Modern history


Unshaven since I know not when, dirty, dressed in rags of wild beasts instead of the tatters of civilization, and starved to the very bones, our gaunt and grim looks, when contrasted with those of the well-dressed and well-fed men around us, made us all feel, I believe for the first time, what we really were, as well as what we seemed to others.


News of the disaster and the rescue reached Washington before the salvaged party did. Two days after the rescue, the Tigress rendezvoused with another sealer, the Walrus. While Captain Bartlett lingered in the Arctic waters to hunt seals for a few more days, Captain DeLange of the Walrussped southward to Newfoundland with the news.

Mr. Molloy, the United States consul in St. John's, immediately telegraphed the American secretary of state. The following week, after being battered by a severe storm, Bartlett limped into Bay Roberts, thirty-five miles north of St. John's, to unload his cargo.

After half a year of starving and subsisting on raw seal meat, the Polaris people found that their sudden return to “civilized” food was taking its toll. Everyone, including the Inuit, suffered from diarrhea, migrating muscle pain, sore throats, and swelling of their faces and feet. The swelling resulted from the lowered protein content in the crew's blood. Suddenly faced with a high level of nutrients, their lymphatic systems were overwhelmed. That combined with the damage to the blood vessels from scurvy enabled the fluid and protein to simply leak into the tissues instead of being returned to the vascular system as it normally would have been. Muscle aches and sore throats most probably came from the reintroduction of the isolated band to the host of viruses that plague civilized men. Frederick Meyer's frozen hands and feet blistered and required continued treatment.

Two days later the swollen-faced Tyson and his crew were surprised by the sudden arrival of MoUoy. By then the entire coast of Newfoundland buzzed with rumors, speculation, gossip, and disbelief. So-called Arctic experts labeled their story a fraud, asserting that no one could have survived on the ice as they had.

And the blacker side of the expedition bubbled forth to tarnish the gleam of their survival. Tyson's sailors shared the crowded forecastle with the men of the Tigress and talked freely of their ordeal. Tyson vented his spleen to Isaac Bartlett, the master of the Tigress. Tales of Buddington's drinking and the mysterious death of Captain Hall spread like wildfire. When Molloy met them, Washington and New York hummed as well. Why had they failed to reach the North Pole? Had Hall been poisoned? Why had the Polaris not returned to pick up the shipmates who had become separated? Everyone wanted to know.

Molloy questioned the party, gathered their statements, and gave Tyson sixteen dollars to divide among the crew. If this was a sign of things to come, it rudely shattered the Germans' dreams of being handsomely rewarded for their travail on the ice. Furthermore, the nature of Molloy's questions put the crew on their guard. While the people of St. John's cheered them wherever they went, the breeze from Washington blew considerably colder.

Within two days of receiving Molloy's telegraphed report, the United States Navy steamer Frolic charged out of New York, making full steam to St. John's. On the seventeenth of May, Navy Secretary Robeson reported to President Grant on “the matter of the disaster to the United States exploring expedition toward the North Pole.” Sirce Grant read the newspapers, he undoubtedly was quite familiar with the rumors.

Those rumors reaching Washington were not good, and Robe-son and all involved moved quickly to protect their interests. No one could deny that something had gone terribly amiss. The strange death of Charles Francis Hall, who had embodied the heart and soul of the expedition, troubled everyone. No one forgot the fact that President Grant looked favorably upon Hall and had given his personal blessing to the expedition. The Polaris disaster touched even the president. In his report to Grant, Robeson wrote:

As was obviously proper, in view of the prompt and responsible action which might be required, that the Government should, as soon as possible, be in possession of the fullest and most reliable information upon all the circumstances of the case, the Frolic was ordered to bring directly to Washington all the persons having personal knowledge on the subject.

Robeson at long last linked Tyson into the chain of command that had eluded him. His telegraph placed Tyson in charge of the crew and the Inuit until they reached Washington. Correcting that oversight came far too late.

If the Navy Department had hoped Molloy would cooperate in keeping the crew isolated, it was disappointed. After all, the State Department's hands were clean in this matter. Molloy made no effort to insulate the survivors.

Throngs of people visited the Inuit. As a result, all the Natives contracted severe colds, and their children suffered from the cakes and candies fed to them. Citizens took up collections for the crew. Tyson dined with the governor of St. John's and freely expressed his view of the treachery that had swamped their expedition. Harper's Illustrated Weekly arranged to photograph the castaways. Its dark lithograph of the somber-faced survivors clustered around their battered boat appeared on the front page under the heading the COMPANY WHO WERE ON THE ICE-DRIFT WITH CAPTAIN TYSON, adding fuel to the speculations.

