The Loss of the Proteus

The Loss of the Proteus

[The Evening Post, 1883]

How the Men Escaped and were Rescued

The following report from Commander Wildes, of the United States steamer Yantic, with regard to failure of the Greely relief expedition, was received last night by the Navy Department:

“United States steamer Yantic has arrived, bringing Captain Pike and crew of the Proteus, Lieutenant Garlington, and Greely relief party. All well. Steamer Proteus, was crushed in ice six miles north of Cape Sabine July 23. Crew and relief party, after depositing records at Littleton Island and Pandora harbor, retreated south in six boats to Upernavik, suffering much hardship in Melvielle Bay. Yantic reached Littleton Island August 3, without much difficulty. Found records and immediately proceeded southward. Searched the coast and islands thoroughly down to Saunders Islands. Ice pack then closed in, and could neither get around nor through, and was obliged to retreat under lee of Northumberland Island. August 9, southward gale having loosened pack, was able to get within twenty miles of land. August 10, having ice in all directions but southeast, proceeded to Upernavik. Sent fifteen days’ rations to Lesinsake – [Note – Probably intended for Tessuissak, a small settlement between Shackleton and Upernavik, and about forty miles north of the latter.] – and whaleboat to Cape Shackleton. On August 22 sailed for coal mine, thence to Godhaven; on August 31 Lieutenant Colwell arrived in launch from Upernavik, having been thirty-nine days in open boat. Had separated under orders at Cape York. Sailed same day for Upernavik. Found party arrived. September 2 proceeded homeward. Rough passage. Permission wished coal here.”

The following fuller details of the escape are given by

“While endeavoring to force her way through to clear water, the Proteus was caught between two immense floes, which which quickly crushed her stout walls. It was soon evident that no efforts would keep her from sinking. These hatches were then broken open, and all hands set to work throwing clothing, provisions, and other stores out of the doomed ship upon the ice. The greater part of the cargo which was thus unloaded fell into the water and was lost, but enough was saved to insure the comfort of the party during their retreat southward, and also to make a not inconsiderable cache for the Greely party should it, as now seems inevitable, be forced to make its own way southward. Lieutenant Colwell, U.S.N., also suceeded in saving three boats from the wreck.

“As quickly as possible Lieutenant Colwell loaded one of the boats with stores, and with a crew of four men, set out for the shore. The trip was made with great difficulty on account of the ice. Several successive trips were thus made, and a large quantity of clothing and provisions safely landed and placed in a cache. The last trip made on the morning of July 23, and, as the ice had closed in rapidly, the boat and its load had to be dragged across the ice two miles before it could be launched in clear water. Even then the floating masses of ice closed in so rapidly and so angrily that the boat escaped being stove in only by the narrowest possible chance. The goods placed in the cache were rendered as secure as possible, and the spot marked so as to be readily discovered by the party from Fort Conger.

“Having thus done all in their power to carry out the design of the expedition, the party, on the afternoon of July 25, set out to cross Smith Sound, and after spending a weary night amid the ice, landed safely on the morning of the 26th at a cove near Life-boat Cove. The crew of the Proteus had gone on to Life-boat Cove in there own boats in advance of the smaller relief party, and now, on the latter’s safe landing on the east shore of the sound, all started forward again for Pandora Harbor, which they reached on the following morning. The journey during the night was a most unpleasent one, a hard rain storm raging nearly all the time. Thinking that either the Yantic or the Swedish steamer Sophia might be at Cape York, the party next directed its way thither. The coast was hugged as closely as possible all the way, the boats being too heavily laden to venture far from shore. Every night a landing was made for the sake of safety, and further delay was caused by several days of bad weather, during which it was impossible to make any progress.

“Cape York was at last reached without serious accident, but there was no sign there of any vessel. So on August 16 the weary voyagers set out again for the south, making Upernavik their next objective point. Lieutenant Colwell, with one boat, set out across Melville Bay, intending to keep on a direct course southward until he should find the Yantic. But Lieutenant Garlington, with the other boat and the crew of the Proteus, chose the more circuitous but safe route along the shore. A heavy snow storm set in on August 17, which was ridden out by the boats at anchor to the ice. Upernavik was reached on August 24, and there the Yantic picked up the shipwrecked men and brought them on to St. Johns.”

While at anchor in Dutch Harbor on August 12 the Governor of Elburg came on board the Yantic and reported that the Danish steamer Sophia had arrived there from a harbor thirty miles north of Cape York; and that her captain had stated that native Esquimau had told him that two natives who were with the Greely expeddition arrived there on sledges last winter and reported that the members of the party were all well, except Dr. Pavy, who had died. These natives went back to Lady Franklin Bay. Another Esquimau who arrived from the Greely camp reported that all the officers had been murdered by the men. Neither of these reports is trustworthy, as the fondness of the Esquimaux for lying and narrating sensational stories is notorious.”

Editors note: The news report is copied as printed in the newspaper of the time, including errors and inconsistencies.

source: The Evening Post, Volume 82,Evening Post Publishing Co., 210 Broadway, corner of Fulton Street,
New York, Friday, September 14, 1883