Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Arctic Explorer Mystery

German Insubordination

Others on board did not share Capt. Hall's rosy optimism. Tyson, the navigator, made a foreboding entry in his own journal on August 10.

"There are two parties already, if not three, aboard. All foreigners hang together, and expressions are freely made that Hall should not get any credit out of this expedition. Already some have made up their minds how far they will go, and when they will get home again -- queer sort of explorers these!"

Even before Greenland, Hall had encountered serious conflict with the Germans.
The meteorologist, Frederick Meyer, had been designated by his employment contract to keep the captain's journal -- a time-consuming but essential task, because it   would become the official record of the excursion. But once the expedition was under way, Meyer announced that he was too busy with his scientific work to be bothered with dictation.

Charles F. Hall, posed
Charles F. Hall, posed
Hall threatened to put Meyer ashore as insubordinate, and the German briefly acquiesced.

But after about five weeks at sea, Meyer turned up in Hall's quarters with fellow German Emil Bessel, the ship's doctor. Bessel, director of the small scientific corps aboard the Polaris, informed Hall that he could not spare Meyer for clerical duty. The incredulous captain listened as Bessel explained that his authority trumped that of the commander when it came to scientific issues.

When Hall again threatened to put Meyer off the ship, Bessel said he and all other Germans would resign if their countryman was sacked. Hall had no choice.

If the German contingent walked, the mission would have to be scrapped until the following year because the weather window for sailing above the Arctic Circle was certain to close by September 1. It would be an embarrassment not only to Hall, but to President Grant and the members of Congress who had supported the expedition.

He reluctantly agreed to liberate Meyer from his secretarial duties.

The Polaris steamed on, but word quickly spread among the crew that Capt. Hall had caved in to the Germans' threats.

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