on August 31st he saw a chain of mountains (Croker Mountains)

    ahead of the ships extending from north to south, and also a continuity of ice.

    Ross therefore ordered the ships to turn about, and leave the sound. Parry

    could not understand this decision but of course had to obey, even though he saw

    no land or ice barrier ahead. From Lancaster Sound the ships turned southward

    and on October 1st arrived off Cumberland Sound, but Ross did not examine it

    though it certainly suggested a way to the west. He arrived home the same month.

            Ross had confirmed the old discoveries of Baffin but his contribution to

    the problem of the Northwest Passage was small. It was therefore not surprising

    that the next expedition was put in charge of Parry instead of Ross, and the

    route of advance was again to be by Baffin Bay and Lancaster Sound. The two

    ships were H.M.S. Griper , a twelve-gun brig of 180 tons, with 36 officers and

    men. Parry was in command of the Hecla and Lieutenant M. Liddon was in command

    of the Griper . The Hecla as a rule had to be kept under easy sail to allow the

    Griper to keep up with her, for the Griper was a poor sailor. Captain E. Sabine

    was in charge of the scientific work, and among the other officers were Lieutenant

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    EA-Biography. Rudmose Brown: Sir William Edward Parry

    F. W. Beechey and H. P. Hoppner.

            The ships, provisioned for two years, left the Thomas on May 8th, 1819,

    and met the pack in the middle of Davis Strait on June 18th. Sailing through

    much pack ice, they won a way northward and arrived off the entrance to Lan–

    caster Sound on July 30th, a month earlier than Ross had done the previous year.

    Parry wrote: "We were now about to enter and to explore that great sound or

    inlet which has obtained a degree of celebrity beyond what it might otherwise

    have been considered to possess, from the very opposite opinions which have

    been held with regard to it." This was the decisive turn in the voyage. Either

    the sound was a blind alley or it led to channels by which the Pacific might be

    reached. Several whales, including a number of young ones, were sighted, a

    discovery that led to extensive whaling in Lancaster Sound in years to come. On

    August 2nd "more than forty black whales were seen during the day." A sounding

    in the entrance of the sound gave 1,050 fathoms with a bottom of mud and small

    stones but owing to the ship's drift Parry doubted if the real depth was more

    than 800 to 900 fathoms. Anticipating that the Hecla might be delayed by the

    slower Griper , he made a rendezvous in the moridian of 85° W. in the middle of

    the sound, but a strong easterly breeze helped the Griper along. On August 3rd

    they were between Capes Warrender and Osborn, the two capes on the northern side

    of the entrance on Devon Island, or North Devon as named by Parry. The dark–

    looking hill just north of Cape Osborn, called Hope Monument and thought by Ross

    who named it, to be an island, was found to be on Devon Island. A solitary ice–

    berg was visited by Sabine, Beechey, and Hooper for observations on variation.

    A sounding gave 373 fathoms, and a current reading gave a speed of 7/8 mile per

    hour N. 65° E.

            Parry wrote of the hope and excitement on board as the vessels sped westward

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    before a strong breeze. "It is more easy to imagine than t o describe the

    almost breathless anxiety which was now visible in every countenance while,

    as the breeze increased to a fresh gale, we ran quickly up the sound. The

    mastheads were crowded by officers and men during the whole afternoon." An

    inlet to the south was noted and called Navy Board Inlet. "We saw points of

    land apparently all round this inlet . . . at a very great distance but our

    business lay to the westward, however, and not to the south." Meantime, land

    appeared on the northern side of the sound westward of Cape Warrender, "con–

    sisting of high mountain, and in some parts of tableland." A large opening

    on the north was named Croker's Bay, "though the quickness with which we sailed

    past it did not allow us to determine the absolute continuity of land round the

    bottom of it." He believed, however, that it might be a passage from Lancaster

    Sound "into the northern sea."

            With a fresh breeze the Hecla raced ahead and by midnight on August 3rd

    had reached Longitude 83° 12′ W. with the shores of the channel "still above 13

    leagues apart." Ross's continuity of land, sometimes called the Croker Mountains,

    had almost certainly been disproved. Depth was now 150 fathoms. There were

    still many whales. The Hecla waited for the Griper and the two ships went on

    to the westward. Reefs were seen to the north off Cape Bullen. In a rough sea

    the Griper sounded in 75 fathoms and as apparently stranded floes inshore sug–

    guested shoal water, Parry marked the region on his chart to warn future navigators.

