Hubert Darrell was a man who understood thoroughly the principle of “doing in Rome as the Romans do,” and he had on many occasions, to my knowledge, in the past applied that principle so well that he was as safe as an Eskimo in his wanderings about the country; and really safer by far, for he had learned all the Eskimo had to teach him, and added to that knowledge the superiority of the white man's trained mind, and a natural energy and resourcefulness that are rare among men of any race.
January 1, 1901
My Life with the Eskimo - Chapter 23
Man The Fat Hunter
Another piece of news which did not then bear the aspect of tragedy was that an Englishman, Hubert Darrell, had not reached Fort Macpherson after having visited the Baillie Islands in the fall of 1910. When Dr. Anderson repeated this piece of news to me we discussed it and agreed, as we still do, that Darrell was a man who would not have starved under ordinary circumstances, and we therefore felt sure that he had turned up alive and well somewhere or other unless sickness or accident had overtaken him. Darrell was a man who understood thoroughly the principle of “doing in Rome as the Romans do,” and he had on many occasions, to my knowledge, in the past applied that principle so well that he was as safe as an Eskimo in his wanderings about the country; and really safer by far, for he had learned all the Eskimo had to teach him, and added to that knowledge the superiority of the white man's trained mind, and a natural energy and resourcefulness that are rare among men of any race.
Although it was not until a year later that we became certain that the travels of Darrell over the northland of Canada had come to a tragic ending, I shall insert here a brief sketch of the man and his work. He was one that did not advertise, and although some of the most wonderful journeys ever performed in Arctic lands were done by him, the world would probably never have heard much of them even had he lived a longer time.
Darrell had come from England as a young man and owned a farm in Manitoba. I think it was the gold rush to the Yukon that first drew him thence to the North, although at that time he did not go much beyond Great Slave Lake, where he spent some time with the half caste and Indian hunters and travelers. He had already learned their ways when David T. Hanbury came there in 1901 and induced Darrell to join him on a trip eastward from Slave Lake to Chesterfield Inlet.
After spending the winter near Hudson Bay, a party consisting of Hanbury, Darrell, a third man named Sandy Ferguson, and about twenty Eskimo went inland, crossing north over Back's Great Fish River to the Arctic coast, following the coast west to the Coppermine River and ascending it to Dismal Lake, and there crossing over the divide which separates the waters of the Arctic Ocean from those of Great Bear Lake. Here the Eskimo turned back in August, and on their way home incidentally paid a visit to Captain Amundsen when he was wintering on King William Island, while the three white men proceeded by canoe across Great Bear Lake to the Mackenzie River. This was a journey of more than seven months in which the entire party had lived wholly on the country. It was Hanbury's last trip, but not so with Darrell.
I met Darrell first at Shingle Point on the Arctic coast, just west of the Mackenzie River, when I was spending my first winter among the Eskimo (1906–1907), and when he was on his way guiding a party of mounted policemen from Herschel Island to Fort Mcpherson. That was always his way. He was about as new to that country as the policemen were, but still he was a competent guide, for he never lost his head, and after all, in most places in the North it is not difficult to find your way if you keep your wits about you.
It was the winter before I saw him that he had made one of his most wonderful journeys. That winter Captain Amundsen with the Gjoa was wintering at King Point, halfway between the Mackenzie River and Herschel Island. In the fall of 1905 Captain Amund sen, as the guest of some whalers, traveled south in their company across the Endicott Mountains to the Yukon. The whalers and Amundsen had several sleds, and Eskimo to do the housework and camp making, and they traveled over a well- known road, where it is only a matter of three or four days from the time you leave the last Eskimo camp on the north side of the divide, where you can any time purchase deer meat, condensed milk, flour, or any such article you think you may need, up to the time you come to the first Indian camp on the south side of the divide, where you can supply yourself with dried fish, venison, and other articles of food. Amundsen has of course never said a word to indicate that he considers this Alaskan journey he made a difficult one, which as a matter of fact it is not; but the world at large insists upon considering it a marvelous feat, and the story, which the telegraphs and cables flashed all over the world, of the arduous road over which Amundsen had come to Eagle City, keeps echoing and reëchoing in the speech of men and in the pages of magazines.
