IN ARCTIC SEAS
 FOR three hundred years the discovery of a northwest
passage around the continent of America was the dream
of European navigators. English merchants and sailors
were especially anxious to find some way of reaching
the Pacific Ocean and China which would be shorter and
quicker than by the long voyage around Cape Horn or the
Cape of Good Hope. Vessel after vessel was sent into
the Arctic seas to grope darkly along wintry shores, to
lose themselves in a wilderness of ice, and finally to
return with the report that no such passage could be
Look upon a map of the Arctic regions. You will find
it strewn with names in commemoration of the brave men
who risked their lives in the effort to solve the great
mystery. Baffin and Davis and Frobisher and Parry and
Hudson and a score of others, each made some new
discovery of bay or strait or frozen promontory, but
none was able to
 find a way through the icy barriers which opposed them.
One of the most daring, and, indeed, one of the most
successful of these northern heroes was Sir John
Franklin. His first voyage was made in 1819. his
object was not so much to discover an open passage
through the seas as to determine the position of the
northern coast line of America. He landed on the
southwestern shore of Hudson Bay and made his way
overland to Great Slave Lake. Then traveling northward
he reached the Arctic shores which he followed for more
than five hundred miles. Five years later he led a
second expedition; and this time explored the coast for
nearly four hundred miles west of the Mackenzie River.
In 1845 he was appointed to the command of an
expedition sent out by the British government for the
discovery of the northwest passage. He set sail early
in the spring, having two well-equipped ships, the
Erebus and Terror, with picked crews of a
hundred and thirty-four men. On the 26th of July, a
whaling vessel passed the two ships in Baffin's Bay,
and all were well. They were never seen again.
 Two years passed without much anxiety, and then the
question began to be asked, "Where is Sir John
Franklin?" a ship was fitted out to sail to Baffin's
Bay, find him, and give him such help as might be
needed. Little fear did anyone have that any serious
misfortune had befallen him.
But when the relief ship came back and reported that no
trace of the Erebus and Terror could be
found, everybody became anxious and alarmed.
Expedition after expedition was sent out, all charged
with the one great duty of finding Sir John Franklin.
For six years the search was kept up, and during that
time no fewer than fifteen such expeditions were
equipped, some at public, some at private expense, and
dispatched into the Arctic seas.
In 1850, Henry Grinnell, an American merchant, offered
to fit out two ships for the purpose of making a more
careful search for the lost explorers. "It is
possible," said he, "that Sir John Franklin's vessels
are still safe and sound, and floating in an open sea
of clear and warmer water, which we may suppose
surrounds the North Pole. In such case they are
imprisoned by an encircling wall of
 icebergs, and will escape as soon as the shifting of
these icebergs opens a convenient channel."
Mr. Grinnell's vessels were small sailing ships, the
larger one called the Advance, the smaller, the
Rescue. They were placed under the command of
Naval Lieutenant De Haven with a young surgeon, Elisha
Kent Kane, as second in command. From the beginning,
Dr. Kane was the leading spirit of the expedition, and
to his golden deeds was due whatever of success it
achieved. Instruments, ammunition, and rations for
three years were supplied by the government.
Northward, northward the two small vessels sailed,
drawing nearer every day to the mysterious region of
cold and darkness and danger. They were so far north
on the 24th of June that the sun scarcely dipped below
the horizon. In September they were farther north than
any other vessel had ever wintered. The ice closed
around them; they were helpless and motionless in the
midst of a vast frozen sea.
THEY WERE HELPLESS IN THE MIDST OF A FROZEN SEA.
Then the darkness of the long Arctic night set in. For
one hundred and forty days the light of the sun was not
once seen. On every side there
 was naught but a solid sea of ice stretching north,
south, east, west, no man could tell how many leagues.
But those dark days were not spent in idleness. Every
man had something to do. Some kept the ships in order,
some went hunting, some provided games and amusements
to cheer the spirits of the more despondent. When at
last daylight returned and the ice began to break up,
it was found that nine other vessels had wintered at no
great distance from the Advance and
Rescue. All were on the same golden
errand—to learn tidings of Sir John Franklin and
The American vessels gallantly led the way wherever
they could go. Indeed, their commander appeared to be
so indifferent to danger that the more cautious English
captains nicknamed him "the mad Yankee."
At a place called Cape Riley, one of the English
captains discovered the first traces of the lost party.
At this place, Sir John had no doubt encamped for a
while, for here were found some remains of a tent, a
great number of birds' bones, and some empty tin cans.
Farther on, still other
 traces were discovered, showing that the first winter
quarters of Sir John Franklin must have been there.
After this no further sign could be seen, no word could
be heard of the unfortunate Franklin or of any of his
crew. The short summer was spent in cruising through
dangerous seas, and on the 3d of October, 1851, the
Advance and Rescue were both safely back
in New York harbor.
On the 30th of May, 1853, Dr. Kane sailed in command of
another expedition to the Arctic seas. He had but one
ship, the Advance, and it had been equipped and
furnished by Mr. Grinnell, with the aid of George
Peabody of London.
Still believing that Sir John Franklin's vessels might
be imprisoned in an open polar sea, he pushed northward
as far as possible before being caught in the ice. The
Advance last went into winter quarters in Van
Rensselaer Harbor, far up the western coast of
Greenland. No other ship had ever wintered so far
While his vessel lay imprisoned in the ice, Dr. Kane
made long excursions into frozen Greenland. He
explored the coast for more than a hundred
 miles northward and eastward, traveling in sledges
drawn by dogs.
Late in May, he made a still longer journey, and
finally discovered open water far to the north. All
along this open channel there were numbers of animals,
such as bears, seals, and birds. Dr. Kane believed
that if he had been prepared to follow this channel he
would have reached the open polar sea. But his ship
was still fast imprisoned in the ice in Van Rensselaer
When he returned, it was the 10th of July. The
ice-pack around the Advance instead of melting
away was growing thicker. The only thing to be done
was to abandon the vessel and try to reach the coast
settlement of Greenland, by land. It was determined,
however, to remain at Van Rensselaer Harbor through
In the following May, taking their light boats and
sledges with them, they party set out on their long and
tiresome journey. To tell of their hardships and of
the many perils which they narrowly escaped would make
too long a story. For eighty-four days they toiled
onward, almost ready to despair, but cheered and
strengthened by the hopeful words and example
 of their leader. At length, on the 9th of August,
weary, disheartened, and half famished, they reached
the Danish settlement of Upernavik.
A new weeks later they were found there by Captain
Hartstene of the United States navy, who had been sent
with two vessels to their relief.
From his boyhood, Dr. Kane had never known what it was
to be robust and strong. The rough life, the exposure
to cold, the many privations he had experienced, told
sadly upon his health. When he returned to New York,
it was plain that his days were numbered. He visited
Cuba in the hope that, with a change of climate, health
It was all in vain, however. One pleasant day, while
sitting with his mother, he gently fell asleep to be
awakened no more in this life.
After his death people began to recognize and
appreciate his noble character. In England, no less
than in America, his name was honored as that of a true
hero and a doer of golden deeds.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics