By: Lilla May Pavy
    In the March number of the NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW, I gave a brief outline of the life of my husband, the late Dr. Octave Pavy, and narrated certain acts of injustice which have come to light since the return of the expedition party in which he lost his life.

    Commander Greely’s book on the expedition appeared after my article and the extracts subjoined from the Surgeon’s Arctic Journal, had been put in type, and no additions to it or omissions have been made in consequence of that publication. Within the limits allowed me in these pages, I can only say that the falsity of many assertions in Commander Greely’s book and the fact that  they can be proven to be untrustworthy, both by the oral testimony of survivors and documentary evidence (including personal letters from the commander himself in direct contradiction of his recent statements), will enable me to prepare such a refutation as shall demonstrate that, in slandering the surgeon, he made what lawyers designate as an aggressive defence—to forestall the evidence in my possession of his utter incapacity as an officer.

      Commander Greely, in his book, dares to say, after reproaching Dr. Pavy, that he does not reproach him because he is dead! I respond, thus publicly, that Dr. Pavy himself, at Fort Conger, demanded, in writing, an official investigation on his return, and I now call on Commander Greely to unite with me in demanding a Congressional investigation. I do not fear the result of such an inquiry; Dr. Pavy did not fear it; does Commander Greely fear it ?

       I now proceed to give such brief extracts from Dr. Pavy’s Arctic Journal as the space allotted to me permits. The originals were described as “undecipherable” by the Signal-Office authorities.


      February, 1883.—So far, the history of this expedition would be best written by Mark Twain; but later on, it shall come perhaps better from the pen of Victor Hugo.

       1882 .—As medical adviser, as one on whom may fall, at some future day, all the burden of sick and disabled men, and that responsibility, perhaps, in the face of starvation and destitution, it is my right, my duty, my imperious duty, to speak the truth, the whole truth. (In any such event I would, perhaps, be censurable only in my own mind.)

        September, 1882.—Speaking of the retreat, the commander of this expedition says that “the steam-launch could go where the ‘Proteus’ could not.” This is absurd. It is silly. A sailor could refute it. For example, if it (the launch) was taken in a nip, loaded as it would be on the retreat, it could not raise itself, being too low in the water. It is very difficult to say whether a ship like the “Proteus,” built expressly to ride the nips, would ride them, between two fields of ice, elevated as much above the water as the paleocrystic floes are. (See Nares’ opinion.) It is a pernicious idea which Greely entertains, that the launch can go where a ship cannot, in following the coasts. Show by Nares the danger of there being fields of ice, and the danger of being more easily entangled in a floe, and of being drifted; furthermore, with the greatest chances of being caught in the young ice. Let us not tempt fortune. We cannot say at what time of the approaching year the pack will commence to move south. Strong tempests from the north may break it, and then it will fill the channel. This year, it is a remarkable fact; that we have not had a single storm from the north. If a ship cannot reach us here, but awaits us at Littleton Island, we have two chances in ten; but, if there is no ship in Smith Sound, I doubt if, out of twenty chances, we would have one of saving ourselves. I said to Greely, in regard to his plan: “I approve the plan of starting in the first half of August, but to specify a day or hour, is unwise, foolish. All depends on the ice, which, like time and tide, waits for no man.” Take the example of the “Proteus “(1881). We entered here (Discovery Harbor) the 10th of August. Before that, and even afterward, the harbor was not entirely open. The ice has always encumbered the channel. In regard to “making the Etah Eskimos support us,” as Greely proposed, and again in regard to the Eskimos of Smith Sound, will we find them north of Whale Sound? In Kane’s Expedition they were at Etah; in Hayes’ case they were south of Whale Sound; with Hall, at Foulke Fiord; with the “Pandora” at Whale Sound. Besides this, shall we be able to turn Cape Alexander? How pass Whale Sound? We ought to take all these calculations into consideration; leave nothing to chance, especially as reflection and foresight cost nothing.

     The tragic end of the expedition proved that, while it cost nothing to offer the wisdom of foresight, it cost nineteen lives to reject it.

      Without sufficient clothing, without enough shoes, with inadequate food, and twenty-five men exhausted by a voyage of hundreds of miles, how are they going to pass the winter? The strongest point Greely uses in combating the fact of our poor supply is, that a ship has been sent this year, and has not been able to reach here on account of the ice of Smith Sound, but that we will find it there. Common sense ought to show him that if a ship cannot reach us, we have no chance of reaching Littleton Island; and, furthermore, if there is no ship there at that time of the year, how can we hope, with either open water or ice, to reach Upernavik. We have a whale-boat, it is true, but have no one who knows how to manage it. This lack of nautical experience, and the danger impending because of its absence, bears greatly upon our security. There is little possibility of our wintering at Cary Island, or even anywhere, without clothes, fuel, shelter, or provisions.