    At noon on August 4th, in Longitude 86° 30′ 30′ W., two inlets in the coast of

    Devon were sighted, Burnett and Stratton inlets; the depth was 170 fathoms.

    Parry noted the horizontal stratigraphy of those lands and the "buttresses" of the

    cliffs, which are probably slopes of scree. The sea was free from pack ice off

    Cape Fellfoot, the eater was "the usual oceanic colo u r, and a long swell was roll-

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    EA-Biography. Rudmose Brown: Sir William Edward Parry

    ing in from south and east. Some of the most sanguine among us had even cal–

    culated the bearing and distance of Ice Cape, Alaska, as a matter of no very

    difficult or improbable accomplishment."

            By the evening of August 4th Parry's good luck began to fail. From north

    to south across the sound heavy pack ice extended from Maxwell Bay on Devon

    Island to Leopold Island and Somerset Island, and a strong "ice blink to the

    westward afforded little hope." Here Parry noted many white whales and birds.

    Several shoals of narwhals were also seen. On August 5th the ships reached

    Longitude 89° 18′ 40′ W. in a depth of 135 fathoms with an eastward-setting

    current of 9 miles a day. The pack offered no passage. Some time was devoted

    to bringing ice on board for water supply and Parry comments on the better value

    of berg ice and the necessity of letting floe ice drain if it is to be used.

            The ships stood south on August 5th with the intention of seeking, in a

    lower latitude, a clearer passage to the westward "than that which we had just

    been obliged to abandon." The compass became more sluggish and irregular as

    they moved southward in Prince Regent Inlet. After about 100 miles on this

    southward course, in Latitude 71° 53′ 30′ N., Parry returned to Lancaster Sound

    as a more promising route. His extreme southern landfall was Cape Kater. From

    August 13th to 18th he tried and failed to make westward on the southern side

    of the sound. Then he crossed to the northern side, which su b sequent exploration

    has shown to be a wise plan.

            On August 21st there was clear water before them; all the ice had moved

    away. A breeze enabled them to move westward examining from boats the coast

    of Devon Island. At length the coast began to trend northward with open water

    and distant land. Parry decided this wide stretch of water was a channel and

    he named it Wellington Channel. But he held westward into Barrow Strait, along

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    EA-Biography. Rudmose Brown: Sir William Edward Parry

    which he made slow progress. A band of pack appeared across the strait but

    the ships were forced through it. More ice appeared but was passed. New islands

    were sighted. Land to the north was named Cornwallis and Bathurst and other

    islands received names. Fog, light winds, and streams of pack impeded progress

    but by September 4th the ships had reached the meridian of 110° W., an attain–

    ment which earned for them the sum of £5,000 offered by the British Government

    to such British subjects as might reach so far westward within the Arctic Circle.

    A headland on Melville Island in Longitude 109° 50′ W., was suitably named Cape


            In spite of somewhat unpromising conditions, Parry had not lost hope of gain–

    ing the Pacific. He believed that experience had shown September to be an open

    month for arctic navigation: "I determined to extend our operations to the latest

    possible period." On September 8th they were abreast of Cape Providence, toward

    the western end of Melville Sound. A week later, in Longitude 112° 29′ 30′ W.,

    they were held up by ice and heavy winds. "I was reduced to the disagreeable

    necessity of running back to the eastward of Cape Providence." On September 20th

    Parry decided that the time had come to look for winter quarters and he chose a

    bay, on the southeastern coast of Melville Island, which he called Winter Harbor.

    Here he cut a canal of over two miles through a seven-inch floe by which the

    ships reached an anchorage of 5 fathoms on September 6th.

            Preparations for facing an arctic winter, an ordeal of grim severity in

    those days, were at once put in band. The decks were roofed over, stores col–

    lected ashore, regulations made regarding rations, and, most important of all,

    hunting parties were kept regularly at work. It is stated that during the winter

    3,766 pounds of caribou, musk-ox, etc., were killed. This fresh meat and the

    stock of dried vegetables, and the less important lime juice and freshly grown

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    EA-Biography. Rudmose Brown: Sir William Edward Parry

    mustard and cress kept scurvy in abeyance. There were mild attacks but no

    deaths. The only fatality among the 94 people on the two ships was due to

    pulmonary trouble. Frostbite, too, was at a low level of occurrence. Indoor

    amusements included a weekly journal, the usual device of old-time polar ex–

    peditions for which the modern expedition with its winter work has no time.

