The Wellman Polar Expedition


The Wellman Polar Expedition

It's Loss in Arctic Seas

Cable advices have informed us of the loss of the wellman polar expedition, which set out with the intention of making a dash to the North Pole by means of conveyances drawn by dogs. From papers by the mail we learn the particulars of a search for the missing expedition instituted by the yacht Sadie, belonging to Mr Millar, of Melbourne, and commanded by Capt Colin McDonald, an Aucklander, whose father is still living in Waipu. Captain McDonald formerly sailed several vessels from Auckland and Melbourne, including the Robin Hood, Magellan Cloud and Stanley. The following account of his expedition is taken from "The Shetlander" of July 21:-

Yesterday (Friday) The yacht Sadie, R.Y.S, Captain Townley Parker and Captain Colin McDonald, Sailing Master, arrived at Lerwick from Thorshaven, which port she left on Thursday. Colonel Feiden, the well known Arctic explorer was on board, and during the course of an interview with our representative, he furnishes the following very interesting details regarding the voyage, and the probable fate of the Wellman expedition.

The Sadie left Tromsoe on 28th June for Spitzbergen, with the intention of comunicationg with the Wellman Polar Expedition, the depot of which has been arranged to be placed on Danes Island, in the north-west part of Spitzbergen lat. 30deg. north. After a splendid voyage the vessel reached Advent Bay, Ice Fjord, where many reindeer were obtained. Leaving Ice Fjord, the Sadie proceeded northward, passing Prince Charles Foreland, and were off Hakluyt's Headland early on the morning of the 6th July, anchoring at Smeerenburg Bay in the morning of the same day. Here the steam launch was got out, and proceeded to Pike's House, Danes Island.

The only tennants which the house contained were Professor Oyen, of Christian, and his dog, who had been left by the expedition in charge of the house, with the understanding that the exploring ship Ragnvald Jarl should return to Danes Island on the 17th of May.

It appears that Mr Wellman reached Danes Island with his exploring party on 7th May, all well. He and his party, which numbered fifteen, togeather with a crew of nine - twenty four all told - left in the Ragnvald Jarl, with the intention of working their way Northward to the Seven Islands: but it was decided before leaving that the steamer should return to Danes Island with the crew, about the 17th May. Nothing has been seen or heard of the ship and party since she left the Island and the Norwegian walrus hunters, who have penitrated to the north east of Spitzbergen this spring and summer, have no information regarding the fate of the vessel.

The Sadie then endeavored to search for the missing vessel, and leaving Smeerenburg Bay, on the afternoon of July 6th, she proceeded due north until she encountered the Polar pack, in lat 80.10 deg. She then steamed along the pack with the hope of finding a "lead" to the eastward. Several "leads" were opened, but from the crow's nest they were all seen to be closed at a distance of about two to three miles.

Skirting the pack the Sadie continued her course in a south-easterly direction as far as Grey Hook, where it was found impossible to proceed any further; besides the coal supply of the yacht had to be considered. On the morning of 7th July a strong gale came up from the south-west, and the yacht was forced to take refuge in Smeerenburg Bay. She got under way when the weather moderated, and as the information obtained regarding the exploring party was important she left for Europe. On the 8th, while off Hakluyt's Headland, she fell in with the celebrated Captain Hans Johannsen of the hunting smack Gjoa, who had been hunting for walrus on the north-east of Spitzbergen. During his twenty-four years experience in the Artic seas, he said he had never seen worse weather or encountered more ice than he had this spring and summer to the north-east of Spitzbergen, and, in his opinion, the Ragnvald Jarl must have been beset and crushed in the ice.

This is the opinion of this very experienced Artic navigator, which is bound to carry great weight with it. Even if it is the case that the ship has been crushed, Colonel Feilden is convinced that there is no reason why Wellman and his party should not make good their retreat to Danes Island. Before leaving the Sadie gave professor Oyen a supply of provisions, as he was existing on plain biscuits and meat when he was found.

Captain Johannsen, though his vessel was almost full of walrus, expressed his intention of proceeding later to the north-east in the hope of reaching the Seven Islands, where he hoped to get intelligence of Wellman, or of saving any survivors who might well be there. Under any circumstances, he will bring back Professor Oyen from Danes Island, so that no fear be entertained for his safety.

The yacht Sadie is one of the most magnificent fitted up vessels which ever visited Lerwick Harbour, and belongs to Mr Millar, of Melbourne. Handsome she really is, but hardly a vessel one would care to undertake an Artic cruise in. It speaks well for the courage of Captain Townley Parker that he should have penetrated so far north with a vessel unprotected in any way, and which would be more at home skimming the blue waters of the mediterranean than forcing her way through the frozen barriers of the Arctic regions. Captain Colin McDonald, the sailing master of the expedition, has discharged his duties in a way which has won for him the highest praise from those on board. The Sadie leaves for Southampton this afternoon.

UPDATE: (not included in original article) Bottolfsen, captain of Wellman’s chartered ice steamer Ragnvald Jarl, moored the expedition vessel to the western shore of Waldenøya in May of 1894. It was there that Wellman’s first polar expedition effectively ended when the Jarl was crushed by ice and sunk alongside Waldenøya’s ice-fouled western shore.  To that shore, the crew of the Jarl retreated, and erected a wood-frame and sail-cloth hut with materials salvaged from the wreck, cached some dynamite from the ship, fended off a polar bear, and, a week later, sailed southwest in the ship’s boats to rescue by a fortuitously passing sealing sloop.

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