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Russian plan to locate and raise the wreck of schooner USS Jeannette in Arctic waters

By Olga Gertcyk
23 February 2015

The 19th century vessel - formerly the Royal Navy's HMS Pandora - sank as Americans raced to be first to North Pole.

The 43-metre long Jeannette, built in Pembroke Dockyard in Wales, was crushed by ice on 12 June 1881. Picture: James. G. Tyler

Now a  Siberian adventurer is planning to find and raise the wreck of the historic vessel which sank during an exploration of the Arctic in 1881.

Yakutsk-based Andrey Y - a well-known director, screenwriter, TV presenter and traveller - says the project could help ease the strained relations between Russia and the US.

American author Hampton Sides - who wrote an acclaimed book about the ship published in 2014 - has already expressed an interest in finding and raising the Jeannette, claiming there is US Navy support for such a move, but fearing hopes of co-operation are doomed while relations between the countries are so icy.

The British-built vessel lies off the most northerly island of the country's largest region, the Sakha Republic, also known as Yakutia.

None of the 33 crew were lost in Jeannette's sinking, but only 13 would survive after an epic escape from the Arctic and across Siberia. Among the dead was the vessel's legendary captain George Washington De Long.

Schooner-Jeannette


George Washington DeLong

USS Jeannette at Le Havre, France, in 1878 (top). Jeannette's legendary captain George Washington De Long, in 1879, just before leaving for the Arctic (bottom). Pictures: Wikipedia 

The heroic but tragic story was told in the book 'In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Voyage of the USS Jeannette', by Hampton Sides, published last year. 

'The schooner Jeannette sank close to the island of Henrietta - the most northern island of Yakutia,' explained Andrey Y, real name Andrey Khoroshev, who is now actively working on a plan to find the steam-powered ship. 

'De Long who died in the mouth of Lena river is actually an American national hero.  His vessel Jeannette, a gigantic schooner, was like a museum, so comfortable it was. 

'Everything was arranged to feel you were at home while exploring the Arctic. It had a fireplace, redwood, gold, bronze - it was built with a view to sustain five years of autonomous sailing. They only spent two years at sea.'

He predicted it was possible to raise the Jeannette. 

'This vessel lies at depth of only 18 metres, with the location known down to one kilometre. So in modern day conditions, to find and raise it is not such a hard task. 

'Of course we would like to do it. Imagine what it would do for the Republic of Sakha, what kind of event it would be. And for our relations with America - which are not very good right now. So perhaps we would give them such a generous present by raising it.'

Along with the Russian North fund, he has applied to Russia's influential Geographical Society to carry out an expedition to find the lost schooner, which was seeking - before it was lost - to plant the Stars and Stripes flag on the roof of the world. 

Andrey Khoroshev

Andrey Y, real name Andrey Khoroshev, Yakutsk based director, screenwriter, TV presenter and traveller. Picture: Andrey Kiyanitsa

The 43-metre long Jeannette, built in Pembroke Dockyard in Wales, was originally a British naval Philomel-class gunboat, launched in 1861, but in its final voyage it was attempting a daring bid backed by the US government to sail to the North Pole via the Bering Strait. 

Under the command of explorer and naval officer Lt Cdr George Washington De Long, the three-masted ship had set sail - watched by cheering crowds - from San Francisco on 8 July 1879.

It progressed through the Chukchi Sea  but in early September caught fast in the ice near Wrangel Island, and for 21 months, it drifted, in the general direction of its ultimate goal, the North Pole. 

During their ice-bound odyssey floating through the Arctic waters, De Long and his crew maintained unique scientific records of their journey. 

'A full meteorological record is kept, soundings are taken, astronomical observations made and positions computed, dip and declination of the needle observed and recorded - everything we can do is done as faithfully, as strictly, as mathematically as if we were at the Pole itself, or the lives of millions depended on our adherence to routine,' he wrote in his journal. 

In May 1881, two previously unknown islands were located by the intrepid crew, duly named  Jeannette and Henrietta.

Their joy was shortlived. On 12 June, the pressure of the creaking ice crushed the their ship, fortunately giving enough warning to the men to abandon the vessel, salvaging food and small boats.

Jeannette sinking


Jeannette crew


Jeanette crew

On 12 June, the pressure of the creaking ice crushed the their ship, fortunately giving enough warning to the men to abandon the vessel, salvaging food and small boats. Pictures: George T Andrew

Even chief engineer George W. Melville - reputed to be able to 'fix anything' - was unable to save the Jeannette.  It sank the following morning, leaving them marooned on ice, around 800 kilometres north of the Siberian mainland. 