    There were also theatricals and an elaborate masquerade and, of course, a

    Christmas feast. And there were classes to teach reading and writing.

            But no exploration was done until April when a four weeks' tour — the

    first on record from a wintering ship — was made across Melville Island to H

    Hecla and Griper Bay and to Liddon Gulf and back; a team of men dragging a

    wheeled cart, loaded with fuel and provisions, with incredible exertion over

    snow and rocks and through slush and rivers.

            The ice in the landlocked bay of Winter Harbour was slow to break up,

    but as the snow melted much of the low ground was revealed as being covered

    with vegetation, and game was pelntiful. On August 1, 1820, the ships were

    released with the help of a channel sawn in the floe. Turning westward, Parry

    was soon held up by heavy pack and gave up the attempt in Longitude 113° 48′ 29′ W.

    after sighting from Cape Hay, Melville Island, high land in the distance. This

    was Banks Island between Parker Point and Cape Sandom. Efforts to find a way

    to the west through the pack around Cape Dundas failed and the Griper had a

    narrow escape. "It became evident from the combined experience of this and the

    preceding year that there was something peculiar about the southwest extremity

    of Melville Island which made the icy sea there extremely unfavorable to naviga–

    tion." The ice to the west and southwest of Cape Dundas was "as solid and com–

    pact, to all appearance, as so much land." Parry was unprepared for another

    winter and decided to return to England. On the way he discovered Somerset

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    EA-Biography. Rudmose Brown: Sir William Edward Parry

    Island (North Somerset). In six days the ships reached Baffin Bay and by the

    end of October were home.

            Parry met with justifiable acclaim. He had so nearly found a passage to

    the west that there could be no reasonable doubt of its existence. On the ar–

    rival of the ships in the Thames a thankegiving service was held in the church

    of St. Mary-le-Strand. His native city, Bath, conferred on him its freedom;

    Norwich followed suit. He was also elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. The

    British Admiralty, keen to pursue further the quest, began at once to prepare

    a team for a new expedition. The ships were H.M.S. Fury , 377 tons, under Com–

    mander Parry, and H.M.S. Hecla , 375 tons, under Commander G. F. Lyon. F. R. M.

    Crozier, J. C. Ross, and H. P. Hoppner were among the lieutenants. The total

    of officers and crew was 118. The Fury and the Hecla were twin ships with in–

    terchangeable fittings, a precaution that Parry had suggested.

            Parry believed that a more favorable passage might be found farther south.

    The official instructions were to sail westward through Hudson Strait, reach

    the mainland coast of North America and follow it northward to Bering Strait.

    and the Pacific. This course depended upon the belief held by many authorities

    that Repulse Bay of Middleton was a through passage. The ships left the Nore

    on May 8, 1821, accompanied across the Atlantic only by a store ship.

            On July 2nd they came in sight of Resolution Island, at the eastern entrance

    to Hudson Strait, where they met difficulties and dangers due to strong currents

    and large icebergs and the Hecla sustained some damage. Early in August they

    reached Southampton Island and then a sudden decision had to be made. Should

    they go north or south? North by Frozen Strait, if it afforded a passage, would

    take them quickly to Repulse Bay; south by a longer route would lead also to

    Repulse Bay by Roe's Welcome. Parry chose Frozen Strait and made the passage

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    in spite of one belt of pack ice. At the north end of Southampton Island a

    great bay was named for the Duke of York. A landing was made on the western

    side. From this bay the ships moved northward through rock-strewn waters and

    some ice into Repulse Bay. This was clear of ice and a thorough search failed

    to find the hoped-for passage to the west. Fairly luxuriant vegwtation, much

    game, and ruins of Eskimo settlements were found. Parry then returned to Frozen

    Strait, seeking a northward route.

