The Manufacturer and Builder


Advancement and Diffusion of Practical Science.


JOHN WHITE, Prest.                            AUSTIN BLACK, Secretary.


No. 6. Vol. V.

The American Arctic Expedition.
SAD news reaches us from the United States expedition in search of the open Polar sea, mentioned on page 113 of this volume. Capt. Hall, the leader of the expedition, died suddenly in the fall of 1872, after returning on shipboard from an expedition over the ice on sledges, while shortly after nineteen persons abandoned the ship and went with some provisions on an ice-field, on which they floated during nearly half a year, over a distance of some 1,500 miles, and finally were rescued  by a vessel which during a fog struck the ice-field on which they were. They testify that the ship, which was moored to the ice, was separated from them during a storm, and was in a dangerous condition. However, the last they saw of her, she was under steam and canvas trying to make headway to the nearest land.
   The expedition started from New York in the summer of 1871. We had the pleasure of visiting the ship when fully equipped, and spending several hours in satisfying our curiosity about the details and precautions taken against the dangers of an Arctic voyage. On that occasion we heard with surprise that the Polaris—such was the name of the little steamer—had been built during the war for our Southern waters; that its chief merit was speed, and that she was therefore not built for navigating waters with ice-fields, as is the case with vessels intended for seal and whale fishing, which have rounded bottoms and a raking cut-water, by which they are lifted over the ice by side pressure of the same. The Polaris, on the contrary, had a flat bottom and almost perpendicular sides, which is very dangerous, as it exposes the vessel to the danger of being crushed between the ice. The life-boats and sledges we saw on board appeared to us very ingenious, but not practical, as the least rough usage, which was to be expected that they had to endure, would evidently damage their delicate structure to such a degree as to make them next to useless. Among other smaller matters which filled us with alarm concerning the success, was the knowledge that Capt. Hall, whom we had the pleasure to know personally, was much more of an enthusiast than a man of knowledge or an experienced practical naval commander; and the misfortune which appears to have befallen the expedition is a vindication of Dr. Peterman’s opinion, which we communicated in our February number of 1872, (see page 86,) that Smith Sound is not the route to be followed in order to accomplish successfully the desired result of reaching the open Polar sea. However, it appears that the season during the fall of 1871  was a most extraordinary one for Arctic navigation, as the summer of 1871 was the warmest known in fifty years, and the effect of it was apparent in an enormous drift of Polar ice-fields southward from Smith’s Sound and Baffin’s Bay, along the coast of Newfoundland, from February to May. It was also observed at Newfoundland, in May of last year, that a river of ice varying from sixty to two hundred miles in breadth and two thousand miles long, had been three months incessantly pouring its contents into the tepid waters of the Gulf Stream. No doubt Capt. Hall pushed his way vigorously in the open seaway caused by this outflow; but it has been foreseen that, with such tremendous breaking up of Arctic ices, his little craft, in a narrow and hemmed-up channel like Smith’s Sound, must have been fearfully exposed. The circumstances of an excessively warm season and open weather, which held out the greatest promise, gave rise, no doubt, to the excessive amount of ice drift, in which the ice-beleaguered vessel was threatened with destruction, and which caused detachment of the party to attempt unloading the stores. It was while this party were at work that they became separated from the ship by the force of the wind, stronger than steam, driving and drifting them away from her, and forcing them to navigate those stormy and icy seas on a frail field of ice. Nothing can exceed the peril in which these men were placed, and it is a most extraordinary circumstance that they were saved after six months’ battling with the waves.
    Dr. Hayes, of New York, the well-known Arctic explorer, is, according to an interview with a Herald reporter, of opinion that the Polaris may come back safe after all, and that the expedition was by no means a failure, as Capt. Hall appears to have gone further with his ship than any other, although some have gone as far in sledges. He reached 219 miles further than Kane with his ship, and was in latitude 82degrees 16 minutes, the most northerly latitude ever reached by any ship, and only 464 miles from the north pole.
    Some of our contemporaries make the complaint, that, as the Polaris was fitted out by the United States Government, and the result has been a great disappointment, it will not he easy to get another appropriation from Congress for a similar undertaking. This is no doubt true. What indeed has been the benefit of this expedition, even if it has penetrated further than any former one? What good has it done? It has only ended in the death of the leader, the escape of nineteen men from the steamer, immense suffering and danger to which they have been exposed, and probably the total loss of the vessel with the balance of the crew.
       For our part, we consider the recent competition of different governments and private individuals in fitting out Polar expeditions a needless waste of property and human life. Suppose even a vessel reaches the geographic pole as Captain Ross reached the magnetic pole many years ago? Then this pole will be found either in an open sea, as lately asserted it should be, or on an ice-field, or on an island. It will be interesting that then we can write in our geographies: “Captain So and So reached the geographic pole, and found it to be situate•d on an immense floating ice-field. He perished during the expedition, as did also all his men but one, who survived, and had a most miraculous escape. He was the only one left to tell the tale of the success of the expedition,” etc. We suggest that if such or a similar item of information can be considered as an equivalent for the treasures and lives sacrificed, science will indeed reap little real benefit, even from the most signal success of any expedition to such inaccessible regions as the immediate surroundings of the pole must be.

source:  Manufacturer and Builder / Volume 5, Issue 6The American Arctic Expedition:  Publisher: Western and Company pp. 137-138,    June 1873

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