There being attached to the expedition a scientific department, its operations are prescribed in accordance with the advice of the National Academy of Science. …
—GEO. M. ROBESON, SECRETARY OF THE NAVY
Work on the newly named Polaris progressed feverishly throughout the winter and spring of 1871. Any delay extending into the summer months might doom the ship to miss its narrow window for sailing. Then the uncaring pack ice would close its open lees, icebergs calved from the pack and glaciers would choke the seas with deadly, white battering rams, and the fearful nor'easters would whip the seas. By October, when most people were celebrating their harvest, the Arctic sun slipped below the horizon, not to be seen again for months. Timing is critical in the high North, a land of extremes in which success often wobbled on the thin knife's edge of picking the best moment to proceed.
The refitting scheduled at the Washington Navy Yard progressed rapidly. Once completed, the ship would steam up to the Brooklyn Navy Yard for its final fittings. Time for departure was drawing close.
Hall now faced another problem. President Grant had appointed him in overall command of the expedition, and Congressman Stevenson, on reading the joint resolution, had referred to him as Captain Hall.
But Hall was no captain. The title was at best honorary. Still, it stuck. After that he was Captain Hall. At best Hall was a self-taught man with valuable Arctic experienceexperience on land.With the stroke of a pen, the explorer gained a title he was ill suited to carry.
Wisely, though, Hall realized he needed a stouthearted crew to man the ship. In an interesting departure from the British, Hall and the American navy turned to those sailors with the most experience in the Arctic. To them whaling men were the most obvious choice. Where the Admiralty placed its faith in the traditions and training of its officers and men, the first official American exploration into the Arctic turned to civilians to man the ship, which was still a registered Navy vessel. Perhaps those in the Navy Department with an instinct for self-preservation sniffed a fiasco and were hedging their bets. If so, their waffling would come back to haunt them.
To a man like Hall, knowledge and experience were everything, so he picked sailors who had served on whaling ships and faced the ice. But such men hold a loose allegiance to their officers, signing on whichever ship pays the best wages. Moreover, military vessels sail under strict, ironclad rules, grounded in years of harsh, swift punishment for disobedience. Such respect for order would hold a crew together in the face of adversity. Nothing but adversity would flow from the far North.
In the end lack of discipline would drive a knife deep into the heart of the Polaris expedition.
No expedition would succeed without a good ship's master. Fortunately Hall knew just the man. The fierce storm that had shattered Hall's small sailboat during his first visit to the Arctic also struck the nearby whaling ships. Many were sunk, including the Rescue, which accompanied the George Henry. Another brig, the Georgiana, was driven hard onto the rocks. Commanding this ship was George Tyson, a man with twenty years' experience whaling the Arctic waters. Only Tyson's ingenuity saved his crew and eventually the vessel. As the wind and waves battered his ship, the angle of the stricken vessel prevented launching the whaleboats. Attempting to swim in the frothing waves meant certain death. Tyson, keeping a cool head, ordered his men to secure what they could before floating them ashore using extra spars as life rafts. In the end his ship withstood twenty-four hours of pounding and was kedged free. Here was a captain who was lucky as well as good.
It also helped that both men were remarkably similar in background and appearance. Tyson had struggled in an iron foundry, dreaming of the Arctic, before escaping to sea. Both lacked formal education and were self-taught, self-made men. While Hall read about the North and gained experience on the land, Tyson followed the humpback whales and learned about the sea. In appearance the two men looked alike. Hall, the larger and more bearlike, could easily have passed for Tyson's older brother. With thick, dark hair and full, curly beards, heavy brows, and dark eyes, the two appeared robust and vigorous. Hall wore his hair parted on the left side and brushed across his forehead, while Tyson pushed his hair straight back, ignoring his receding hairline.
Unfortunately, when Hall approached Tyson to be the sailing master and ice pilot for the expedition, Tyson told Hall he had other plans. He was scheduled to hunt sperm whales.
