“Hurrah for Baffin's Bay”


Nonsense song. Ch: "Avast belay, Hurrah for Baffin's Bay! We couldn't find the pole, because the barber moved away. The boat was cold we thought we'd get the grip so the painter put three coats, upon the ship! Hip, hip! Hip, hip! Hurrah for Baffin's Bay!"


From the 1903 Broadway production of "The Wizard of Oz." It was performed by the comedy team of Fred A. Stone and David C. Montgomery (and may have been written with them in mind). - SL

And a surprisingly topical item it is, because there was a "polar push" going on, but the participants had a pretty astounding record of failures. At the time this was written, the quest for the North Pole was looking much like the quest for the Northwest Passage fifty years earlier, or the quest to climb Mount Everest forty or fifty years later: Lots of attempts, little luck -- and the prospects for success rather poor.

Indeed, Mirsky observes (p. 293; for references, see the Bibliography at the end of this note) that "In the recent history of Arctic Exploration undue stress was laid on the attainment of the North Pole. In 1896 Nansen showed conclusively by the _Fram's_ drift across the polar basin that the Pole lay somewhere on a shifting, ice-covered sea, at a point that had to be mathematically determined." In other words, by the time this song was written, everyone knew that the North Pole was sea, not land; there would never be a base or research station there.

It's interesting to note that the serious quest for the North Polebegan relatively late (though earlier than the quest for the South Pole); people had been seeking the Northwest Passage for years before they really started looking for the Pole. (For background on the quest for the Passage, see the notes to "Lady Franklin's Lament (The Sailor's Dream)" [Laws K9].) Indeed, the first two serious Northward Nuts (Elisha Kent Kane and Charles Francis Hall) started their careers searching for Franklin's lost expedition. Charles Francis Hall managed to bring home some Franklin artifacts and tales, as well as relics from Frobisher's very first Northwest Passage quest -- but he also started a ridiculous story that Franklin's second-in-command Crozier was still alive as late as 1860.

The Pole expeditions never produced the casualties that the Franklin expedition did -- but only because no one was willing to send so many men.

The first fairly modern attempts to reach the pole were made in the early nineteenth century by the British Navy. The first, in 1818, was commanded by David Buchan in the _Dorothea_, with John Franklin in the _Trent_ as his second-in-command. The goal was to go forward by ship, but they made it only about to the north end of Spitsbergen. They gave up after a long summer, their ships much battered but with the crews intact (Fleming-Barrow, pp. 52-55).

The second naval attempt, in 1827, was made by William Edward Parry, the Admiralty's darling boy for his near-conquest of the Northwest Passage in 1819. This time, the ship _Hecla_ was only to take them to Spitzbergen; from there they would proceed with sledges and small boats. They quickly discovered that the polar ice was not smooth, so the sledges were slow, and that the ice had a southward drift. The expedition set a new record for "Farthest North" that would stand for half a century (Fleming-Barrow, pp. 239-240), but finally had to return.

That ended naval attempts at exploration; there just wasn't the money for more expeditions with such feeble results. When polar exploration resumed, it was largely done by amateurs, who found amazing ways to get in trouble.

It probably didn't help that, where the Northwest Passage expeditions were led by sober men like Parry and Franklin, many North Pole expeditions were organized by fruitcakes like Elisha Kent Kane, who had little contact with reality. (It is probably not coincidence that, when Farley Mowatt published a book about arctic exploratoin in the 1960s, it was entitled _The Polar Passion_; Bryce, pp. 944-945). In the expedition Kane commanded, he faced multiple near-mutinies, ended up eating rats, and finally lost his ship (Berton, pp. 250-258, 273-295). His problems may even have been genetic; reading histories of the Mormons, I find that his brother Thomas Leiper Kane was also given to wild plans, grandiose notions, and illnesses that sound psychosomatic. (T. L. Kane was not an explorer, but he mediated between the U. S. Government and the Mormons, and later became a Civil War general, with limited success.)

Charles Francis Hall had no relevant training (he was an engraver who had run a no-account newspaper in Cincinnati) and was given to prophetic dreams, quarrels with everyone, and perhaps a mild case of bipolar disorder; on an earlier expedition, he had murdererd one of his crew, but was never prosecuted because no one could figure out which jurisdiction the case fell under.

