Inspired by discoveries made on a recent holiday to France, May’s item of the month is a look at a rare book from the Library’s collection. The Voyage of La Perouse round the world in the years by Jean-François de Galaup, Count of Lapérouse, is a finely illustrated account of an eighteenth-century exploration.
Eleanor (Head of Archive and Library)
I recently held a barbecue and determined to ascertain the correct spelling of barbecue. I turned to the online version of Oxford English Dictionary, a personal favourite from our recently acquired resources, for guidance.
It transpires that the word owes its etymological origins to a Haitian word barbacòa meaning ‘a framework of sticks set upon posts’ and was first cited by William Dampier in his work Voyages and Descriptions from 1699:
“… and lay there all night, upon our Borbecu’s, or frames of sticks”
Dampier wasn’t suggesting that he slept all night on a hot barbeque, rather, our modern definition of a barbecue ultimately derives from this frame of sticks or ‘borecu’ that could be used as a sleeping platform or placed over a fire and be used for cooking. You can read the very sentence on page 20 in Volume 1 of our 1729 edition of A collection of voyages by Dampier.
William Dampier (1651-1715) was an English buccaneer, privateer, captain, navigator, circumnavigator, naturalist, explorer, and author. He circumnavigated the globe three times and his New Voyage around the World is considered a seminal work travel literature, combining scientific observations, ethnography, geographical descriptions, and authentic voyage narrative.
In fact, Dampier’s detailed empirical observations recorded in this book would later influence the scientific methods of observing and recording phenomena used by the naturalists Alexander von Humboldt and Charles Darwin. Both James Cook and Joseph Banks relied on Dampier’s A Voyage to New Holland as a guidebook for their exploration of Australia while generations of mariners used Dampier’s works as guides to the Americas and Indies.
Such was the value of Dampier’s writings that the 1699 supplement to Voyages and descriptions which included “A Discourse of Winds” was still being reprinted as part of the Admiralty Sailing Directions into the twentieth century.
Dampier’s prodigious achievements have bequeathed us much, but did not prevent Jonathan Swift from satirising him in Gulliver’s Travels, describing Dampier as “an honest man, and a good sailor, but a little too positive in his own opinions”.
Gary (Assistant Librarian)
Archive Journeys are held every Thursday at 2.30pm in the E-Library, and are an excellent opportunity for visitors to experience some of our most famous historical moments and figures first hand. Showcasing documents and treasures you may not otherwise see, they are a must for any Museum visitor!
As the International Polar Year sees scientists uncovering more of the secrets of our polar regions than ever before, our Polar Exploration Archive Journey looks back over the spectacular, and often gruesome, history of polar exploration.
The talk includes some of Shackleton’s original letters from his first expedition with Scott, and photographs from his last expedition aboard the Quest.
Everyone has heard of the harrowing ordeals of the Arctic summer, when explorers would strike out towards the pole, however few know the hardships of the Arctic winter. Trapped in the cold and dark with few supplies and only your shipmate’s company, the men and their captains would go to extraordinary lengths to keep the team together and keep up morale.
The Polar Exploration Archive Journey includes a significant amount of material from the Assistance, the ship which discovered the remains of Franklin’s doomed voyage on the Discovery. Trapped in the frozen Arctic Sea for six months of night the crew would organize balls, plays and even ran their own newspaper!
Leah (Customer Services Library Assistant)
This summer, the European Space Agency (ESA) reported that the Northwest (or North West) Passage was completely clear of ice for the first time since records began. A BBC science and environment correspondent, David Shukman, is currently aboard a Canadian Coast Guard research vessel, the Amundsen and is keeping a blog of its journey through the Northwest Passage.
The Northwest Passage, described as the “sea route linking the North Atlantic Ocean with the North Pacific Ocean” (Cited in Day 2006, xxxiii), has fascinated explorers since its existence was first proposed in the late 15th century. For some four hundred years numerous expeditions sought to navigate this most elusive of sea routes. All failed to discover the passage in its entirety and many perished in the attempt. It wasn’t until the 20th century that the route was successfully navigated from one end to the other by Roald Amundsen in an expedition the lasted from 1903-1906.
The Caird Library has a wonderful collection of material relating to the search for the Northwest Passage including maps, diaries, expedition accounts, and books. Listed below is a small selection of material relating to the many expeditions in chronological order.
1497-1498 : John Cabot
1576-1578 : Martin Frobisher
1585-1587 : John Davis
1767-1772 : Samuel Hearne
1631-1632 : Thomas James
1819-1848 : William Parry
1821-1822 : John Franklin
1850-1853 : Robert McClure
Gary (Assistant Librarian)
September’s item of the month is Lieutenant Francis Leopold McClintock’s notebook: Notes on Arctic Equipment for Spring Travelling, drawn up at Port Royal 1867.
