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Arctic Explorers

Artic Explorers




Artic ExplorersChronicles of Arctic explorers, from the sixteenth-century searchers for the north-west passage down to the Peary, Nansen and Jackson expeditions of 1895, have all a unique fascination of which we never tire. Nor does the Arctic explorer, apparently, ever lose his eagerness to try again. There seems to be some strange fascination about these forbidding regions which the explorers all find irresistible. The unvarying tale of perils, patient endurance, failures, and the horrors of starvation, is lit up with but few gleams of triumph, and they are chiefly to the score of cold science. Yet there is never a dearth of hardy volunteers eager to map the millions of miles of still unknown land and water, and the rivalry of nations grows keener as the practicability of reaching the North Pole seems to grow more remote. Some venture the task for mere glory, others for selfish ends and a few in sheer disinterested desire to increase the sum of human knowledge. The attitude of governments and the learned societies that have lent their aid to the expeditions of our time is that of practical interest in serious efforts to ascertain all that remains to be known of t he northern latitude. Public help awaits skilled explorers who are willing to undertake geographical research with a view to scientific results. 'rite reaching of the Pole is of itself of no more consequence than the attainment of any other point of high latitude. The main features of the Arctic region were discovered and mapped out by the brave adventurers who named Hudson's Strait, Davis Strait, Baffin's Bay and Smith sound, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The eighteenth witnessed the establishment of settlements in Greenland and Hudson's Bay Territory, and the development of the whale and seal fisheries. Captain Bering, a Dane, was put in Command of an expedition by Peter the Great in 1725, and discovered the strait between Asia and America which bears his name. Captain Cook, the English explorer, penetrated to the western extremity of America in 1778, and a later expedition failed because of the ice-pack.


Renewed efforts to promote Polar exploration were made in 1815, and Sir John Barrow induced the British Government to offer a reward of $100,000 for the discovery of the North' Vest Passage, and of $25,000 for reaching 89° N. In 1818 two boats were dispatched, in one of which young John Franklin was lieutenant, and the other was commanded by Captain John Ross and Lieutenant Edward Parry. The latter made two voyages in 1819 and 1820, returning in 1823, having added largely to the stock of geographical knowledge, and established invaluable precedents in sanitary arrangement and scientific methods. The next chapter in the story of Arctic adventure is fairly comprised in the life of Sir John Franklin. He was born in 1786, and had charge of the signals on board the" Bellerophon" at the battle of Trafalgar, in 1805. In 1818 he commanded the hired brig that accompanied Captain Buchan in the "Dorothea" in search of the Pole, via Spitzbergen and Greenland. Both ships got into ice-trouble and gave up the task; but Franklin set out next year to gain accurate knowledge of the northern coast. With him were Dr., afterwards Sir John Richardson also two midshipmen, Hood and Back, who was knighted years later. They followed the Coppermine and Saskatchewan rivers, but were unable to move for several months, owing to the stoppage of supplies through the hostility of rival trading companies. Then the party of twenty-eight men, three women and three children, left Fort Providence On the north shore of Great Slave Lake, with a large party of Indian hunters. Frost set in late in August, which forced them to winter in a hut, called Fort Enterprise. Not till June, 1821, were they able to leave, the  Indians going another way.


Franklin soon found the open sea, navigated the coast, named Capes Barrow and Flinders, and, at a hazard, went up a river he named Hood, after his young comrade. Soon he had to cut down his big boats into little ones, reduce their baggage, and make as best they could for Fort Providence, across the Barren Grounds. Now began their terrible experience of the rigors of Arctic travel-hunger, weakness, cold that killed, young Hood murdered, followed by the disciplinary execution of his slayer. The remnant reached the fort in December, by help of the Indian hunters, after all awful drag of 5,550 miles in such conditions. But Franklin Wall fame when he got home, and his book was the rage.


In 1825 he sailed with Captain Parry, found and named Garry Island, on the Mackenzie River, after the Deputy Governor of the Hudson Bay Company, and they wintered among the settlements. The substantial additions he made to geographical knowledge gained Franklin his knighthood. From 1830 to 1833 he was in command of the Mediterranean station, and from 1836 till 1843, Governor of Van Dieman's Land, ·then a convict colony, for which he did wonders in founding and endowing a college, a scientific society, and in improving the social conditions.


The famous ships "Erebus" and "Terror" had then returned from the Antarctic region, which fact Franklin seized upon to good practical account. The Government were satisfied of the existence of a North-West Passage, but doubted if it were navigable. They were induced to fit up another expedition, but Franklin's ardor 'was damped by the unlucky accident of his age, as at sixty the rules retired him. Undaunted by this he overrode all mere considerations of dates and red-tape, stoutly protested he was "only fifty -nine, not sixty," claimed the command and actually got it.