Robert Peary, who came later, wasn't given to visions, but he was secretive to the point of paranoia, and so obsessed that he refused to have his toes treated for frostbite on one expedition. He ended up losing eight toes -- and being forced to stop anyway; see Berton, p. 525. Fleming-North, p. 284, calls him "probably the most unpleasant man in the annals of polar exploration," noting that in his youth he liked to trip his grandfather just to see the old man fall down. Bryce, p. 871, quotes an observer who said, "Peary strikes me as a man who never smiles except when he thinks it would be rude not to."

The Pole really did seem to lure people who were in it for the glory. This was utterly unlike the Northwest Passage expeditions, which had strong scientific components (John Franklin's _Journey to the Polar Sea_, for instance, which describes his disastrous 1819 expedition, notes that he was instructed to "register the temperature of the air at least three times in every twenty-four hours; together with the state of the wind and weather and any other meteorological phenomena. That I should not neglect any opportunity of observing and noting down the dip and variation of the magnetic needle, and the intensity of the magnetic force; and should take particular notice whether any, and what kind or degree of, influence the Aurora Borealis might exert on the magnetic needle..." and so forth. See the introduction to Franklin's work, p. 28 in the 2000 Brassey edition with introduction by James P. Delgado). Peary's sole goal, by contrast, was to reach the Pole. So strong was Peary's obsession that, when he heard of other attempts, he gave orders to his subordinates to automatically discount them -- see Henderson, p. 210.

Hall's third expedition, 1871-1873, in the ship _Polaris_, shows how badly a polar expedition could fail: They made an incredible push northward, heading up Baffin Bay to the Kane Basin between Ellesmere Island and Greenland, then continuing up the Kennedy Channel to reach the north shore of Greenland at the place now called Hall Basin.

But the expedition crew by then was in near-total disarray, with a drunken ship's captain and a rebellious scientific staff; the goofy Hall was unable to exert control. In November 1871, Hall died. Almost a century later (1968), Chauncey Loomis led an expedition that excavated his grave -- and found he had been poisoned with arsenic. (Unlike the Franklin Poisoned By Lead theory, this doesn't seem to have been questioned, though it's not clear if it was murder or accident. For the story, see Loomis, especially the epilogue starting on p. 303, which describes the trip to conduct the Hall autopsy. A shorter summary can be found in Berton, pp. 390-394. A third vivid account is found in Fleming-North, pp. 138-141. In Berton and Fleming, the pages before and after describe the horrid plight of the crew on the expedition, giving rather more detail than Loomis, who devotes most of his work to Hall himself.) Most of the other members of the expedition eventually made it home, but the _Polaris_ was lost and the crew suffered extreme privations.

The 1879-1882 expedition of the _Jeannette_ was worse. Lincoln R. Paine's _Ships of the World_ (entry on the _Jeanette)_ tells of how the former H.M.S. _Pandora_ was sold to U. S. Navy Lt. George W. de Long. The ship was renamed for the sister of James Gordon Bennett, editor of the _New York Herald_, which had earlier sent reporter Henry M. Stanley into Africa to find Dr. Livingstone (Guttridge-Ice, p. 21) and who had also sent a reporter on de Long's one previous arctic expedition, to search for Hall's _Polaris_ (Guttridge-Ice, p. 14). Bennett loved to publish exploration stories, so he decided to fund a new polar venture. At least, he promised to fund it. In practice, he demanded that de Long keep the cost under control, causing a lot of dangerous corner-cutting (Guttridge-Ice, pp. 41-44, etc.) The ship's boilers were inefficient, she had divided objectives, she didn't acquire a tender until the last minute, and she really wasn't designed to withstand the ice. Some changes were made before she sailed, including strengthening of the sides -- but certainly not enough (Guttridge-Ice, pp. 55-56).

The ship's voyage began on July 8, 1879 (Guttridge-Ice, p. 2). On August 28, 1879, _Jeannette_ set out through the Bering Straight, to try to reach the Pole from western Canada. (They were seeking the alleged open Polar Sea, even though the U. S. Coast and Geodetic Survey determined in that year that such a sea almost certainly did not exist.; Guttridge-Ice, p. 80).

