Wednesday, July 4, 2007


BY Ken Shute

In 1875, the British launched an expedition to the Arctic region that lasted 18 months. It had the goals of geographic exploration (centering on Greenland and Ellesmere Island), and scientific studies. Hopes were high that Great Britain would have the first man to reach the North Pole.

The expedition consisted of two ships: the HMS Alert and the HMS Discovery, and 121 men divided between the two ships. The HMS Alert was captained by George Strong Nares, RN (1831-1915) who also led the expedition.

In spite of the adverse conditions faced by the men at sea, and in the exploratory sledge parties, in the form of frigid temperatures, ice-locked ships, and short rations, it was scurvy that felled 56 of the 121 members of the crews, and forced Captain Nares to return to England prematurely after 18 months without reaching the North Pole.

The HMS Alert was a three-masted, screw sloop built in 1856. She was later used in 1881-82, under the command of Captain John P. Maclear, RN, to survey the waters off the Northeast coast of Australia, and to collect the fauna and flora of the region for return to the British Museum. In just five years the HMS Alert went from freezing ice and wind to sub-tropical breezes.

So far I have not been able to locate on the internet any pictures of the HMS Alert while surveying the waters off Northeast Austrlaia, 1881-1882, but I did find pictures of the HMS Alert while engaged in the British Arctic Expedition, 1875-76, 14 of which are posted below. The personal levels of discomfort and danger endured by the men of the expedition are hard to imagine. A small inkling is given by the captions of such pictures as "Sunday morning aboard the Alert," "HMS Alert in the North Atlantic," and the "Western Sledge Party under the leadership of Lt. Aldridge, RN."

Click on each picture to enlarge it. You especially might want to click on the second picture ("Close -up of HMS Alert in ice field")to see how small a vessel this was to endure the hardships of the Arctic region. After viewing the first six pictures, click on the "Older Posts" at the bottom right of the sixth picture to view the next seven pictures, then click on "Older Posts" at the bottom right of the 13th picture to view the 14th and last picture.

End of Narrative
Map of British Arctic Expedition, 1875-1876.
Close up of HMS Alert in ice field.
Sunday morning on board the "Alert." From Harper's Weekly.
HMS Alert, iced over, in North Atlantic.
HMS Alert caught in ice off Cape Beechy.
The Western Sledge Party under the leadership of Lt. Aldridge, RN. They explored 220 miles of the northern shore of Ellesmere Island in April, 1876.
The HMS Alert (left) and HMS Discovery (right).
Floeberg Beach-- Spring.
HMS Alert stopped by the ice off Cape Prescott.
Discovery Bay-- Winter.
Discovery Bay-- Summer.
Some of the HMS Alert crew, September 11, 1876.
The HMS Alert near Holsteinborg.