            After some difficult navigation among the islands and rocks of the western

    side of Foxe Channel and a close examination of every inlet of the southern end

    of Melb lle Peninsula, the ships were back again on September 2nd to where they

    had been a month before and no progress in the discovery of a way to the west

    had been made. Every route seemed to be closed by land. In bad weather strong

    currents, reefs, and ice conditions became worse, and the Fury was nearly wreck–

    ed when Parry decided that winter quarters must be found. An inlet, more helpful

    in its course than others, once more disappointed them, but at the mouth of this

    inlet, named after Lyon, an anchorage was found at Winter Island in Latitude 66°

    32′ N., Longitude 84° W. It had little shelter from the south but proved satis–

    factory. Here the ships lay from October 8, 1821, to July 2, 1822.

            The winter was passed in comparative comfort, which in large measure was

    due to the visits of tribes of Eskimos who not merely hunted for the explorers

    but taught them some of the necessary technique. Thus there was no serious out–

    break of scurvy. One of the Eskimos, a woman named Kigliuck, was found to have

    more than ordinary intelligence and a considerable knowledge of the distribution

    of land and water in that area. She was persuaded to draw a plan, which lacked

    a sense of scale but had some sense of direction. It showed the coast extending

    northward of Winter Island and then turning east, then west, and then south-south-

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    west to within three or four days' journey of Repulse Bay. This suggested a

    strait to the west and all hands had high hopes when on July 8, 1822, the ships

    put to sea, after a canal to open water had been cut through heavy ice.

            Pack, carried southward by a strong current, impeded progress but by Sep–

    tember 13th the ships were off the mouth of Barrow River in Latitude 67° 18′ N.

    and soon reached the fertile peninsula of Amitioke. Signs of Eskimos became

    more abundant. High land to the north proved to be the entrance to an inlet or

    strait, but it was frozen over and quite unnavigable in the middle of July. Four

    weeks of struggle got the ships no farther than the entrance. Parry therefore

    decided to make a land journey and, setting out on August 14th, in a few days

    reached an east-and-west strait, two miles wide with an eastward-setting current

    of at least two knots. Naturally it was named Fury and Hecla Strait and thought

    to be the long-desired passage. Ice barred any attempt to sail along it. A

    land party under Lieutenant Reid went 60 miles to the westward on the northern

    shore to Latitude 70° N. and thence they saw the southern shore trending south–

    ward. This strait is actually about 100 miles in length and is probably rarely


            Again Parry sought for suitable winter quarters. Igloolik, an island in

    the southern side of the eastern entrance, and much frequented by Eskimos, was

    chosen, and Parry indulged in his favorite canal cutting, this time for a length

    of 4,343 feet. Again Eskimo hunters helped the men through the winter. On August

    8, 1823, after sawing through a mile of ice, the ships were again free, but the

    ships' surgeon found the men too enfeebled with Symptoms of scurvy to risk an–

    other season in the North. Parry had planned to send home the Hecla and keep

    the Fury for two years more if necessary and so solve once and for all the problem

    of the passage. He took his surgeon's advice, however, and sailed for home. The

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    two ships reached Lerwick, Shetland Islands, on October 10, 1823, and were

    in the Thames on October 21st.

            It had been a most important expedition. Though it had not been success–

    ful in finding the Northwest Passage, at least it had added much to the know–

    ledge regarding Arctic America and possible routes to the west. Parry's reputa–

    tion stood high and the following year, 1824, he was put in charge of another

    naval expedition, again with the Hecla and Fury. He had among his officers

    several old associates and future explorers, W. A. Hoppner, J. C. Ross, H. [ ?] .

    Austin, H. Foster, F. R. M. Crozier, and C. Richards. The total strength was

    122, all told. The same year C. F. Lyon in the Griner made an independent and

    unprofitable voyage to Repulse Bay and J. Franklin a land journey.

            Parry sailed on May 19, 1824, with orders to explore the southern end of

    Prince Regent Inlet in the hope of finding a passage. "I saw no reason," said

    Parry, "to doubt the practicability of ships penetrating much farther to the

    south by watching the occasional openings in the ice. It is also probable that

    a channel exists between North Somerset and the northern coast of America." Ice

    conditions in Baffin Bay proved very bad and it was not until September 10th

    that the ships reached Lancaster Sound. New ice was rapidly forming and winter

    had begun when winter quarters were established at Port Bowen, on the eastern side

    of Prince Regent Inlet, in Latitude 73° 14′ N. after Parry's usual cutting of a

    canal. This northwestern part of Baffin Island proved to be a barren and desol–

    ate region. A few bears were shot but hares were scarce and there were no cari–

    bou. In the immediate vicinity, Eskimo remains were scanty.

