Dangerous Work: Diary of an Arctic Adventure

Arthur Conan Doyle

Language: English

Pages: 368

ISBN: 022600905X

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

In 1880 a young medical student named Arthur Conan Doyle embarked upon the “first real outstanding adventure” of his life, taking a berth as ship’s surgeon on an Arctic whaler, the Hope. The voyage took him to unknown regions, showered him with dramatic and unexpected experiences, and plunged him into dangerous work on the ice floes of the Arctic seas. He tested himself, overcame the hardships, and, as he wrote later, “came of age at 80 degrees north latitude.”

Conan Doyle’s time in the Arctic provided powerful fuel for his growing ambitions as a writer. With a ghost story set in the Arctic wastes that he wrote shortly after his return, he established himself as a promising young writer. A subsequent magazine article laying out possible routes to the North Pole won him the respect of Arctic explorers. And he would call upon his shipboard experiences many times in the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, who was introduced in 1887’s A Study in Scarlet.
Out of sight for more than a century was a diary that Conan Doyle kept while aboard the whaler. Dangerous Work: Diary of an Arctic Adventure makes this account available for the first time in a beautiful facsimile edition that reproduces Conan Doyle’s notebook pages in his own elegant hand, accompanied by his copious illustrations. With humor and grace, Conan Doyle provides a vivid account of a long-vanished way of life at sea. His careful detailing of the experience of arctic whaling is equal parts fascinating and alarming, revealing the dark workings of the later days of the British whaling industry. In addition to the facsimile and annotated transcript of the diary, the volume contains photographs of the Hope, its captain, and a young Conan Doyle on deck with its officers; two nonfiction pieces by Doyle about his experiences; and two of his tales inspired by the journey.
To the end of his life, Conan Doyle would look back on this experience with awe: “You stand on the very brink of the unknown,” he declared, “and every duck that you shoot bears pebbles in its gizzard which come from a land which the maps know not. It was a strange and fascinating chapter of my life.” Only now can the legion of Conan Doyle fans read and enjoy that chapter.

A special limited, numbered edition of the clothbound book is also available. In addition, a text-only e-book edition is published as Dangerous Work: Diary of an Arctic Adventure, Text-only Edition.

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think we will see ice before tomorrow. We can tell that we are under the lea of ice by the calm. Captain told me about some curious dreams of his, notably about the Germans and the black heifers. Wednesday March 17th Dies creta notanda.68 About five o’clock I heard the second mate tell the Captain that we were among the ice. He got up but I was too lazy. Passed a Norwegian about 8 o’clock. When we rose at nine the keen fresh air told me it was freezing. I went on deck and there was the ice. It

oblivion. Nothing doing. Fog in the evening. Lat 79.10 North at noon. Played cards in evening. Sunday May 30th Captain David came aboard in the morning and expressed great dissatisfaction at the state of the ice, in fact he said he had never seen it worse. Dr. Walker came afterwards with a logbook for me which the Captain very kindly sent. In the morning we espied two objects swimming near the ice, which the Captain made out to be two ground seals, a rare variety, nearly as large as

in every mind. He is nearing it, and it still lies motionless – nearer yet and nearer. Now he is standing up to his gun and has dropped his oar – “Three strokes, boys!” he says as he turns his quid in his cheek, and then there is a bang and a foaming of waters and a shouting, and then up goes the little red flag in Carner’s boat and the whale line runs out merrily. But the whale is far from taken because it is struck. The moment the Jack appeared in the boat there was a shout of “a fall” on

crow’s-nest at the top of the main-mast, one can see no end of them. On the furthest visible ice one can still see that sprinkling of pepper grains. And the young lie everywhere also, snow-white slugs, with a little black nose and large, dark eyes. Their half-human cries fill the air; and when you are sitting in the cabin of a ship which is in the heart of the seal-pack, you would think you were next door to a monstrous nursery. The Hope was one of the first to find the seal-pack that year, but

him unimagined sights and experiences, and plunged him into dangerous and bloody work on the ice floes of the Arctic seas. He worked harder under more difficult circumstances than he ever had before, he argued philosophy and religion with his shipmates, and he dodged death on more than one occasion. It proved to be, he said, “the first real outstanding adventure of my life.” “It came about in this way,” he explained years later in his autobiography, Memories and Adventures: One raw afternoon in

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