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The first USS Jeannette was originally , a gunboat in the Royal Navy, and was purchased in 1875 by Sir Allan Young for his arctic voyages in 1875 and 1876. The ship was purchased in 1878 by James Gordon Bennett, Jr., owner of the New York Herald; and renamed Jeannette. Bennett was an Arctic enthusiast, and he obtained the cooperation and assistance of the government in fitting out an expedition to the North Polemarker through the Bering Straitmarker.

Detailing and fitting

In March, Congress authorized the detailing of naval officers on the voyage, and Lt. George W. DeLong, a veteran Arctic explorer, accompanied Bennett to Europe to select a ship. When Jeannette was chosen and named, DeLong sailed her from Le Havremarker to San Francisco, Californiamarker during the summer and fall of 1878.

At Mare Island Naval Shipyardmarker, Jeannette was fitted with new boilers and other equipment. Her hull was massively reinforced to allow her to navigate in the Arctic icepack.

Jeannette was to sail under the orders of the Navy and subject to naval laws and discipline, even though privately owned. The crew consisted of 30 officers and men and 3 civilians. The ship contained the latest in scientific equipment; and, in addition to reaching the Pole through Bering Strait, scientific observation ranked high among the expedition's list of goals.

Arctic voyage

Jeannette departed San Francisco 8 July 1879, the Secretary of the Navy having added to her original instructions the task of searching for the Swedish polar expedition long overdue in the ship Vega led by Nordenskiöld, who successfully had traversed the North East Passage. "Jeannette" pushed northward to Alaskamarker's Norton Soundmarker and sent her last communication to Washingtonmarker before starting north from St. Lawrence Baymarker, Siberiamarker, 27 August.

The ship sailed across the Chukchi Seamarker and sighted Herald Islandmarker on 4 September. Soon afterward she was caught fast in the ice pack near Wrangel Islandmarker. For the next 21 months the sturdy Jeannette drifted to the northwest, ever-closer to DeLong's goal, the North Pole itself. He described in his journal the important scientific records kept by the party: "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." In May 1881 two islands were discovered and named Jeannettemarker and Henriettamarker. In June, Bennett Islandmarker was discovered and claimed for the U.S. On the night of 12 June the pressure of the ice finally began to crush Jeannette. DeLong and his men unloaded provisions and equipment onto the ice pack and the ship sank the following morning.

Abandonment and trek to Siberia

The expedition now faced a long trek to the Siberian coast, with little hope even then of rescue. Nonetheless they started off for the Lena Delta hauling their sledges with boats and supplies. After reaching several small islands in the Siberian group and gaining some food and rest, they took to their three boats 12 September in hope of reaching the mainland. As a violent storm blew up, one of the boats (with lieutenant Charles W. Chipp and 7 men) capsized and sank. The other two, commanded by DeLong and Chief Engineer George W. Melville with respectively 14 and 11 men, survived the severe weather but landed at widely separated points on the delta.

The party headed by DeLong began the long march inland over the marshy, half-frozen delta to hoped-for native settlements, and one by one the men died from starvation and exposure. Finally DeLong sent the two strongest ahead for help; they eventually found a settlement and survived. DeLong and his 11 other companions died on the Siberian tundra.

In the meantime, the intrepid Melville and his party had found a native village on the other side of the delta and were rescued. Melville then started for Belun, a Russian outpost, where he found the two survivors of DeLong's boat and induced a group of natives to go with him in search of his commander. He succeeded in finding their landing place on the Lena and recovered Jeannette's log and other important records, but returned to Belun on 27 November without locating the DeLong group. Keeping only two of his party, Melville then turned northward once more, and finally found the bodies of DeLong and two of his companions on 23 March 1882. He built a large cairn over the grave of his friends, a monument which has been reproduced in granite and marble at the United States Naval Academymarker.


Before leaving Siberia, Melville made an attempt to find the remains of Jeannette's third boat, even though the chance of survivors was slim. He returned disappointed to Irkutskmarker, the capital of Siberia, 5 July 1882, almost three years since his departure from San Francisco in Jeannette. The results of the expedition, both meteorological and geographic, were important. Melville was rightly honored for his courage and tenacity, and the name of George Washington DeLong is considered among the ranks of the Navy's explorer heroes.

Search and rescue efforts included those with the revenue cutter, Corwin, and former steam whaler, Rodgers. They established that the Jeanette had been seen, in good condition and steaming west; that she had not landed parties on Herald or Wrangell Island; and that no survivors had come ashore within reach of their shore searches. A party from the Rodgers, upon reaching Srednekolymskmarker received word of the landing of the Jeannette survivors in the Lena delta; this party then traveled to join the Jeannette survivors and assisted in the search for the rest of the ship's company.

On June 18, 1884, wreckage from Jeannette was found on an ice floe near Julianehåb (now Qaqortoqmarker) on the West coast of Greenlandmarker. This suggested to Fridtjof Nansen the hypothesis that the ice of the Arctic Ocean was in constant motion from the Siberian coast to the American coast. To prove this, Nansen planned and executed the Frammarker expedition 1893-1896, which confirmed the motion of the Arctic sea-ice.

Sketches from the expedition

Image:Jeannette Island;h92127.jpg|Jeannette IslandmarkerImage:Henrietta Island;h92128.jpg|Henrietta IslandmarkerImage:Bennet Island;h92134.jpg|Bennett Islandmarker


  • Edward Ellsberg, Hell on Ice; The Saga of the Jeannette (New York, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1938).
  • George Melville, In the Lena Delta: a narrative of the search for Lieut.-Commander De Long and his companions, followed by an account of the Greely relief expedition and a proposed method of reaching the North Pole (Boston, Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1885).
  • William Henry Arnoux, The Jeannette investigation - argument of Wm. H. Arnoux, in defense of Capt. De Long and the other officers of the Jeannette Exploring Expedition, and of the court of inquiry for the House Naval Committee. (Washington, D.C.: G.P.O., 1884).
  • Raymond Lee Newcomb, Our lost explorers: the narrative of the Jeannette Arctic expedition as related by the survivors, and in the records and last journals of Lieutenant De Long (Hartford: American Publishing Co., 1883, c1882).
  • United States Navy. Court of Inquiry (Jeannette (Ship) : 1882) Proceedings of a court of inquiry convened at the Navy Department, Washington D.C., October 5, 1885, in pursuance of a joint resolution of Congress approved August 8, 1882 to investigate the circumstances of the loss in the Arctic seas of the exploring steamer "Jeannette," etc. (Washington : G. P. O., 1883)
  • George W. De Long, The voyage of the Jeannette: the ship and ice journals of George W. De Long, Lieutenant-commander U.S.N., and commander of the Polar expedition of 1879-1881 / edited by his wife, Emma De Long (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1883).
  • Clive Holland (ed.), Farthest North: the quest for the North Pole (London: Robinson, 1994).
  • Hoehling, A.A.: "The Jeannette Expedition", Abelard-Schuman, New York, 1968.
  • Guttridge, Leonard F.: "Icebound", Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 1986.
  • Richard C. Davis (ed.), Lobsticks and stone cairns: human landmarks in the Arctic (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 1996).
  • William H. Gilder, Ice-Pack and Tundra: An Account of The Search for the Jeannette and a Sledge Journey Through Siberia (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1883).

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