Washington quickly wanted control of the loose tongues. The Frolic steamed into St. John's on May 27, loaded the survivors, collected their diaries and Hall's writing desk, and hastily departed the next day. The ship sailed directly to the nation's capital, arriving at the Washington Navy Yard at precisely 1:15 p.m. on June 5, 1873. Its commander had to apologize for slowing down when he encountered ice.

If the survivors had expected a heroes' welcome, they were sorely mistaken. Their return differed greatly from their departure. No one was allowed to disembark. No crowds thronged the wharves, no bands played, and no flags waved. No press was allowed aboard. These members of the Polaris expedition, having escaped their icy prison in the far North, found themselves captives of their own government.

At four o'clock that same day, George Tyson appeared as the first witness before a hastily drawn board of inquiry. Tyson was haggard and thin, his face tanned and hardened like leather from months of exposure to the wind, cold, and sun. Transferred from his virtual prison ship, the rescued captain was taken aboard the USS TalLpoosa for questioning. Besides Secretary Robeson, the board consisted of Admiral Goldsborough and Commodore Reynolds, representing the navy. Since Frederick Meyer belonged to the signal corps, the army insisted that Capt. Henry Howgate of the signal corps sit on the board. Prof. Spencer F. Baird represented the National Academy of Sciences and the Smithsonian. It was these two august bodies that had carefully chosen Emil Bessel. The reputations of the navy, the army, and the scientific community hung in the balance, and each entity wanted to ensure that it was not made the scapegoat for this fiasco.

If Tyson realized that Commander Schoonmaker, the captain of the Frolic was sizing him up during the voyage, the navigator made no mention of it. But Schoonmaker reported in private to the board before it saw Tyson. When asked by Robeson about his report, the commander responded more like a warden involved in a prisoner transfer than a rescuer.

“I found these people in charge of the consulate St. Johns. I received them on the 27 th of May. I had no trouble with any of them. They are ill well-behaved, orderly people; and all seem to be good men.” Schoonmaker went on to provide his assessment of Tyson: “Captain Tyson seems to be very intelligent; I have seen him more than any of the rest; I have had him with me in the cabin. He has made a very favorable impression on me.” Surprisingly Schoon-maker's response implied that his mission was more than it appeared. Besides being a warden, the captain had obviously been asked to nake a judgment of the character of his passengers. No doubt all oi the survivors were on their best behavior.

If the board had thought Tyson would dispel the evil rumors under oath, he surprised them. The forty-four-year-old Tyson lost no time in venting his spleen once more. In the first minutes of his testimony, he named Buddington as the cause the ship had not got farther north. Referring to Hall, Chester, and himself, he said, “Our decision was to go north, but it was overruled by Captain Budding-ton.” For good measure, he added, “Captain Buddington, with an oath, said he would be damned if she should move from here.” The astonished secretary for the inquiry duly recorded each bitter statement.

Buddington's drinking came to light, as did the suspicious nature of Captain Hall's death. Tyson spoke of Hall's fear that he'd been poisoned. Now the specter of murder raised its ugly head, and Tyson's testimony pointed to two likely suspects: Captain Buddington and Dr. Bessel. This revelation especially shocked Professor Baird. He had helped select the German scientist.

“How did Captain Hall and the doctor get along?” the panel asked.

“Not very well.”

Tyson also gave them a motive for Buddington: “Before his death there had been some little difficulty between Captain Buddington and himself. Captain Hall was about suspending Captain Buddington from duty. …”

A second whole day of testimony revealed the fiasco that had put Tyson and half the crew on the ice. The angry navigator took great pains to describe how the Polaris had steamed close to them before turning away. Without their prompting he also detailed the deplorable existence he and his party had suffered after being left. His statements drew questioning looks from the board.

A third, equally worrisome detail emerged while Tyson talked. What had become of the expedition's records? Both Meyer's and Bryan's scientific records had been tossed onto the ice and lost. Not only did the expedition fail to reach the North Pole, but the majority of its scientific measurements lay at the bottom of the sea.

And there was the matter of Captain Hall's journals and records. Other than the writing box that his faithful Inuit had carried throughout their drift on the ice, the leader's documents had disappeared. Tyson intimated that they were destroyed on purpose because they implicated someone.

