The Caledonian Book 2 Search for the Northwest Passage

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The Caledonian (Historical Fiction, Writing Award 2023)
Manuscript Type
Golden Writer
Logline or Premise
Having survived the American revolution, rebel Scot McGregor is castaway on an island near Alaska having had a run in with a Russian ship's captain. He is rescued by Captain Cook who is on his last voyage of discovery and Lachie sails with him to witness his death in Hawaii then continues exploring.
First 10 Pages



‘It is certain that I have quitted an easy retirement, for an active, and perhaps dangerous voyage. My present disposition is more favourable to the latter than the former, and I embark on as fair a prospect as I can wish.

If I am fortunate to get safe home, there’s no doubt but it will be greatly to my advantage.’

Letter by Captain James Cook to John Walker, discussing his proposed third voyage of discovery. 14th Feb. 1776

Introduction by Benjamin Franklin

Like most people my age, I dare say that I can remember with precise clarity, the very day and time I came to hear of the untimely death of Britain’s, nay, the world’s greatest explorer and cartographer - Captain James Cook.

As it transpired, it was January the 12th, 1780, (a Wednesday), and I just so happened to be in Paris, where I was part of an exploratory delegation, there to discuss the possible purchase of that great swarth of land to the south of the American colonies, known as Louisiana, from the French government.

As I recall, it had been a fairly intensive morning, mainly taken up with meeting with a string of French dignitaries, all of whom seemed to be representing various titled nobility, many of whom claimed to have large estates and plantations within the area in question, and all keen to ensure their benefactor’s best interests were accounted for, in the course of any possible transaction and ensuing financial compensation.

We had just adjourned to take a cup of coffee (as only the Parisians can make) when my very good friend, Doctor Claude Venables, ran into the garden, where it was obvious to all that he was in a state of great distress, and throwing himself down on one knee, had cried out,

“Il est mort. Assassiné par les indigènes qu'il aimait tant!” (He is dead. Murdered by the very natives whom he so loved!).

One of our party was quick to call out,

“Who? Who, Sir, is dead?”

Whereupon the good doctor, weeping openly had cried out,

“Cook. Ze great Captain Cook est mort.”

Although he lost his life at the hands of the Ha-Why-Ee King Kalani'opu'u, at Kealakekua Bay on the 14th February of the previous year, it was not until Cook’s successor (Captain Clerke) reached the remote town of Petropavlovsk in the Arctic Circle, where he entrusted a letter detailing Cook’s demise to local Russian officials, where it was then carried across the breadth of Siberia and Russia, before finally arriving at St. Petersburg, and thence on to British officials at Royal Admiralty House, London, where it finally arrived on January 10th, 1780.

Therefore, you can well imagine my astonishment, when I learned later in that same year, that my old friend the wild Caledonian, Lachlan McGregor, (the very same McGregor who had recently played such a pivotal role in the Colonies’ French and Indian wars) had somehow found himself amongst the crew of Cook’s ship The Resolution, and was in fact, one of the few survivors to have witnessed Cook’s untimely demise, first hand.

All this I was to learn later, when McGregor and I were to cross paths at a Hogmanay celebration, on New Year’s Eve of that same year, at an estate not far from McGregor’s home country near Loch Lomond, where McGregor was lying low, due to the fact that he believed there still to be several warrants out for his arrest.

After remaking his acquaintance and making him aware of the acclaim my previous book, covering the exploits in his earlier journal, had received (in both the Americas and on the Continent), he once again let slip that he had indeed, also kept a journal of his time with Cook, and his expedition to discover a possible northwest passage.

We parted company the following morning, but not before McGregor had assured me that his latest journal was possessed of all of the thrilling exploits, near death experiences, exotic native customs, murder, torture, mayhem, and Indian princesses, as his previous memoire, and I had secured a promise from him to forward me a copy when I was back in Philadelphia.

I had half forgotten that promise, when several months later, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a bound leather journal, containing McGregor’s usual neat, but spidery handwriting, accompanied by a beautifully carved walrus tusk, depicting several fascinating scrimshaw scenes of Inuit life, all wrapped up in a beautifully treated piece of white seal skin.

It now gives me great pleasure, dear reader, to render once again, a summary of the highlights of McGregor’s enthralling journal, for your reading pleasure. As I have said previously, I do hope I do him, and the resilient peoples of the frozen American northwest, justice.

Ben Franklin


Philadelphia, 1782

Chapter 1

Aleutian Islands June 1778

‘The expedition sighted Unalaska in the Aleutian Islands, where a landing was made.’ (Ship’s log, The Resolution)

The four men had spent the afternoon bailing the longboat with whatever was at hand. A leaky wooden bucket, a beaver pelt hat, and even a boot, but the small craft had continued to take on water, and now, as the icy sea rose up over their knees, they could see the boat’s plimsoll line slowing slipping beneath the waves, and knew they had little time before the craft would become fully engulfed, and the freezing temperatures would quickly cause their exhausted bodies to shut down.