Discouraged, Hall turned to his second choice: Capt. Sidney O. Buddington. Buddington, connected to a long line of New England whaling captains, had skippered the George Henry, the ship that first brought Hall to the North. During their voyage the men became friends, and Buddington introduced the novice Hall to the Eskimo pilots and hunters he knew. In his subsequent sorties Hall sailed often aboard Buddington's vessels. Certainly Buddington's expertise, with twenty years' whaling in the Arctic, equaled that of Captain Tyson. Buddington's trade wore more heavily on him than on Tyson, giving him a much older, careworn visage. He resembled a tired version of James Garfield. Tracts of gray streaked his thinning hair and grizzled his beard. Lines furrowed his high brow and encircled his eyes. He looked like a troubled and beaten man.
And Hall had a problem with his second choice. On one occasion the two men had quarreled bitterly over the two Inuit interpreters, Ebierbing and Tookoolito. The trouble arose during the summer of 1863 as Hall struggled to finance another trip to his beloved northland. But the bloody battles at Vicksburg and Gettysburg held the country's attention that summer, not the Arctic. Without resources Hall simmered in New York.
Buddington did have a whaling cruise scheduled. Whether he offered passage to Hall is unknown, but the point is moot. Lacking funds for food and supplies, Hall still could not go. Then, without asking Hall's permission, Buddington offered the two Inuit a ride back to their homeland. At the time Ebierbing and Tookoolito were living with Hall in New York and showing signs of homesickness.
On discovering Buddington's plans, Hall exploded in rage. Vitriolic letters flew back and forth. “I trust neither I nor the Esquimaux will ever trouble your house again,” Hall wrote spitefully. Buddington sailed away without Joe and Hannah.
Hall's tirade highlights two curious things. The first was the possessive attitude of these men toward “their Inuit,” as they referred to the Eskimo. At the very time their countrymen were fighting and dying to free the black slaves in the South, northern whalers and explorers like Hall regarded the Inuit as something subhuman. The Inuit's customs undoubtedly contributed to this impression. Their demonstrations of shamanism, cruel treatment of the elderly with ritual murder, and habits of eating fish and blubber raw seemed barbaric and inhuman to the whalers. However, the Inuit traditions masked a culture highly evolved to survive in a hostile setting. But white men stumbling around in an alien world where one misstep meant disaster often missed these subtleties.
While they would have vigorously denied ownership in the legal sense, the white men felt that their Native acquaintances in some way belonged to them. Not unlike the Southern slave owner, men like Hall assumed total responsibility for the care and feeding of Inuit who, for one reason or another, attached themselves to the whites. In doing so, they robbed their charges of all freedom of action. The Eskimo responded by becoming passive followers when in the “civilized” world. Back in the Arctic, the Natives reverted to their proven ways of surviving and ignored the whites whenever it suited their purposes.
The second thing was that Hall showed himself to be remarkably thin-skinned for an Arctic explorer, especially when events beyond his control blocked his drive. Although he was inured to the cold, darkness, loneliness, hunger, and fear, his feelings could be easily hurt. Buddington's offer highlighted Hall's impotence: not being a whaling captain himself and without a ship or money to charter one, the explorer's return to the North remained uncertain. Perhaps Hall also feared that the whaling captain meant to steal his two Inuit just as Dr. Hayes had stolen Captain Quayle. Ebierbing and Tookoolito were precious commodities and essential to exploring the North.
Eventually the two men reconciled. But scars from the rift festered below the surface. Still, good sea captains with knowledge of the Arctic were scarce, so Hall offered the job to Buddington, and the captain did accept the position. Slots for captains sailing north were limited. Normally the skipper of a whaler received a share of the profits, sometimes as much as 10 percent. But striking sufficient whales to turn a profit was no sure thing. Bad weather and a bad season meant no money at all. Unlike a whaling venture, this trip guaranteed his salary, a handsome one at that.