With only a slender hope of survival, they slowly headed south, aiming ultimately to reach the vast delta of the Lena River in the Laptev Sea. Pulling their provisions, and three small boats, on sledges, the following month they reached another uncharted island, which they claimed for the USA.

They named it Bennett Island, after Gordon Bennett junior, an eccentric American newspaper tycoon who inspired and funded the Arctic mission. 

One remarkable contemporary account of their flight from the Arctic reads:

'It became evident the Jeannette must go down. Every one left the vessel, De Long the last to quit her, and the entire crew who had started to fall of life and hope to reach the North Pole by following the Suroviwo, the black current of Japan, passing through Behring Strait into the Arctic Ocean found themselves cast out upon the ice 500 miles from the mouth of the Lena River, their nearest hope of succour. 

'They had three boats to haul, often through deep, soggy snow, reaching at times to their waists. To make for the New Siberian Islands was their endeavour; and when they had been on the retreat some weeks De Long secured a good observation of the sun, and learned to his infinite chagrin they had drifted twenty-four miles into the northwest, so that after daily marching, amid unheard-of difficulties, some twenty-five miles a day for two weeks, they had retroceded twenty-four miles.' 

'A journey of five hundred miles lay before them, and only rations for sixty days; but they lost neither heart nor hope. About the middle of July the wonders of another island dawned upon them; 'cliffs of black basaltic rock rising to a height of 3,000 ft., stained with patches of red lichen, towered above them.' 'Camping under the great mountains,' their tents looking like ant-hills, they took possession of the island, in 'the name of God and the United States, naming it Bennett Island'; and men who for two long years had lived amid the wonders of the ice-world 'now', says Mr. Melville, 'stood agape and marvelled as the grand parade of snowy bergs sailed by'.

Jeanette crew


Jeanette crew

Jeannette crew members survived after an epic escape from the Arctic. Pictures: George T Andrew, U.S. Naval Institute

On 12 September they attempted to sail for the mainland. One boat with eight on board was lost - under the command of Lt Charles W Chipp - in a heavy storms.

The other two, commanded by De Long  and the canny Melville made it to widely separated locations on the 400 km wide delta.

Melville and his 11 men found a native village and were saved, but De Long and his 14 men had a far more arduous route across the marshy, half-frozen estuary.

First one man perished, then a desperate De Long - close to starvation - sent his two strongest crew members to go ahead and seek help. 

This pair, William F. C. Nindemann and Louis P. Noros, were reunited with the survivors from Melville's boat at Belun, a remote outpost populated by tsarist political exiles.

Melville sought native help to mount a rescue mission for his commander but after several abortive attempts, he eventually on 23 March 1882 discovered the bodies of De Long and two of his men. 

Earlier, he had found De Long's landing place on the delta and recovered the invaluable log of the Jeannette and other important records, preserving them for posterity. 

On 18 June 1884, some wreckage from Jeannette was found on an ice floe close to the southern tip of Greenland, helping scientists to establish that ice in the Arctic Ocean was in constant motion.

Jeannette memorial


Jeannette monument

At the Jeannette memorial in the mouth of the Lena River, Russia (top). The Jeannette Monument in the United States Naval Academy Cemetery (bottom). Pictures: Anastasia Rudenko, US Naval Academy

American author Hampton Sides has spoken of his own desire to bring the wreck home from the waters off Henrietta Island in what is now known as the De Long archipelago. 

'I have always wondered how we could find and photograph the Jeannette,' he told National Georgraphic last year. We know almost exactly where the Jeannette is because when it sank, De Long's men took very meticulous positional readings.

'The only problem is that it's in Russian waters, near some islands that are somewhat disputed - the De Long Islands (named after the captain). So the hurdles for finding the Jeannette are more geopolitical than archaeological. 

'I'm hoping this book might create an environment that down the line, when our relationship improves with the Russians, we could send out an expedition to recover the ship.

'I've spoken with some folks in the Navy and at NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the US) who are interested. It's certainly one of my passions. One of my secret wishes.'

His comments on the De Long Islands as 'somewhat disputed' are puzzling, since although they were claimed by the crew, the US has made clear it has no rights over what are plainly Russian territory off the Siberian coast.

Hampton Sides


Kingdom of ice

Hampton Sides tells the heroic but tragic story in his book 'In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Voyage of the USS Jeannette'. Pictures: Hampton Sides

Russian governments from tsarist times to the present day have asserted their sovereignty  over these islands, a claim which has not been challenged by any country.   

However, Andrey Y's intentions seem to be friendly towards the Americans.

Mr Sides' revealing book includes intriguing detail from a treasure trove of letters and papers he found in a chest that had belonged to De Long's widow. 

