Nelson’s Arctic Voyage: The Royal Navy’s First Polar Expedition 1773: Goodwin, Peter
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Nelson’s Arctic Voyage: The Royal Navy’s First Polar Expedition 1773

Author(s): Goodwin, Peter

Copyright: 2019, UK
Specifications: 1st, 8vo, pp.viii, 408, 2 bw photos, 23 color & 39 bw illus, 9 bw plans, 2 color & 7 bw maps, appendices, black cloth
Condition: dj & cloth new

In the summer of 1773 14-year old Horatio Nelson (1758-1805) took part in an expedition to the Arctic which came close to ending his naval career before it had begun. The expedition was charged with finding the North Pole as well as a navigable north-east passage between the Atlantic and Pacific. Supported by the Royal Society and King George III, command of the expedition was given to Hon. Constantine Phipps.

Two former bomb vessels, HMS Racehorse and HMS Carcass, were specially fitted out and strengthened for the expedition. During the voyage the young Nelson had command of one of the smaller boats of the Carcass in which he helped save men from the Racehorse from an attack by walruses. He also had an encounter with a polar bear while allegedly attempting to obtain a bearskin as a present for his father, an exploit that later became part of the Nelson legend.

Meeting extreme extreme conditions north of Spitsbergen both ships became locked in ice. Unable to cut their way out, they prepared to abandon the ships, but fortunately the wind changed, breaking up the ice. Despite terrible storms on the voyage home, the crews and ships remained intact, a credit to the leadership of Phipps and Lutwidge, his co-commander, as well as the seamanship and bravery of their crews.

The text looks at the detailed preparations made for the expedition and the technical developments that it embraced, including the chronometer, various scientific instruments and a device for distilling fresh water from seawater. It discusses the fitting out of the ships and the naval skills needed for the extreme conditions they encountered. It also considers Nelson the great naval commander at this early stage of life and how this experience might have influenced his later career and attitudes.

Drawing from the ship's journals, muster books, Commander Phipps’s official record of the voyage and other private accounts, this book vividuly creates a picture of the expedition, life on board and the multiracial crewmen who served in the ships.

Goodwin also includes a chapter on the later voyages of Cook, Bligh, Buchan, Franklin, and Parry. Phipps’ official account of the expedition was published as “A Voyage Towards the North Pole: Undertaken by His Majesty’s Command, 1773” (1774).

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