Besides, Hall grew desperate to put the pieces of the expedition together as fast as possible. He showered presents on Buddington, promised a pension for his wife should he die, and dangled the carrot of fame before the captain. Had Buddington the ability to look into the future, he would have turned down the offer. When Buddington accepted the position as skipper, ignoring the remnants of hard feelings that existed between the two men, one more piece fell unnoticed into place, one more link added to the chain of events that would drag the expedition to its doom.
Ironically, events linked the three men after all. Tyson's position with the New London whaling fleet fell through, and he moved his family to Brooklyn just as the refurbished Polaris sailed into the Brooklyn Navy Yard for its final additions. Hall found him and this time would not accept no for an answer. Again twisting arms, Hall secured a position for Tyson as assistant navigator and master of the sledges, a curious title but one somehow carrying the rank of captain.
Unknown to Hall, dating back many years, Tyson harbored ill feelings for anyone with the name of Buddington. In 1854 Sir Edward Belcher abandoned the Resolute, a British Admiralty vessel. One year later, while serving under Capt. James Buddington (Sidney's uncle), Tyson spotted the Resolute frozen in the ice miles from where their ship lay. Following a harrowing trek over the ice to the frozen vessel, Tyson found it intact, preserved down to the decanters of wine in the officers' mess. Although Tyson risked his life to reach the Resolute, Buddington claimed possession of the ship, cheating the man out of thousands of dollars in salvage money. On the young Tyson's very first cruise to the Arctic whaling grounds, none other than Sidney O. Buddington had served as first mate. Neither man talked much about their first meeting, and that cannot be construed as a sign of a positive and warm acquaintanceship.
Now the Polaris had three captains aboardtwo too many by any count. Like the first ice crystals shifting on a mountainside leading to an avalanche, circumstances, insignificant in isolation, were accumulating that would later imperil the expedition. One after another, undetected yet fatal flaws were being woven into the fabric of the Polaris expedition. Facing the harsh cold and darkness of the North, the fabric would start to unravel.
Fate now struck another blow, one far more serious than personality disputes among three captains. Nationality raised its divisive head.
Congress, always wanting the most for its money, had saddled the expedition with two tasks. Not satisfied merely to reach the North Pole, something no one had yet accomplished, the legislators decided the polar expedition would also be the premier scientific exploration of its time. The armchair adventurers under the Capitol dome ordered the undertaking to follow the directives of the Smithsonian Institution and the National Academy of Sciences. Perhaps goaded on by Congress, a committee of these august scientists essentially ordered the expedition to study everything conceivable: biology, geology, hydrology, climatic changes, atmosphere, magnetismthe list was endless. Sealed copper cylinders carrying notes on the expedition's progress were to be thrown over the side and buried in caches ashore as the journey progressed. Ever mindful of the Franklin expedition's mysterious disappearance, the committee wanted a paper trail of this expedition. To fully comply with the scientific requirements, a task force would have been needed instead of a converted tug. Both the National Academy of Sciences and the Smithsonian shared the task of appointing a chief scientist.
Immediately Hall grew uneasyand with good reason. His lack of formal education returned to haunt him. The old division between academics and explorers, first evident with the whaler Captain Scoresby, lived on.
Even before Congress had finalized the bill, an old nemesis of Hall's, smelling blood in the water like a shark, had emerged from obscurity to strike at Hall's appointment. Just as details of the polar expedition were being finalized, Dr. Isaac Hayes materialized in Washington and testified before the Committee on Foreign Relations that he had an expedition of his own in the works and deserved the allocated government funding far more than Hall did.
Hayes and Hall had crossed ice axes at various lectures as the two jousted for the unofficial title of the American most knowledgeable about the Arctic. Notwithstanding the fact that Hayes had not set foot in the Arctic for ten years, he almost wrested command of the party away from Hall. Hayes's doctorate and his book, The Open Polar Sea, gathering dust in the Library of Congress, nearly capsized the self-made explorer's dream. Here, after all, was an explorer with letters after his namejust what the academics wanted.
Hall fought for his life. He scoured Hayes's book, looking for errors and evidence of intellectual dishonesty. He stressed that he had also written a book, Arctic Research and Life among the Esquimaux, published in 1865. In the end he even tried humility. He stood before the Committee on Foreign Relations to refute Hayes's claim. “I confess I am not a scientific man,” he admitted. It must have hurt him deeply to say that. All his life he had struggled to be just that, a Renaissance man, versed in the natural sciences. All his adult life he had been weighing, measuring, and sketching. His self-worth was bound up in his view of himself as a scientist. “No, I am not a scientific man,” he argued. Then he hit the nail on the head. “Discoverers seldom have been.”
Congress agreed. Those who pressed past their fears to disappear into the ice fogmen like Frobisher, Hudson, Franklin, and Parryneeded a special madness. Reaching the Pole demanded someone like Hall, someone with fire in his belly.
Hall's argument saved his job as head of the exploration, but it cost him the role of chief scientist. Congress hedged its bets. Only someone with letters after his name would do for that. Despite Hall's love for science, another would oversee that task, someone with the necessary credentials. Hall's place was to discover the North Pole; it would be left to someone else to subject to scientific analysis what was found there.
With animal cunning, Hall moved to block the appointment of Dr. Hayes as chief scientist. Having his adversary within the ranks would be intolerable. He suggested Dr. David Walker for the post. Walker, young and well conditioned, had served aboard the Foxon its trip to the Arctic in 1857 and gained considerable expertise during the voyage. A combination of surgeon and naturalist, Walker served in the medical corps of the army with experience fighting Indians as well as the Arctic ice pack. Still on active duty in the army, Walker could be reassigned by order of President Grant, Hall suggested, and his salary still paid out of army funds. To sweeten the deal, Hall slyly hinted at donating the trove of relics and artifacts he had amassed on his Arctic tours if Walker were selected.
Spencer Baird, secretary of the Smithsonian, liked the idea. As he was always battling with Congress for funds, not having to pay for Walker appealed to the tightfisted Baird. Besides, an exhibition of the last fragments of Franklin's doomed party would draw packed crowds. Morbid curiosity was as strong then as it is today.
George Robeson, secretary of the navy, and Joseph Henry, president of the National Academy of Sciences, agreed. So did the surgeon general of the army. Walker was the right man to go.
Elated, Hall directed his attention back to the Polaris itself, basking in his newfound glory. While in Washington, his spirits soared when President Grant recognized him in a crowd and made it a special point to shake his hand and inquire about the progress of the expedition. Hall should have watched his back during this tranquil period.
Unknown to Captain Hall, the fates were conspiring against him. A letter arrived from August Petermann, a highly noted geographer residing in Gotha, Germany. During the summer of 1868, Petermann had completed a successful scientific expedition north of Spitsbergen aboard the vessel Albert, which belonged to a walrus hunter named Rosenthal. Petermann's assistant during that trip was a young man named Emil Bessel. In his letter Petermann extolled the virtues of Bessel and urged that he be appointed as chief scientist instead of Walker.
Emil Bessel's credentials were impressive. From the wealthy upper class, Bessel obtained his doctorate of medicine from Heidelberg and then went on to study zoology and entomology at Stuttgart and Jena. Letters attesting to Bessel's skill as a surgeon flowed to the selection committee, but it was the fact that he was primarily a scientist that impressed Spencer Baird and Joseph Henry. Dr. Walker was essentially a physician with a scientific bent. And Bessel had all those credentials after his name that everyone loved.
The committee did an about-face. Emil Bessel replaced Walker.
At twenty-four, Emil Bessel would have been called handsome by his contemporaries. Thick, wavy brown hair rose to an extravagant pompadour that added inches to his short stature and framed a broad, flat forehead and low-set ears. His sideburns blended with a trim, square-cut beard. Dark, deep-set eyes stared imperiously from beneath straight, even brows. A small hump marred the bridge of his otherwise straight nose. Slightly flaring nostrils overrode a trim mustache. On close inspection the downward curl of the right side of his lower lip hinted of cruelty.