      I deem it of the highest importance, even of absolute necessity, to be informed of your project concerning our future stay in the Arctic, as well as your plans and means of escape.
      My stock of medicines, from the first very incomplete, and even now absolutely deficient in essential drugs, is very much reduced, especially in what I may be called upon in the future to use the most often. Your plans will be in this emergency entirely my guide as to the divers expenditures at present, and the reserve for the future. Since the ship is not coming, and the fall work cannot be changed, it is necessary to decide as to our future spring work. Hence, as surgeon of the expedition, I wish to be officially informed of your plans, so far as there is no private matter in them, so as to shape my course in the use of my scanty and ill-chosen medical stores.

       Dr. Pavy had no voice in the selection of the medical stores or the consulting library, since he was in Greenland when the equipments were prepared in Washington.

        Let us prepare for all emergencies, against all odds, and then we will be able to say, in case of disaster: “Come what may, we have performed our whole duty.”


       While holding in high estimation your medical skill, I cannot bring myself to concur in your opinion that our prospects are gloomy, as the general tone of your letter implies. Our diet, our warm, dry quarters, our exemption from scurvy, the past year, our success in the field, all appear to me as guarantees that the winter will pass safely.


    This evening Greely called Jans and Frederick Esquimaux into the room, and gave them a glass of rum. Greely is beginning to be careful of them, since it only just dawns upon him that he may have need of the aid of the Esquimaux of Smith Sound. For several days Jans has been nearly barefooted for want of shoes. I was obliged to give him a pair of my own boots. Greely, in the men’s quarters, laid out his plans for next year, viz.; “To go to Booth Bay if the ship is not at Port Foulke; send a party to Cary Island to get provisions upon the coasts;” and he says: “We will make the Esquimaux keep us all winter.” The poor devils, who have perhaps not enough for themselves! I remember Greely laughing when I was speaking of Sir Geo. Nares, who wished to stop and leave them provisions.

      If we are obliged to return and pass the winter, we will have just two or three months’ rations of bread, and then, what a responsibility!

      This statement will let some light into the inquiry, how much food was left at Lady Franklin Bay?


    Let us not tempt fortune; take care that her wheel does not wear out, the spokes fall, and leave us flat on the ground. All these doubts, precautions, and forethoughts are my right by virtue of my duty, my respect for the flag, and the interest, health, and lives of the men placed in my medical charge by the United States Government. And these sentiments are not in the least prompted by any idea of personal fear or pusillanimity.. Let us think, prepare, and be prudent before we enter these difficulties, without waiting until we are enclosed as in a box; but, when once in the action, let us dash.

    This paragraph was prophetic, and too applicable, later on. Of the retreat, at a point near Cape Hawks, Lieutenant Lockwood says: “We were in peril and found we were really working for our lives.” Here the party were “enclosed as in a box" and were threatened with all the dangers of exposure on a moving ice-pack. Dr. Pavy  had earnestly requested to carry provisions, in advance, to Cape Hawks from Fort Conger. The request was declined. Lieutenant Greely wrote of the situation and the provisions at that point, when they came to it, as follows: “I cannot but feel that we are now in a critical situation, not knowing what can be depended upon. Owing to the grave uncertainty of the future the entire amount (the cache at Cape Hawks) was examined, and what was serviceable taken, a considerable quantity of which was so moldy that it was barely eatable.” Lieutenant Lockwood makes the statement that Dr. Pavy wanted to go with supplies from Fort Conger to Cape Hawks, and, because it was one hundred and fifty miles southward, mentions it somewhat in derision. The preceding quotations bear upon the doctor’s offer, the commander’s decline of it and the existence of the first real peril which Dr. Pavy prophetically and emphatically indicated. In the same letter the surgeon further says:

    When we are speaking of the consideration of the inevitable and of peril of men in our charge, I would consider myself guilty not to call your attention to these prudential matters. It has been, I am sure, customary in Arctic expeditions to confer with the surgeon.


    September, 1882.—It would seem proper to burn ships under the sun of Mexico, and in the rich lands of the Incas (referring to Cortez) but not so in the glacial climate of the Arctic. What would have happened to Ross, if, in his attempt to escape, he had burned his boats and stores? We know what would have been the fate of the detached members of Kane’s Expedition, if  they had not had the refuge of the “Advance” and its fare, poor as it was.

   October, 1882.—This evening Lockwood and myself talked concerning our chances of retreat. I told him that if there was no ship at Littleton Island, we have not one chance in a hundred to escape.