“Was there no public examination of his papers in the presence of the oHcers? Were they not certified and sealed up?” the board asked incredulously.

“No, sir.”

“Did anybody suggest that the papers should be sealed up?”

“I did myself; that they should be sealed, boxed, and screwed down, and suggested it to Captain Buddington.”

“What did he say?” Robeson leaned forward, resting on his elbows.

Tyson shrugged. “He did not make any remark whatever, or merely his usual ‘Damn his papers.’”

The board pressed cautiously onward. “While [Captain Hall] was deliiious did Captain Buddington get him to burn up some papers?”

Tyson nodded. “He told me he was glad the papers were burned, because they were much against him; and he got him to burn them.”

The ine of questioning drifted back to Hall's demise. “Have you any Dpinion of your own as to the cause of his death?” Tyson was asked.

“I thought at the time that the man came to his death naturally; it has been talked on board ship that it was foul; but I have no proof of it, and I could not say much about it.” Then Tyson dropped a bombshell.

“There were those that rejoiced in his death.”

The panel looked at each other. “Who rejoiced in his death?”

“Captain Buddington.”

“Did anyone else?”

“I thought it relieved some of the scientific party of some anxiety. They did not mourn him, at least. I know Captain Buddington so expressed himself, that he was relieved of a great load by the death of Captain Hall.”

After two days of questioning Tyson, the panel turned to the next officer, Frederick Meyer of the scientific corps. But an easy confirmation of Tyson's accusations was not forthcoming. Without realizing it, the board was reopening dark chapters in each of the survivors' lives, chapters that contained failures in their character that the men wished to keep hidden. As the panel probed, each person remained silent as to his failures and did his best to avoid in-crimination. Tyson's testimony would have to stand on its own merits where it criticized his fellow castaways. They would grudgingly confirm the navigator's tale of Hall's bizarre death and confirm their abandonment by the Polaris. For their own actions on the ice, the men spun a convoluted picture as obscure as the gray ice fog that had covered their floating island.

Meyer, always the Prussian officer, did his best to present a dry, impersonal account, emphasizing his findings and measurements. But probing by the committee confirmed the strange death of Hall with his “blue vapors” and the dying man's accusations against Dr. Bessel, Buddington, and Mr. Chester.

“Captain Hall called me to his bedside and said that he knew that some persons on board the ship intended to kill him, and he wanted me to stand by his side,” Meyer revealed, adding that he was around the captain because he shared the same cabin.

“Did you at any time hear him accuse anyone of an intention to murder him?” the board asked.

“Yes, sir. When I was about the cabin I could hear him. Some persons might be attending to him, sitting by his side, and he would be talking pleasantly, and all of a sudden he would say: ‘What is this; what is this blue smoke; and what is that there, all blue?’ He thought it was poisonous vapors, he said.”

The panel persisted, searching for a name. “Did you ever hear him accuse anyone to other people? When one was sitting by him would he speak of other people?”

Perhaps trying to protect a fellow German, Meyer sought to shift Hall's suspicions mainly to Buddington and Chester. “Yes, sir. He would accuse other people, and ask the protection of the man sitting by his side. He accused Mr. Chester and Captain Buddingtonthose were the two principal onesand Dr. Bessel.”

Here Meyer planted the idea that the delirious Hall had accused whoever was absent, certainly the sign of a deranged mind to which the panel could point.

“When talking with Chester, for instance, would he accuse anyone else?' the board asked.

“Yes, sir; he would accuse Captain Buddington.”

But a disturbing fact emerged. In his torment Hall had never asked for Bessel to protect him. “When talking to him, did you hear him accuse anybody else, and ask the doctor to stand by him?” Meyer was asked.

“I do not remember that I heard him appeal to the doctor to stand by him,” Meyer admitted.

Meyer confirmed that Bessel had hovered about Hall during his illness. When asked if Bessel had provided regular treatment to his patient, Meyer replied, “He gave him a great many; hypodermic injections of quinine, I believe, for one.” The meteorologist's statement conflicts with the careful record Bessel kept of his treatment. In that record the doctor mentions giving only several injections.

On another subject, Meyer was not shy about discussing Bud-dington's addiction to alcohol.

“Did you ever know of Captain Buddington's being drunk on board ship?” he was asked.

“Yes, sir; he was drunk most always while we were going to the southward. I do not remember whether he was drunk when we got beset with this last floe. There was only alcohol on board, and he would brew beverages out of the alcohol.”