Caird Library ref: MCL/37.
Lieutenant Francis Leopold McClintock (1819-1907) became famous as the man who discovered the remains of Sir John Franklin’s expedition to find the North West Passage.
Arctic exploration, given the harsh nature of the climate and terrain, was specialised work, and the men who searched for Franklin had mostly been on Arctic tours of duty before. Crews in the Polar Regions faced not only great dangers, but also long stretches of boredom and inaction whilst their ships were icebound in the Polar winter. Any leader of an Arctic expedition needed to be aware of the dangers, both physical and psychological, which might afflict his crew.
McClintock, whilst not a veteran of Arctic exploration, did have some previous experience. He had been part of one of the earliest search expeditions led by Horatio Austin, when he had helped to man-haul heavy sledges across the ice. Man-hauling, rather than using dogs to pull sledges, became the standard method of transport for succeeding generations of British polar explorers, including Captain Scott of the Antarctic.
The notes in this book, written up during a period when McClintock was on duty in the Caribbean, distil his knowledge and experience of travelling overland in the Arctic. He gives a wealth of advice to the reader: when to travel; how much food to take, and of what sort; medical supplies, clothing and tents. Perhaps the most interesting are his instructions on how to make some items of kit which he considers to be essential.
The instructions for the equipment, clothing and provisions recommended by McClintock are precise and bear the marks of first hand experience. He often goes against the commonly held views of the time because his years spent exploring the Polar wastes had shown that the received wisdom was wrong.
McClintock’s list of clothing looks inadequate to the modern eye; the men wore three layers of woollen clothing, two pairs of gloves, an assortment of socks, feet wrappers and boots or moccasins and a specially adapted peaked hat with a veil to protect them from the snow. The only protection from snow blindness was a pair of ‘coloured glasses’.
The food rations too look meagre to our eyes. The staple diet was pemmican, a traditional food made of pounded meat, seasoned and mixed with fruit and nuts. McClintock specified that the pemmican for Arctic journeys should be purely meat with no seasoning. Added to this was ship’s biscuit, boiled bacon, tea with sugar, hot chocolate and rum. There was also an allowance of tobacco, half of which was for chewing and half for smoking.
All the food and equipment required for any journey had to be stowed onto a sledge and hauled by men in harness. Unsurprisingly, McClintock’s instructions for the sledge and the harnesses for the men are very detailed. He also calculated the weight that each man would be hauling if the expedition took all the food and equipment he recommends. For an expedition of 12 men, the weight for each man would be 239lb (120kg). McClintock comments: ‘If all the circumstances are favourable this is not too much. The men must be picked, and well trained to sledge work, and the snow in good condition.’ He did mention that the load would be lightened if the officer in charge would also join in the hauling.
This notebook is part of a collection of McClintock’s personal papers, which includes logs, letterbooks and journals and covers most of his active naval career.
Daphne (Manuscripts Archivist)
If you are interested in viewing this or any other manuscript item, see our visiting the Caird Library
page available from the main museum website. Please note that some items are kept offsite and you may need to request items in advance.
Copies of images can be ordered via the Picture Library. An order form is available at www.nmm.ac.uk/picturelibrary
or by contacting 020 8312 6600.
Discover more of the library and manuscripts collection in our online catalogue: www.nmm.ac.uk/librarycatalogue
This truly is a gorgeous book. And it’s not just me that thinks so – everyone who has walked past my shelf of recently catalogued books lately has been picking it up. Bound in teal blue with an illustrated spine and silver lettering, The Quest for the Northwest Passage is simply irresistable.
Published by The Folio Society, it’s also beautifully illustrated, with several maps, oil paintings, prints and engravings reproduced from the Museum’s own collections, among others.
It’s a good thing too, because the book itself is a collection of first hand accounts of the numerous explorers who have searched for a navigable sea route through the Arctic since the 16th century.
It makes fascinating but at times harrowing reading, as expedition after expedition ends in death or mutiny (or both). The word ‘disappointment’ features in several chapter titles. Others have ominous-sounding titles like: ‘A winter of death’ (the 1619 voyage of Jens Munk), ‘Final disillusionment’ (the surveys of George Vancouver), and in reference to Franklin’s overland expedition of 1819-1822: ‘We Ate Our Shoes for Supper’.
Franklin’s last expedition of 1845 is also covered in some depth, and, if you are into this sort of thing, make sure you have a look at the Franklin relics feature on Collections Online.
The book itself is available from the shelves in the Caird Library reading room, and if you’d like to see what else is new this month, try the new books list on the catalogue.
Renée (Digital Resources Librarian)