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22 May 1859, Edinburgh M.D., Kt, KStJ, D.L., LL.D., Sportsman, Writer, Poet, Politician, Justicer, Spiritualist Crowborough, 7 July 1930

Portsmouth Literary and Scientific Society (8 december 1883)

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

This article is a report of the Portsmouth Literary and Scientific Society published in the Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle on 8 december 1883.

The report is about a lecture "The Arctic Seas" given by Arthur Conan Doyle.


Portsmouth Literary and Scientific Society

The second ordinary meeting of the Portsmouth Literary and Scientific Society was hold at the Penny-street Lecture Hall on Tuesday evening. The President (Colonel A. W. Drayson, F.R.A.S., R.A.) occupied the chair, and the company included be following gentlemen:— General C. D. Nugent, General J. W. Playfair, C.B., R.E., General J. W. Cox, C.B., General C. P. Catty, General W. Ramsay, Colonel J. Waddell Boyd, Colonel Brodigan, Major F. S. Terry, Captain T. Richey, R.A., Rev. H. Dessart, Rev. Dr. G. Colborne, Rev. W. J. Staynes, Drs. C. F. Edwards and W. H. Axford, Fleet-Surgeon G. Kell, R.N., Drs. E. K. Knight, F. J. Driver, G. H. Smith, A. Conan Doyle, B. Guillemard, and Woods, Messrs. J. M. Ollis, R.N., J. Hay, B. Nicholson, G. Ollis, W. Read, J. A. Wilson, R.N., Dental-Surgeon W. H. Kirton, Messrs. T. Newell, G. Palmer, J. Watkins, A. Howell, J. Abraham, A. Fyson. F. Wollaston, J. R. Constantine, C. Constantine, W. E. Atkins, H. Murrell. J. Muir, E. Byrne, C. Foran, M. Somers Gardner, H. Read, G. Dimmer, F. Fay, E. F. Burton, E. Charpentier, W. Pond, E. Bewley, J. Barmiston, F. Gough, W. Seymour, J. Rockett, G. F. Bell, Dr. J. Ward Cousins, Hon. Sec., &c. &c. The following gentlemen were elected members of the Society:— Surgeon-General J. Lamprey, P.M.O., Colonel J. Waddell Boyd, and Dr. C. F. Edwards. The following gentlemen were nominated for membership:— Lieutenant-Colonel Brodigan, Dr. James Niel, and Capt. T. Richey, R.A.