Meyer's statements revealed two new things. First, the crafty Dr. Bessel had not added his own papers to the boxes that Meyer threw onto the ice, keeping them on board during the frenzy. If the Polaris si ill survived, hope remained that Bessel's diaries and measurements did, too. Second, Buddington had possession of Hall's papers at the time Meyer fell overboard. That raised obvious but unspoken questions: Had Bessel and Buddington special information that the ship was in less danger than they pretended? Had they protected their own records while attempting to destroy other incriminating material?

“I have seen the outside of the papers many times, and have seen Captain Buddington looking at them,” Meyer continued, referring to Hall's documents. “He had them in a large tin box. I was on board about five minutes before the ice broke. Then I saw Captain Hall's papers in the cabin; so that they are, very likely, on board. I did not see the journal. The tin box was standing on the table and the papers were lying alongside of it.”

Had Buddington been reading the papers just before he ordered Tyson, the Inuit, and those of the crew he disliked over the side? Was there something in Hall's letters that made him choose those men? The panel had to ask.

“At the time when you were separated from the ship had you any idea that the separation was any other than purely accidental?”

Meyer pondered the question that had vexed him while he suffered on the ice. “My idea was at the commencement that it was accidental,” he started. Then his doubts poured forth. “But, I thought they neglected to pick us up, for it was possible to do so. The ice was not sufficient to keep them from picking us up. We expected them to come, and did not give up the hope until we saw that we were drifting off, and they did not come. …”

As if embarrassed by his outburst, Meyer lapsed into a rambling dialogue. While the stenographer's pen raced along, trying to keep up in shorthand, the Prussian discussed the weather, the shrimp, the types of driftwood found on the beaches, and every aspect of his scientific studies in a disjointed manner. Realizing the panel considered him a suspect, Meyer made it clear that he had no quarrel with Hall. As he closed his testimony, he threw more light on the reasons the expedition had failed: “I believe that a party might have gone much farther north by establishing a sub-base of supplies at Newman's Bay, and this would have been done but for the unpleasant relations existing between Captain Buddington and Dr. Bessel.”

Next came the Inuit. Why the board departed from examining the crew and chose the Natives is unclear. As was their custom, the Inuit's words were direct and to the point. Tookoolito with her better grasp of English helped Hans with his answers. Their close association with Hall during his sudden illness cast more suspicion on the cup of coffee.

” ‘Now, Joe, did you drink bad coffee?’ he asked me,” Ebierbing responded when asked about Hall's words. Tookoolito also spoke of the strange-tasting drink. “He said the coffee made him sick. Too sweet for him. … ‘It made me sick and to vomit,’” she said, quoting the late captain. Both husband and wife confirmed their dead friend's fears he was being poisoned.

Tookoolito also cast further light on Captain Hall's papers. “He said to take care of the papers; get them home, and give them to the Secretary.” Robeson straightened at that revelation. Tookoolito turned back to the other man who had asked the question. “If anything had happened to the Secretary, to give them to someone else. After his death I told Captain Buddington of this charge several times. He said he would give them to me by and by.”

The men of the panel looked at one another, then changed the line of questioning. To their surprise, Tookoolito revealed Budding-ton's unusual action during the night of October 15. The captain had ordeied her onto the ice even after she told him one of the firemen had issured her the ship was in no danger.

“I asked the fireman who was pumping how the ship was,” she said. “He said the ship was all right. Was not tipped at the time. He was pumoing close to my door. He said, ‘You need not carry anything more out, you will come aboard all right tonight.’ I stayed down in c abin a few minutes. Captain Buddington told me to go on ice, and to take my things with me.”

Tookoolito paused for effect. “I told him that fireman said ship all right. He replied, ‘Never you mind; take little girl and go on ice.’ “She raised her eyes to look directly at Admiral Golds-borough. In a voice barely a whisper, she said, “In a few minutes ship went.”

Ebieroing ended his interview with a poignant tribute to his dead friend and an implied criticism of those who had assumed command after Hall's death. When asked if he wanted to resume his quest for the North Pole, he shook his head. “I would not like to; Captain Hall, my friend. With a man like him I would go back.”

