The U.S.S. Jeannette

Two different versions of the same map, separated between editions not only by 14 years, but also by differences in quality. The later map also includes fascinating additional manuscript text showing the ‘Probable drift of articles from the “Jeannette”‘.

Nord-Polar-karte, 1905. M1 (173)

The pages come from Adolf Stieler’s Handatlas, first published in 1817 and going through numerous editions with contributions from some of Germany’s leading cartographers, including Hermann Berghaus, who designed the 1905 Arctic map, and Augustus Petermann, who will play a further part in this story. An interesting and complex character as well as an outstanding cartographer, here’s a link to an earlier blog about the man.

Nord-Polar-karte (with manuscript additions), 1891. M1 (172)

The map, especially the later coloured version is good in itself, giving a high birds-eye view of the top of the World with insets showing a more traditional approach to topographical representation at the edges and two gridded circular maps at the bottom corners showing ocean currents  and coverage of the Northern Lights (see inset). But it’s the manuscript additions that make the earlier map more interesting, despite its condition. The Jeannette was originally a Royal Navy ship called the Pandora, one in a long line with that name, the first being the ship sent to capture the Bounty mutineers in 1790. In 1879 she was  sent on an expedition to the North Pole. The main aim of the expedition was to follow the Kuroshio Current, a warm current system in the Pacific similar to the Gulf Stream which it was believed, incorrectly, to flow through the Bering Strait and then into the ‘Open-Polar Sea’, an imagined sea set in the Arctic Sea free of ice. This sea was mapped by Mercator in 1569 but believed to exist even before Mercator’s famous map of the World. It was Petermann, a firm believer in the existence of the warm sea current theory, that proposed the expedition that would lead to the Jeannette setting sail in 1879.

Polus Articus, from Atlas Minor, by Gerardi Mercatoris, 1621. Map Res 100.

This map of the Polar region comes from a 1621 edition of Mercator’s Atlas Minor. Mercator went further than most in his views on the Pole, believing that not only that there was an ice-free sea but that the Earth was hollow and the ocean flowed through holes at the Pole into the Earth.

Leaving San Francisco in July the Jeannette passed through the Bering Strait in late August and continued her journey towards the Pole, but by the 7th of September she became trapped in ice, and spent the next 21 months drifting according to the currents and movement of the ice until finally the pressure put on the ship caused it to break apart and sink in June, 1881.

This extract from the earlier map shows two islands discovered as the ship was trapped, Jeannette and Henrietta, with a further island, Bennett, discovered as the crew tried to reach land after the ship sank. The map dramatically shows the location of the ship’s final moments, ‘Untergang [doom] d. Jeannette, 13 Juni 1881’ and the manuscript additions show the path taken by the ‘articles’ of the ship, the remains left on the ice after the ship went down, which slowly floated on currents down the east coast of Greenland before beaching on the southwest of the island.

Stanford’s map of the countries around the North Pole, 1875. M1 (107)

This beautiful map of the North Polar region was published 4 years before the voyage of the Jeanette by Stanford’s, the famous map publishers and sellers out of 55 Charing Cross. This map highlights the hardship faced by Polar explorers, with vast areas of the Arctic labelled ‘Unexplored Polar Region’. It’s to the credit of these intrepid explorers that there is so much red text and lines on the map, indicating what the map calls ‘chief Arctic worthies and the dates of discovery’.  The inset from the map shows the same area as shown earlier in this blog, with the group of islands round New Siberia before the discoveries made by the Jeanette.

It’s a story reminiscent of Shackleton and the Endurance in the South Pole, with one crucial difference. Like the Endurance the Jeannette’s crew survived the hardships of the ship’s entrapment. But 20 of the crew of the Jeannette perished in the attempt to reach safety, including the captain, George Washington de Long, although 13 of them did survive.