On March 3, 1845, the refitted "Erebus" and Terror " sailed for the Arctic ocean, provisioned, as was supposed, for three years. Franklin commanded the "Ere bus," and Crozier the" Terror." Franklin believed strongly in the southern course, making direct for 74° N., 98° W., in the vicinity of Cape Walker, thence southward and west towards Bering Straits.


A year and a half passed; nothing was heard of the expedition. In the summer of 1847 a rescue party went out under Richardson and Dr. Rae, of the Hudson Bay Company. Still there was no news. Early in 1848 a number of relief expeditions went out, public and private, from England and America. Nothing was learned. In 1850 Captain Ommanney found traces of Franklin all Beechey Island, which proved that he had wintered there-but how they had fared could be only too painfully surmised from the immense stacks of putrid canned meats, which culpable negligence, possibly cruel fraud, had supplied for the food of the poor explorers. Still the Arctic ice kept its secret. Besides Richardson and Rae's expedition in 1847, five others sailed in 1848, three in 1849, ten in 1850, nine in 1852, five in 1853, two in 1854, one each in 1855 and 1857, and there was the brave venture into Smith's Sound in 1853, by Dr. Kane, of the United States Navy.


The Hudson Bay Company bore the expense of Dr. Rae's boat expedition in 1354, in the course of which he learned that a party of white men had crossed the ice near. King William's Land four years before, and Eskimo residents declared they had subsequently come upon the bodies of these white men near a large river, supposed to be Back's Great Fish River. They showed silver spoons and other things, with an engraved silver plate bearing Sir John Franklin's name. The British Government did not see fit to send out in further search, but Lady Franklin paid the cost of Captain McClintock's expedition in 1557. Her devotion, and her unshaken faith that her husband was still in life, met with no reward until r859, and then it was the melancholy one of knowing that hope had come to an end. Captain-afterward Sir Allen-Young learned from the Eskimos that one of the ships had sunk in deep water, and the other had been dashed into pieces all the shore. All had perished. " Some," said an old Eskimo woman, "fell down dying as they walked." Franklin did not share the fate of his people. A paper was fonnd giving brief entries of work done by the crews from 1845-46 down to April 25. 1848, all which date appears the following entry, which is the last:


H. M. ships "Terror' and 'Erebus' were deserted on 22 April, five leagues N.N.W. from this, having been beset since 12 September, 1846. The officers and crews, consisting of 105 souls, under the command of Capt. F. R. M. Crozier, landed here, in latitude 690 37' 42" N., longitude 98o 41' W. Sir John Franklin died on June, 1847, and the total loss by deaths in the expedition has been to this date 9 officers and 15 men. We start to-morrow, the 26th, for Back's Fish River."


Franklin is credited with having discovered the NorthWest Passage. He was as genial as he was brave, and it is lamentable to think that a fate so terrible may have come upon devoted men through unskilled or dishonest provisioning.




Pluck, enterprise and practical sympathy with the distressed of any nationality have always distinguished the American character, and never more nobly than in the sending out of the Grinnell expedition in search of Franklin. Henry Grinnell, of New York, fitted out the "Advance" and the "Rescue" in 1850, under Lieutenants De Haven and Griffith, accompanied by Dr. Elisha K. Kane. The latter, a man of restless activity, was the surgeon and naturalist, and later the historian of the expedition. He had already been a noted traveller in Asia and the Malay Archipelago, and had visited Africa and South America. Dr. Kane, after publishing his book, determined to set out again on the perilous quest, and Grinnell, with some friends, in 1853 furnished and equipped the" Advance" far this purpose. Much new information was gained by the novel methods adopted, but the "Open Polar Sea," which Kane believed he had seen in the first expedition, has never been found. The great Humboldt glacier was crossed by dog-sledges, and the coast-line of Smith Sound explored, but hardships defeated the main object in view. Dr. Kane abandoned the "Advance" in 1855, and found refuge in the Danish settlement at Upernavik, while a search expedition rescued his crew. On his return he published his second book, one of the most attractive of its class. He died in 1857, at the age of thirty-seven.


In 1860 Dr. Hayes, who had been with Kane, followed on his track and made original observations. An interesting and valuable exploration was made in 1860-62 by Charles F. Hall, of Cincinnati, and a second in 1864-62, in which he found remains of a hut built by Sir Martin Frobisher on Warwick Island in 1578, and also the bones of some of Franklin's companions. Again, in 1871, he explored the channel for 250 miles north of Smith Sound, and wintered in 81° 38' N.