John Herron, the steward, was questioned next. While born in Liverpool, the thirty-one-year-old pointed out that he was a citizen of the United States. Herron could speak only from his personal knowledge. Being in the galley, he'd overheard Bessel's confrontation with Captain Hall over Frederick Meyer's duties and had served Hall the questionable coffee. Defensively Herron explained carefully that he had not made the coffee. Making the coffee was the sole responsibility of the cook. Also Herron had not kept track of the tin cup after he brought it to Hall. He could not recall how many hands had touched the cup. Other than confirming Budding-ton's drinking habits, the steward offered little that was new.

One by one the board called the able-bodied seamen, all young and foreign. Each man gave guarded replies. Well aware of Tyson's hostility toward them, they did their best to appear bland and cooperative. John Kruger reminded the panel that he was called Robert, praised Captain Hall, and made no mention of his threatening Tyson while on the ice.

Fred Jamka, another German, related overhearing Buddington tell Henry Hobby, “Well, Henry, there is a stone off my heart,” and explaining when asked why that was, “Why, Captain Hall is dead.” Jamka also had seen Buddington drunk many times. Jamka spoke of the night of the separation, painting Captain Buddington's actions in an even more questionable light. While Buddington had no qualms about ordering certain of his crew onto the ice with supplies, he seemed reluctant to lower the lifeboats.

“We started to transport the provisions farther from the ship,” Jamka related, “and thought it rather careless to be on the ice without boats. I sang out to Captain Buddington to lower the boats. I sang out for a dozen times. By and by he answered, and lowered the aft and then the forward boat, and we pulled them to our side.”

The two naval officers shifted in their chairs. If the Polaris were in danger of sinking, any sensible commander would have lowered the lifeboats to keep them from being lost with the ship.

“All at once we heard a crack under the boat,” Jamka continued. “At the same time the vessel's stern swung off. All at once the lines slacked, and off the ship went. Captain Buddington sang out, ‘Take care of the boats, and I will take care of the ship.’” Like all who had gone before him, Jamka saw no reason the Polaris had not returned to rescue them.

Gustavus Lindquist, the native of Sweden, refused to say if any of the officers had been drunk. “I am no judge whether a man has got liquor or not,” he said flatly. He kept his testimony factual and added only one personal impression. Tellingly he admitted, “There was good discipline while Captain Hall lived, but we put discipline along with him in his grave.”

Peter Johnson, the Dane, and Frederick Anthing, the Russian born along the Prussian border, had little more to add. Both Lindquist and Anthing remembered Buddington's shouting for them to” work for their lives” as the storm struck. Why the Polaris had not seen them and picked them up puzzled them all. The consensus of the crew was that the Polaris was still intact with the remainder cf her crew, waiting to be rescued.

William Jackson, the cook, came last. Wary of being implicated in anything, he added little. “Did you ever see any stealing of provisions?” he was asked.

“No, sir.”

“Did the man who had charge of the provisions give Captain Tyson his share?”

“NobDdy, that I know of, refused to do as Captain Tyson told them.”

Faced with conflicting reports, the panel turned to the journals kept on the ice. If the members of the board hoped to find written comments that backed Tyson's recriminations, they were sorely disappointed. Frederick Meyer's diary started on October 15 with comments and narratives of the party's situation. But within two weeks it had degenerated into sparse notations of wind directions and air temperatures. Reading the contracting notations, one can easily imagine the starving Meyer withdrawing deeper and deeper into his inner mind.

John Perron's diary painted a graphic picture of the suffering and terror that gripped the party as they floated helplessly amid a white he 1. Nothing in Herron's writing, however, confirmed Tyson's tales of insubordination, mutiny, and thoughts of cannibalism. Had the steward wisely excluded documenting that damning behavior, had he been a party to it, or had Tyson's imagination played tr-cks on him during their dreadful journey? The panel could only wonder.

Two journals belonging to William Morton, the second mate, and Herman Sieman had been tossed onto the ice and accompanied the drifting men. Of the men who remained aboard the Polaris, the sturdy Morton and the pious Sieman would be most likely to incriminate any lawbreakers. Had their journals been tossed onto the ice in an attempt to destroy them? Again, the panel could only wonder.

Just one page of Morton's notes survived. Strangely that page describes Dr. Bessel pronouncing Captain Hall's sudden illness as fatal just two days after the man got sick. “Captain Hall seriously ill,” Morton wrote, “and Dr. Bessel has no hopes of him. He told Chester and myself so.”