That same winter Darrell also made a trip south from the Arctic Ocean to the Yukon. Instead of having whalemen for companions and Eskimo for guides, he went alone. Instead of having several teams and sledges, he had no dogs and only a small hand sledge which he pulled behind him; and on that sledge he carried sixty pounds of mail. He made his way from Fort Macpherson over the mountains by a more difficult road than that followed by Amundsen's party. Although he traveled alone he had no adventures and no mishaps (adventures and mishaps seldom happen to a competent man), and when he arrived on the Yukon the telegraph despatches recorded the simple fact that mail had arrived from the imprisoned whalers in the Beaufort Sea, and not a word of who had brought it or how it had been brought.
On the Yukon Amundsen happened to meet Darrell. He recognized the feat for what it was — one of the most remarkable things ever done in Arctic lands. “ With a crew of men like that,” Amundsen says, “ I could go to the moon.” Although he no doubt never expected to see him again, Captain Amundsen invited Darrell to visit him on the Gjoa at Shingle Point. Darrell does not seem to have agreed to this at once, and Amundsen returned with his party north to the coast, leaving Darrell behind on the Yukon. But one day towards early spring Darrell turned up at Amundsen's camp at King Point. He had come alone again over the mountains by a new route, and without adventure, as always.
From the time I saw him guiding a party of mounted police in November, 1906, I did not see Darrell again until the summer of 1908, when I met him at Arctic Red River, the most northerly Hudson's Bay post on the Mackenzie River proper. In the meantime he had been making his quiet journeys alone, here and there through the north, and that fall I believe he crossed the mountains again to the Yukon. I do not know what his movements were from that on until the fall of 1910, when he appeared at the Eskimo village at the Baillie Islands, without dogs as usual, and dragging his sled behind him. The schooner Rosie H. was wintering there at the time, but Captain Wolki was away and the ship was under the command of her first officer, Harry Slate.
To travel alone and without dogs is an unheard of thing even among the Eskimo, and both they and Mr. Slate tried first to get Darrell to stop over and next offered to give him some dogs to haul his sled, but both without avail. He was used to traveling that way, he said, and it would be too much bother to hitch up the dogs in the morning. He told them further, truly, that nothing would go wrong so long as no accident happened, and that to have dogs with him if an accident did happen would be of no particular use.
Darrell had been with a canoe up Anderson River the previous summer and had left his camp near the mouth of the river at the foot of Liverpool Bay. In order to return there he started southwest from the Baillie Islands, and a few days later he met some Eskimo by whom he sent a letter to Mr. Slate. At first Darrell had intended to come and visit me (for our base at Langton Bay was only ninety miles east of the Baillie Islands), but Slate had told him that I would not be at home, and only Ilavinirk's family were keeping the camp for me. He had therefore decided not to come. The letter he wrote Mr. Slate, which contains some messages to me, is the last positive thing we know of Darrell. In it he says, as he had already told Slate, that he intended to go the three hundred miles or so to Fort Macpherson and thence across the mountains to Dawson, and intended to return the next year. Eskimo information makes it clear that he left his camp in Liverpool Bay, but in what direction he went we do not know. Personally, in making such a journey, I should have traveled along the coast; but Darrell was used to the woodlands, and certainly the woods are an advantage in a way, although the snow is soft among the trees. It may be that he tried to go straight overland through the forested area from Liverpool Bay to Fort Macpherson. It is also possible that he may at the last moment, because of approaching sickness or for some other reason,, have taken to the ice of the Anderson River with the idea of reaching a camp of the Fort Good Hope Indians, who may be expected at one place or another after you get a hundred miles up the Anderson.
The only thing discovered since Darrell was last seen that may possibly be a clew, is that some Eskimo told me at the Baillie Islands in March, 1912, that the previous summer they had been in a boat up the Anderson River and had seen a blazed tree with some writing upon it. As a good many of the Fort Good Hope Indians can read and write, the chances are that this is some of their scribbling. Nevertheless I advised the Eskimo if they went up to the place again to cut down the tree and bring the piece containing the writing down to Captain Wolki at the Baillie Islands. It is not likely we shall ever know what the ultimate end of Darrell was; but whatever it was, those who knew him feel sure that he met it bravely and without heroics.
(Hubert Darrell's writings are in Oxford -