After numerous delays for this and that, the _Jeannette_ finally passed through the Bering Strait. It was late in the year, and coal was relatively low (de Long was rather profligate with fuel; he had gone through too much on the _Polaris_ rescue mission and had used it up at a prodigious rate pushing toward the Arctic; Guttridge-Ice, pp. 15, 63), but de Long didn't hesitate; he tried to make it as far north as possible even after the ice started to close in (Guttridge-Ice, pp. 80-81). He made little northward progress, and within days, the ship was trapped in the ice (Guttridge-Ice, p. 83).

It wasn't long before the ship sprung the first of several leaks (Guttridge-Ice, p. 114); it took all the ingenuity of chief engineer George Melville to rig enough pumps to keep the ship afloat (Guttridge-Ice, pp. 115-128, etc.) -- and even with all his exertions, much of the ship was flooded and many supplies destroyed, plus, until Melville managed a wind-powered pump, they were burning irreplaceable coal. And they were trapped in a trap they would never escape. They could perhaps have tried to leave the ship to reach Wrangel Island (which, until then, had been known as "Wrangel Land," because it wasn't until de Long passed north of it that it was demonstrated to be an island). They had sighted it just before they became trapped (Guttridge-Ice, pp. 79-81), and it would still have been within reach. But de Long wasn't ready to abandon ship for an unexplored island; not yet. (And, though he couldn't know it, Wrangel Island would prove very inhospitable for the crew of the _Karluk_ thirty years later; see the notes to "Captain Bob Bartlett." Of course, de Long would have had his expedition in better shape than Bartlett had he abandoned immediately.)

The next summer, when they hoped to get free of the pack, they were able to make some repairs (Guttridge-Ice, p. 133 and following), but the ice had carried them north; it never quite thawed enough to let them loose. By the summer of 1881, they were passing north of the New Siberian Islands, several of which they had discovered and named (Guttridge-Ice, pp. 157-158). In June 1881, the ice finally destroyed the _Jeannette_ (Guttridge-Ice, p. 163). The islands nearby were far too cold and small to support them; the crew sledged painfully over the ice, then upon reaching open water set out for home in three smaller boats they had hauled with them (Guttridge-Ice, pp. 185-190). Fleming-North, pp. 221-229, tells how they were separated in bad waather. One boat simply vanished. Two landed near the outlet of the Lena river in Siberia, but not together. The crew led by engineer Melville managed to survive. De Long and his party starved to death; in all, over half the crew was killed.

The story of Andrew Greely's party, which set out shortly after the _Jeanette_ went missing, was similar. Greely and his party of 25 was sent to explore northern Ellesmere Island, gathering scientific data and perhaps making a run for the pole. They were supposed to stay several years, with supplies arriving in summer. They were ill-equipped for the task; it was mostly an army signal corps expedition, and few men had arctic experience (Guttridge-Sabine, p. 7).

Even though the expedition had to sail north to their base at Lady Franklin Bay, was little inter-service cooperation (Greely had boats, but no navy men; apart from one former seaman and a sergeant brought up on Cape Breton, no one even knew how to manage a boat! -- Berton, p. 459). Greely had a congressional appropriation to outfit his party, but it was too small and long-delayed; it was nearly impossible for Greely to acquire the supplies he required with the money he had available (Guttridge-Sabine, pp. 39-47). He had a hard time finding the officers and specialists he needed. Finally, on deadline, the party set out despite not really being ready.

It didn't take long for trouble to arise. Greely had a strange notion of discipline (reading Guttridge-Sabine, pp. 117-118, and other passages, he seems to have been the sort who felt that forcing people to obey silly and arbitrary orders promoted military order; Berton, p. 437, calls him a martinet and humorless -- very bad for an expedition in the arctic, where initiative is key). He sacked his second in command (Guttridge-Sabine, pp. 64-66) almost the moment the expedition arrived at its destination, then (p. 118) started taking duties away from the doctor/naturalist. When trouble came, he was in a position where he had no intelligent subordinates whose advice he could trust.

