William Mogg and Arctic exploration

As Britain and Europe experiences a period of extreme cold and snow, we delve into the journal of William Mogg describing his experience of Arctic exploration in the early 1820s.

Iceberg adhering to icy reef, 1828

Iceberg adhering to icy reef [MS 45 AO183/2 p.349]

William Mogg (1796-1875) was born in Woolston in Southampton. He joined the Royal Navy as a volunteer in 1811 and served in the continental blockade of the Napoleonic war. He was part of a number of survey expeditions in the brig Investigator in 1817 and in 1827-30 voyaged on the Beagle alongside Charles Darwin. Mogg  also served as a clerk during Captain William Edward Parry’s second and third Arctic expeditions, on board HMS Hecla and HMS Fury, 1821-5. The journal – part of a set of 6 volumes (MS 45) held in the Special Collections – covering these journeys provides a fascinating insight into these expeditions.

Captain Parry was to be a key figure in the discovery of the North West Passage and the three voyages that he made between 1819 and 1825 produced invaluable research. During his first expedition, he voyaged through the Parry Channel and three quarters of the way across the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.

HMS Hecla and Fury sailed from Deptford in April 1821 for the second expedition, the goal this time being to find a passage near the northwest end of Hudson Bay. Having sailed through Hudson Strait and investigating Foxe Basin, they found themselves frozen in at ‘Winter Island’ for nine months when the ice closed in. During Parry’s third expedition in 1824-5, ice in Baffin Bay disrupted progress and the expedition was forced to winter in Prince Regent Inlet.

HM Ships Hecla and Fury in winter quarters

HM Ships Hecla and Fury in winter quarters [MS 45 AO183/2 p.359]

Mogg describes how “the ice began to form in a compact manner around the ship … strongly indicated … that our present position should become our winter quarters”. [MS 45 AO183/2 p.62] Crews were put to work cutting a channel to enable the ship to sail further up the bay. “Our first weeks imprisoned in our first icy quarters was fully occupied, clearing and preparing for the winter, every arrangement was made, which could contribute to our general health and comfort by our worthy Commander (Parry).” [MS 45 AO183/2 p.63]

Conditions were testing. While there was provision of a warming stove as way of heating, the crew had to undergo a reduction of rations to ensure that there were sufficient supplies.

Despite the hardships endured, Mogg’s journal reflects the indomitable spirit of those on the expedition, recording delight at the encounters with the groups of inhabitants of those inhospitable regions of the world, whom Mogg called Esquimaux, of the wildlife he observed, including bears, foxes, wolves and whales, and of the adventures of the crew.

Snow village of the Esquimaux

Snow village of the Esquimaux [MS 45 AO183/2 p.141]

Of the measures introduced to relieve boredom of life on board – theatrical performances and evening schools – Mogg wrote of the production of R.S.Sheridan’s play The Rivals: “the first performance came off this evening and evidently gave general satisfaction if we may judge by the constant plaudits from the stentorian voices of the audience”. [MS 45 AO183/2 p.72]

List of cast for The Rivals as performed by crew for the Theatre Royal, Winter Island

List of cast for The Rivals as performed by crew for the Theatre Royal, Winter Island [MS 45 AO183/2 p.70]

There also was a pleasure to be derived from culinary treats. He noted that on Christmas Day 1821, the crews enjoyed a dinner of roast beef, which had been killed and frozen upward of 12 months previously, “garnished with mustard and cress, of a pale colour from being grown between decks in the dark, … with sundry pies and puddings of preserved meats and cranberries, not to be despised in any climate”. [MS 45 AO183/2 p.82]

Explorations by the crew on the ice in temperatures of “59° below the point of freezing” brought with them the risk of frost bite. “It is not an uncommon circumstance that in the operation of applying the hand to the frozen cheek, or nose, it also becomes frozen while doing so, but in order to prevent serious casualties of this nature Captain Parry issued general instructions that no person should quit the ships alone, or un-armed, in order that the companion might detect the burns in each other’s face.” [MS 45 AO183/2 p.90]

So as we venture out into the snow and chilling temperatures, let us give a thought to Captain Parry, Mogg and the intrepid crew of these Arctic ventures.

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