IN SEARCH OF A POLAR CONTINENT.* -T.nE expeditions chronicled in
these two volumes fell on much the same dates and had the same objective. The proximate .goal in each case was the southern shore of Beaufort Sea,. west of Point Barrow; and the ultimate goal was the conjectured Polar continent -which lay across the ice to the 'north. The explorers took. different ways, Mr. Mikkelsen • going by sea through the Behring Straits, and Mr. Harrison worked from Edmonton down the Athabasca to Great Slave Lake and thence down the Mackenzie. Various misfortunes • befell Mr. Harrison, so that he had to confine his explorations to the mainland, and especially to the chain of Eskimo lakes -and the Mackenzie Delta. Mr. Mikkelsen was more fortunate, and, in spite of a slender equipment, managed to make a sledge 'journey in winter far into the 'Beaufort Seas—an expedition which has practically disproved the existence of the aforesaid Polar continent. '
We have found the.story of that remarkable schooner 'The -Duchess of Bedford' a singularly attractive book of travel. !Mr. Mikkelsen has the serious simplicity of the • best type of explorer. He is so desperately in earnest that he almost .forgets to mention hardships which would have sent most .people home. He makes.the beat of the people he meets and who work for him. He is generous in his praise of others and -conspicuously modest about his own work. For a chronicle of a scientific expedition it is a wonderfully human book. Dogs, little children, missionaries, whalers, saloon-keepers, Eskimos,—Mr. Mikkelsen.looks with a kindly eye upon them all. It is also a fine record of friendship, for he and his partner, Mr. Leffingwell, seem to have made dual leadership a brilliant success. The expedition started on narrow funds, and contributions in money or kind were received from a multitude of widely varied sources. It was too late to get a passage in a whaler, so a small schooner was bought, and sailed' through the -dangerous Alaskan waters to the southern shore of Beaufort Sea. This in itself was a remarkable performance when one considers the impossibility of getting a sailing-vessel through narrow channels in the be against contrary winds. They had a bad time before they reached Point Barrow, but after that they luckily got a tow from a whaler to their anchorage at Flaxman Island. There the travellers prepared for the winter. It was a hard life, with many privations, but • they seem to have borne them with uncommonly cheerful hearts. An Antic winter is not all storms :— "The white surface of land and ice was glittering in the light of the full moon, a king amongst the millions of stars which twinkled and sparkled in the dark Arctic sky ; every now and then a. streak of greenish light would shoot across the sky, assume fantastic shapes, and disappear as it had come, noiselessly and without any warning. The Eskimos would look up to the wavering Masses of light—their dead children playing football in the regions of light and warmth I The picture is one of utter peace, and only the cries of happy children break the stillness of nature and sound far and wide across the frosty plains."
Sledges and dogs were got together, a minimum of provisions packed,.and the northern journey over the pack-ice began on March 3rd. Appalling difficulties were encountered,—high- pressure ridges like small hills, over which the sledges could hardly be dragged, great tracts of rough ice boulders, open lanes, where they bad to camp and wait till the water should freeze. Early in April they found fresh bear tracks and fox trails which made them think that land was near. Besides, the quantity of old ice led to the same conclusion. But a few days later they took soundings and found six hundred and twenty metres and no bottom, and this depth continued to the north. Apparently, therefore, the edge of the continental shelf had been passed. The journey home was difficult, for the coming of spring made the ice uncertain. However, they reached Flaxman Island on May 15th, after losing many of the doge and living on " (1) Conquering the Arctic I. By Ejnar Mihkelaen. London : Heinemann. 120s. nat.]---(2) In Search of a Polar Continent (19064907). By Alfred H. Harrison. London : E. Arnold, [12s, 43d, uot.] very short rations. Hamlet ,and King Lear consoled their storm-fast hours in the tent. Their ship had suffered so much from the winter that it was virtually a -wreck, and had to be broken up. The party built houses on shore and spent the summer there. Then on October 16th Mr. Mikkelsen started south by sledge, leaving Mr. Leffingwell behind to finish some scientific work. He followed the North Alaskan coast as far as Candle ; then crossed the Seward Peninsula to Nome; and then by Fort Gibbon and Fairbanks followed the trail over the Alaskan .Range to the port of 'Valdez. The journey took him six months, and during that time he covered about three thousand miles. Few men would care to travel so .far through Arctic wildernesses in the depth of winter. Mr. Mikkelsen speaks highly of the hospitality shown him every. where, both by Eskimos and white men ; but no hospitality could save him from some wild adventures and many •serious hardships. He gives an amusing account of his first glimpse of civilisation at Candle on Christmas Day, where in the hotel as he was eating a long-deferred dinner he saw a man knife another in the stomach. Altogether, it is a delightful book, full of valuable geographical data, and written with an engaging frankness and unflagging high spirits.
Mr. Harrison never met Mr. Mikkelsen, whose name he misspells, but he heard a great deal about him, and be enter- tained for a long time Mr. Stefansson, the ethnologist of the Mikkelsen party, who came overland. He.gives an interesting account of the journey down the Mackenzie, which certainly seems as easy a way to Beaufort Sea as that taken by Mr. Mikkelsen. He was disappointed in his hopes of getting provisions from the whalers at Herschel Island, and con- sequently, though he went to Banks Land, and did much exploration on the mainland, he does not add to our know- ledge of the Polar continent. He is contemptuous of the Indians as assistants, but cannot praise the Eskimos too highly. Indeed, his chapters on Eskimo life are a valuable contribution to our knowledge of a virile race. Mr. Harrison, like Mr. Mikkelsen, is a cheerful writer, and is perpetually quoting from Dickens or the classics. He intends to make a further journey from Prince Patrick's Island to Spitsbergen, passing over the Pole. The distance is about fifteen hundred miles, and he proposes to take eleven Eskimos, eighteen sledges, and a hundred and sixty-two dogs, and do it in two • hundred and sixty days. He will start in October, and travel through the whole of the winter night, and his chief rations. will be oatmeal and cod-liver oil. We sincerely hope that . Mr. Harrison will be able to raise the funds for, this expedi- tion; but, on Mr. Mikkelsen's evidence, we are inclined to • think that he has underestimated the difficulties. He allows . an average rate of six miles a day, which -seems high if open . lanes and bad ice were.to be frequent.