Hastily the board of inquiry had Sieman's journal translated from its original German. The devout Sieman filled his pages with prayers and lines of guilt for his sinfulness. He carefully documented Buddington's gradual elimination of religious services aboard the ship. One interesting fact emerged from the water-stained pages. Sieman had dearly wanted to watch over Captain Hall during the first episode of his illness. But Buddington denied his request. Was Buddington trying to protect Hall from being proselytized by the overzealous Sieman, or was the skipper isolating his commander from loyal men? The journal gave no clue as to motive. Only Sieman's disappointment came through.

After six days of grueling testimony, the board of inquiry was no closer to the truth. Its report was printed and submitted to President Grant under a cover letter by Secretary Robeson.

The United States' first exploration to discover the North Pole had failed in every way, and Robeson immediately distanced himself from its shortcomings. Too many questions remained unanswered. There were too many shadowy accusations, and too many people were demanding answers. Charles Francis Hall had died mysteriously, the North Pole had not been reached, half the crew had been abandoned on the ice, the fate of the Polaris was undetermined, and the conduct of the officers and men left much to be desired. Ever the consummate bureaucrat, Robeson attempted to deflect any blame away from himself.

“This report is made directly to yourself, as the person under whose orders the expedition was organized, and I have myself signed it, concurring as I do in all the statements and conclusions,” the secretary wrote to the president.

In some of the testimony as given will be found some statements of facts, and several strong expressions of feeling on the part of some of the witnesses against the officer remaining in command of the ship after the death of Captain Hall.

These I feel great reluctance to publish while the person refened to is absent in the discharge of dangerous and responsible duty; but I am constrained to believe that it is better fcr him, and will be more satisfactory to his friends, as well as to the friends of those still on board of the Polaris, that :hey should be published as given, rather than that their suppression should be made the foundation of sensation a and alarming reports in no degree justified by the real facts.

It must, however, be clearly understood that in permitting this publication the Department neither makes nor declares any judgment against Mr. Buddington, who is still abser t in the midst of dangers, and has had no opportunity for defense or explanation.

Then Robeson laid into Buddington with a damning paragraph:

The facts show that though he was perhaps wanting in enthusiasm for the grand objects of the expedition, and at times grossly lax in discipline, and though he differed in judgment from others as to the possibility, safety, and pro-priet) of taking the ship farther north, yet he is an experienced and careful navigator, and when not affected by liquo', of which there remained none on board at the time of the separation, a competent and safe commander.

Obviously no question remained in the minds of the board of inquiry as to who was to be the scapegoat for a poorly planned and disorganized expedition.

With the fate of the Polaris still up in the air, the navy mobilized a relief force with surprising speed. The cries of the newspaper editorialists, the general population, and politicians to rescue the stranded explorers hastened their efforts. A three-masted steamship, the USS Juniata, embarked for Greenland on the twenty-fourth of June with seventy tons of coal and extra lumber. This time the navy was taking no chances. Everyone aboard was regular navy, officers and crew. The one exception was Capt. James O. Budding-ton, the uncle of Sidney O. Buddington. Employed as the ice pilot, the uncle might have sailed in an attempt to rescue the family name as well as his nephew.

Racing from Holsteinsborg to Disko and then on to Upernavik, Commander D.L. Braine of the Juniata gathered sled dogs and sealskins for the relief column. At Disko, Karrup Smith, the Danish district inspector, related Captain Hall's fears of never returning from the expedition as he turned over Hall's manuscript of his search for Sir John Franklin. Ironically now both Hall's and Franklin's bones would reside forever in the Arctic.

With everything set to go, Braine's expedition ground to a halt. None of the Inuit would guide their sleds. The superstitious Inuit sensed that bad joss followed anything associated with the Polaris,

In frustration Braine anchored in Upernavik. The steam launch was lowered, filled with food and two months of coal for its boilers, and christened the Little Juniata. Lieutenant George Washington DeLong, James Buddington, and eight volunteers steamed off on August 2. For nine days they sailed along the Greenland coast of Baffin Bay, searching and poking into suitable coves for signs of the rest of the Polaris expedition. Ice and heavy fog blocked further passage north off Cape York, so the Little Juniata returned empty-handed.

After receiving Secretary Robeson's troubling report, President Grant brought the power of his office to bear on the matter. Eyes were looking at him, and he wanted the matter of the Polarises survival resolvedand quickly. Grant met personally with Joseph Henry, president of the National Academy of Sciences; Spencer Baird; Professor Newcomb, of the Naval Observatory; and Professor Hilgarde, of the Coastal Survey Office. The scientists felt that the testimony proved the Polaris was still seaworthy, and they assured Grant that the missing half of the crew still had a good chance of being alive. The president's consulting with these men, each a member of the National Academy of Sciences, with no naval representatives present sent a message to the Navy Department:

Grant was unhappy with their performance and was prepared to go outside the regular channels to resolve this matter.

