Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation, by Richard Hakluyt


I. Greenland.

Greenland is an extensive country, the greater part of which belongs to Denmark, situated between Iceland and the continent of America. Its southern extremity, Cape Farewell, is situated in 59 deg. 49 min. N. lat, and 43 deg. 54 min. W. lon. The British Arctic expedition of 1876 traced; tee northern shores as far as Cape Britannia, in lat. 82 deg. 54 min. The German Arctic expedition of 1870 pursued the east coast as high as 77 deg. N., so that between Koldeway’s furthest in 1870 and Beaumont’s farthest in 1876 there remains an interval of more than 500 miles of the Greenland coast yet unexplored. The estimated area of the whole country is about 340,000 square miles. The outline forming the sea-coast of Greenland is in general high, rugged, and barren; close to the water’s edge it rises into tremendous precipices and lofty mountains, covered with inaccessible cliffs, which may be seen from the sea at a distance of more than 60 miles.

The vast extent of Greenland, together with its peculiar position between Europe and America, secures for it a very special interest. From its most northern discovered point, Cape Britannia, it stretches southward, in a triangular form, for a distance of 1500 miles. Its interior is nearly a closed book to us, but the coast has been thoroughly explored and examined on the western side from Cape Farewell to Upernavik, a distance of about 800 miles, as well as along the western shores of the channels leading from Smith’s Sound; and from Cape Farewell to the Danebrog Islands and Cape Bismarck on the east side. These belts of coast line consist of the most glorious mountain scenery — lofty peaks, profound ravines, long valleys, precipices and cliffs, vast glaciers, winding fiords often running 100 miles into the interior, and innumerable islands.

Greenland was discovered in 981 or 983 by an Icelander or Norwegian named Gunbiorn, and was soon afterwards colonized by a number of families from Iceland, of whom all historical traces soon disappeared; they appear to have formed their settlement on the western coast. The country was called Greenland because its southern extremity was first seen in spring-time, and presented a pleasing appearance, but it was speedily found to be little better than an icebound region. Davis rediscovered Greenland in his voyage, 1585–87; and in the beginning of the seventeenth century the Dutch government fined out several expeditions to re-establish a communication with the lost colony.

II. Newfoundland.

Newfoundland is, as it were, a stepping-stone between the Old World and the New. At its south-western extremity it approaches within 50 miles of the island of Cape Breton, while its most eastern projection is but 1640 miles distant from Ireland. Its population in 1881 was 161,384, and its area was estimated at 42,006 square miles; but, strange as it seems, up to the present time the interior is almost unknown, while the mere existence of certain splendid fertile valleys in portions of the island has only been discovered in quite recent times. The appearance of the coast is rocky and forbidding, but there are a great number of deep bays and fiords, containing magnificent harbours, and piercing the land for 80 or 100 miles, while the sides present varied scenes of beauty, such as are rarely surpassed in the world’s most favoured lands. The effect of these inlets is to give the island the enormous coast line, compared to its area, of more than 2000 miles. The loftiest range of mountains, the Long Range, has a few summits of more than 2000 feet, but the elevations of the island rarely exceed 1500 feet. Lakes are very numerous. The mines are very valuable, and Newfoundland now ranks as the sixth copper-producing country in the world. Lead mines have also been discovered and worked. There is good reason for believing that gold and coal will yet be found.

III. Polar Ice

It is believed on good grounds of inference, but absolutely without positive evidence, that the south pole is covered with a great cap of ice, and some physiographers have gone so far as to assert its thickness as possibly six miles at the centre. But as to the ice of the north pole, thanks to the efforts to discover a north-west passage which showed us the breach in the wall of the polar fortress, we know very much more.

Sir Edward Belcher encountered ice 106 feet thick drifting into and grounding on the shores of Wellington Channel. It was in Banks Strait that Sir Edward Parry was finally stopped by the great undulating floes, reaching 102 feet in thickness, that he tells us he had never seen in Baffin’s Sea or in the land-locked channels the had left behind him, but which filled the whole sea before him. Such floes are the edge of a pack which we may conjecture extends uninterruptedly from shore to shore of the Polar Sea.

IV. Icebergs

Icebergs are masses of ice rising to a great height above the level of the sea, presenting a singular variety in form and appearance. They are masses broken off from glaciers, or from barrier lines of ice-cliff, and owe their origin to the circumstance of glaciers being in a continual state of progress. Glaciers reach the sea shore in many places in the Arctic regions. When pushed forward into deep water, vast masses are lifted up by their inherent buoyancy, and, broken off at the landward end, are borne away by the winds, or on tides and currents, to parts of the sea far removed from their place of formation. Owing to the expansion of water when freezing, and the difference in density between salt and fresh water, the usual relative density of sea water to an iceberg is as 1 to 91674, and hence the volume of ice below water is about nine times that above the surface. The largest icebergs are met with in the Southern Ocean; several have been ascertained to be from 800 to 1000 feet in height, and the largest are nearly three miles long. One was met with 20 deg. south of the Cape of Good Hope, between Marion and Bouvet Isles, which was 960 feet high, and therefore more than 9000 feet, or 1–3/4 mile in thickness.

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