The first supply ship, which was supposed to arrive in 1882, never showed up; the army bureaucracy in effect placed all the arrangements in the hands of a private, who was given conflicting orders and had no useful experience (Guttridge-Sabine, pp. 92-97); the ship he chartered was blocked by ice, and he gave up after caching a bare handful of the supplies he had brought (Guttridge-Sabine, pp. 100-101). Not long after, the private would die of a drug overdose (Guttridge-Sabine, p. 203).

The next year's supply expedition was bigger -- it included the _Proteus_, which had brought the expedition north in the first place, and the naval vessel _Yantic_ -- but the _Yantic_ was neither fitted nor supplied for the ice (Guttridge-Sabine, p. 130), and the _Proteus_ ended up "nipped"; she sank with most of her supplies (Guttridge-Sabine, p. 138). Plagued by indiscipline in the transport's crew (her excellent complement of two years earlier having been replaced by a different and more mutinous bunch; see e.g. Guttridge-Sabin p. 139), it took some effort just to get the relief expedition home; they left no supplies (Guttridge-Sabin, pp. 144-146).

After two years without contact, Greely decided to abandon Fort Conger, the base on northern Ellesmere. This was written into his instructions: If he hadn't been resupplied by September 1, 1883, he would depart. After 721 days at their base, Greely decided to leave just a little early, on August 9 (Guttridge-Sabine, p. 152; Berton, p. 448). Greely can hardly be blamed; while there was still sufficient food for at least another year, the men were unhappy (especially with him, as it would prove), and travel in the arctic winter was never easy.

What followed showed the disastrous effects of inadequate planning; Greely did not really know what course to take, and made assorted errors along the way. He took too many records and equipment (which could always have been recovered from Fort Conger at a later date) and too few rations. Plus, being the nut case he was, he insisted on hauling along his heavy dress uniform (Berton, p. 458). Had everything gone exactly as planned, he had just enough food to get to where he was going (Guttridge-Sabine, p. 157)

But nothing ever goes according to plan in the arctic. The engineer in charge of keeping the motorboat's engine running was an alcoholic, and Greely couldn't keep him sober (Berton, p. 459; Guttridge-Sabine, p. 158, 162, etc.). Greely eventually decided to take passage on an ice floe, leading the rest of the edition to discuss mutiny (Berton, p.. 460; Guttridge-Sabine, p. 163-164). Greely himself fell in the water, and though he was rescued, many of the party thought he should have been left to drown (Guttridge-Sabine, p. 164). His failed planning caused one of the boats to be destroyed (Guttridge-Sabine, p. 173). Even his most reliable sergeant described this part of the trip as "madness" (Guttridge-Sabine, pp. 198-199). The map in Guttridge-Sabine, p. 213 shows how the ice drove them around the Kane Basin as they tried to get to the island of Cape Sabine; twice they came within sight of it only to have the ice turn them around).

As all this went on, the _Yantic_ headed south on September 15 (Guttridge-Sabine, p. 171), and the war department decided not to send further help (Guttridge-Sabine, p. 184).

Greeley's crew came ashore south of their destination at Cape Sabine, with sone of the men starting to become ill from their ordeal (Berton, p. 462). They had perhaps three months' worth of food to last the entire arctic winter (Berton, pp. 463-464). They built a shelter that was more cave than hut (25 feet long, 18 wide, but only 5 feet high; Guttridge-Sabine, p. 222), and basically prepared for rescue or death. (They hoped at first to be able to sledge to the Greenland side, but the ice, for once, never closed over the passage, and they were too debilitated to try the remaining boats; Guttridge-Sabine, p. 239).

By New Year's, the doctor was amputating a soldier's foot and fingers due to frostbite (Guttridge-Sabine, p. 226). They had lived at Fort Conger for two years without scurvy, but now, with little fresh food, the traces began to appear; when the first man died on January 18, 1884, it was of a mix of scurvy and starvation (Guttridge-Sabine, p. 234; Berton, p. 469).