Earlier that day, their original mission had seemed mundane enough – accompany Cook’s personal surgeon (and part time Botanist) Dr. David Samwell, as he explored a wide bay to the north of their ship The Resolution’s current anchorage, while at the same time, keeping an eye out for potential resources such as a freshwater stream, firewood, and perhaps even some small game for the cooking pot.

The captain had assigned John Ledyard, a twenty-seven-year-old Connecticut Yankee, who liked to style himself as an ‘explorer and adventurer’, to take charge of the little expedition, while two crewmen, Able Seaman Randolf and cabin boy Thomas Creighton (in anticipation of a day’s skylarking) had volunteered to come along to man the oars.

Now, realising how perilous was their situation, Ledyard cast his eyes about, and saw to his great relief, a tiny islet of black rock, rising no more than the height of a man, and no broader than several paces long, rising from the water some thirty metres off their starboard bow.

With a shout of relief, Ledyard pulled hard on the tiller, and was pleased to see that for once in his life, the current was running with him, and endearing his men to ‘row like the very devil himself is behind ye’, both he and the ship’s surgeon had lent their hands to the oars, as they pulled with all their might, and slowly inched the floundering craft towards their only safe haven in a sea of ice.

The going was slow and painful, with several large chunks of ice remaining from the winter freeze, repeatedly blocking, and buffeting the bow of their craft.

Eventually, their industry paid off, and as they came within a few metres of the rocky outcrop, Thomas, the cabin boy grabbed a line that was attached to the bow and leapt agilely upon the ground, before quickly securing the rope to a large, jagged boulder.

“Well done, Lad!” cried out Samwell, the ship’s surgeon. “At least that’ll stop her from going under. When we’re back on the ship, remind me to issue you an extra measure of rum.”

“Gawd, I could fair murder a rum right now.” Exclaimed Randall, as he flung his legs over the side of the boat and scrambled on to the wet rock.

“Aye, couldn’t we all,” Called out Ledyard, “Although right now, I’d happily swap a gallon of rum for a dry pair of trousers, and a warm fire.”

This caused Randall to scoff, and mutter through chattering teeth,

“Didn’t think I’d live to see the day you’d swap a pint o’ rum for anything, let alone a pair of trousers, Mr Ledyard.”

Then added mischievously, “Lessen they were on a music hall strumpet, and you were trying to get ‘em off her.”

While the other men managed a chuckle, the very prim Samwell who didn’t take to such bawdy talk, evidenced a scowl, and keen to change the subject, said,

“Right gentlemen, while providence has temporarily smiled upon us, I’ve no idea how long we’ll have to sit it out on this rock until someone notices our tardiness and sends out a search party.”

Removing his stovepipe hat, he went on,

“Therefore, I recommend we take what course of action we can to stave off freezing to death, and to that end, I suggest that while there’s still some sun left, you all remove what wet clothes you can and wring them out before redressing.”

Ledyard, who was still standing in the bow of the longboat, handed up the double-barrelled musket they had brought with them (which had only been loaded with birdshot), and grabbing a small flask of fresh water, climbed over the bow, and dropped to his knees with a loud sigh, tearing the knee out of his britches and drawing some blood, as he hit the hard gravel beneath him.

As he made to get to his feet, he noticed several piles of fishy excrement scattered amongst the rocks, and indicating it with his chin, said,

“See that, gents? If I’m not mistaken, that’s walrus shit, and it appears that we are trespassing on their little island.”

The others all muttered, and looking down, shuffled their feet as they realised the ground was thick with it.

“I dare say I hope the captain sends out a scouting party to look for us, before whatever bull and his harem calls this rock home, comes a calling.” Added Ledyard.

“Indeed.” Replied Samwell, looking concerned, “I’ve heard they can become quite feisty if you get between them and their wives.”

Randall stepped forward, and grabbing up the musket that was leaning against a rock, said,

“In that case, I’ll take the first watch. The last thing I need right now is one a them walrus tusks up me arse.”

The little group had spent the rest of the afternoon huddled together, intermittently reminiscing about the simple pleasures they missed from home and grabbing a few minutes uncomfortable sleep whenever they could.

Their musings were suddenly interrupted, when Thomas, the cabin boy, whose turn it was to now keep watch, suddenly stood up straight, and straining his eyes, called out in a loud whisper,

“Mister Samwell, Sir, are my eyes playing tricks on me, or is that a dog over on yon ice flow?”