            In June 1825, J. C. Ross made a land journey to the north of Cape York,

    northwestern extremity of Baffin Island, and saw Barrow Strait clear of ice. H. R.

    Hoppner made an eastern journey over entirely barren and rugged land but established

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    little. J. Sherer made a journey south to Cape Kaye, Latitude 72° 15′ N., and

    found many Eskimo remains. On July 20th the ships left Port Bowen and stood

    across the inlet to the west. They met heavy ice and severe gales. The Fury

    went ashore several times and was so badly damaged that she had to be abandoned,

    all hands being transferred to the Hecla . The Hecla then refitted in Port Neill,

    a small harbor a little south of and much superior to Port Bowen. She left this

    anchorage on August 31st and reached Sheerness on October 20, 1825.

            The expedition had been most disappointing and had added little or nothing

    to the solution of the problem of the Passage. Already in 1823 Parry had been

    made acting hydrographer; on his return he was made hudrographer. He did not

    try again to find the Northwest Passage. His Arctic days, however, were not

    over. On the contrary, he virtually enitiated the second great problem of arc–

    tic exploration, the attempt to reach the Pole. No arctic explorer had wider

    experience than Parry when his plan was accepted by the Admiralty and the Royal

    Society in 1827. His ship was again the Hecla and he had with him among others,

    J. C. Ross, H. Foster, F.R.M. Crozier, and R. McCormick. The prospect, which

    had the support of W. Scoreby and J. Franklin, entailed traveling over the pack

    or through open water from a high northern land base. Spitsbergen, as lying with–

    in 600 miles of the Pole and relatively easy of access, was chosen as the base

    and supplies for 90 days were to be taken, thus providing for an average speed to

    and from the Pole of 13-1/2 miles per day. Parry was ordered also to survey the

    northern and eastern coasts of Spitsbergen and to make megn [ ?] tic, meteorological,

    and hydrographic observations and to collect specimens of plants, animals, and

    minerals, and to report on the whaling industry and its future.

            The Hecla left the Thames, towed out by a steamer, on March 4, 1827. On

    the way across the North Sea, Parry tested sledge equipment and clothing and

    016      |      Vol_XV-0557                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biography. Rudmose Brown: Sir William Edward Parry

    experimented on his polar party with a diet of pemmican. At Hammerfest he

    embarked eight reindeer as draught animals. They were never used. On April

    29th the ship left for the north and soon fell in with several whalers. On May

    11th, Black Point (Salpynten), at the southern end of Prince Charles Foreland,

    was sighted and, on May 14th, Hakluyt Headland. Here the ship was caught in

    drifting pack and incurred some risk from pressure. It passed Cloven Cliff and

    Red Bay (Raudfjorden). A reserve supply of provisions was landed on Red Beach

    as a precaution against the loss of the ship. Then it drifted past Wijde Bay

    and from a boat Parry examined Mossel Bay and found it unsuitable for a harbor.

    Forty-five years later Nordenskiöld was to find it most satisfactory. At Verlegen

    Hook (Verlegenhuken) the ship got clear of the ice. A visit to Walden Island

    (Waldenöya), where some stores were landed, yielded no sign of an anchorage and

    on May 14th the ship was in Latitude 81° 5′ 32′ N. and might have gone farther

    north if it had been desired. From the altitude of 300 feet on the Seven Islands

    (Sjuöyane) the explorers thought that they saw land to the eastward but that was

    a mistake. Next the ship visited Little Table Island, where some stores were

    landed but no anchorage found.

            Back at Verlegen Hook, Parry examined Treunenberg Bay (Songfjorden) from a

    boat and decided that a cove on the eastern side would serve his purpose, after

    cutting a canal of some 1,300 feet. There on June 20th the ship was anchored

    and made fast to the shore. Hecla Cove served Parry well, but in this respect

    he was lucky. No whaler would have risked his ship in this long inlet on the

    eastern side of the Verlegen Hook peninsula. In a bad or even normal ice year

    a vessel might easily be trapped there and held at least a year. "The main object

    of our enterprise now appeared almost within our grasp, and everybody seemed

    anxious to make up by renewed exertion for the time we had unavoidably lost."