Ironically, Greely, a failure until this point, managed to be a good fairly leader at this time (Berton, p. 472), rationing the food and keeping the the men relatively sane (Berton, pp. 467). But they slowly died off due to malnutrition. There were several instances where men stole food (Berton, pp. 467, 470, 473, etc.); in the end, they had to execute the worst thief, who had enlisted under an assumed name to hide his history (Berton, p. 475; Guttridge-Sabine, p. 272, notes that he was not really given a trial, simply shot -- though he admits that, in the circumstances, the formality of a court-martial "was out of the question"). On the last day before rescue, when the tent by the burial plot (to which they had moved their base, Guttridge-Sabine, p. 266) fell in, no one was strong enough to put it up again. And it was later shown that someone had engaged in cannibalism (Berton, pp. 484-485). It was probably the doctor, since it was skillfully done and ceased at about the time he died (none of the men who died after him had any flesh removed), but Guttridge-Sabine, pp. 271, 275, offers a few cryptic hints that others might have been involved.

By early June, the deaths were happening almost daily, and the survivors had no strength left to bury the corpses; the last one was simply pushed out into the snow. When they were finally rescued in the fourth week of the month, only seven men were still alive, and one of them was the man who had had his feet amputated; he would soon after die of his injuries, leaving only six. Out of 25 who had set out. Apparently only two were still relatively mobile when found. Greely was the only officer to live.

A constant theme, from exploratory party after exploratory party, is men who went out of control. Some of this, no doubt, is commanders who didn't know how to command (even Peary was a civil engineer, not a line officer). But I wonder a little about seasonal affective disorder. In any case, in 1903, the quest for the polehad a worse record than the quest for the Passage had been when Franklin set out.

No wonder, then, that the repeated Polar expeditions became the subject of mirth: What sane person would risk what the explorers had been through? Besides, there were all the mad inventor types the quest encouraged: Peary was mailed ideas for building a wooden tunnel to the pole, for building a pipe to transport hot soup, and to fire himself to the pole by cannon (Henderson, p. 185; compare Fleming-North, p. 353).

In 1904, about the time this song came out, Peary founded the Peary Arctic Club with the declared mission of "altering... public opinion so that existing prejudice against Arctic work would be lessened" (Henderson, p. 159). You almost wonder if it was cause and effect.

Note that the Pole was not reached until 1908 at the earliest, five years after this song was performed -- and it was probably much later. The first person we are certain saw the North Pole was Roald Amundsen and the crew of the dirigible _Norge_, which flew over the pole in 1926.

This was days after Robert Byrd' attempt to fly over the Pole. Although he claimed success, the evidence is against him (for Byrd's failure, see Roberts, pp. 155-168. Roberts, pp. 159-160, summarizes the case against Byrd: In trials, his plane never exceeded 75 miles per hour, and was slower with landing skis, but his flight time of only fifteen and a half hours meant he had to average 87 miles per hour. He returned with an engine leaking oil, which would have forced him to turn around as soon as it was noticed whether he had reached the Pole or not. And his only sextant had been broken, so that, even if the readings were accepted, the instrument's error could not be checked. It was very Peary-like: No one could prove he didn't make it, but there was no good evidence and the claim required travel speeds while unobserved which Byrd had never managed while observed. Byrd's claim isn't as outrageous as Peary's -- he claimed a tailwind helped him out, which at least means he acknowledged the problem -- but the probability is low. And he went to great lengths to hide his records; Roberts, p. 164. Bryce, p. 921, makes the interesting point that the man who "verified" Byrd's record was the same one who "'proved,' and improved, Peary's observationsat the 'Pole.'").

The following list shows key dates in the quest for the North Pole (adapted from Berton, p. 637 and following).

1818 - David Buchan's expedition from Spitzbergen (two ships, the other commanded by Lt. John Franklin)

1827 - William Edward Parry's expedition from Spitzbergen passes the latitude of 82 degrees N

1860-1861 - An American expedition under Isaac Hayes seeks (and naturally fails to find) the "Open Polar Sea"; it also produces some hideously inaccurate maps (Berton, pp. 353-364; Fleming-North, pp. 61-78)

1871-1873 - North Pole expedition of the _Polaris_ (Hall's third northward expedition, but the first devoted to the Pole rather than Franklin), which features the death of Hall and the stranding of half his crew; see description above

1875-1876 - British naval expedition under George Nares. This was to be the last try by the British navy, and it does briefly set a new Farthest North record -- but scurvy, which the Admiralty thought it had solved, forces the expedition home a year early (Berton, pp. 413-429; Fleming-North, pp. 161-186)

1879-1882 - _Jeannette_ expedition, described above. All told, 20 out of 33 involved die.