Samwell roused himself, and drawing a small telescope from his greatcoat pocket, cast it in the general direction the boy was pointing.

The others watched in anticipation as he swung the spyglass back and forwards across the white horizon, mumbling to himself that the boy must be seeing things, when he suddenly froze and let out a loud gasp.

Turning to the boy, his face now decidedly ashen, the normally staid doctor said, with panic rising in his voice,

“That’s no dog, boy, that’s an Ursus Maritimus…”

“A what?” Replied the boy. Looking confused.

“A bear, lad. A fecking polar bear.”

Then, putting the glass back to his eye, said under his breath,

“And bless my soul, he’s headed straight at us.”

At the mention of the words ‘polar bear’, the little group had been galvanised into action, with Ledyard jumping to his feet and wrenching the musket from the boy’s hands, while Randall struggled to get his partially dried stockings and boots back on.

Thomas, who hadn’t taken his eyes off the horizon, suddenly turned to Ledyard, saying with some relief,

“It’s alright, Sir. It appears as if he’s disappeared now.”

Causing Samwell to raise his spyglass to his eye again, where he scanned to horizon for several minutes, then with a gasp, said,

“Not disappeared, son, he’s just come closer.”

They all raced to the edge of the tiny islet, and let out a synchronised moan, as they saw the bear had now scrambled on to an ice flow at least 20 metres closer to them.

The 1500lb super predator, had only average eyesight, but possessed superior olfactory senses that allowed it to detect a seal up to a mile away, even under three foot of ice. And at this moment, the mammals it had detected on the rocky outcrop, thanks to Ledyard’s bloody knee, would serve just as well as any seal to sate the gnawing hunger that clutched at its half-starved belly.

The little group’s focus was fixed upon the flat ocean around them, when they heard a distinct low growl, followed by a loud snort of water, as the bear surfaced again, now not more than ten metres from them, where it hauled itself up on to the nearby ice flow with a single motion that belied its weight and size.

At this distance they could clearly see the steam rising from its wet body, and young Thomas shuddered visibly, as the bear sniffed the air, then staring straight at him, locked on to his face with its dead, black, eyes.

Ledyard now stepped forward, and cocking the musket, said,

“Brace yourselves, gentlemen. It appears as if our little redoubt is about to be breached.”

Shuffling backwards towards the furthest side of the outcrop, they huddled together behind Ledyard, and as they did so, a light snow began to fall.

The surgeon, Samwell, pious as ever, fell to his knees, and clasping his hands together, cried out,

“Jessus, Mary, and Joseph. If ever we needed a miracle, now is the time, oh Lord God.” Then began to pray fervently in his native Welsh.

While Randall had the presence of mind to grab up one of the oars that were floating inside the hull of the partially submerged longboat.

An eery silence now settled over them. So much so that Ledyard could clearly hear the boy’s teeth chattering.

For what seemed like an eternity, they stood there, huddled together in silent anticipation, clutching handfuls of each other’s sleeves and clothing in a pointless effort to create a solid shield of resistance.

After a few minutes of dead silence, Thomas half turned to Samwell, and whispered,

“Perhaps your praying scared him off, Sir?”

Samwell had opened his mouth to reply, when there was a sudden roar, as the beast leapt from the water and pounced. A white blurred mass of pelt, huge teeth, and claws.

The bear was upon them in two quick strides, so close that Ledyard could smell its fetid breath, and clearly see the green moss along its back.

Raising the musket to his shoulder, Ledyard took aim and squeezed off a shot, wherein they heard a distinct click, but no explosion. He quickly sought to fire off the second barrel, but again was only rewarded with a loud click.

Cursing loudly, Ledyard cried out,

“The damned powder is wet!” and turning the musket in his hand, attempted to swat it at the bear’s head with the butt of the gun.

If the blow had any effect on the bear, it didn’t show it, and with a savage roar, it bit down on young Thomas’ arm, and spinning, jumped back into the water and swam back to the nearby ice flow, holding the boy firmly in its teeth as easily as Springer Spaniel would a downed duck.

With a grunt, the bear pulled the boy’s still living body up on to the ice, and unmoved by his hysterical screams, began ripping out his vital organs, swallowing large chunks of flesh whole.

For the survivors on the little islet, the next few minutes were some of the most horrific they had ever endured, forced as they were to stand and listen to the boy’s cries of terror as the bear slowly devoured him alive.

As the boy’s cries died off, the bear looked across at them, its face and chest now bright red with fresh blood, and it paused to sniff the air.

The bear rose, and then slipping back into the icy black sea, disappeared below the water once more.

“Surely the beast is sated?” Said Anderson, with a shudder.