    October, 1882.—With the timidity or the moral apathy of Lockwood, who does not say anything, and who does not wish any responsibility before the absolutism of Greely, and with the situation of Kislingbury, who cannot say anything, my official situation in respect to the future, which I foresee plainly, is terrible. If Greely exercised his activity of mind in the proper direction, with the same avidity with which he exercises it to oppose me, he might accomplish some good things.

    January, 1883 (memorandum).—In speaking of expeditions, Greely said, “Ah! it is all question of luck. If I had not thought that I was lucky I should never have come up here.” This declaration of Caesar and his fortunes, as the only argument in lieu of reasoning, is very little consolation to us, however much it may be to him. How can an Arctic commander expect to have the confidence of his men, and above all of his officers, if they are intelligent, when he expresses such theories ?

      It is false to say that to succeed it is not necessary, indispensable, to have projects, matured plans, and a fixed base for many theories, It was by the reasoning of Nordenskjold that he was led to the discovery of the north-east passage. What respect can any one suppose that officers will have for an Arctic commander, a creature of chance; a creature of intrigue; who lacks dignity and personal worth, and who is full of moral infirmities. Instead of hiding them, he displays them prominently. What friendship and regard can a commander inspire who is completely unfit for command; being always in readiness to cast off the responsibility, however slight?


    February, 1883.—I think that the United States Government has a right to expect that a commanding officer of her forces will depend for saving the lives of his men on something else than luck!

   Memoranda.—The various plans, Jewell and others tell me, are that we will go to Cary Island if we do not find a house or vessel at Littleton Island; there we will get the provisions of the English, transport them to the coast, and pass the winter. And this trifle (?) accomplished, one fine morning, we will, according to Greely, “set out from Littleton Island to find the Esquimaux and make them support us.” Another plan is, that we will pass the winter at the Cary Islands, living on the 8,000 rations of the English! How can one belittle himself by such follies and such lucubrations!

    January, 1883.—I was in the room when Greely was talking to the men. Really if this man knew what contempt could be discerned and listened to, among the men, after he had gone out, he would have been ashamed. I cannot real]y comprehend how this man will feel when, later, if our retreat should prove disastrous, we become obliged to return here; nor how, after having asserted that he is very certain we will not pass another winter here, he can say that he has thus spoken “merely to encourage the men.” But then, more than this, how can he explain away the fact that he has not economized the provisions ; used more of this, less of that, etc.? It is very easy to see that Greely will find some way, when the day comes, to cast off the responsibility. That has been his usual plan, and in this case he will say that he has spoken of all his plans to Lockwood, and that he always approved them. And really Lockwood ought to be responsible on account of his lack of moral courage. He said to me one day: “I don’t care, after all. I am not responsible.”


    I have made a pressing official request for your plans. No reply. I learn by hearing you talk to the men that your plans are matured, and are now given publicly in the enlisted men’s quarters; still, you have not thought proper to inform me, so that I might be allowed to look forward and have in my mind coming events, which, if disastrous, bear in my department as well as others. And part of the trouble and peril will encumber me, as surgeon in charge.