1881-1884 - Adolphus Greely explores Ellesmere Island and his team sets a new "farthest north" record, but only six of 25 survive (due mostly to American government errors), and at least one man was guilty of cannibalism

1886 - Robert Peary fails to cross Greenland (crossing Greenland may not sound like a big deal, but the island is all glacier; there is no life at all for hunters to harvest, and the Inuit wouldn't go near the interior. Had Peary succeeded, it would have been a testimony to his techniques; also, there was at the time a hope that Greenland might provide a route to the Pole). Peary also claims to chart shoreline later shown not to exist

1888 - Fridtjof Nansen crosses Greenland

1891-1892 - Another Peary expedition to Greenland. He doesn't chart any more territory -- and makes off with sacred and irreplaceable Inuit artifacts which he sells entirely for his own profit. Later he will lure six Inuit back to "civilization" where they will become the victims of "scientific" experimentation; all will die young, and it will be decades before their bones are returned north for burial

1893-1895 - Nansen, using a new type of boat (the _Fram_) and later sledges, sets a new Farthest North but does not reach the pole

1897 - Salomon Andree tries and fails to reach the pole by balloon. He and his crew make it back to the uninhabited islands of Franz Joseph Land but die there; their bodies are not discovered for more than thirty years

1898-1902 - Another Peary expedition fails -- this time leaving Peary with damaged feet

1899-1900 - Abruzzi expedition sets another Farthest North record but doesn't approach the Pole

1901-1902 - Ziegler/Baldwin expedition from Norway fails to reach the pole

1903-1905 - Ziegler/Fiala expedition, again from Norway, fails with the loss of the ship _America_

1905-1906 - Peary fails again

1908-1909 - Peary claims to reach the Pole (April 6, 1909). So does Dr. Frederick Albert Cook (April 21, 1908).

Examination of the incomplete records of Cook and Peary makes it unlikely that either ever made the Pole -- but Peary saw to it that Cook's instruments and many of his records were lost, making it impossible for him to offer proper evidence for his claims. (In fact, Bryce, p. 848, notes that Peary began a six-part plan to discredit Cook the moment he learned the doctor had set out for the pole. To make things even harder for Cook, an accident also destroyed many of his photos -- Bryce, pp. 335 -- but these probably would not have affected the case, since they were taken before his run for the pole.)

In addition, Edward Barrill, who had accompanied Cook on an expedition to Mt. McKinley (Bryce, p. 280, etc.), released a report claiming Cook never made the summit (Henderson, pp. 267-269, offers evidence that Barrill's account was made up after the fact and that he was paid by Peary supporters to concoct it,and Bryce, p. 797, notes that he *was* paid a great deal for producing it, but Fleming-North, p. 386, offers evidence that Cook's description doesn't match reality, and Roberts,pp. 120-124, covers attempts to retrace Cook's actual footsteps, which allowed them to take photos which matches Cook's but from points other than where he said he took them). With Cook's claim definitely unprovable, and with his reputation damanged, Peary's equally unprovable claim was accepted almost by default (for details on this, see the notes to "Captain Bob Bartlett").

So did Cook or Peary reach the pole? The controversy continued for years, with Cook's supporters and his descendents fighting to clear his name until the last of them died out. Cook's case is much weakened by his lack of observations; indeed, there are charges that he could not so much as use a sextant to find his latitude (Bryce, p. 860fff.). Peary's partisans also stuck to their guns, and the National Geographic Society apparently still refuses to re-examine the matter; they initially accepted Peary's claim -- after all, they had supported his expedition; in fact they never really tested his data. Forty years later, just discussing the matter was enough to get Walt Gonnason thrown out of their offices (Bryce, p. 747). They still maintain that attitude; the eighth edition of their World Atlas (no copyright date but released after 2000) still lists him as the first to reach the pole (Roberts, pp. 153-154, considers this to be the result of loyalty to its own reputation).