    017      |      Vol_XV-0558                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biography. Rudmose Brown: Sir William Edward Parry

    Next day Parry landed a launch and stores with a view to making the polar

    party independent of the ship in case the ship was driven to sea and lost

    touch with. Lieutenant Foster was put in charge of the Hecla and order to

    ship ballast equal in weight to the stores, etc., that were landed. He was

    then, during the absence of Parry and his party, "to proceed on the survey of

    the eastern coast" but to relinquish this survey if he thought that the ship

    was in danger. I also gave directions that notices should be sent in the course

    of the summer to the various stations where our depots of provisions were

    established, acquainting me with the situation and state of the ship, and giving

    me any other information which might be necessary for my guidance on our return

    from the northward." Thus Parry showed his habitual care and provision against

    possible accident.

            On June 21, 1827, Parry left his ship and set out for the Pole. He took

    two boats, the Enterprise and the Endeavor . He was in charge of one and Lieut–

    enant Ross of the other. Each boat had also a second officer and ten men. The

    boats, which were built of thin planks of oak and ash, sheets of waterproof canvas,

    and thick felt could also be used as sledges. Provisions for 71 days were taken,

    "which, including the boats and every other article, made up a weight of 260 pounds

    per man. Lieutenant Crozier in one of the ship's cutters went with the polar

    party as far as Walden Island to carry some of the weight and to place a third

    store of provisions on Low Island (Lågöya). The rough nature of the ice and

    the amount of open water had made it clear that neither wheels nor reindeer would

    be of any use. Therefore the reindeer were left behind.

            The next day the party left Low Island, still in fine weather but with much

    ice about. There were many walrus, but "we were very well satisfied not to molest

    them, for they would soon have destroyed our boats if one had been wounded: but

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    EA-Biography. Rudmos Brown: Sir William Edward Parry

    I believe they are never the first to make the attack." The boats served well

    but were very heavy to row. Walden Island, where they parted with Crozier's

    cutter, afforded a short rest and at Little Table Island the cache of stores

    was resecured against bears. Parry directed Crozier to arrange that a spare

    boat be placed on Walden Island. At midnight on June 23rd the boats were in

    Latitude 80° 51′ 13′ N. and making good progress with a notable east-setting

    current. The weather soon became thick and the pack ice closer but a little

    to the west clear water was found and progress made to the northwest.

            Parry explains the system of traveling which he had proposed to follow.

    In order to avoid the glare and to have warmer conditions for sleeping, he had

    planned to travel by night - for there was no darkness - and to rest by day.

    Also there was the hope that the snow furface of the floes would be harder

    with a lower sun. Sleeping clothes were furs and traveling clothes were box

    cloth. The sails were spread over the boats as awnings at the time of supper

    and sleep. The temperature during sleep was 36° to 45° F. and occasionally

    higher. Sleep was for 7 hours. The allowance of provision for each man per day

    was 10 ounces of biscuit, 9 ounces of pemmican, 1 ounce of sweetened cocoa powder,

    l gill of rum, and 3 ounces of tobacco a week. Fuel consisted of spirits of wine

    (alcohol), of which the daily allowance was 2 pints.

            On the evening of June 24th began the laborious traveling over the rugged

    pack ice; sometimes 3 or even 4 journeys over the same ice had to be made. Pro–

    gress was very slow; by 5 A.M. on June 25th Parry estimated that they had made

    about 2-1/2 miles of northing since taking to the ice. At noon they were in Lat–

    itude 81° 15′ 13′ N. June 26th was a day of rain which made moving very uncom–

    fortable and added to the difficulty that the surface afforded. It became so

    bad for traveling that they halted at midnight and did not proceed again till

    019      |      Vol_XV-0560                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biography. Rudmose Brown: Sir William Edward Parry

    the following evening when a change of wind drove the pack together instead

    of tending to disperse it. On June 28th they came "to a floe covered with high

    and rugged hummocks which offered a formidable object to our progress and nec–

    essitated a circuitous route." On June 29th when they halted at a A.M. they

    had made about 1-1/4 miles of northing in six hours and then a day's work made

    only 2-1/2 miles more. On June 29th they had reached by midnight Latitude 81°

    23′ N., or a gain of only 8 miles of northing in four days.

