The Manufacturer and Builder
DEVOTED TO THe
Advancement and Diffusion
of Practical Science.
ThE ENGINEERS’ AND MANUFACTURERS’ PUBLIShING
JOHN WHITE, Prest.
AUSTIN BLACK, Secretary.
P. H. VAN DER WEYDE, M. D.
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
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
source: Manufacturer and Builder / Volume 5, Issue 6The
American Arctic Expedition: Publisher: Western and Company pp.
137-138, June 1873
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