Of other authorities I checked, Henderson thinks Cook made it and Peary may have. Asimov does not state an explicit opinion but strongly implies that Peary made it and Cook didn't. Berton thinks neither did (though Berton, whose general policy is to consider everyone a disreputable idiot, does make the observation that, though Peary didn't reach the Pole, he came closer than anyone else to go there solely by muscle power, without support from aircraft, and returning under his own power; see p. 624.) Roberts of course is sure that neither Cook nor Peary made it. Fleming thinks Peary didn't but doesn't see why it matters (a view more meaningful in hindsight: We now know there is no land under the pole, so there is no real distinction between 88 or 89 or 90 degrees north. But Peary *didn't* know that -- in fact, he reported seeing land that wasn't there -- and he wasn't doing science anyway). The 1972 edition of_Webster's Geographical Dictionary_ did not mention Peary and says the Pole was first crossed by foot and dogsled 1968-1969, though the 1998 edition credits Peary with reaching the Pole while admitting the claim is disputed.

Bryce, p. 876, makes an interesting observation. On p. 864, he hypothesizes that the navigationally-challenged Cook might have tried to reach the Pole by "following the magnetic meridian." This in fact would not work, but Cook might have throught it would. This allows two possibilities: That he was trying to cheat all along -- or that he tried his meridian trick, came back thinking he had made it, learned when he returned that his method was not adequate -- but tried to revive his claimed once he realized that Peary's 1909 effort had not reached the Pole. But, as Bryce points out, his behavior would have been much the same either way, so we can't tell which is true. I will admit that I find much of Cook's behavior incomprehensible,making me wonder if he was entirely sane; it's interesting that several other witnesses cited by Bryce (pp. 844, 901), including Roald Amundsun thought the same thing -- and, indeed, the Arctic was good at driving people mad; see again "Lady Franklin's Lament (The Sailor's Dream)" [Laws K9]. Bryce, however, does not accept this explanation

Bryce's first conclusion on Peary (p. 880) is that "All of Peary's ations after April 6, 1909... give every inication of a guilty man trying to shield his greatest deceit from the spotlight of any impartial investigation. Moreover, evidence preserved by Peary himself shows thatall his expeditions before 1909h ad produced exaggereated or false claims." Interestingly, though Bryce absolutely rejects Cook's claim to have reached the Pole, he considers his story of attaining it far more plausible than Peary's (p. 916).

At this time, the matter probably cannot be settled by direct evidence; we must rely on the (very strong) indirect evidence. It seems unlikely that either Cook or Peary made it to the pole.

But I would make a secondary observation: We don't let athletes who use steroids earn credit for winning races. Nor are candidates who commit vote fraud generally allowed to win elections. Why shouldn't Peary be held to the same standard? Did he reach the Pole? Maybe. Did he lie (to the Inuit), cheat (Bartlett, whom he had promised to take to the Pole) and steal (from Cook and from the Inuit -- taking at various times their meteorites, their people to be museum exhibits, and, for his last expedition, their much-needed dogs; Bryce, p. 332)? Yes. Indeed, at one point, his behavior could be called murder, since he refused to allow a doctor to treat Inuit who needed help (Bryce, pp. 319-320). By today's definitions, he was guilty of abduction and perhaps even rape of underage girls (Bryce, p. 341) and child pornography (Roberts, between pages 100 and 101, reprints one of his nude photos of a 14-year-old Inuit girl). Bryce, p. 854, reports that some Inuit labelled him "the great tormentor" for decades. His behavior should disallow his claim.

Incidentally, the first people to stand at the Pole may not have arrived (by plane) until 1953 (Roberts, p. 166). And, although trips to the North Pole are now almost routine (since a traveler in trouble can always radio for help and be rescued by air), the arctic has not entirely relented since Peary's time. Alfred Wegener, who did noteworthy work on meteorology and lunar craters and who invented the modern theory of Continental Drift in the period before the first world war (though it did not come to be accepted until decades after his death) sought evidence for his theories in Greenland, and died there in 1930 when the expedition ran into trouble (see Asimov, p. 595; John Gribbin, _Science: A History 1543-2001_, BCA, 2002; p. 448). And, of course, no less a man than Roald Amundson died on the polar cap while searching for the survivors of another wreck (Asimov, p. 561; Mirsky, pp. 314, 317).


