Narrative of an Expedition in H.M.S. Terror, undertaken with a view to Geographical Discovery on The Arctic Shores, in the years 1836-7

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Author: George Back (1796-1878)

Year: 1838

Publisher: John Murray

Place: London


vii+[blank]+456 pages with frontispiece, terminal folding chart of Hudson's Strait, 12 lithographic plates, tables and appendix. Octavo (8 1/2" x 5 1/4") bound in half period purple calf over marbled sides with four raised spine bands in gilt decoration and black label lettering in gilt, all edges sprinkled red. (Arctic Bibliography 850; Hill 44; Ricks p. 30; Sabin 2617; TPL 2033) First edition.

George Back left England in February 1833, reached the Great Slave Lake in August where George McLeod of the Hudson's Bay Company had built winter quarters at Fort Reliance at the eastern end of the lake. He located the river on 29 August and returned to the fort to winter. In March 1834 he received a packet of letters saying that Ross was back in England and telling him to explore the coast from Ross's King William Land to Franklin's Point Turnagain. This was the main unknown region, along with a few hundred miles eastward from Point Barrow and the area around King William Island which was completely misunderstood. He set out on 7 June 1834, passed Artillery Lake and Clinton-Colden Lake and reached the river on 28 June. He ran east down a river in the barren grounds with 83 rapids but only one portage. On 23 July he reached salt water at Chantrey Inlet. He explored the inlet, saw King William Island to the north and then unheroically but wisely turned back. He reached Fort Reliance on 27 September 1834 and England on 8 September 1835. The expedition's naturalist was Richard King, who contributed appendices on meteorology and botany to Back's account of the expedition; he also wrote his own two-volume account of the expedition.

In 1836, Back was promoted to captain by an Order in Council, a rare honor. The goal this time was the northern end of Hudson Bay at either Repulse Bay (now Naujaat) or Wager Inlet. From there he would drag boats overland to seawater and sail the unknown coast west to the Back River and Franklin's Point Turnagain. These were the two easternmost known points on the north coast west of Hudson Bay. The area between them and between the Back River and Hudson Bay was unknown. In fact, 60 miles (97 km) northwest of Repulse Bay is the cul-de-sac of the Gulf of Boothia. To reach the Back River he would have had to drag his boats 250 miles (400 km) west-northwest. He was given command of the converted bomb vessel HMS Terror with a crew of 60 and provisions for 18 months.

He left in June 1836, which was late in the season. Because of contrary winds they had to be towed by steamship all the way to the Orkney Islands. He reached Hudson Strait on the first of August. By the end of the month, Terror was beset by ice somewhere east of Frozen Strait. It remained icebound for 10 months: at one point Terror was pushed 40 feet (12 m) up the side of a cliff by the pressure of the ice. Several times preparations were made to abandon ship. Scurvy appeared in January and three men died of it. In the spring of 1837, an encounter with an iceberg further damaged the ship. Sometimes the pressure of the ice was enough to force turpentine out of the planks. The ship drifted with the ice south along Southampton Island and then east toward Hudson Strait. It was not until July that the ice retreated sufficiently to allow Terror to head for home. Soon a large mass of ice frozen to the vessel broke off causing the remaining ice to tip the ship on its side until the ice was hacked off. The vessel was in a sinking condition by the time he was able to beach the ship on the coast of Ireland at Lough Swilly. "There was not one on board who did not express astonishment that we had ever floated across the Atlantic.


Light binding wear and rubbing, occasional minor toning or pale foxing to plates, in all a sound and very attractive copy.

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