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An Icy Rescue

Local Historian and Writer Mike Wilson

This is one of the stories that I enjoy about Bridlington. I admire immensely the men of the sea and all that they have to do to survive on the treacherous waters. That a Bridlington man should have sailed into Arctic waters only to find Sir John Ross, who had been missing for years, I find amazing. They really were men in those days, both the explorers and the men who chased whales.

The following pieces have been gleaned from the sources stated and I make no apologies for publishing them here, to offer thanks to all those who go to sea.

From the diary of Frank Brown, son of Christopher (Kit) Brown, Bridlington: "My grandfather, when he was young, was apprenticed to a whaler and was in the Arctic after whales. He was away from home many times for nine months. I remember when I was quite a little lad, he had returned from the sea and lived with us during his last years of life. He used to take me on his knee and tell some of his tales. One time he came home and after nine months they settled up. I asked him how my grandmother lived all that time. He told me she used to knit guernseys, socks and hob undercloth. I have seen this hob wool. It is a thick dirty white and full of oil. She also made rag mats and went out to char, so she made ends meet that way.

"He also told me that he was the mate of a whaler called the Isabella, a barque-rigged ship, well in the Arctic Circle. They were close to an ice-field, and they saw people on the ice. They went on the ice to see who it was and about half a mile away there was also an American ship, also a whaler. They had also put men on the ice to go to see who those people were and they had a race to the spot. My grandfather and his men got there first and found to their joy it was Sir John Ross and his Polar Expedition who had been missing and causing anxiety in England. They asked Sir John which ship he would like to bring him home, and Sir John took my grandfather's ship, the Isabella. It was a very lucky choice for they brought Sir John home and his crew safe to England. I am sorry to relate that the American ship was never heard of again. It was said that she must have gone down with all hands.

"My grandfather died at the age of 88 and was the last of the crew who saved Sir John Ross and his crew from the ice."

Chronological List of Bridlington Events, The Catholic Home Almanac for 1905: "1895, January 30: Death of Mr John Brown, the last survivor of the crew of the Isabel, which rescued Sir John Ross, the Arctic explorer, in 1833."

From Ross, pp. 720-721: "She was soon alongside, when the mate in command addressed us, by presuming that we had met with some misfortune and lost our ship. This being answered in the affirmative, I requested to know the name of his vessel, and expressed our wish to be taken aboard. I was answered that it was "the Isabella of Hull, once commanded by Captain Ross"; on which I stated that I was the identical man in question, and my people the crew of the Victory. That the mate, who commanded this boat, was as much astonished at this information as he appeared to be, I do not doubt; while, with the usual blunderheadedness of men on such occasions, he assured me that I had been dead two years. I easily convinced him, however, that what ought to have been true, according to his estimate, was a somewhat premature conclusion; as the bear-like form of the whole set of us might have shown him, had he taken time to consider, that we were certainly not whaling gentlemen, and that we carried tolerable evidence of our being 'true men, and no impostors,' on our backs, and in our starved and unshaven countenances. A hearty congratulation followed of course, in the true seaman style, and, after a few natural inquiries, he added that the Isabella was commanded by Captain Humphreys; when he immediately went off in his boat to communicate his information on board; repeating that we had long been given up as lost, not by them alone, but by all England."

From the National Maritime Museum: Captain Ross and the crew of the Victory saved by the Isabella of Hull. . . . Ross's men travelled on foot and by boat back to Baffin Bay where they were rescued by the whaler Isabella, having survived a record-breaking four years in the Arctic with Eskimo help.

From www.collectionscanada.ca/explorers: ". . . On their way, to their great surprise, they spotted the flagship that Ross had been piloting during his first Arctic journey of 1818, the whaler Isabella, now under another captain. In October 1833, Ross finally landed in England."

From: http://libweb5.princeton.edu: ". . . In one of the great ironic twists of Arctic history, they caught the attention of a whaler, the Isabella of Hull, which was the same ship Ross had commanded on his first Northwest Passage expedition."