     Greely often quotes military rule! I would like to know if it is the custom  in the army for a commander to hold council with enlisted men or with staff officers!
     Dr. Kane, himself in a situation perhaps less critical than ours may be, and notwithstanding his indomitable will, personal, and tried bravery; notwithstanding his adventurous spirit and the important object of the mission, with the lives of his men at stake, gave way to the voice of reason, of humanity, and consulted the needs of his men, justice, humanity and equity.
     Now that Greely at last sees our danger, when it is in fact perceptible at a glance, he tries to avoid seeing but one side; avoids anything but the bright side; and tries to stimulate himself with the opinion of Private Whistler. It is a sort of “Dutch courage,” like a man who is afraid, and goes to drinking to drown it. Why does he not look the danger of the future in the face calmly, like a man, and provide against all the chances. Then he can say, like the sailor “good-bye, rat,” and await the future.
    Apropos of the necessity to economize provisions I have said, it is well to hope and to say that a ship will come. The ship may come. But it may not, or may not reach reach us; so, let us be prudent. We now see the danger of having burned our vessels [vaisseux]. Let that be an example to us. Let us provide bread in advance, by care, or, like Hayes and Ross, we will
 be obliged to return here and remain (Tegethof and Franklin), in consequence of the impossibility of reaching Littleton Island.
    We have burned our boats [badeaux]; let us not burn our house. And that will be the case if we squander everything we have—bread.
     If we admit, d priori, that we will go down to Littleton Island in eight or ten days with the launch, as has been stated, or in a few weeks with the boats, without finding any serious difficulty, as is predicted; and, passing over the fact that in that water we need not retreat, but wait for a ship, and that in such case the ship would be able to come to our rescue, I will add that we reason against the experience of previous expeditions, to say nothing of the only fatal one, in these waters. Even starting at a more favorable time would be fatal to us. With the other expeditions a quantity of provisions was transported by the Esquimaux for Hayes, Peterson, and Kane, when they retreated. It is not certain that after we have passed Smith Sound we will find open water for the boats. Hayes did not, and his experience with damaged boats, from dragging them over the ice, could be ours with the English boat. The place where Hayes camped—Booth Bay—and that in September, was very favorable. Nevertheless we see how they suffered. What will be our fate if we are obliged to camp in Smith Sound?
    February, 1883.—Lockwood said: “As to knowing whether, in seven months, we will be at Cary Island, it is merely a question of red or black.” I asked him if, in case a ship does not arrive this year, he expected to winter near to Cary Island? Answer, “Yes.” I asked: “But, admitting that you arrived there, which is very doubtful at that time of the year (you have read Hayes?), do you think we can pass the winter on the fuel that we may find there?“ Greely said, “Yes; we will be under half rations, and in June I will put all on a floe, and start!” That is enough to show upon what futilities the fate of this expedition depends, if a ship does not come to take us this year.
    Our expedition has accomplished a very considerable work, but now is the time for forethought and prudence. If fortune is forced, history teaches us what will be the result. Take the example of Hall, who, if he had known how to stop in time, would not have yielded to his paramount desire to reach a higher latitude, and in consequence brought about wreck, and the “Polaris” drift southward.
     Rice and Long have gone to see the launch, and think that Greely has not yet gone. The commander ought at least to make a start, if only for the sake of decency, when our launch is in peril.
      I consider indifference, and failure to counsel, under our existing circumstances, equivalent to felony.
      I have tried, as far as possible, not to hurt the feelings of Mr. Greely. Upon questions not bearing upon my duty, I have not given my opinion, even when asked.
     A second letter contained paragraphs that tend, officially, to throw blame on my advice, in regard to the Esquimaux’ habits. I knew that this [advice] was contrary to the ideas of Mr. Greely, which he had publicly manifested. The future of the sledge journeys, however, proved that I was right.
    In the present situation, far from any place where we can have justice; when the house is burning, it is no time to make war with words.
    On a question so grave as ours—when facts are clearly known and clearly stated—Mr. Greely falls to hair-splitting, to roundabout statements, which certainly confuse, but do not deceive.
    Greely attacked me because, in my medical report, I recommended shoes. If, afterward, I speak to him of that need, he will say to me, “Why did you not remind me of it?” If I speak now of it, he will say that I am “attacking him.” He reproached me as “disloyal,” for having, in my report, recommended other needful sanitary measures. Greely wishes to play on words in a situation so important and so imminent. I do not.
   April 21, 1883.—For the last four or five days Lockwood has been experimenting upon a barrel to find the latitude of Fort Conger. To-day he told Israel that he found it to be 83’ 50’. That is the man who wants, above all, to beat the English.
    April 25, 1883.—In the matter of astronomical observations, five or six days ago, Lockwood, who was taking observations on the barrel, came into the room and said to Greely, “what is the latitude found by the English ?“ Greely replied. Lockwood said: “Well, I find it 82’ 34’.” “Very well,” said Greely,  “that is good: that is perhaps where their error lives. Lockwood record those observations.” Lockwood said: “They are only observations for experience.” Some days afterward he took a latitude which put the barrel at 83’ 53’.
    Greely criticises Nares, saying, that, if the admiralty had been informed one year before of a certain thing he did, Captain Nares would have been shamefully degraded. At this saying, I take the defence, against my own will,  for I have sworn myself to say nothing; but I cannot longer endure to see heroes attacked by a pigmy.
    Before dinner, Greely, reading of Ingefield’s expedition, spoke of it to Lockwood, making fun of his geographical labors, and of Ingefield.
    This evening in reference to the magnetic book of Ralston (Kislingbury present), Greely wished Lockwood to be told to fill the blank left by Lockwood’s  forgetting to make observations. What a way of making scientific records! And that, by a man who attacks the scientific honesty of Dr. Bessels and Sir Geo. Nares!
    In a conversation (Jewell present), Lockwood says, that one could go in a  launch to Britannia; that, in November, he saw the ocean clear.
    This evening I heard Greely saying before the men, apropos of the mean temperature: “That of the English is not reliable.”
     In reference to the aurora, which Greely pretends to have seen at 11 o’clock and 15 minutes, but which I find he has marked at 10 p. m.; it was not an aurora. Ralston protests against it, and says it was the reflection of the moon.
     December 29, 1882.—Greely, in speaking to the men yesterday, said it was strange that up to the present time not one of us had died; that in our own country one of us would probably have been dead by this time; and that it would be positively preferable if one of us could take upon himself all the evils, disasters, and so on, of the whole, and die! The author of this sentence, to exhibit the same in action as word, was seen yesterday, October 13, 1882, making a scrap book with our magazines. He permits this breach in the Army!
     Another aurora claimed to have been seen. It was the sun. To say otherwise would be to utter absurdity.
    January 8, 1883.—I go with Brainard to Dutch Island. Carry a watch, try to read the hour; cannot. Lockwood says that he read the hour at Dutch Island the 21st of December, 1881. Mistaken. That was impossible.
    During the dinner conversation to-day, the subject being the New York Geographical Society, Greely said: “Judge Daly is a fraud.” Lockwood asks:  “Why, if he is a fraud, is he President of the Geographical Society?” Greely also spoke of Dr. Hayes’s stupid plan of Port Foulke, and says that it makes him indignant to talk about it. During the day he found it possible to attack others also, among them Schawatka and Gilder.
    Greely to-day examined his thermometer. Mercury frozen. He said that the English expeditions “did not know the point of congelation of mercury,” and that their mercury was not pure.
    Coming up to Fort Conger Greely ridiculed the charts of Nares. I found them very accurate, so that one could follow them plainly and easily. This stupid vanity is like the man in all he does.
     Apropos of the use of the word “we ,“ made by Dr. Bessels in his book of the "Polaris," Greely said, that he never wrote anything except "I;" that the expression, “we,” was not employed even in second-class country editorials. If this man had common sense, he would understand that he could think what he pleases, to be sure, but he ought, at least, to keep such thoughts to himself.
    My desire to go to the Arctic regions was so notorious, wherever I lived, that I, more than any other, can brave human opinion, and counsel preparations for the retreat south. Personally, I would prefer to pass another winter here, with the promiseof making discoveries, and of reaching a higher north latitude. It has generally been customary in other expeditions, and principally for the honor of the flag—which is essential wisdom—for the commander to consult with his officers. For example, Beicher, Hall, and others. I can but recall the noble figure of Dr. Kane. I do not see that the honor of the flag seems to be at stake at present, or that it seems to demand a sort of forlorn hope. We must rest content with what we have accomplished, which is more than was hoped of us. Starting as a purely meteorological expedition, we have added to that work a remarkable geographical advance.
   Greely wishes to go to the north; and has not enough foot-gear to go to the south. In the exercise of my duty I have recommended watch, care in this regard. Without care, in what state will our health be next summer? In my counsel, I will speak of the alteration of the condition of our health, if we are obliged to retreat. Cite the example of the “Polaris.” Show the resemblance of Kennedy Channel to the north waters—open water in the middle waters.
    As much as our duty compels us to remain next spring where we are, *
                              * At Lady Franklin Bay, Fort Conger.
even in the face of death, and as much as I would be opposed to a retreat for the entire party in the spring, so much, also, am I opposed to working northward under the circumstances.

