When European explorers informed the native Dene Indians of the Northwest Territories that explorer Alexander Mackenzie had “found” the river that now bears his name, the Indians replied that they didn’t know the river had ever been lost.
SHIP OF FOOLS
Martin Frobisher sailed from England past Greenland in the year 1576 in search of the Northwest Passage. He ran into trouble with the native Eskimo and turned for home, taking samples of ore-bearing rocks he found on the shore. In England, a chemist announced it was gold ore. Frobisher mounted a second expedition, feeling that gold was more important than the Northwest Passage. He spent the summer of 1577 on Baffin Island, loading three ships with 200 tons of rock. Back in England, scientists exclaimed over how much gold the rocks bore— so Frobisher headed back again, this time with 15 ships. He brought home 1,350 tons of ore this time, and smelters in England spent five years trying without success to extract gold from it. Only then did they discover the “gold” was actually iron pyrite— fool’s gold. It was worthless.
On August 11, 1775, a Greenland whaling ship called the Herald found itself in a sea full of icebergs in gale force winds. By morning, the weather cleared. Suddenly another ship came into view. As they neared it, the whalers saw that the unknown ship was covered with ice and no humans were on deck. They received no answers to their hails. The captain lowered a longboat and went to investigate, accompanied by eight men. As they approached the derelict ship, they saw that her name was the Octavius. Boarding, they found no sign of life.
Kicking open the ice-coated door to go below, they were greeted by a musty odor. The men found a corpse in every bunk, each bundled in blankets and preserved by the cold. They found the captain’s body slumped forward on a desk, pen in hand. The body of a woman lay in the bunk. In the corner was a sailor, with a flint and steel nearby. A mound of wood shavings was in front of him. Nearby, under a heavy coat, was the body of a small boy. They found no provisions.
Taking the log book, they returned to their own ship. Unfortunately, the log book was dropped and many pages lost into the ocean. The Octavious drifted off, never to be seen again. The logbook revealed that the doomed ship left England bound for China on September 10, 1761. Good winds and fair weather prevailed, and nothing was amiss. The final page said, “We have now been enclosed in the ice 17 days, and our approximate position is Longitude 160 W, Latitude 75 N. The fire went out yesterday, and our master has been trying to rekindle it again but without success. He has handed the steel and flint to the mate. The master’s son died this morning and his wife says she no longer feels the terrible cold. The rest of us seem to have no relief from the agony.” The location given in the logbook in the final entry was north of Point Barrow, Alaska.
The captain of the Octavius had decided to look for the yet undiscovered Northwest Passage through the Arctic instead of sailing home all the way around South America. The ship, locked in the ice, sailed on even after the demise of the crew— and became the first ship ever to negotiate the elusive Northwest Passage. Her crew for the journey was a captain and crew who had been dead for 13 years. Today the logbook of the Octavius is in the archives of the Registrar of Shipping in London.