There was silence again, and for a moment, there was a sense that the danger may have passed.

Leaning his weight against the oar, Randall crossed himself, and said,

“As god is my witness, I never want to see anything like that ever again.” Then, cautiously stepping forward towards the edge of the rocks, peered down into the water to see what might lay below.

Ledyard was about to caution his recklessness, when there was another mighty roar, and the beast sprang once again from the sea as gracefully as a cat, and before Randall had time to react, the bear latched its jaws onto his face and began dragging him towards the water.

Randall tried to raise the oar to swing at the bear, but his actions were ineffectual, and as the bear continued to drag him towards the water, Ledyard stepped forward and grabbing the other end of the oar, tried to use it to drag Randall back towards him, while crying out,

“Hold fast, man!”

But the bear had Randall’s face in its mouth, and it was all Randall could do to stare back at him with terrified eyes, a wet gurgle emanating from his throat, before there was a sickening crunch, as Randall’s head collapsed between the immense pressure of the bear’s jaws.

Again, the bear slipped back into the water. Randall’s crushed face held fast in its jaws, before appearing once more on the ice flow meters from them.

This time the bear didn’t stop to consume any part of the now dead Randall’s corpse, but instead, dropped his body beside the bloody mess that had recently been the boys, and plunged back into the water once more.

“Lord God! Is there no end to this horror!” Cried out Samwell. “He appears to be stockpiling his catch.”

Turning to the surgeon, Ledyard braced himself, and held the oar up, ready to defend himself to the end, growling,

“Of all the means on God’s earth, I daren’t not ever thought my death would come at the hands of a giant snow bear. May God have mercy on our souls.”

Samwell, now too paralysed with fear to act, merely fell back to his knees and bowing his head, returned to his praying.

With barely a sound, the great beast rose from beneath the water once again, and rearing up on to its hind legs, began to menacingly walk towards the two men, its snarl exposing its huge canine teeth.

Ledyard could clearly see the blood spattered across its muzzle and chest and bracing one end of the oar against his boot, readied himself for the final onslaught.

The bear now towered over him, roaring menacingly, and for a single moment, Ledyard was both enthralled and terrified by its obvious power and the magnificent musculature of the beast. As the bear let out a mighty roar, it suddenly let out a more high-pitched sound, almost a yelp, and began trying to furiously paw and bite at its own shoulder.

This was followed by a loud explosion, and Ledyard gasped as he saw the bear’s head explode in a shower of blood and brain matter, causing it to topple forwards upon him. As the bear fell at his feet, he distinctly saw the shafts of two arrows planted deeply in its back, near to where its heart would be.

Ledyard tried to rise, but was overcome with shock, and fell back, closing his eyes and gasping in disbelief.

When he opened his eyes, he saw a hand held out before him, and looking up with a start, looked into the face of a man, his head covered in a white sealskin hood, and his eyes obscured by an odd mask of what looked like bone with small slits in them, that had been formed into a makeshift set of goggles, designed to minimise the glare of the sun coming off the ice.

Taking the man’s hand, and allowing himself to be helped to his feet, he saw that the strange apparition was accompanied by a similarly dressed individual, a good head taller than the first, only this one had a bow in his hand, and a quiver full of arrows across his back, rather than a musket.

He turned and called out to the ship’s surgeon who was still huddled in prayer, saying,

“God be praised, Mister Samwell, it appears that we’ve been saved.”

Samwell looked up, and seeing the strange garb of their saviours, fell back in surprise, cursing in Welsh and sure that he’d obviously died and gone to some strange icy heaven.

Ledyard was quick to reassure him, and helping him to his feet, turned to thank the strangers as best he could.

Realising they must be local Inuit, he summoned up what few words of the language he had learned, and opening his arms broadly, said,

“Ahh-tee-lee-hi” (greetings)

Then pointing at the bear at his feet, said,

“Nanook.” (Bear) and followed that up with “Na-koor-mi.” (Thank you).

The two men stared at him stoney-faced, and thinking that perhaps they spoke a different dialogue from their brethren to the south, he tried one last time,

“Too-kee-see-veet?” (Do you understand?)

Again, the pair gave offered no reaction, so he tried again, only this time enunciating each syllable slowly, as if talking to a small child.


The shorter of the two men continued staring at him in silence for what seemed an eternity, then resting the butt of his still smoking musket on the ground, he pulled off his goggles, then flipped his hood back off his head, releasing a tumble of long, red hair, and speaking in an unmistakable thick Scot’s brogue, said,

“Och, of course I ken feckin’ understand ye, I didn’t come doon in the last shower, man…it’s just that we ain’t used ta hearing the local dialect being butchered oot of the mouths of Englishmen.”