This is the continuation of Dangerous Work, Diary of an Arctic Adventure by Arthur Conan Doyle who is the memoir of a twenty-year-old Doyle. Following the burial at sea of Arthur Milne and the killing of 2450 seals so far, I had to take a break. Now I can continue.
Doyle is engaging in those typical activities confined sailors tinker with: stuffing birds, converting haul into useful tools and luxuries, games, boxing, and whale bone. He’s rather proud of his marksmanship and kills. With heavier ice they hope for bigger seals. Racing with other vessels to better killing fields. The slaughter is undefined and without discipline. An ugly bloody scene. There is disappointment in tone as he tells of such meager harvests. The charts of the kills by each sailor is augmented with a drawing of his kill of five bulls on a piece of ice including the red blood streaming to the water. “Captain is disappointed and rightly so” remarks, Doyle. The drawings are exquisite.
The Thursday, May 13th entry is brilliant.
I hear from the engine room that Mr McLeod, our chief engineer, has done me the honour to read my private log every morning, and make satirical comments on it at table, and among his own firemen. Now I would as soon that he read my private letters as my journal, in fact a good deal sooner, and it is just one of those things which I won’t stand for in any man. If any man meddles with my private business I know how to deal with him. I am only astonished that a man professing religious principles should act with such a want, I won’t say of gentlemanly honour, but of common honesty. If he does it after this warning he shall answer for it to me. A sensible man might be trusted, but a man who will talk about my prejudices against boiled beef &c, in the engine room must be suppressed. I hope this may meet his eye in the morning.
Four shots into a huge walrus. It seemed to smile as it swam away. Reading the ship for whaling. News from other ships yield info on good spots and bad spots. Iceland was a good spot. Doyle turns 21 600 miles from the Pole. He is learning the art of storytelling in this diary. He uses anecdotes to illustrate a point. The anecdotes are filled with good prose. Whaling is hard work, just to try to catch up to one or four. More failures than successes. Lots of socializing as ships tend to moor near each other and use the little boats to shuttle back and forth. Sometimes when they have made a kill another predator scoops it up before the sailor can fetch his kill. Doyle is a collector of data about the zoological findings he had on the journey.
The reproduced images of the volume’s marbleized covers are glorious to see as I view the back of Vol I- II and the front of Vol III. They and other ships are shooting any thing and everything that moves up there. One day it is bears, the next it is birds. Navigating the ice fields is constant so that the ship doesn’t get frozen in or damaged. Reading Tristram Shanty. Our ships are having better luck than Hope. “Hopes not realized as usual.” Boredom sets in as the wind dies and the are becalmed in waters without a ripple. Quiet and still.
When the wind does blow and seas get big, chasing a whale in a long boat can be very dangerous and ends with an abandonment of the chase for safer quarters back on ship. They get their first whale and have it stowed in nine hours. They are in the land of the midnight sun. Soon after this first small whale, they kill a whale five times the size of the first and thereby secure a successful trip. Once the fog sets in, the trip will end since visibility is terrible and dangerous as the ice fields begin to grow larger.
This adventure of Doyle’s provides a hint of how the character of Watson evolved. Watson is Doyle, a doctor, a companion, but most of all a chronicler. Doyle’s Hope log is a first draft for what will become the classic Sherlock Holmes.