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The First Landing on Wrangel Island With Some Remarks on the Northern Inhabitants   By: (1842-1901)

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On May 4, 1881, through the courtesy of the Chief of Revenue Marine, Mr. E.W. Clark, I was allowed to take passage from San Francisco, Cal., on board the United States Revenue steamer Corwin , whose destination was Alaska and the northwest Arctic ocean. The object of the cruise was, in addition to revenue duty, to ascertain the fate of two missing whalers and, if possible, to communicate with the Arctic exploring yacht Jeannette .

Our well found craft made good headway for seven or eight uneventful days of exceptionally fine weather, while the ocean, somewhat deserving the adjective that designates it, displayed its prettiest combinations of blue tints and sunset effects as we steamed through miles of medusidæ; and had it not been for the sight of occasional whales and the strange marine birds that characterize a higher latitude, we should scarcely have known of our approach to the north. Soon, however, we were beset by pelting hail and furious storms of snow and all the discomforts of sea life, causing a pénible navigation in every sense of the term. On May 15 we were somewhat disoriented while trying to make a landfall in a blinding snowstorm, and groped about for several hours before anchoring under one of the Alp like cliffs of the Aleutian islands.

Without going into further details of the cruise, I will state that on the previous year five unsuccessful attempts were made by the Corwin to reach Herald island, and that Wrangel island was approached to within about twenty miles. This "problematical northern land," the existence of which the Russian Admiral Wrangel reported from accounts of Siberian natives, and which he tried unsuccessfully to find; a land that Captain Kellett, of Her Britannic Majesty's ship Herald , in 1849, thought he saw, but which, under more favorable circumstances of weather and position, was not seen by the United States ship Vincennes ; a land, in fact, that from the foregoing statements and from the imperfect accounts of whalemen we had begun to regard as a myth, was actually seen; and I shall never forget the tinge of regret I felt when the necessity of the position obliged the withdrawal of the ship and I took a last lingering look at the ice bound and unexplored coast, fully realizing at the time the joyous satisfaction that must animate the discoverer and explorer of an unknown land.

However, better luck was in store; for Captain Kellett's discovery was afterwards completed by the Corwin . I now purpose to narrate a few circumstances attending this first landing on Wrangel island, which may be best told by further reference to Herald island. Captain Kellett, the only person known to have landed at the latter place previously to this account, reports that the extent he had to walk over was not more than thirty feet, from which space he scrambled up a short distance; that with the time he could spare and his materials "the island was perfectly inaccessible." He expresses great disappointment, as from its summit much could have been seen, and all doubts set aside regarding the land he supposed he saw to westward. An extract from one of Captain De Long's letters, making known his intention to retreat upon the Siberian settlements in the event of disaster to the Jeannette , says, in reference to a ship's being sent to obtain intelligence of him: "If the ship comes up merely for tidings of us let her look for them on the east side of Kellett land and on Herald island." Being in a measure guided by this information, the Corwin made the forementioned places objective points in the search. It was not, however, till after the coal bunkers were replenished with bituminous coal from a seam in the cliff above Cape Lisburne, that an effort was made to reach the island. During the run westward a distance of 245 miles the fine weather enabled us to witness some curious freaks of refraction and other odd phenomena for which the high latitudes are so remarkable... Continue reading book >>

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