            And so the hopeless task went on. They rowed at times but not always to

    the north; more often they climbed hummocks or floundered through deep snow or

    slush; sometimes it rained, often it snowed. On July 1st they reached Latitude

    81° 30′ 41′ N. Generally "as soon as we landed on a floe Lieutenant Ross and

    myself went on ahead, while the boats were unloading and hauling up, in order

    to select the easiest road for them," and they frequently climbed hummocks of

    15 to 25 feet to survey the possibilities of the route. And so these enthusiasts

    went on, never giving up the hope of accomplishing their task. A few birds noted

    in Parry's diary alone broke the monotony of ice, water, snow, rain, and fog.

    On July 5th they had reached Latitude 81° 45′ 15′ N. The labor of the journey

    became worse, not easier, and they never reached the main ice or continuous floes

    which they expected. On July 7th, when they made one of their frequent launch–

    ings, not a large or level piece of floe was to be seen to the north. The idea

    of the main ice came from the Phipps expedition, "one continuous plain of smooth

    unbroken ice, bounded only by the horizon." As a permanent feature this does not

    exist, though in occasional years it may occur over limited areas. The warmth

    of the weather and the frequency of rain also surprised Parry, and added greatly

    to the difficulties of travel.

            It seems to have been early in July that Parry began to fear that, owing to

    020      |      Vol_XV-0561                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biography. Rudmose Brown: Sir William Edward Parry

    the south-setting drift, his task was immensely more difficult than he had

    contemplated. On July 17th he noted that, in spite of walking a mile north–

    ward, his evening and noon positions were practically identical. Southerly

    winds alone checked this unwelcome drift and the frequency of southerly winds

    was surprising. These winds and the high temperatures suggest that Atlantic

    low pressure areas were strongly invading the Arctic Sea that month. The cur–

    rent from a northerly direction is now known to be caused by the prevailing winds

    and currents from the Arctic Sea. But of this circulation Parry was entirely

    ignorant. Despite his failure other later explorers attempted the same route

    and naturally had no success. O. Torrell in 1858 proposed to repeat Parry's

    plan, but gave it up owing to unfavorable ice; A. E. Nordenskiöld in 1865 and

    in 1872 proposed the same route to the Pole. It was not until the drift of

    Nansen's Fram in 1895-96 that this opposing current was firmly established.

            On July 20th Parry noted "how great was our mortification in finding that

    our latitude, by observation at noon, was less than 5 miles to the northward of

    our place at noon on the seventeenth." Occasionally they had a few hours of

    good fortune. On July 22nd level floes and convenient lanes of water gave an

    advance of 10 to 11 miles but a net gain of only 4 miles. Soon they were actual–

    ly losing northing. Parry realized that the southward drift "put beyond our

    reach anything but a very moderate share of success in traveling to the north–

    ward." The 83rd parallel was accepted as the limit. To reach that would use

    up half the supplies, break all records, and qualify the party for the bonus

    offered by the British Government. The highest latitude actually gained was 82° 45′ N.

    at 7 A.M. on July 23rd; "at the extreme limit of our journey, our distance from

    the Hecla was only 172 miles. "The whole distance covered, including relays, was

    580 geographical miles. The party had a day's rest in fine weather round about

    021      |      Vol_XV-0562                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biography. Rudmose Brown: Sir William Edward Parry

    their north record and then turned southward (July 27th). The return journey

    was easier and more use could be made of the boats. Always keen to use as food

    any seal encountered, the party also had a particularly acceptable meal from a

    large bear. On August 11th they gained open water in Latitude 81° 34′ N., and

    the following day landed on the most northerly islet of the Spitsbergen group,

    in Latitude 80° 50′ N., which Parry named Ross Island after his former commander.

    On the 15th they were at Low Island and six days later reached the Hecla in good

    condition with no casualties. Parry's venture, doomed to failure from the start,

    made a northern record that was not beaten until 1875 when P. Aldrich of the

    Nares Expedition reached Latitude 82° 48′ N. in Grinnell Land (Ellesmere Island).

            During Parry's absence Foster had made a chart of Treurenberg Bay and had

    surveyed Hinlopen Strait as far as Latitude 79° 33′ N., which is about the lati–

    tude of the Foster Islands. The features of the early Dutch maps were all recog–

    nizable even if the latitudes and longitudes were at fault. Around Hecla Cove

    game was fairly abundant and offered ample fresh meat during the summer. Foster

    and his men shot 70 reindeer and 3 bears. The Hecla sailed, homeward-bound, on

    August 28th via Red Beach and anchored in the Thomaes on October 6th. And so

    ended the polar voyage of one of the most determined and successful of all polar


            On his return Parry resumed the duties of hydrographer until 1829. In that

    year he was knighted and awarded an honorary D.C.L. by the University of Oxford.

