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Taissumani, July 3

An Arctic Parody



Some of the ships that searched Arctic waters in the 1850s in search of the missing Franklin expedition carried printing presses.

One of those ships, the Resolute, under Captain Horatio Thomas Austin, produced a newspaper for the entertainment and education of the officers and crew who wintered in the Arctic.

A popular song in England at the time was “There’s a good time coming, boys.” The Resolute’s newspaper, The Illustrated Arctic News, produced a parody of it.

A few words of explanation are necessary. The “north water” is a term that whalers and explorers used to describe the large polynia in northern Baffin Bay. The poem reflects the debate among explorers and whalers as to whether screw-driven steamships were preferable to ships under sail in treacherous Arctic conditions.

The phrase “Penny’s brigs” refers to the veteran Arctic whaler, William Penny, and the two ships under his command, Lady Franklin and Sophia. The “east land” is the way whalers and early explorers referred to Greenland. Here is “An Arctic Parody:”

The north water’s coming boys,
The north water’s coming!
We are certain, now, to see the day,
The Tenders there will lead the way,
In the north water coming.
Steady heave may ope the nip,
But steam’s a good deal stronger,
We’ll win the war by its aid,
Steam a little longer.

There’s ‘large water’ making, boys,
Large water making!
Screw! Not sail, shall be the word,
To make the ice obey its lord
In the large water making;
The Tenders, then, will tow us all,
Screws than us are stronger –
The ‘floe’ asunder has been riven,
Steam a little longer.

The ‘floe’ is surely moving, boys,
The ‘floe’ is surely moving!
Coil in the lines – hang the prog,
Where’s the Purser? – serve the grog,
The ‘floe’ is surely moving.
Penny’s brigs may have the lead,
But steam’s a good deal stronger,
Honor calls us to the north,
Steam a little longer.

The east land is sinking, boys,
The east land is sinking!
To rescue those who want our aid,
With joy alone we’ll all be paid,
The east land is sinking!
The dreary west is now in sight,
We wish the wind was stronger,
But the screw can do without its aid,
Steam a little longer.

The winter ice is making, boys,
Winter ice is making!
Pay out the hawser – take in tow,
The Tender’s help will fetch the ‘floe,’
For the winter ice is making!
Both bird and beast are fleeing south,
The north wind blows yet stronger;
By God’s help we’ll find them yet,
Steam a little longer.

Taissumani recounts a specific event of historic interest. Kenn Harper is a historian, writer and linguist who lives in Iqaluit. Feedback? Send your comments and questions to

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