Size was Bessel's main problem. A contemporary description of him states that he “would pass for a handsome man, built on rather too small a scale.” Strange praise, indeed. Quick, nervous in temperament, or high-strung, Bessel moved about in short, twitching steps, while his eyes darted and flashed. If Charles Francis Hall might be described as a bear of a man, Bessel was a bantam rooster. Definitely not a “people person,” Bessel loved to study insects.
To further complicate matters, Bessel was not even in the United States at the time. He was serving as a surgeon in the German army.
The impulsive shift from Walker to a German to head the first American polar exploration might seem strange until one considers the times. Germany was regarded as the foremost home of modern scientific knowledge. Anyone who wished to establish his credentials went to Germany to study. With Theodor Bilroth and Emil Theodor Kocher advancing the field of surgery, the Allemagnkran-kenhaus was deemed the finest hospital in the world. America's dean of modern surgery, William Stewart Halsted, studied in Germany before establishing the department of surgery at Johns Hopkins. Scientific degrees from a Teutonic university inspired awe.
Besides, the flood of thousands of Germans to the United States had changed the mix of the American people from one of mainly Scots-English descent to one with many German and Irish additions. Arriving in the early sixties, both Irish and Germans had earned their rights by shedding their blood in the Civil War. More than two hundred thousand Germans had fought for the North, mainly due to the recruiting genius of Lincoln's friend Carl Schurz. Whole regiments of blue-coated Germans marched into battle with no one speaking English.
A major difference separated those German emigrants from Dr. Emil Bessel. They came to America to escape the tyranny of Otto von Bismarck and to make America their new home. Bessel came for other reasons.
Germany had a spidery relationship with Greenland and possibly with the undiscovered lands to the north. Greenland belonged to Denmark, and Prussia had just defeated the Danes in 1864 in a war over the troublesome areas of Schleswig and Holstein. In another year Bismarck would complete his unification of Prussia and the German States into a single country. The Danes still seethed over the loss of North Schleswig, an area where the population was predominantly composed of Danes. Anything to keep Denmark off balance suited Bismarck's purpose.
Already Germany was shifting from a rural nation to one whose industrial growth threatened Great Britain. The United States, too, had just emerged from its own war of unification. Rapidly industrializing as well, Germany and the United States progressed along remarkably parallel courses. Did the wily Bismarck worry about rising alliances between Denmark and the United States? Certainly Germany had an interest in the North Sea and the North regions. Its ships and commerce flowed through that area, and its fishing fleet worked the Greenland coast.
In 1869 Germany had mounted another polar exploration on the heels of the Petermann trip. A screw-fitted steamer named the Germania and a supply brig, the Hansa, departed Bremen on June 15, 1869, to the sounds of a brass band. No less a personage than Kaiser Wilhelm himself saw the ships off. Captain Koldewey, who piloted Petermann's ship, led the expedition. The Hansa soon lost sight of its sister ship, got caught in the ice, and was crushed. The unfortunate crew spent the winter drifting south on an ice floe. Eleven hundred miles later they were rescued by a Moravian mission station close to Cape Farewell in Greenland. The Germania fared better, with its crew wintering over, mounting land explorations, and naming their farthest point north, a barren cape, after Bismarck.
Even as late as the Second World War, German influence in that region was evident. Iceland, although commandeered by the Allies, still maintained a pro-German attitude.
Petermann's letter was all it took to convince the selection committee. Its members should have looked more closely at their choice. The Germania and Hansa expedition shipped with “several eminent men of science, provided with every requisite necessary for the successful performance of their duties.” Obviously the Germans were still interested in examining the nature of the Arctic region. Why, then, was Emil Bessel not included in their list of “eminent men of science”? He would seem the ideal choice. He had just been there. He knew the land, the material, and had the scientific tools.