    It is not our fault that we are here still; it is the fault of the plan of sending us without a supply-ship, and with no protection to assure our retreat. Regarding our retreat, I would advise, instead of sending a sledge to take photographic views—from simple personal vanity—a plan intended to employ the sledge to save those photographs which have been taken in the past, and to take all documents, and to carry provisions to the south.

    According to the testimony of the survivors, there were carried, on the retreat, photographs, original negatives, a pendulum-weight of 90 pounds, bear rugs, etc., and the commander’s full parade suit and sword; while the men were restricted to eight pounds of luggage, and, according to a letter in my hands, were obliged to cut the tops from their socks to reduce their package.


    If I were asked what are, in my opinion, the three cardinal qualities for the solid base of an expedition, the question of moral bravery being established, d priori, as equal among its members, I would say: First, common sense; Second, common sense; Third, always, and unto the end, common sense.

    Two unprecedented facts occurred in the Lady Franklin Bay Polar expedition: Highest North and Health, both attained against physical odds. Lockwood, Brainard, and Surgeon Pavy were the authors. The death of the two victims chronicled the progress of science. Duty was performed at a nation’s bidding, and ended by a nation’s neglect.

                                         LILLA MAY PAVY.

source: Pavy, Lilla May, "An Arctic Journal," The North American review. / Volume 142, Issue 353, University of Northern Iowa,  Cedar Falls, Iowa,  April 1886,  pp. 371-381
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