Washington: Saturday December 18, 1852
A New Polar Expedition
A meeting of the Geographical and Historical Society of
New York was held Tuesday evening in the Chapel of the University, to hear
a paper which Dr. Kane, of the United States Navy, had engaged to read
on the "Access to the North Polar Sea, viewed in connexion with the search
after Sir John Franklin."
Hon. George Bancrift, who had been requested to preside
on the occasion, came forward and spoke as follows: Ladies and gentlemen,
I am very happy to meet this large audience on this interesting occasion.
We ask your sympathy and encouragement on an occasion of more then ordinary
interest. From what searches have been made for the discovery of Sir J.
Franklin, and the traces either of him or his party have been found, the
hope lingers that his escape may yet be accomplished. In this enterprise
many Americans - many from our own soil, endeared to our affections, and
others to our friendships - have come forward to take a prominent part
in making the new search; and not only this, but also to push forward discoveries
in the North Seas. Mr Peabody, in London, has nobly contributed a part,
and the Vice President of this Society has contributed his vessel, the
for the expedition; and the Secretary of the Navy has shown a disposition
to aid it as far as the law will permit him. He has not only permitted
Dr. Kane, who is well suited to the purpose, and who has travelled more
in the Arctic regions than any one on this continent, to go on this expedition,
but he has also supplied him with instructions that may materially aid
him. Tonight we are not brought here to hear a discourse that may amuse
or instruct us, but to take, as it were, a farewell of one who is about
to set out in that expedition. After a few more remarks complimenting Dr.
Kane, he introduced that gentleman to his audience.
Dr. Kane commenced his discourse with a review of the
previous dicoveries in the polar seas. Having given a minute geographical
description of these regions, he demonstrated in a clear and forcible manner
that the polar regions were not a continuous mass of ice, but an immense
basin enclosed with icy barriers. This opinion was not based upon actual
explorations, but, as the arguments in its favor are of immense consequence
and were before grouped together, he would take the liberty of presenting
them to the audience. With regard to its hydrographic extent, he was of
the opinion that it was probably as large as both the Atlantic and Indian
oceans. Having alluded to the immense sources of supply which the polar
basin must have, he argued that it also must have some outlet to empty
itself. There were three outlets, viz. Bering Straits, the Greenland Sea,
and a number of estuaries, at one point known as Baffin's and Hudson's
bays. Dr. Kane argued at considerable length in support of his theory,
and illustrated his remarks by a series of maps and charts prepared for
Having expressed the opinion that Belcher's expedition,
which had set out in the course of the present year, would not be attended
with success, he proceeded to lay before the audience the plan upon which
he had determined to carry on his explorations. Henry Grinnell, the first
president of this society, and at present its vice president, had placed
at his disposal the Advance, and the Secretary of the Navy had assigned
him the special duty of conducting the expedition. His plan of search is
based upon the probable extention of the land masses of Greenland to the
far north - a view yet to be verified by travel, but sustained by the analgies
of physical geography. Admitting such an extension, they would, he says,
having the following inducements for exploration and research.
1. Terra firma as the basis of our operations, obviating
the accidents characteristic of ice travel.
2. A due northern line, which, throwing aside the
influences of terrestrial radiation, would lead soonest to the open sea,
should such exist.
3 The benefit of the fan-like abutment of land on
the north face of Greenland, to check the ice in the course of its' southern
or equatorial drift, thus obviating the drawback of Parry in his attempt
to reach the Pole by the Spitzbergen sea.
4. Animal life to sustain traveling parties.
5. The co-operation of the esquimaux settlement
of Greenlanders having been found as high as Whale Sound, and probably
extending still further along the coast. The point I would endevor to attain
would be the highest attainable point of Baffin's Bay, from, if possible,
pursuing the sound known as Smith's Sound, advocated by Baron Wrangell
as the most eligible site for reaching the North Pole.
As a point of departure, this is two hundred and twenty
miles to the north of Beechy Island, the starting point of Sir Edward Belcher,
and seventy miles north of the utmost limits seen or recorded in Wellington
The party will consist of some thirty men, with a couple
of launches, sleds, dogs, and gutta percha boats. The provisions will be
pemmican - a preparation of dried meat packed
in cases, impregnable to the appetite of the polar bear. Dr. Kane, after
stating that his expedition will leave the United States in time to reach
the bay at the earliest season of navigation, says:
After reaching the settlement of Uppernavik, we take in
a supply of Esquimaux dogs, and a few picked men to take charge of the
sled. We then enter the ice of Melville Bay, and, if successful in its
penetration, hasten to Smith's Sound, forcing our vessel to the utmost
navigable point, and there securing her for the winter. The operations
of search, however, are not to be suspended. Active exercise is the best
safeguard against the scurvy; and, although the darkness of winter will
not be in our favor, I am convinced that, with the exception perhaps of
the solstitial period of maximum obscurity, we can push forward our provision
deposites by sled and launch, and thus prepare for the final efforts of
In this I am strengthened by the valuable opinion of my
friend, Mr. Murdaugh, late the sailing master of the Advance. He
has avocated this very Sound as a basis of land operations. And the recent
journey of William Kennedy, Commanding Lady Franklin's last expedition,
shows that the fall and winter should no longer be regarded as lost months.
The sleds, which consitute so important a feature
of our Expedition, and upon which not only our success but our safety will
depend, are to be conducted with extreme care. Each sled will carry the
blanket, bags, and furs of six men, together with a measured allowance
of pemmican. A light tent of Indian rubber cloth, of a new pattern, will
be added; but for our nightly halt the main dependence will be
the snow-house of the Esquimaux. It is almost incredible, in the
face of obstacles, to what extent a well-organized sled party can advance.
The relative importance of every ounce of weight can be calculated, and
the system of advanced depots of provisions organized admirably.
Alcohol or tallow is the only fuel, and the entire
cooking apparatus, which is more for thawing the snow for tea-water than
for heating food, can be carried in a little bag. Lieut. McClintock, of
Commander Austen's expedition, travelled thus 800 miles; the collective
journeys of the expedition equalled several thousand, and Baron Wrangell
made, by dogs, 1553 miles in 74 days, and this over a fast frozen ocean.
But the greatest sled journey upon record is that
of my friend, Mr. Kennedy, who accomplished nearly 1,400 miles, most of
it in mid-winter, without returning upon his track to avail himself of
deposited provisions. His only food, and we may here learn the practical
lesson of the traveller to avoid unnecessary baggage, was Pemmican, and
his only shelter the Snow House.
It is my intention to cover each sled with a gutta-percha
boat, a contrivance which the experience of the English has shown to be
perfectly portable. Thus equipped, we follow the tread of the coast, seeking
Once there, if such a reward awaits us, we launch
our little boats, and, bidding God speed us, embark upon its waters.
Dr. kane concluded by advocating the organization of scientific
band of explorers.
Dr. Hawks then addressed the meeting in a few remarks
upon the organization recommended by Dr. Kane, and submitted the following
Resolved, That the Society regard with grateful
interest the exertions of the Secretary of the Navy to advance the researches
of physical geography and its attendant sciences, and they specially tender
him their thanks for his liberality in lending the aid of his department
to the expedition designed for the Arctic seas.
These resolutions were unanimously adopted, and a committee
appointed accordingly; after which the meeting separated.
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