It includes 'all her love letters during their courtship days and letters that she wrote while the expedition was in the Arctic, which she hoped would somehow reach her husband by way of Arctic whaling vessels', he explained.

The tragic voyage of the Jeannette was at 'the very end of the nautical age of polar exploration, when there were still people who thought you could somehow reach the North Pole by ship, as opposed to sledges and dogs and so forth,' he said. 

'De Long wanted to do this for the Navy, and for personal glory, of course. But also for science. So he spent five years very carefully planning this expedition. Alaska had been fairly recently purchased from Russia, and people desperately wanted to know what was north of our new territory. So the idea was to push north of the Bering Strait and try to reach the North Pole by a route that had never been tried before.'

Henrietta island


Henrietta island

Henrietta island. Pictures: NASA, Alexander Oboimov

He compared it to the race for the moon much later. The Americans wanted to win and this voyage, funded by the eccentric Bennett, symbolised an American determination to be top dog. 

'The North Pole seemed as inaccessible as the moon. There was also a good bit of nationalism behind it. We wanted to beat the British and the Scandinavians and the other powers. There was also a sense of Manifest Destiny at work. 

'We'd moved west all the way to San Francisco. We'd built the transcontinental railroad. We'd just bought this new territory in Alaska. It was as though Manifest Destiny stopped heading west, took a right turn, and went due north.'

In his interview with National Geographic, he heaped praise on the Yakut people who rescued the Jeannette's survivors. 

'They played a huge role in saving these guys,' he said. 'There's one particularly touching moment where a Yakut woman washes Melville's frostbitten and dirty feet, then coats them with goose grease. It sounds kind of disgusting, but it worked miraculously.

'These people didn't have to help at all. They probably thought: "Who are these guys who've come from the north? They must be either criminals or exiles. In some cases they thought they were from another world, that they'd literally come from beneath the ice. And yet when they saw what desperate straits the Americans were in, they really gave of themselves and embraced them.'

The course of Jeanette party

The map showing the course of Jeannette party after leaving the ship. Picture: U.S. Naval Historical Center

The Jeannette survivors were even invited to meet Tsar Alexander III, he said.

The backer of the Jeannette voyage - Gordon Bennett junior - was a larger than life character who ran the New York Herald, at the time the world's largest newspaper. He bought the former HMS Pandora, and renamed it ahead of the Arctic venture. 

He also sponsored another famous trip, sending Henry Morton Stanley's to Africa to find explorer David Livingstone in exchange for the exclusive story of their encounter. This gave rise to the famous phrase  "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?, uttered in the town of Ujiji on the shores of Lake Tanganyika on 10 November 1871.

Another phrase 'Gordon Bennett' - as an expression of surprise or annoyance, especially used in the UK - is named after him. 

Among his other achievements, he brought both polo and tennis to the US, and personally won the trans-Atlantic yacht race. 

Comments (21)

