An excerpt from Arthur Conan Doyle’s never-before-published Arctic diary (A Week in the Life)
From Dangerous Work: Diary of an Arctic Adventure, copublished by the British Library and the University of Chicago Press, which makes public for the first time Arthur Conan Doyle’s notebook and sketches from his time as a twenty-one-year-old ship’s surgeon on an Arctic whaler
NB: Seals are clubbed.
Thursday April 15th
Beautifully fine day but we did a poor day’s work, about 46 I sink. Assisted in shooting 2 bladders. They took five balls each. A pretty little bird with a red tuft on its head, rather larger than a sparrow came and fluttered about the boats. No one had ever seen on e like it before. Rather a long beak, feet not webbed, white underneath, with a “pea-wheet—pea-wheet.” A sort of Snowflake. Georgey Grant got his trousers torn by a young Sea Elephant in the evening.
Friday April 16th
Steamed hard to the North West all day to see if we could see anything of the seals. Failed in seeing many, and only picked up half a dozen. Jack Buchan shot a hawk in the evening which the Captain with his eagle eye discerned upon a hummock, and detected even at that great distance to be a hawk. About 18 inches high with beautifully speckled plummage.
[3 DRAWINGS: “My idea of a hawk,” “The Captain’s idea of a hawk,” AND “The prey the Captain’s hawk is looking out for.”]
Saturday April 17th
Nothing doing all day. Only half a dozen seals again. We are steering South now with the Iceberg, a Norwegian. If we could only make it thirty tons I wd be satisfied. We have about 28 now I think. 26 degrees of frost today. Had singing in the evening in the mates’ berth.
[DRAWING ‘Saturdya’s Night at Sea, April 17th/80.’]
I began a poem on tobacco which I think is not bad. I never can finish them. Ce n’est que la derniére pas qui coute.
Sunday April 18th
A snowy drizzly kind of day. Shot a seal in the morning off the bows; it was just sticking its head over the water. Saw two large sea birds, “Burgomasters” they are called. Went to a Methodist meeting in the evening conducted by Johnny McLeod the engineer, he read a sermon from an evangelical magazine and then we sang a hymn together. Argued afterwards with him.
Monday April 19th
Started stuffing our hawk this morning, or rather skinning it, for that is all I can do having no wires. I opened the stomach, then got out the legs to the knees and the humeri, and then inverted the whole body through the hole, cleaning out the brain, and removing everything except the skull. The result was satisfactory. We got a few bladders today, and are going North now to the old sealing. The Captain seems not to like the look of the ice at all.
[DRAWING “A Snap Shot”]
Tuesday April 20th
Nothing doing all day. Didn’t take a single seal. Sailed and steamed to the North East. 72:30 today. Cleaned a couple of seal’s flippers for tobacco pouches, rubbed alum all over our hawk’s skin.
Wednesday April 21st
Absolutely nothing to do except grumble, so we did that. A most disagreeable day with a nasty cross sea and swell. No seals and nothing but misery. Felt seedy all day. Was knocked out of bed at 1 AM to see a man forwards with palpitations of the heart. That didn’t improve my temper.