Dr. A. CONAN DOYLE read a paper on the above subject. At the outset the lecturer remarked that great as had been the strides which our knowledge of the world had made during the last century, there was still ample employment for the traveller and the geographer of the future. Round the Pole 2 1/2 million square miles had been untouched by the foot of man, whilst away down in the Antarctic regions the great mysterious continent of the South shrouded itself behind a veil of ice. From the high lands of Thibet to the stony plains of the interior of Australia, and from the great lakes of Africa to the savannahs of Central America, there were blank paces on the map which were an opprobrium to science and a challenge to human daring. Gradually, as the years rolled by, the limits of those terrae incognitae became somewhat contracted, whether by the slow march of commerce and civilisation, or the meteor-like passage of some daring passenger. The process, however, was slow, and they would hand down to their descendants a legacy of the unsolved riddles of nature almost as rich as we had inherited, which with increased appliances and modes of progression they might succeed in solving when their fathers had failed. In all the long and thrilling annals of travel and discovery there was nothing which could equal in dramatic interest the struggle made by the human race to reach the North Pole, and the desperate efforts during the past 200 years must strike the imagination of the most thoughtless. It was not a pleasing story, It was a record of blasted hopes and battled exertions; of crushed ships, starvation, scurvy, of privation, and too often of lonely graves far up in the dim twilight land. But there was a brighter side to the question, because was there not also a record of indomitable pluck, wonderful self-abnegation and devotion — a training-school for all that was high and godlike in man? The spectacle of a long sure succession of men who had crowded forward anxious to sacrifice their own individuality for the common good, risking their lives with a light heart in the interests of science, was surely one which pointed to something higher in human nature than pessimists would have them believe. Having given a description of the Arctic seas, much being from personal experience, Dr. Doyle proceeded to enter into the voyages made by the old Elizabethan captains, tracing in their order the various efforts of Davis, Batlin, Hudson, Parry, and others in their endeavours to reach the Pole, and adding additional interest by detailing the most salient points of these expeditions. Coming to the British expedition of 1875, he remarked that the present generation of English seamen had pushed their ships not only beyond those of their hardy Transatlantic and Continental rivals, but beyond the utmost limits reached by their forefathers, thus showing that in what some were pleased to call "these degenerate days" our seamen had shown themselves to be of the same mettle as of old, and even, the most inveterate landator temporis acti could hardly ignore such stubborn facts as degrees of latitude. Civilised man had of late years been within 399 1/2 miles of the Pole. Would he ever reach it? He saw no reason to doubt it; the question hinged on whether the remaining 390 miles were as bleak and as barren as those which had been traversed. He was inclined to hold the opinion that they were not, and that after a certain point the temperature would change for the better as they approached the Pole. He knew the opinion was scouted by many great. Arctic authorities, yet at the same time it was held by some of the whaling captains who had spent their lives in those seas. Amongst his reasons for so thinking was the statement of Morton, who actually saw the open water, and as that sea would be bounded by the ice, it would vary with the intensity of the season, sometimes being much encroached and sometimes expanded. Then ice had a uniformly southern drift, so there must be a clear space in the centre, and as the earth was not perfectly round, but flattened at the poles, those therefore were nearer the centre of the earth by an appreciable distance than we were. The nearer the centre of the earth was approached — in coal mines or otherwise — the higher was the temperature, consequently one would think that the immediate circumpolar region would receive an additional supply of heat from the centre of the earth, which might counteract the lack of heat from above. Having described whale catching and other interesting items in connection with the Arctic seas, Dr. Doyle asked whether the initial idea had been correct, and, whether the thing had been attempted in the manner which was most calculated to lead to success? That was open to doubt, but it was a fact that all the ice in the Arctic seas drifted southward, and if they examined the geography of those seas the very first thing that struck them was that Smith's Sound and Kennedy Channel was the very worst highway possible to a northern latitude. Why should that approach to the Pole be chosen in preference to the broad room between Greenland and Spitzbergen, where there was a fine expanse of sea, in which the floes had plenty of room to circulate? If the winter, however, were a hard one and the summer mild there would, he granted, be little chance of success, but if the reverse were the case, he thought it certainly a better highway. If the Government wished to reach the Pole they should go to no expense in elaborate preparations, but commission one of the many suitable cruisers belonging to the nation and make use of few of the gallant officers on half-pay. Let the vessel perform the voyage every year, starting about the middle of June, and on reaching the ice barrier, stears along and look at it and not commit the error of running the ship into the first fields arrived at. They would probably come back unsuccessful in two months, but let them go next year and the next, and sooner or later there must come in warm reason with violent gales from the north splitting up the barriers. Then was the chance, and could an opening be found too days' steaming would take them to the Pole. He thought the Government should put a reward of at least £30,000 for the discovery, and though some might ask the good in reaching it, he would reply that that was a narrow minded view of the matter, as such attempts kept up the spirit and pride of a nation. Economists and utilitarians might argue as they pleased, but he knew that a glow of pride and joy would fill the hearts of the great Anglo-Saxon race when the day came (as he believed it would) when the flag they all loved should be holsted on the northernmost pinnacle of the earth.

The PRESIDENT moved a vote of thanks to the lecturer, and said a point which had struck him very much was the idea put forward by Dr. Doyle of there being an open space up to the Pole. He had always entertained that idea himself, he did not quite agree about the heat being greater at the Poles in consequence of their being nearer the centre of the earth, because it was a moot question whether there was that increase of heat in the earth which some of the old theorists thought. He should like to know the opinion of the lecturer as to whether there had been a sufficient amount of use made of stationary balloons, as by their means he thought a very much better track might be selected than going windly on as they now had to do. Another interesting point was as to the use of the Pole if found. Well, they could never tell the use of a discovery until it was made. (Hear, hear.) He believed it would be, especially by that practical suggestion of the lecturer of going every year. — The HON. SECRETARY seconded the vote, and said few would credit the number of Polar expeditions which had been made, but he believed there had been between 200 and 3000 explorations to find out the North-West passage. The number of expeditions to discover the Pole had been much less than those which had commercial purposes for their object. He endorsed the observation of the Chairman that the explorations did an immense amount of good (Hear.) All knowledge was power, and physiological science would amongst others gain advantages by such explorations and discoveries. There was one important matter which had been proved and that was that the severe temperature of the Arctic seas could be endured without the use of alcohol (hear, hear), so that if abstainers had no other argument than that it would be a very strong one indeed. — The Rev. Dr. COLBORNE said he believed coal fields had been found in the high Arctic regions, and if so it must argue that at some period of the earth's existence there had been a higher temperature for the existence of plants from which the coal was formed. Then again, from must race did the natives of Greenland spring. Were they the remnants of an aboriginal race:— The conclusion was then carried , and Dr. DOYLE, in reply, said coal fields were found in Greenland and Spitzbergen, and there were evidences of a very of a very high temperature in times gone by, but the amount of research by scientific men did not justify any very hard and fast lines being drawn on the subject. As to the natives, he believed the several concession of scientific opinion was that many thousand years ago all --- was inhabited by a race of Esquimaux, who were gradually overwhelmed. As so stationary balloons for making observations he thought it a most excellent idea. (Hear, hear.) — The meeting then separated.