National Maritime Museum Manuscripts : Experiments on the temperature of animals made by Fisher on Parry's expedition, 1821-1823

National Maritime Museum Manuscripts

<p> <a href='/search?keyword=George%20Fisher'>George Fisher</a> was recommended by the <a href='/search?keyword=Royal%20Society'>Royal Society</a> for <a href='/search?keyword=Captain%20William%20Parry'>Captain William Parry</a>’s 1821 voyage to the Arctic and was appointed acting Chaplin and astronomer on board <a href='/search?keyword=HMS%20Fury'> <i>HMS Fury</i> </a> which sailed in convoy with <a href='/search?keyword=HMS%20Hecla'> <i>HMS Hecla</i> </a> captained by <a href='/search?keyword=George%20Francis%20Lyon'>George Francis Lyon</a>. Leaving in April of 1821 both ships sailed for the northwest end of the <a href='/search?keyword=Hudson%20Bay'>Hudson Bay</a>. Many of the Fisher volumes are notebooks and papers from this voyage, including these experiments on the temperature of animals.</p> <p>In this particular notebook we find Fisher’s thoughts [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(1);return false;'>1</a>] on the adaptation of arctic animals to ‘the extreme vigour of such a climate'. Fisher writes in this volume that he conducted around twenty experiments upon different quadrupeds including the wolf, fox and hare as well as the esquimaux dog bred by the local population. The notebook also contains tables [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(15);return false;'>15</a>] comparing the temperature of various native species compared to the temperature of the air and concludes that, unexpectedly, the temperature of the animals exceeds that of the native birds by at least a degree. Fisher also monitored the depleting temperature of the animals after they had been shot; noting that one hare in particular retained its pre-death temperature for at least ten minutes after death. The final data and conclusions [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(17);return false;'>17</a>] regarding the average temperature of various native species during winter months in the Arctic are neatly written up towards the back of the notebook. Fisher also speculates [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(16);return false;'>16</a>] on comparisons with human ability to deal with exposure, noting sudden increases in his own pulse when moving from a warm environment on the ship to full arctic exposure. He also measured the pulsation [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(17);return false;'>17</a>] of Lieutenants <a href='/search?keyword=Palmer'>Palmer</a> and <a href='/search?keyword=Reid'>Reid</a>, who assisted Fisher in his work, both during the voyage from <a href='/search?keyword=England'>England</a> and in various temporary observatories in the <a href='/search?keyword=Arctic'>Arctic</a>.</p> <p>These writings by Fisher also contain commentaries on the diets of local men, women and children. Fisher noted [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(5);return false;'>5</a>] that a frequent and often fatal complaint was obstruction of the bowel which he speculated was caused by the quantity of meat in their diets, having only observed the occasional consumption of sorrel and other plants. More generally there are also observations [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(5);return false;'>5</a>] of the protection offered by snow coverage for vegetation to survive the winter temperatures and winds.</p> <p>Finally in furtherance to his work on the action of iron on the rates of chronometers, done on his previous voyage and published in the <i>Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society</i> in 1820, Fisher gives an account of some experiments regarding the deviation of a needle suspended by the balance spring of a watch done during this second voyage. In this notebook we are given only a rough summary of his conclusion that cold also induces deflection in the needle and therefore most likely the interior of a chronometer. Measurements of the needle's deflections were also conducted during the Aurora Borealis and for unmentioned reasons ‘no result was ever obtained to justify any conclusion’ regarding its effects. Fisher describes the Aurora rather poetically making the notebook seem more like a diary of personal thoughts and observations; that and the lack of numerical results, (there is one page at the back of the book [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(15);return false;'>15</a>]), suggests that this notebook was a more private one for personal observations in comparison to other volumes composed on this voyage.</p> <p>Sophie Waring<br />History and Philosophy of Science<br />University of Cambridge<br /> </p>


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