If his bona fides were so stellar as to woo the Americans, why weren't they good enough for his own country? It cannot be assumed that Bessel wanted a break from Arctic studies, for the Polaris expedition followed close behind the German one. Was there something that the Germans knew about Bessel that made him undesirable to them? Or was there an entirely different reason Peter-mann placed Emil Bessel among the Americans?
Like any large bureaucracy, the German army, although known for its efficiency on the battlefield, had its own paper-trail nightmares. Yet Bessel's release from the German army came remarkably quickly, possibly with the army's encouragement. President Grant had to approve Dr. Walker's transfer. Did Bismarck himself give his blessing to Bessel's assignment? To add to the mystery, another interesting thing happened. Oelrichs & Company, a German steamship firm, transported Emil Bessel to New York free of charge.
So Emil Bessel arrived as surgeon and chief of the scientific corps, barely speaking any English. He was arriving, not as an immigrant with dreams of a new home, but as an expert from afar, casting his pearls among the swine. He arrived as a German, and he remained a German. Despite the fact that he received a salary as chief scientific officer and served aboard a commissioned United States naval vessel, he took no oath of loyalty to either the United States or the U.S. Navy. Mystery still shrouds this man. Upon his arrival, the composition of the crew began to change.
Hall personally had asked for Hubbard Chester as first mate. A native of Noank, Connecticut, Chester was a longtime whaler with years of cold-water experience. The two men had met aboard the Monticello. With large, wide-set eyes, arrow-straight nose, and an exuberant mustache that ran from the corner of one cheek to the next, Chester bore a passing resemblance to the writer Robert Louis Stevenson. The other man Hall requested was William Morton. With more than thirty years in the navy, Morton was trustworthy, solid, and ever-enduring, like the oak planks that now covered the hull of the Polaris. Morton had accompanied Hall's idol Dr. Elisha Kent Kane on both of his Arctic explorations more than twenty years before. Gray-haired and bearded, Morton would prove a rock.
R.W.D. Bryan, an enthusiastic graduate of Lafayette College in Pennsylvania, was appointed to the dual position of chaplain and astronomer for the scientific corps. To the ever practical and penny-wise navy, both positions dealt with heavenly subjects and so could wisely be combined.
But Frederick Meyer, a native of Prussia, secured the position of meteorologist. In fact, Meyer had graduated from the Prussian military academy and served in the Prussian army as a lieutenant. Crossing the Atlantic with an appointment to Maximilian's army in Mexico, he found himself unemployed when the emperor was overthrown. He then enlisted in the United States Army, eventually ending up in the signal corps. Suddenly Germans dominated the scientific staff, holding two of the three positions.
Emil Schuman, another German with drafting skills, was appointed chief engineer. Schuman, sporting full muttonchops and a waxed mustache, looked the proper burgher. To the day the ship sailed, Schuman spoke less than a handful of words in English.
Herman Sieman, Frederick Anthing, J. W. Kruger, Joseph Mauch, Frederick Jamkaone after another, Germans signed aboard the Polaris. After the roster of ten ordinary seamen was filled, only one man, Noah Hayes, was born in the United States.
Other than asking for Buddington, Tyson, Chester, and Morton, Captain Hall appears to have had little input as to the rest of the crew. The army may have pushed Meyer in order to have a hand in any glory, and the academics picked Bessel and Bryan.
The first American polar expedition would have difficulty calling upon Yankee patriotism to advance the flag, because half the crew were Germans. As problems later developed, trouble mounted when the crew divided along lines of nationality.
It is easy to suggest that rapid migration to the newly opened West occupied the minds of most Americans at the time and that it seriously reduced the pool of mariners from which to choose. But the preponderance of Germans is truly puzzling. Why were there so many? Only one Dane and one Swede signed aboard. And where were those hardy seafaring souls of other seagoing nations? Where were the Norwegians? Where were the Portuguese?
Another equally serious division grew as the time to sail approached. Was the primary goal of the expedition to reach the North Pole or to study every conceivable aspect of the far North? Joseph Henry appointed a committee to detail the scientific instructions. Besides himself, he selected Spencer Baird and other prominent scientists like Louis Agassiz. In their exuberance they produced a list of instructions almost impossible to complete. Every known field of study filled their catalog.
