September's item of the month is Lieutenant Francis Leopold McClintock's notebook: Notes on Arctic Equipment for Spring Travelling, drawn up at Port Royal 1867.
Caird Library ref: MCL/37.
Lieutenant Francis Leopold McClintock (1819-1907) became famous as the man who discovered the remains of Sir John Franklin’s expedition to find the North West Passage.
Arctic exploration, given the harsh nature of the climate and terrain, was specialised work, and the men who searched for Franklin had mostly been on Arctic tours of duty before. Crews in the Polar Regions faced not only great dangers, but also long stretches of boredom and inaction whilst their ships were icebound in the Polar winter. Any leader of an Arctic expedition needed to be aware of the dangers, both physical and psychological, which might afflict his crew.
McClintock, whilst not a veteran of Arctic exploration, did have some previous experience. He had been part of one of the earliest search expeditions led by Horatio Austin, when he had helped to man-haul heavy sledges across the ice. Man-hauling, rather than using dogs to pull sledges, became the standard method of transport for succeeding generations of British polar explorers, including Captain Scott of the Antarctic.
The notes in this book, written up during a period when McClintock was on duty in the Caribbean, distil his knowledge and experience of travelling overland in the Arctic. He gives a wealth of advice to the reader: when to travel; how much food to take, and of what sort; medical supplies, clothing and tents. Perhaps the most interesting are his instructions on how to make some items of kit which he considers to be essential.
The instructions for the equipment, clothing and provisions recommended by McClintock are precise and bear the marks of first hand experience. He often goes against the commonly held views of the time because his years spent exploring the Polar wastes had shown that the received wisdom was wrong.
McClintock’s list of clothing looks inadequate to the modern eye; the men wore three layers of woollen clothing, two pairs of gloves, an assortment of socks, feet wrappers and boots or moccasins and a specially adapted peaked hat with a veil to protect them from the snow. The only protection from snow blindness was a pair of ‘coloured glasses’.
The food rations too look meagre to our eyes. The staple diet was pemmican, a traditional food made of pounded meat, seasoned and mixed with fruit and nuts. McClintock specified that the pemmican for Arctic journeys should be purely meat with no seasoning. Added to this was ship’s biscuit, boiled bacon, tea with sugar, hot chocolate and rum. There was also an allowance of tobacco, half of which was for chewing and half for smoking.
All the food and equipment required for any journey had to be stowed onto a sledge and hauled by men in harness. Unsurprisingly, McClintock’s instructions for the sledge and the harnesses for the men are very detailed. He also calculated the weight that each man would be hauling if the expedition took all the food and equipment he recommends. For an expedition of 12 men, the weight for each man would be 239lb (120kg). McClintock comments: ‘If all the circumstances are favourable this is not too much. The men must be picked, and well trained to sledge work, and the snow in good condition.’ He did mention that the load would be lightened if the officer in charge would also join in the hauling.
This notebook is part of a collection of McClintock’s personal papers, which includes logs, letterbooks and journals and covers most of his active naval career.
Daphne (Manuscripts Archivist)
If you are interested in viewing this or any other manuscript item, see our visiting the Caird Library page available from the main museum website. Please note that some items are kept offsite and you may need to request items in advance.
Copies of images can be ordered via the Picture Library. An order form is available at www.nmm.ac.uk/picturelibrary or by contacting 020 8312 6600.
Discover more of the library and manuscripts collection in our online catalogue: www.nmm.ac.uk/librarycatalogue.