My suggestion is read: The History of the Growth of the Steam Vessels of War of the U. S. Navy, and the Naval Engineers Corps, by Frank Marion Bennett (1896, Pittsburgh, PA: Press of W. T. Nicholson) pages 687-688. The
islands that George Wallace Melville that annexed on June 2 (June 3) 1881 at Cape Melviile were collectively referred to as the Jeannette Islands, viz., Henrietta, Herald, & Jeannette. They became part of Alaska on May 17,
1884, because Major Ezra W. Clark listed them as "known as Alaska" under the terms of the First Alaska Organic Act at the request of both President Arthur and Senator Benj. Harrison along with Bennett, Forrester (of the San Carlos Islands) and Wrangell Island.
Mark Seidenberg, Gainesville, Georgia
16/06/2017 05:35
0
0
Hello, I was just looking up this ship cause I have a family member that was one of the survivors. Herbert Leach. Can't wait to read the book.
Muriel kenyon, New hampshire
29/05/2017 03:36
0
0
Navyo Ericsen that was me that tried to connect. I just resent another message. I can also be reached at johnson.amy88@mac.com
Amy Nossum, Minnesota
09/05/2017 03:00
0
0
To the descendant of one of the crew of the Jeannette who tried to contact me - your message on FB disappeared before I could answer it. Please try again!! Thank you. I would love to get in touch with you regarding the Jeannette.
Navyo Ericsen, San Anselmo, CA
09/04/2017 03:17
1
0
I am the GG Grandniece to Jerome J. Collins, Scientific Officer and Meteorologist on board the Jeannette. My GG Grandfather was Dr. Daniel F. Collins, brother to Jerome, who forced the Naval Inquiry of 1884 regarding the Jeannette. I have found other ancestors to the crew, and am so excited to see that the ancestors to Erichsen and Sweetman & Melville are here! Please feel free to contact me directly via Facebook. I too, have always dreamed of seeing this ship raised. Collins log books were forced to sink with the ship, although most likely not intact, I would be very keen to see the relics they left behind and one day see the Jeannette with my own eyes. johnson.amy88@mac.com
Amy Nossum, Hoyt Lakes, Minnesota USA
04/04/2017 22:57
1
0
I am the great grand son of George Wallace Melville. Yes, I'd like to see it raised and revered as well.
Ty Ford, Baltimore, MD
31/03/2017 04:10
3
0
My Danish forbear, Hans Halmoe Erichsen, was one of the crew of the Jeanette. He died as they made their way across the ice and was buried by surviving crewmen, as noted in De Long's journal. I have the congressional medal awarded to him - and the rest of the crew - as a family heirloom. Therefore, the raising of the Jeanette is of great interest to me. I look forward to more information.
Navyo Ericsen, San Anselmo, CA, USA
14/03/2017 02:52
3
0
What a group of men, men who were led by a man, Lt. George Washington DeLong, an intelligent Naval officer who not only was so talented in his ship selection, crew selection, and the management of all the many intricate details of what food, medicine, equipment, and all the hundreds of important details of his ship and crew before leaving on this exploration. He was so well prepared, but no one could have done a better job than he and his brave men. Then to survive as long as he did, under the most horrific conditions I have ever read about, and to have had a portion of his crew live to return home and tell the world about this, is so incredible. Every American should read this complete story, and to learn the many things it teaches us about human beings, and also survival. Great American story.
Jerry Dunford, Urbanna, Virginia U.S.A.
23/01/2017 00:27
2
0
I am just about through the story. Whenever I experience some miserable cold, damp New Jersey weather I simply cannot fathom how those men were able to survive all those months (years, actually) in such conditions that make my experiences pale in comparison. Days on end, wet, cold.....!
Al Beronio, Martinsville, NJ, USA
16/12/2016 06:33
2
0
My great great uncle was Alfred Sweetman born in 1841, Northwood, Isle of Wight England, who was a carpenter upon the Jeanette and one of only two British subjects to join the crew after he moved to New York in 1873. Alfred managed to survive crossing the 500 mile ice but lost his life in the boat under the charge of Chip, that was overwhelmed by the Siberian Winds in the Lena Delta. He left behind his wife Mary and a daughter Elisabeth in New York. I am very interested in learning more about the voyage as a whole and whether there were any photos or letters from the crew as a whole either before leaving for the North Pole, or during the expedition, other than the ones we can easily find on the internet. hauntedapps@live.co.uk
Michael Sweetman, Plymouth England
09/07/2016 01:39
4
1
I'm only 1/2 way through H Sides' novel and am fascinated. I,m also interested in Andrey Khoroshev proposed Russian expedition to raise the USS Jeanette. I read many articles but they all are dead ends to more information. If it's still on, or still being planned. I'm in! LEt's do this... kurt@allthingsindustrial.com
Kurt W. Rockenbach, Key Largo Fl.
24/02/2016 10:09
2
0
I may have some photographs of the Jeannette, and some of her crew.
Jan Guthrie, Beaverton OR
23/02/2016 11:48
6
0
Having met Hampton at Maria's Bookstore in Durango, signing Blood and Thunder for me, and reminiscing about Memphis, I dove into this fascinating book with chilly anticipation. I, too, became weepy toward the end, feeling as if I truly knew these characters. Sides is a jewel of an author, especially for character development. Not 1 paragraph was dull or unmoving. I applaud him as a great American writer. Keep them coming!!!!
Emily McCardle, Durango, Colo. and Williamsburg, Va. (originally from Memphis)
08/02/2016 01:33
4
0
I just finished to read the book...probably is the 20th about Arctic explorations but it has been absolutely the best to explain the conditions in which they lived for so many times...rocky men againist fury of nature! I'm a winter explorer, so i'm in condition to understand very well what they passed. I cried a lot of times , thinking of those superior men, men about we really should need in these moments without ethic and purity of souls. I really wish the enterprise may have success...i'll follow it with all my passion! Thank you men!
Marco De Grandi, Rome, Italy
16/01/2016 21:54
5
0
Would anyone happen to know the height of the Jeannette's crow's nest? I'm interested in the distance of their horizonal view ...as compared to that of the proposed captive observation balloon (which De Long considered but rejected)... thx much
Michael, Palo Alto, CA
26/05/2015 05:47
3
1
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