Pressing On or Turning Back, Second Grinnell Expedition (Part 2 of 2)

Photo credit Dr. Russell Potter.
Photo credit Dr. Russell Potter.

As Dr. Elisha Kent Kane led the Second Grinnell Expedition in its search for the missing Franklin crew, he demonstrated a combination of pressing on and turning back — and equally important, the adoption of some Inuit methods to survive harsh northern Greenland winters.  His expedition became one of the most heroic and arduous efforts to escape the northern reaches of Greenland in Arctic exploration history.

During August, 1854 Kane and crew realized that the brig, Advance, would not become freed from Arctic ice. Initially they made an effort to reach Beechey Island by whaleboat, where they planned to meet Sir Edward Belcher and re-provision. However, Kane was forced back by ice and heavy weather to return to the Advance. This predicament caused Kane and his crew to use a dual approach for survival: 1) pressing on with an Inuit-type winterization of the ship using moss and animal skins, and 2) sending a team south (turning back) in an effort to reach Upernavik. This team, led by Isaac I. Hayes, MD, was unsuccessful, and with food and assistance of the Inuit, returned to the Advance. Much like the Franklin Expedition, this instance of turning back severely debilitated these explorers; however, they had a more attainable goal.

During May, 1855, Kane and the remainder of his crew prepared for a final push to escape Arctic Greenland. This massive effort at turning back included three whaleboats to carry the men, equipment, and food. On May 20th, they left the Advance on a four-month, 1,300-mile journey across the ice, man-hauling the whaleboats much like the Franklin crews. Kane’s efforts at moving supplies and invalid men by dogsled, and even baking bread on the abandoned Advance, were instrumental in ensuring his crew methodically moved from island-to-island an eventually to Upernavik.

Unlike the Franklin Expedition, Kane and his men came to depend upon the local Inuit to stay alive. They were generously assisted by them, and were able to hunt for food that helped to limit scurvy. Without these and favorable weather conditions, they would not have survived 84 difficult days of turning back to reach Upernavik on August 8th, 1855.

This blog was originally posted on the New Bedford Whaling Museum “Arctic Visions” blog. with assistance of Dr. Russell Potter.

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