Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Arctic Explorer Mystery

Assembling a Crew

President Grant authorized a naval vessel for Hall's use, and he chose a 387-ton steamer, the Periwinkle, that had done Civil War duty as a gunboat. The ship, renamed the USS Polaris -- after the North Star -- was refitted for ice duty at the Washington Navy Yard as Hall began assembling a crew.

President Ulysses S. Grant
President Ulysses S. Grant
For all his patriotic bluster, Hall ended up with a crew that was more than half foreign-born, including 10 Germans, four adult and four juvenile Greenland Eskimos, two Englishmen, a Dane and a Swede.

He hired 10 Americans, ranging in rank from the cook to two of the top officers, sailing master Sidney Buddington, a veteran whaling captain from Groton, Conn., and George Tyson, another experienced sea captain from New York brought on as assistant navigator.

Captain Sidney Buddington
Captain Sidney Buddington
Although Congress named Hall captain of the ship and commander of the expedition, he was not much of a sailor. He relied heavily upon Buddington and Tyson to steer the ship through Baffin Bay's treacherous icebergs, many of which dwarfed the Polaris and could send her to the bottom of the sea.

After a year of preparation, the fully loaded Polaris steamed out of New London, Conn., on July 3, 1871. The ship made excellent time sailing north to the west coast of Greenland, where it made two stops to pick up Eskimos, dogs and a few final provisions.

As part of his contract, Capt. Hall was required to keep a detailed daily journal and to make frequent reports on his whereabouts and progress through letters to George Robeson, secretary of the Navy -- some of which were simply tossed overboard in sealed copper cylinders for retrieval by passing ships.

On August 22, the Polaris prepared to set out for the Arctic after its final Greenland stop.
Hall left behind a letter for Robeson:

"The prospects for the expedition are fine; the weather beautiful, clear, and exceptionally warm...The Polaris bids adieu to civilization. God be with us."

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