Scientific study threatened to sink the exploratory aspect. Even at first glance, the two goals were diverse and conflicting. Reaching the North Pole meant dashing northward through a narrow window of opportunity before weather, sea conditions, and the Arctic winter slammed that window shut. To study all that the committee requested meant careful, time-consuming measurements and observations, the kind best done from a static observatory. One goal demanded risk and gambling; the other required restrained contemplation. To accomplish both tasks meant dangerously dividing the thinking and actions of the party in half.
To Hall, reaching the North Pole was paramount. Quickly he wrote to Henry stressing that. But Henry remained adamant: science first. Hall resisted. “Science must be subordinate,” he underlined that phrase in his orders. “The primary object of our Expedition is Geographical discovery,” the captain wrote, “and to this, as the main end, our energies will be bent.”
Then Henry, fearing conflict, appealed to Hall's kindness. “I doubt not that you will give every facility and render every assistance in your power to Dr. Bessel, who, though a sensitive man, is of a very kind heart.” How could Henry make this pronouncement about Bessel? He hardly knew the man. Still, he persisted. “As I have said, Dr. Bessel is a sensitive man; I beg, therefore, you will deal gently with him.”
The last thing any dangerous mission needs is a thin-skinned chief scientist.
Misgivings flooded over Hall. To an old friend in Cincinnati, Judge Joseph Cox, he expressed fears his mission would fail, primarily because of insubordination among the officers and crew. He complained bitterly about the makeup of the scientific side of his party to Dr. Robert Newton. Darkly he hinted that strong-arm tactics compelled him to accept the scientists. Refuse the present arrangements and you will not command this expedition, he was told. To Hall this was his best chance to reach the Pole, perhaps his only chance. At fifty he was already old for such rigorous pursuits. For him this truly was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Another command might never come his way. Besides, he could never face the humiliation of being replaced, and he was too proud to accept a subordinate role.
Once before he had refused when Lady Franklin suggested that Hall share command of an expedition in search of her husband with Francis McClintock. He might be marginal in the civilized world, but in that harsh, white world he loved so dearly, command was his strong point. There he had the will, the strength, and the flexibility to succeed. He could endure the mind-numbing boredom of sitting cross-legged for days in a darkened igloo while waiting for a whiteout to blow through. He could stand the gnawing hunger that forced him to chew on blackened strips of sealskin, and he could press on while his vision burned from the thousand tiny flashes of sunlight-fired ice crystals suspended in the air.
Command he could, but he forgot that prior to this he had commanded only himself and a few Inuit, mainly Tookoolito and Ebier-bing. Captain Hall had no experience leading larger parties.
In the end he bowed to the bureaucrats. Unknown to him, he was right in one respect. This was to be his final passage to the North.
All persons attached to the expedition are under your command, and shall, under every circumstance and condition, be subject to the rules, regulations, and laws governing the discipline of the Navy, to be modified, but not increased, by you as the circumstances may in your judgement require.
Geo. M. Robeson, Secretary of the Navy, Instructions to Capt. C. F. Hall, June 9, 1871
In theory, Congress had passed a bill authorizing funding for the expedition and the use of a naval vessel and “public service” officers where available. In theory, those military men were ultimately under the command of President Grant, the commander in chief. In reality, only Morton and Meyer were in service. The rest of the crew and officers were civilians to be paid at the end of the journey. Hall was ordered to assume command of mainly foreign whalers and a haughty duo of German scientists who themselves had separate instructions from the American scientific community. Never having held a naval commission, Charles Francis Hall had no idea what the “rules, regulations, and laws governing the discipline of the Navy” were. Neither did the scientists and seamen he was expected to command. No better recipe for a confused command could be devised.
Even the mission's top priority remained unresolved. What was the primary goal to be: exploration or science? On the day it sailed, the Polaris carried a divided crew on a divided mission.