Home  »  Volume XVII: American LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART II  »  § 35. Arctic Exploration

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.

XIV. Travellers and Explorers, 1846–1900

§ 35. Arctic Exploration

In 1899 a private expedition was organized which cruised in a chartered ship along the Alaskan coast and across Bering Sea to Siberia. A large party of scientific men were guests of the projector, Edward Henry Harriman, and there were also several artists. The results were published in a series of volumes now issued by the Smithsonian Institution. The first two are narrative, with chapters by John Burroughs, John Muir, G. K. Gilbert, and others, and reproductions of paintings by R. Swain Gifford, Louis A. Fuertes, and Frederick S. Dellenbaugh. Burroughs in addition wrote a volume entitled Far and Near (1904), and there were magazine articles and other books. The same year as the Harriman Expedition, Angelo Heilprin published Alaska and the Klondike, A Journey to the New Eldorado. Gold had been found not only in the Klondike but at Nome, in the sands of the beach, where a few square feet yielded a fortune, and in other parts.

On the bleaker eastern arctic shores of North America no gold had been found to lead armies of fortune-seekers through incredible hardships, but men will suffer as much, or more, for an idea, and there was the idea of Polar exploration with the ignis fatuus of the Pole ever beckoning. A library of many shelves would not hold all the books relating to this fateful quest. Americans joined the English early in this field, inspired by a desire to discover the actual fate of Franklin. In 1850 Elisha Kent Kane accompanied a party equipped by Grinnell with two ships under Lieutenant De Haven. They reached Smith Sound as described in The United States Grinnell Expedition in Search of Sir John Franklin (1854). Kane went north again in 1853 and reached 78° 41’. This expedition is recorded in his Arctic Explorations: The Second Grinnell Expedition (1856).

Dr. I. I. Hayes followed this up by taking advantage of experience acquired with Kane and in going to the ice regions in 1860. He wrote The Open Polar Sea (1867), An Arctic Boat Journey (1860), The Land of Desolation (1881); and the Smithsonian printed his “Physical Observations in the Arctic Seas” (Volume 15).

One of the most devoted and interesting of all Arctic explorers was Charles Francis Hall. His heart was so thoroughly in the work, at first a search for Franklin, that he made three fruitful expeditions and would have continued had he not mysteriously died in full health on the last journey. The first expedition was on an ordinary whaling ship to the Eskimos, with whom he lived for two years in 1860–62. On the second trip he again lived with Eskimos in 1864–69, and on the third voyage in 1871 in the Polaris he got to 82° 11’, at the Polar ocean via Smith Sound. His Narrative of the [Third or Polaris] North Polar Expedition (1876) was edited by C. H. Davis: the Narrative of the Second Arctic Expedition to Repulse Bay (1879) was edited by Prof. J. E. Nourse. That of Hall’s first journey was published in 1864, the year in which he started on his second, with the title Arctic Researches and Life among the Eskimaux. He was the first, or one of the first, to note that the Eskimos knew the geography of their environment and could make maps of it. Some reproductions of such maps occur in Hall’s volumes. E. V. Blake’s Arctic Experiences (1874) contains an account of Captain George E. Tyson’s drift on the ice-floe, a history of the Polaris expedition, and the rescue of the Polaris survivors.

The next American to push north with the great idea was Lieutenant De Long under the auspices of the New York Herald. A vessel named the Jeanette, supplied with provisions for three years, sailed in July, 1879, from San Francisco, entering the Polar Sea through Bering Strait. The Jeanette was sunk by ice in June, 1881. The crew got to Herald Island and thence steered for the mouth of the Lena River in three boats, of which one was lost; and the crew of another, including De Long, starved and froze to death on land, while George W. Melville and nine more reached a small native village. After a fruitless search for the others he came home, to return again to the search. He wrote In the Lena Delta, A Narrative of the Search for Lieutenant Commander De Long, and his Companions (1885). Another volume is, The Narrative of the Jeanette Arctic Expedition as Related by the Survivors, etc. Revised by Raymond Lee Newcomb (1882). The naval officer in command of the search party (1882–84), Giles Bates Harber, found De Long’s body and nine other remains, and brought them home for burial. He wrote a Report of Lieut. G. B. Harber of his Search for Missing People of the Jeanette Expedition (1884). William H. Gilder wrote Ice Pack and Tundra (1883) on the same subject.

A Polar expedition which accomplished its important work and yet met with disaster was that of Greely, which co-operated with eight other international stations meteorologically. His disaster was due to inefficiency in the efforts of those at home to get the annual supplies through. One of Greely’s assistants, Lieutenant Lockwood, reached the highest latitude up to that time: 83° 24’. Lockwood’s journal of his trip farthest north is given in vol. 1 of the Report mentioned below and also is described in The White World (1902) by David L. Brainard, now General Brainard, who accompanied Lockwood, under the title “Farthest North with Greely,” an excellent account of this memorable effort. Charles Lanman in Farthest North (1885) tells the life story of Lieutenant Lockwood, who died later at winter quarters of starvation. This was the Lady Franklin Bay Expedition, but it is seldom referred to except as the Greely Expedition. A full account is given in Report on the Proceedings of the United States Expedition to Lady Franklin Bay, Grinnell Land, by A. W. Greely (1888); and Greely also wrote Three Years of Arctic Service (1886). Winfield S. Schley, afterwards Admiral Schley, commanded the second relief expedition, and it was his energy and determination which put his ships at Cape Sabine just in time to save the survivors, who had to be carried on board. Schley made a report published in House Documents of the 49th Congress and wrote, with J. R. Soley, The Rescue of Greely (1885).

Evelyn B. Baldwin led the first Ziegler expedition and tells the story in The Search for the North Pole (1896), and Anthony Fiala headed the second Ziegler expedition, recorded in his Fighting the Polar Ice (1906).