Suddenly red tape dissolved. Secretary Robeson found sixty thousand dollars to purchase the sturdy little Tigress, which had rescued Tyson. Built in 1871, the 350-ton vessel was especially designed for sealing in Arctic waters and had the widely flaring hull that the Folaris fatally lacked.

With an iron-braced frame, buttressed with heavy beams, and carrying half-inch iron plating along the forward twelve feet of the three-foo>thick bow, the Tigress was exactly the vessel the Polaris should h^ve been. After her boilers had been converted to burn anthracite coal and her quarters modified, the newly acquired naval steamer sailed from the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Learring from their mistakes, the navy filled the ship with commissioned officers and men. George Tyson volunteered his expertise and was named ice master, with the rank of acting lieutenant. Ebierbing accompanied Tyson. Hans and his family sailed as far as Disko beiore returning to their village on the coast.

Unde r the glare of publicity, many of the crewmen from the ice floe bravely volunteered to return with the rescue effort. In the three months since their rescue, all had fully recuperated and were fit to ship aboard a rescue mission for their comrades. However, when the Tigress left, most failed to show up. Only Gustavus Lind-quist, Wi liam Lindermann, and Robert Kruger sailed. Interestingly the rest of the German seamen slipped into the shadows. History has swallowed them.

Frank Y. Commagere, the noted correspondent of the New York Herald who was covering the story, attempted to join the relief effort but was refused. The navy was leery of what it might find, even if half the rumors were untrue. Undaunted, Commagere enlisted in tie navy as an ordinary seaman and shipped aboard. When Commander Greer, the captain, discovered who Commagere was, long aftei the Tigress was too far north to turn back, he grudgingly promotec the reporter to yeoman in recognition of his ingenuity. Greer also got back at the Herald reporter by quartering him in the forward deckhouse with Hans and his family, whose lack of hygiene offended the noses of all the officers and men.

Ever mindful of the closing window of summer, Greer made all speed to Upernavik, rendezvousing with the ]uniata on August 10. Two days later the Tigress found the Little Juniata and learned the distressing news that no trace of the Polaris or Buddington had been found.

Greer then drove the Tigress up the coast, past Cape York to Northumberland Island. Since their abandonment on the ice, a battle had raged between Frederick Meyer and George Tyson as to their exact location when separated from the Polaris. While Meyer steadfastly swore they were off Northumberland Island and based all his calculations on that notion, Tyson believed just as adamantly that the island they saw on the horizon was Littleton. Now Tyson had the satisfaction of seeing that he was right. Northumberland held no signs of the Polaris or its remaining crew.

Doggedly Greer sailed close by Cape Parry, Cape Alexander, and Hartstene Bay looking for survivors among the rugged out-croppings of the Greenland coast.

As the Tigress approached Littleton Island, Tyson and his former companions shouted out in recognition. The ragged peaks of Littleton and its smaller island, McGary, remained etched in their minds. Greer dropped anchor and lowered a boat.

While they pulled for shore, the sounds of human voices drifted across the waters from the land. “Silence!” Greer ordered. Scanning the rocky coast, Greer shouted, “I see their house! Two tents, and human figures are on the mainland near Littleton Island!”

As the excited rescuers waded ashore, their hearts sank into their rubber boots. The figures were Inuit. Running to meet them were natives wearing scraps of clothing discarded by Buddington and his men. Tyson recognized a half-rotted hawser belonging to the Polaris tied to a rock by the shore. The frayed end of the line floated loosely in the churning surf.

Through Ebierbing and Tyson, Greer learned from the chief that Captain Buddington's group had built two boats and set sail “about the time when the ducks begin to hatch.” Greer bristled when the village leader informed him that Buddington had made him a present of the Polaris before the men left. The ship was a commissioned naval vessel and belonged to the United States.

To the great distress of the new owner, however, the Polaris had attempted to follow her crew. Breaking loose during a gale, the ship drifted a mile and a half after her men before sinking. Now she belonged completely to the Arctic, like Charles Francis Hall, and that cold territory had no intention of giving her up. When Greer rowed to the spot where the ship had foundered, he found her grave marked by two icebergs that had grounded on the sunken vessel.

