In 1811 William Scoresby Jr. sailed to the Greenland sea in command of his own ship for the first time. He was 21 years old and had by then spent nine summers in the Arctic, first as apprentice to his father, and later as chief mate on the Resolution, his father’s ship. In 1806, the Scoresbys achieved the record for ‘furthest north,’ reaching a latitude of 81 degrees 30′ north, a record that stood unbroken until 1827.
By 1811, when Scoresby Jr. took over command of the Resolution from his father, he was an accomplished whaler and expert navigator. He had studied, at the University of Edinburgh, and had served in the rescue of the Danish fleet from occupied Copenhagen. He was emerging as a scientist of some talent, and a keen observer of the world around him. In his introduction to the first volume of Scoresby’s journals, C. Ian Jackson notes that even as early as 1807, Scoresby had met Sir Joseph Banks, impressing him enough for the teenager to be invited to social occasions with the most eminent natural scientists in Edinburgh at the time, in particular Robert Jameson, Professor of Natural History at the university there.
Scoresby begins the first of his extraordinary journals, part scientific journals, part customs inspectors’ logs, on March 11th, 1811, with the Resolution about to leave Whitby for the whale fishery. Guns were loaded because, in 1811, Britain was at war, and whaling ships were valuable targets:
The ship not having floated on the morning tide some things were moved forward to trim her being near one foot by the [Stern?] as regards the draught of water[.]
The weather fine and favourable made preparation for the sailing[.] At 3PM several of the other Greenland Ships were in motion it was not until near full tide however that we were enabled to heave the Resolution off the Ground we presently afterwards hauled through the Bridge nearly as far as the pier where we made sail and got safe out of the harbour[.] At 5 1/2 PM the Pilot left us we then made sail loaded a few of the guns[.] In the Morning fine weather moderate or fresh breezes and hazy[.] … steering to the NNE the rate of 6 to 8 knots[.]
Cross posted from Letters To Elizabeth