The Expedition of the “Jeannette” to the North Pole


L'Expédition de la Jeannette au Pole Nord (The expedition of the Jeannette to the North Pole) is a two-volume compilation of documents, published in Paris in 1883, relating to the wreck of the USS Jeannette in the Arctic Ocean in 1879‒81. The documents are partly based on reports that appeared in the New York Herald. The book contains an introductory overview of the most important Arctic polar voyages that predated the Jeannette’s and includes illustrations and maps. The Jeannette left San Francisco on July 8, 1879, under the command of Lieutenant George Washington De Long. Its mission was to try to reach the North Pole via an ice-free polar sea that some geographers theorized might exist. The ship entered the Arctic Ocean on August 29; on September 6 it became stuck in pack ice north of the Chukotka Peninsula and began drifting in a northwesterly direction. On January 19, 1880, the ship began leaking badly as it was crushed by the ice. With great effort the crew managed to save the vessel as it continued to drift in the vicinity of Wrangel Island, which was first sighted on October 20. The Jeannette finally sank on June 12, 1881. The crew abandoned ship and began heading southward, dragging boats, sleds, and provisions over the ice. By September 12, the men had reached the open water, where they launched the ship’s three boats and headed toward the Siberian mainland. One boat was commanded by De Long, another by Chief Engineer George W. Melville, a third by Lieutenant Charles W. Chipp. On the first day the boats were separated in a gale. Chipp and his men were never seen again. De Long and his 13 men made landfall at the northern mouth of the Lena River on September 17 and started on foot for a settlement on the river delta, which they never reached. Melville and his men made landfall on the eastern mouth of the Lena River on September 19, where they met three native Yakuts who helped them to survive and to reach a native village. As Melville and several men began a search for De Long, other members of his crew continued on to Yakutsk, which they reached on December 20. Telegrams were sent to Saint Petersburg and from there to Washington relaying the sensational news that some members of the crew of the Jeannette were still alive. Upon learning this news, James Gordon Bennett, the proprietor of the sensationalist New York Herald, sent a correspondent to Siberia to cover the Jeannette rescue story. Russian search teams found the bodies of De Long and his men near the Lena River delta on March 23, 1882. They also recovered De Long's log, which revealed that he and his companions had died of starvation and exposure during the last days of October 1881. On June 10, 1882, the United States Navy abandoned its search for Chipp’s boat, which was never found.

Last updated: August 31, 2017