In writing this summary, in addition to the standard references, I have consulted the following works, of varying quality.

Isaac Asimov, _Isaac Asimov's Biographical Encyclopedia of Science & Technology_ (revised edition, 1972; I use the 1976 Equinox edition) is of course about scientists, not polar exploration, but has entries on people like Amundson, Peary, and Wegener.

A classic is Pierre Berton's _The Arctic Grail_ (Viking, 1988), which covers nearly the entire history of Northwest Passage and Polar explanation, though its harsh descriptions of failures make little allowance for hindsight.

Robert M. Bryce's _Cook & Peary: The Polar Controversy, Resolved_ (Stackpole, 1997) is an exhaustive -- maybe I should say exhausting -- look at the Cook/Peary controversy. If anything, it's too detailed, and the index has to be better if it is to be useful as a quick reference. But just about everything known about those two explorers is probably in there.

Fergus Fleming, _Barrow's Boys_, (Grove Press, 1998; cited as Fleming-Barrow). A general-purpose book about exploratory expeditions by the British Navy from about 1816 to 1846, only the handful of chapters on polar exploration are of interest here.

Fergus Fleming, _Ninety Degrees North_, (Grove Press, 2001; cited as Fleming-North) is a history of northward exploration starting roughly at the time the search for Franklin ended (and hence a semi-sequel to Fleming-Barrow). This pays particular attention to expeditions not mounted from Britain or the U. S. Although less negative than Berton, it does give much of its attention to the ways the various expeditions failed.

Leonard F. Guttridge, _Icebound_ (Naval Institute Press, 1986; I used the 2001 Berkeley edition. Cited as Guttridge-Ice) is specific to the _Jeannette_ expedition. The ending is a bit confusing -- he spends a lot of time considering who should bear the blame, then never assigns any! -- but it's a readable reference on this sad, largely avoidable disaster.

Leonard F. Guttridge, _Ghosts of Cape Sabine: The Harrowing True Story of the Greely Expedition_ (Berkley, 2000. Cited as Guttridge-Sabine) is Guttridge's account of the Greely disaster. Like his book on the _Jeannette_, it is specific to that one event, and shares many of the strengths and weaknesses of his earlier book.

Bruce Henderson, _True North_ (Norton, 2005) is devoted almost entirely to the explorations of Cook and Peary, approaching the status of biography of the two. Its only real purpose appears to be to vindicate Cook (which it would do better if it didn't whitewash over so much of the evidence against him), but it has much useful detail about the final phases of Peary's quest also.

Chauncey Loomis, _Weird and Tragic Shores: The Story of Charles Francis Hall, Explorer_ (Modern Library edition, with a new afterword, published 2000) is more a life of Hall than a story of arctic exploration, but it inevitably details the early stages of his last voyage -- and of the inquiry that followed.

Mirsky: Jeannette Mirsky, _To the Arctic: The Story of Northern Exploration from the Earliest Times to the Present_, revised edition, Knopf, 1948. Unduly generous; it never questions anything (except the claims of Cook -- and this, according to Bryce, pp. 721-722, 726, was mostly under legal pressure from the Peary and Cooks factions). But if it praises everyone who ever so much as looked toward the north, it also lists a lot of expeditions that get no other coverage

David Roberts, _Great Exploration Hoaxes_ (Sierra Club, 1982; I use the 2001 Modern Library edition with an Introduction by Jan Morris) covers much more than arctic exploration, and is perhaps a little one-sided in situations where balance might be better, but it has much useful information on Peary and Cook. - RBW


  1. Harlow, pp. 230-231, "Baffin's Bay" (1 text)
  2. Roud #9157
  3. BI, Harl230


Author: Theodore F. Morse/Music: Vincent Bryan
Earliest date: 1903 (Broadway "Wizard of Oz")