ESKIMAUX AND ENGLISH VOCABULARY, For the Use of the Arctic Expedition. Published by Order of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty.

First edition, first printing. Oblong 8vo. Original black cloth with titles in gilt to the upper cover and anchor design in blind to the rear. A very good copy, the binding firm with a minor area of loss to the cloth to the upper cover near the spine and a little rubbing to the extremities. The contents, with a contemporary ownership inscription (ending "***** Island / Black Sea / Dec. 1856") partially erased to the front pastedown, the first free front endpaper excised, a few small pencil annotations to one text page at the rear and a little toning to page edges, are otherwise in good order and clean throughout. Housed in a bespoke quarter black morocco solander case.

A rare field guide to the Eskimaux language designed for the use of Arctic explorers and published with the specific purpose of assisting those in search of John Franklin's famous, ill-fated last expedition which had disappeared five years before. As its author, John Washington (1800-1863), a Royal Navy officer and founding member of the Royal Geographical Society of London, states in the preface: "the following Vocabulary is compiled for the use of the Arctic Expeditions fitted out at the expense of the British Government to carry relief to Sir John Franklin and his companions. It was begun specially with a view to the Behring Strait Expedition, as we learn from the accounts of Cook, Kotzebue and Beechey, that much intercourse took place during these voyages with the natives of the north-western coast of North America. It may prove useful to the Expedition about to sail for Lancaster Sound". A practical work, it was designed "to furnish every officer and leading man in the Arctic expeditions with a book of ready reference that he can carry in his pocket without inconvenience", providing an overview of Eskimaux grammar and listing many hundreds of useful words and phrases, translating these from English into three categories of Inuit dialect: "Labrador, or Eastern", "Winter Island and Iglúlik, or Central", and "Kotzebue Sound, or Western". It also contains specimen dialogues, including sections titled: "On first meeting with natives", "Enquiries as to strange ships", "Enquiries as to the coast, ice, food, sledges, dogs, &c.", "Notice of reward for news of missing ships" and "Dialogue with a sick man". Within these an explorer could learn how to translate phrases such as "I want to buy twelve good dogs" and "We are going to travel over the ice / Will you go with us as a guide?". Particularly striking are the examples specifically relating to the search for the Franklin expedition: "We are in search of two English ships / Which have been five years in the ice / Have you heard anything of such ships? / Make it known among all the Eskimos or Innuit / That the Queen of England will give a large reward / To any of the Innuit who will bring news of them". Notably, in 1854, it was indeed through talking with Inuit hunters that the Scottish explorer John Rae became the first to learn of the expedition's fate - how both ships had become icebound and how the men, after attempting to reach safety on foot, had succumbed to cold, with some even resorting to cannibalism. The partially erased inscription in the present copy is difficult to decipher, although during this period Washington, first as deputy then as principal Hydrographer of the Royal Navy, had been tasked with gathering information as to the state of the Russian Baltic Fleet and so its reference to the Black Sea likely indicates that it belonged to one of his colleagues similarly involved in monitoring or combating the Russian Navy during the period of the Crimean War. As reflected by its rarity, it was certainly a book of which only a small number of copies were produced and these would have largely found themselves in the hands of those directly involved in naval exploration. An essential piece of kit for the nineteenth century polar explorer, and a fascinating and evocative piece of Arctic history. (Sabin 101906; Tourville 4750; Wickersham 2737).

Stock code: 24079


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London: John Murray.


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