Lieutenant Schwatka's expedition set out in 1879 to follow Franklin's track. He explored the Great Fish River, and accomplished a most successful venture in a region where the cold registered 70° below zero. In the same year Lieutenant De Long went out in the "Jeannette," chartered by James G. Bennett, of the New York Herald, and officered from the U. S. Navy. No tidings having been heard of her, a search expedition went out in 1881. The H Rodgers," under Lieutenant Berry, made a valuable exploration of the coast and interior of Wrangell Land, but did not find the" Jeannette." It was afterward ascertained that the "Jeannette" had been crushed and sunk in June, 1881, latitude 77° IS' N., longitude 155° E. Dreadful sufferings overtook the crew in their three boats, one of which was lost, and the survivors afterward dis. covered the dead bodies of Lieutenant De Long and two of his crew, who had perished from exhaustion and starvation.


Lieutenant Greely, with an army staff, accompanied by Dr. Parry, went to Lady Franklin Bay in 1881, one of the American stations established by agreement with European nations for winter work. In 1883, the relief expeditions not having then reached the station, Lieutenant Greely undertook a trip on the western shore of Smith Sound. Here they wintered, but provisions gave ant, and after terrible suffering, from which several died, Greely and six of his comrades were rescued when at the point of death. The expeditions of Lieutenant Peary, who' spent two years in surveying and mapping the mainland coast-line, and, in 1894, in all unsuccessful attempt to reach the Pole, are the latest and by no means unproductive American expeditions.


Swedes, Danes, Norwegians, Germans and English have vied with each other in the work of exploration. This noble rivalry led to the establishment, in 1882, of a circle of Arctic winter stations, supported and manned by Norwegians, Swedes, Dutch, Russians two stations; Americans two stations; English, Germans, Danes and Austrians. Captain Nares, of the English expedition of 1876, managed to penetrate to the farthest point as yet attained, 830 20' 26" N., but pronounced the Pole impracticable. Other expeditions fol· lowed, Sir Allen Young's, Lieutenant Beynen's, Captain Markham's, Leigh Smith's, each contributing valuable results. Professor Nordenskjold made his first voyage in 1870, with Berggren, the botanist, and two Greenlanders. They advanced thirty miles over the difficult Greenland ice to a height of 2200 feet above the sea. He had made six explorations to Greenland and Spitzbergen before; in 1875 he resolved to try the sea north of Siberia. He sailed in the "Proven to the mouth of the Yeuisei, where he found Port Dickson, which he named in honor of the supporter of the expedition. In 1878 he commanded a well-equipped expedition, backed by the King of Sweden, Mr. Dickson, of Gothenburg. and Mr. Sibireakoff, a Siberian merchant, which reached the most northerly point of Asia, Cape Severo, 770 41' N. Nordenskjold was convinced that the Northeast Pas· sage was practicable through the warm currents of summer, and in the following year he tried again. His ship, the "Vega," after being stuck fast in the ice for nine months, got safely through without loss of life, and the Northeast Passage, which Sir Hugh Willoughby had attempted in 1553, was successfully made. Til 1883 Nordcnskjold took another expedition across the inland icc of Greenland, penetrating 84 miles to the east at a height of $000 feet. A party of Laplanders who accompanied Nordenskjold were sent on snowshoes 143 miles further, crossing a snow-field 7,000 feet above the sea level. The scientific results of Nordenskjold's latest journey are said to be unparalleled.


The end of 18gS shows three Arctic expeditions either in progress, or decided upon: the Jackson-Harmsworth English expedition, from which much is expected in the matter of reaching the Pole across the ice; the next is that of the Swede, Frithiof Nansen, who is now making his dangerous experiment in the strong boat, the "Fram. " He proposes to allow it to be imbedded in the ice-pack, being provisioned for five years, in the belief that, sooner or later, he will be drifted into the open sea at the Pole. The third venture is that of M. Andree, who has constructed a special balloon, with elaborate photographic apparatus, in which he, with one companion, intends to float in Mayor June, 1896, from Spitzbergen direct to the Pole, some 700 miles. He is sanguine of success, believing the round trip can be made in a few hours with absolute safety. The balloon idea is not a new one. Commander Cheyne, of the English navy, offered the Government his services if they would equip the expedition, but his scheme was declined. Thus the noble rivalry goes on, and with the heartiest wishes of every nation for the success of them all.


Artic Explorers

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