Anderson reaches Adelaide Peninsula

birchbark canoe

Image of a birchbark canoe on a Canadian River, from Glenbow Archive, image na-843-14, used with their permission

In this blogpost Chief Trader James Anderson, his clerk James Green Stewart, and their party of fourteen experienced men, have reached Montreal Island, and will move on to the western shore of Chantry Inlet — a place that is called Adelaide Peninsula. This is their destination. What will they find at these two places?

As you know, the team leader, James Anderson, hopes to find journals that might have belonged to the leader of the lost expedition, Sir John Franklin. They have travelled this far north knowing that they will not find living Englishmen: according to Inuit stories Chief Factor John Rae collected in 1854, the men were known to have starved to death. I ended the last blogpost with their attempts to reach Adelaide Peninsula from Montreal Island, but let’s backtrack a minute here. 

Two blogposts ago, on August 2, Anderson reached the small island east of Montreal Island. In the last blogpost in this series, I tell you that on August 2, “the men breakfasted early and left to explore the Island. At mid-day we heard shots..” He and his clerk, Stewart, met up with two of his men, “who showed us sundry articles. belonging to a boat, and a chip of wood with “Erebus” upon it.” Erebus was later corrected to Terror: both of these ships belonged to Sir John Franklin’s party.  Let us continue:

We then proceeded to the point where these were found and examined all the Esquimaux caches, most of which contained blubber and seal oil, but one of them contained a kettle (tin) and other sundry iron works such as chain, hooks, blacksmith cold chisel and shovel, and a bar of iron, and the hoops of butts [small barrels] apparently; a piece of cane, parts of the stands of instruments, a piece of a wash rod of a gun, pieces of rope with the Government mark &c, and a piece of wood with “Mr. Stanley” cut on it (Surgeon of the “Erebus”). The search was continued until late in the evening, but no traces of the graves were discovered. A band of 10 deer were on the island, of which 5 were killed… Our best hunter, Mustegan, is lame. The day was beautiful and we had an opportunity of drying everything (which was sadly needed.) The whole inlet is full of ice, except to the Eastward where there appears to be some water…

Friday 3rd. Wind moderate… but a fine day. All hands searching for the graves but without success. A few trifling articles belonging to the Ships found. Some of the adjoining islands were also examined…

Saturday 4th. Wind moderate… As the whole island is completely explored. I made an attempt to get over to the Western mainland [Adelaide Peninsula] but could not succeed. We worked along shore through the ice along the Western end of the island till we came to nearly the narrowest part for crossing. The whole inlet appears to be still choked with ice, we can do no more till the ice is driven out…. 

Ten or so years earlier, British explorer Captain George Back, who had explored his way down the Great Fish River to the Arctic Ocean, found himself on Montreal Island by chance, having taken to the boat to explore the western shores of what he thought was a bay. To his surprise he was not on Adelaide Peninsula, as he thought. Instead he was on an island. “Towards night some men, who had been dispatched to the westward, reported that we were not on the main shore, but on a large island adjoining to it.” So they too had been looking for Adelaide Peninsula. “I called the place Montreal Island,” Back said, “in commemoration of the attention we had received from the public-spirited and hospitable inhabitants of that city.” James Anderson’s journal continues, as he and his party reach Adelaide Peninsula on August 5, 1855.

We worked through the ice to the Western shore [Adelaide Peninsula] and all all hands were employed in exploring the Western shore to the South and North, but no traces of the missing party were found. In the evening we worked our way through the ice opposite to the north-western extremity of Montreal Island… Very little fuel to be found. The shore is low with sand hills inland. Weather in general fine, but foggy in the morning…

George Back had also named Point Pechelle [Pechell], which would be Anderson’s next destination. “From a small rocky island which was passed on the left,” he said, “we made for a low sandy point, named after Sir J. B. Pechell, Bart., and remarked that, scanty as was the vegetation in the parts which we had quitted, it was here sensibly growing less and less, consisting now only of scattered tufts, gradually subsiding into sterility. So flat was the western shore that a solitary hillock five or eight feet high was a conspicuous and-mark; while the eastern coast [of Chantry Inlet], on the contrary, was bold and mountainous, as if defying the rage of hail-storms from the pole.” James Anderson’s journal continues, as he approaches Point Pechell, on Adelaide Peninsula.

