On the shores of the Polar Sea in 1875

Public Domain Review highlights a document from 1875, written (and illustrated) by the ship’s surgeon on a British Arctic expedition

When the British Arctic Expedition set sail from Portsmouth on May 29, 1875, the explorers hoped to reach the highest latitude, and perhaps even approach the ever-elusive North Pole. It was believed that, should they successfully pass through Smith Sound, between Greenland and Canada’s Ellesmere Island, they would encounter an Open Polar Sea free from troublesome ice. With this primary goal, three steamships set out across the stormy Atlantic only to immediately become separated by a violent cyclone, reconvening at Disko Bay on the western coast of Greenland some weeks later. Perhaps they could have interpreted this early inconvenience as a sign of the winter to come, or a warning that the Arctic waters are rarely kind. Regardless, the captains pressed on.

“This is a sketch, from the floes alongside the ship, of an unusually distinct Paraselena that appeared on 11th December, 1875″

In Shores of the Polar Sea, Edward L. Moss, an artist and esteemed Royal Navy Surgeon, records this journey from his first-hand seat in the belly of HMS Alert. A mixture of intimate journal entries, miscellaneous engravings, and sixteen chromolithographs, the book provides a unique, often surreal, retelling of life on the ice. Moss prefaces his work with a modest appeal: “Whatever may be the artistic value of the Sketches — and they lay claim to none — they are at least perfectly faithful efforts to represent the face of Nature in a part of the world that very few can ever see for themselves.”

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