    His friend Franklin received a degree on the same occasion. He there accepted

    a post as Commissioner of the Australia Agricultural Company in New South Wales,

    with headquarters at Carrington, Port Stephens, about 90 miles north of Sydney.

    There lay the settlement of this colonizing company with its million acres. Parry

    found the territory "a moral wilderness" but in five years his energy and orderly

    mind had worked wonders in the way of productive settlement and good government.

    022      |      Vol_XV-0563                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biography. Rudmose Brown: Sir William Edward Parry

    After five years work Parry, his wife, and four children returned to England,

    largely on the grounds of ill health; the Australian work had meant a great

    strain on his constitution. He looked around for some less exacting work and

    in March 1835 was appointed Assistant Poor-Law Commissioner in Norfolk, being

    chosen from a thousand candidates. The work, however, was too arduous, and in

    1836 Parry resigned. In that year he was promoted to captain and for a short

    time was employed by the Admiralty in organizing the packet-boat service between

    Liverpool, Holyhead, and Dublin. Next year, 1837, another and more important

    post was made for him as head of a new department of the Admiralty under the

    title of Controller of Stram Machinery. Many years earlier, in fact in 1813, Parry

    wrote: "I have this morning been to see the block machinery worked by steam in

    the dockyard.... I never before saw a steam engine.... I am confident that if

    we live twenty years, we shall use steam applied to a hundred different purposes

    on board a ship...." Parry's former interest in the Caledonian Canal in the High–

    lands of Scotland led to his being employed by the Government in 1841 in drawing

    up a report on the canal and its probable value. This meant visits to most Scottish

    and many English ports, and, of course, to the canal works. His report led to

    the completion of the canal and its opening in April 1847.

            Parry's health was now troublesome and he went to live at Hampstead, London,

    which has always had a reputation for salubrity. An operation improved his health

    for a time and he continued his work as Controller of Strem Machinery: "The screw

    propeller (was) now justly regarded as indispensable in every man-of-war" (1845).

    He took an active part in the preparation of the Erobus and the Terror which

    sailed in May 1845 under Sir J. Franklin to make the Northwest Passage. "Again,

    my dear Parry, I will recommend my dearest wife and daughter to your kind regard,"

    wrote Franklin on the eve of sailing. Some years later his advice was in equal

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    EA-Biography. Rudmose Brown: Sir William Edward Parry

    demand in search operations.

            The strain of work was telling on Parry and in 1846 he thought of retiring

    but the Admiralty appointed him Captain Superintendent of the Naval Hospital at

    Haslar, Gosport. There he spent six busy years. In 1852, he was promoted Rear

    Admiral and then went to live at Bishops Waltham in Hampshire. In his year of

    residence there came the news of Sir H. McClure's triumph in finding the North–

    west Passage. In 1854, he was appointed Lieutenant Governor of Greenwich Hospi–

    tal. By all accounts his period of administration was a happy and useful one.

    Parry, however, was far from well. The year 1854 was marked by a cholera epi–

    demic in parts of London and, while it is not clear that Parry suffered from

    that affliction, he was advised to consult certain doctors abroad. In June 1855

    he reached Ems but all efforts were unavailing and Parry died there on July 8,

    1855. He was buried at Greenwich.

            The most important geographical feature named for Parry is the Parry Islands

    of Arctic Canada, which include the islands of Cornwallis, Bathurst, Melville,

    Eglinton and Prince Patrick. Parry originally called these the North Georgian

    Islands. The name of Parry Mountains was given in 1841 by J. c C Rose to a "range"

    in the Antarctic running southward from Cape Crozier near the volcanoes of Erebus

    and Terror. The range does not exist.


    The Arctic Voyages of Captain W. E. Parry . London, 1821-1828.

    6 vols.; also bound in 5 and 4 bolumes and each of the four

    voyages published separately. Parry, Rev. E. Memoirs of Rear Admiral Parry . London, 1857. Ross, J. The Voyage of Discovery in H.M.S.'s Isabella and Alexander .

    London 1819.


    R. N. Rudmose Brown

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