Monday 6th… A beautiful calm day… We have been working through the ice the whole day and have reached Point Pechelle. Either Mr. Stewart or myself (while the others remain with the canoe), with four men have traced the coast from Montreal Island, but not a vestige of the missing party has been discovered. The country in this vicinity is dotted with small ponds of water with ridges of sand and gravel and occasional immense square blocks of grey and red granite, pieces of limestone are also scattered about… We can find no fuel at our encampment, or within five miles of it; previously we found a scanty supply of the Arctic heather, the fuel used by Rae.

This plant, essential for lighting and fuelling their campfires, is Andromeda Tetragona, or Arctic White Heather, a dwarf shrub native to the Arctic. Few plants grew on the barren Adelaide Peninsula: in 1834, Back had used a “moss and a sort of fern” for lighting fires while he camped at this same place. James Anderson’s journal continues: 

The canoes were much damaged today, and I can shove them on no further — the remainder of my task must be completed on foot. Some Esquimaux ducks with their young, loons, and laughing geese [white-fronted geese], with plovers, snow birds, and white grouse were seen: in the clear sandy bays some whitefish were seen…. The whole inlet seems to be choked with ice of great thickness and solidity. Notwithstanding the day was warm, new ice formed after 4 pm.

Point Ogle is the next place for Anderson’s party to explore, and Captain Back also named and described this piece of ground in his Narrative. “From this hillock, I discerned a deep bay, bearing south-west, of which the sandy point of our encampment (called after vice-Admiral Sir Charles Ogle) formed the eastern extremity; while the opposite side terminated in another point bearing W.N.W… The land which encircled the bay was blue and high, and apparently much encumbered with ice, which stretched from side to side [of the bay] and again northerly as far as the horizon… The steersmen were twice sent to examine the state of the ice as far as Point Ogle (which was now found to be an island or part of the main, according as it was high or low water, being connected at the ebb by a narrow ridge of sand and stones); for the wind, having towards evening veered to the northward, threatened to carry the outside drift ice into both openings, and thereby effectually prevent our moving an inch.”

So Captain Back’s men had as much trouble with the ice in Chantrey Inlet as James Anderson’s men were having ten years later. Anderson’s journal continues as his men searched Point Ogle for signs of Franklin’s ships. 

Tuesday 7th. Took an early breakfast and started with Mr. Stewart and all the men, except two of the Iroquois who were left to arrange the canoes and look after the baggage. We were in light marching order. Five men followed the sinuosities of the coast, while the rest of the party swept the country further inland. For about 1/3 of the distance the country was intersected by small lakes; the remainder was composed of sand hills, devoid of all vegetation, and between them low vallies which are overflown in high tides…. We encamped late, at the point opposite Maconochie’s Island.

In 1834, Captain Back had named Maconochie’s Island. “I went to the hillock once more and saw one closely packed mass of drift ice extending from the beach to the horizon, beyond which there was a bright yellowish white blink [sic]. This was in the direction of the N.N.W bluff, which I have named after my friend Captain Maconochie, R.N., of whose zel and intelligence in the cause of geographical science I have elsewhere made mention.”

James Anderson’s story continues with his approach to Maconochie’s Island:

A very fat buck deer was killed, and a few others were seen. A little beyond Point Pechelle we crossed a river; it must be a large stream at high water. It ran from the Southward: I called it Le Mesurier after a relative of Mr. Stewart’s.

Wednesday 8th. Maconochie’s Point & Point Ogle, Early this morning four of the best men were ferried across in the Halkett boat, and the whole of Maconochie’s Island was minutely examined without success.

This Halkett Boat was the same boat that had been used the previous year by Chief Factor John Rae, and it was a lightweight inflatable boat designed by Lt. Peter Halkett in the 1840s. Anderson and his men had apparently carried this boat all the way down the Great Fish River, and across Chantrey Inlet, in their canoes. And I don’t want to upset you, but that is all I am saying about this Halkett boat right now! Nor am I telling you about what happened on the island that lay to the west of Adelaide Peninsula — that is, Moconochie’s Island. You have to wait.

As you know from my last blogpost, I have been unwell, having apparently mysteriously lost hemoglobin [blood] over the last three months. My energy levels are a little below low, but I am surviving, and we will figure out why this happened, and what happened. I am getting to see quite a collection of doctors, and they are all demanding that I give them some more blood. I am being attacked by vampires: a suitable time of year, I suppose, it being just before Hallowe’en.

When the next post in this series is published, it will appear here:  

Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2022. All rights reserved.

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