Preliminary Guide - Arctic Papers
The Arctic Papers located to date by the writer number 47, all of which have been referred in the bibliography to the Sessional Papers of the House of Commons. Command Papers form only 30 per cent of the numerical tot al, but comprise 79 per cent of the 4,300-page bulk of all Arctic Papers.

Despite the reverence in which these papers are held by some authorities, there is at least one exception amongst them. Lieut. Commander R.T. Gould, R.N., has written of the Arctic Blue Books as follows: "They are a most singular co llection. A complete set /i.e., of the Arctic Blue Books/ would rival in bulk the four Shakespeare Folios, and contain even more words, of all kinds, than the minutes of the Royal Oak court-martial (happily left unprint ed). Nothing like selection appears to have been attempted --- every scrap of paper that found its way into official channels, from the most valuable hydrographic and other information down to begging letters and mediumistic ravings, was sure to be cast up in one of these Blue Books, in an order partly chronological, largely fortuitous, and, as a whole, defying analysis. In many cases the Blue Books must now be regarded as the best procurable authorities, the original documen ts from which they were compiled being no longer extant --- but they are by no means easy reading, and probably never were, even in their heyday, widely read" (Gould, 1928, p. 87).

Gould's opinion may be regarded as essentially correct; examples substantiating his statements are not difficult to find. That the Arctic Papers have continued to "defy analysis" for almost a century is a challenge which does us little cred it, since until quite recently, they have been the basic source of knowledge of broad areas in the Canadian Arctic.

These papers depended for their content upon the safe transmission of explorers' journals and reports from the Arctic to London by tenuously stretched nineteenth century lines of communication. The activities of a single expedition occasionally extended through several sessions of Parliament. Blue Books were hurriedly compiled for early presentation of the latest information on a subject of burning public interest to an avid reading public, and it is not surprising that they contain numero us errors, and much duplication. There are many instances where a letter or report has been printed twice, and at least one instance where one was printed three times.

The Arctic Papers may be grouped into four main sections:

  1. 1818 Northwest Passage and North Pole Rewards
    (1 paper)
  2. 1833-1834 Captain John Ross's expedition
    (3 papers)
  3. 1846-1858 Captain Sir John Franklin's expedition, and the subsequent search expeditions
    (35 papers)
  4. 1875-1878 Captain Sir George Nares' expedition
    (8 papers)

The bibliography of the above 47 items was compiled largely from searches made in the following libraries, through the kind courtesies of those whose names are given in parentheses:

American Geographical Society Library, New York, N.Y.
(Miss Nordis Felland)

Baker Library, Dartmouth College, Hanover, N.H.
(Mr. Richard W. Morin)

Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
(Miss Marie Tremaine)

New York Public Library, New York, N.Y.
(Mr. F.X. Grondin)

Stefansson Library, Dartmouth College, Hanover, N.H.
(Dr. Vilhjalmur Stefansson)

Through the kindness of Mr. T.E. Monette, all items have been checked against the Sessional Papers of the British House of Commons in the Library of Parliament, Ottawa. The Sessional
Papers of the House of Lords were not accessible at any of the libraries visited, so that it has been possible to check only a few of the items given here against corresponding publications by the House of Lords.

The assistance provided by Mr. John F. Phillips, of Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, England, is also gratefully acknowledged.

 

Preliminary Guide