The Arctic Journal of Captain Henry Wemyss Feilden, R. A., The Naturalist in H. M. S. Alert, 1875-1876

1st Edition

Trevor Levere

Routledge
October 21, 2019 Forthcoming
Reference - 480 Pages
ISBN 9780367356378 - CAT# K441786
Series: Hakluyt Society, Third Series

USD$150.00

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Summary

The British Arctic Expedition of 1875–6 was the first major British naval expedition to the high Arctic where science was almost as important as geographical exploration. There were hopes that the expedition might find the hypothetical open polar sea and with it the longed-for North-west Passage, and it did reach the highest northern latitude to date. The Royal Society compiled instructions for the expedition, and selected two full-time naturalists (an unusual naval concession to science), of whom one, Henry Wemyss Feilden, proved a worthy choice.

Feilden was a soldier, who fought in most of the wars in his lifetime, including the American Civil War, on the Confederate side. On board HMS Alert, he kept a daily journal, a record important for its scientific content, but also as a view of the expedition as seen by a soldier, revealing admiration and appreciation for his naval colleagues; he performed whatever tasks were given to him, including the rescue of returning sledge parties stricken by scurvy. He also did a remarkably comprehensive job in mapping the geology of Smith Sound; some of his work, on the Cape Rawson Beds, was the most reliable until the 1950s. He was an all-round naturalist, and a particularly fine geologist and ornithologist. He was not just a collector; he pondered the significance of his findings within the context of the best modern science of his day: in zoology, Charles Darwin on evolution; in botany, Hooker on phytogeography, and in geology, Charles Lyell’s system. He illustrated his journal with his own sketches, and also enclosed the printed programmes of popular entertainments held on the ship, and verses for birthdays and sledging (there was a printing press onboard).

The journal gives a vigorous impression of a ship’s company well occupied through the winter, then increasingly active in sledging and geographical discovery in spring, before the scurvy-induced decision to head home in the summer of 1876. After his return, Feilden had dealings with many scientists and their institutions, finding homes for and meaning in his collections.

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