Examining the wooden and canvas house that remained proved unsettling. While the wooden bunks, galley, and carpenter's bench remained intact, the floor was strewn with stores and broken instruments. The naval officers along with Tyson gasped at the disorder. Riggng, bags of potatoes, corn, tea, pork, and meal covered the floor, interspersed with broken compasses and medical supplies. The ship's bell lay beside a pile of broken firearms. As Tyson bitterly noted, “There is one thing certain; these men did not suffer from the want of food or fuel, as discarded provisions were lying scattered all among the rocks, and, of course, the natives had eaten all they wanted in the interval besides.”

This wanton destruction cannot be blamed on the Inuit. No Native would destroy a coveted rifle or pistol, and anything metal, such as the instruments, would be kept for trade. The frenzied destruction bore the stamp of frustrated men venting their rage on their own things as they departed a camp that might have been unbearable 1 o them.

Shakiig his head, Greer walked among the mess, collecting torn books and manuscripts and broken instruments. Not only was this deliberate destruction of government property, but maintaining records of the expedition and its scientific findings was one of the highest priorities of the mission, next only to reaching the North Pole. Examining the mutilated papers aboard the Tigress, Tyson and Greer found many pages missing from the logs. The defacing of the logs and journals was carefully done, something entirely different from the random scattering of the supplies. All references to the death of Captain Hall were torn out. “I had an opportunity last evening,” Tyson wrote in another journal he had started on boarding the Tigress, “of looking over the mutilated diaries and journals left in the deserted hut off Littleton Island. Not one but has the leaves cut out relating to Captain Hall's death.” In fact, no mention of the separation of Tyson's group on the night of October 15 existed either.

It appeared as if someone had taken great pains to systematically eliminate any notation of those two events. Tellingly, on one scrap of torn paper, Tyson found the written words “Captain HalVs papers thrown overboard today.”

As Greer's men searched further, no evidence of the ship's scientific papers could be found. The captain decided to return at once. No survivors were at the winter site.

Leaving the ruined camp astern, Commander Greer next steered the Tigress across the straits and hunted down the eastern side of Baffin Island, just in case the currents had carried Budding-ton's boats to the west, as they had Tyson's ice floe. As Greer and Tyson traced the coastline to the east, the ]uniata left Upernavik and resumed combing the western side of the bay. By running both sides of the bay, they hoped to find Buddington and his men.

One night as the ]uniata steamed through the dark waters far from the Tigress, the horizon ahead exploded with signal rockets and flashing lights. The ]uniata hove to and prepared to meet the oncoming vessel. It was the Cabot, a swift steamer, hired by the U.S. consul Molloy, bearing the news that the rest of the Polaris survivors had finally been found. Hurriedly the captain of the Cabot related the events surrounding the rescue of the remaining group from the Polaris debacle.

On June 3 the Scottish whaler the Ravenscraig, out of Dundee, had spotted Buddington's two boats beached on an ice floe. Their flag waving atop one of the boat's masts clearly marked them as white men in distress. The watch in the crow's nest first thought the men on the ice were whalers from another Scottish vessel. But those on the ice were waving hats, and all the Scots wore woolen caps. Someone suggested that the group they watched might be survivors of the Polaris, and a rescue party was hurriedly formed. As the ice beset the Ravenscraig, a party of eighteen volunteers trekked over the ice to rescue the exhausted men.

Due to shortage of space, half the rescued crew was transferred to another whaler, the Arctic. On July 17 the Ravenscraig crossed paths with a steamer, the Intrepid, and transferred Bryan, Booth, and Mauch to that ship. The remnants of the Polarises crew sailed about in :hese three ships while the whalers continued their hunt. By August 10 the Arctic filled her hold with whale oil; picked up Buddington, Morton, Odell, and Coffin from the Ravenscraig; and sailed for home, arriving there on September 19.

The three men aboard the Intrepid were transferred to another whaler, the Eric, on September 13. After a stormy and prolonged voyage, the last of the Polaris survivors stepped ashore in Dundee, Scotland, on October 22, 1873.

More than three months after the rescue of Buddington's group, a weary Charles Tyson arrived in St. John's aboard the Tigress on October 16, to watch the harbor pilot climb aboard. The first words ou: of the pilot's mouth were, “The Polaris party is safe.”

After two years, the last of the Polaris expedition had finally escaped from the grasp of the Arctic. Miraculously, only one man their leader, Charles Francis Hallhad died.

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at Thank you!