Wheeler in Cherry (A Life of Apsley Cherry-Garrard) has
provided a wonderful service to those avid, hungry readers of
Antarctic adventures. The author has filled in the life of one
of the important personalities from the heroic age of arctic
exploration in such a way as to deepen the understanding of the
men how took this challenge, particularly both before and after
the adventure of their lives. Cherry, of course, wrote the
classic and indispensable, The Worst Journey in the World, the
finest book written by an actual explorer himself.
Shackelton never made any records in exploration. In scientific,
geographic terms he accomplished nothing. But English people
find him an adorable failure and can't seem to get enough of
his misery, sinking his ship, eating is dogs, and cheering
on his crew of chaps to a whaling station to be rescued.
Again proof that successful men such as Peary and Amundsen
are pushed aside in favor of "brave English lads" screwing
Bartlett went the farthest of any other North Pole support
team. Bartlett remained very good friends with Matthew
Henson all his life.
|Ross Marvin was on the support team to
build the trail and haul supplies. If he had been a British
subject the English would still be complaining that
Peary didn't take him to the Pole in place of the "Negro."
|Matthew Henson was the top man in
the field. Everyone admired him and praised his skill. Peary
took Matt to the Pole because he was the best person—the one he
could count on no matter what. His friend, Macmillan (below)
said that about him.
|Donald MacMillan later made his
own series of arctic explorations. He did not go all the way to
the Pole because he froze the heel of his foot. Peary sent him
back with the first team.
|Dr. Goodsell was on the first
support team that returned to land with Macmillan.
|George Borup led the second team
to go back.
Britain's hastily executed man-hauling expedition killed everyone.
Some people find it shocking that England actually
Polar Research Institute after someone who killed all his men
by ignoring the advice of more experienced polar travelers. An Amundsen Polar Research
Institute, named for the successful explorer, would
be more appropriate.
|Scott has been described by historians as a "bungler" whose
arrogant incompetence doomed his expedition. Scott did
everything wrong in a rush to try and beat the Norwegian team to the
Peary and Henson, in contrast, planned carefully and perfected their
equipment over 18 years of valuable arctic field experience.
The 1909 expedition was their 3rd such attempt on the Arctic
Ocean and they got it right. They used sledges Peary designed and Matt Henson built; pulled
by the finest Eskimo Huskies, powerful wolf-like animal.
Norway's Roald Amundsen used such dogs to similar success at the
South Pole. Only the British tried to walk to the Pole,
dragging their supplies.
The Scott expedition deaths are a tragedy, but the British
need to move on—being bitter towards Amundsen or Peary & Henson is
mean spirited. In fact, the English wrote Amundsen out of their
history books for many years to spite him for "making it look too easy
with dogs" and for "killing Scott." But no amount of British history re-writing will ever
change what really happened. I believe that it is time to stop trying
to replace Amundsen, Peary, and Henson with Fiennes and Wally Herbert. Just because a beer company
prints a book that
declares recent British polar adventurers the "Greatest in the world" does not
mean anything outside of their tiny island. Yet the British, as
expressed in what I feel were the mean spirited sentiments of
Fiennes, ("I doubt
that Henson and Peary ever got to the North Pole") still
can not accept that Peary and Henson went to the Pole without
taking along a British passenger.
This long standing grudge against Peary for taking Negro
Matt Henson, instead of British subject Robert Bartlett is so poorly
known to the public that it has to be brought up, discussed, and explained.
Peary's Diary "Bartlett has done good work
and been a great help to me. I have give him this post of honor
because he was fit for it, because of his handling of the (ship) Roosevelt
because of his saving me hundreds of petty annoyances, & because I
felt it appropriate in view of England's magnificent Arctic work
covering [blank] years that it should be a British
subject who could boast that next to an American he had been nearest
to the Pole."
Peary did not take Bartlett to the Pole.
The reasons are well known, and perfectly understandable.
But still the British will not let it rest.
Commander, Robert E. Peary, USN, and his best men with the
best dogs went all the way to the Pole. The other 18 men
in the team did not, and never were supposed to go all the
way. Although some, such as Sir Walrus Herbert or Mr.
Robert Headland (Archivist and Museum Curator;
Polar Research Institute),
may say Peary left behind his last reliable witness in
Bartlett—that is not true.
Peary had no need for Bartlett as a
"navigator" as they claim. Peary was Bartlett's
superior in the navigation arena in every way. "Peary was a
Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Bowdoin College who won surveying
positions with the Coast Survey and with the Naval Engineers,
based on nationwide competitions against hundreds of
applicants. His work surveying a proposed canal route in
Nicaragua was highly praised. His longitude and compass
variation observations of lands discovered in Greenland were
accurate." [Doug Davies]
Peary did not need Bartlett to travel the extra 266
nautical miles to and from the Pole with him. Peary only
needed Henson to break trail on a vector due north for the
How did they know north? They used a compass
and knew the correct variations, and they always used the
position of the moon and/or sun. How? The same way polar
adventurers do today—by time of day.
Henson also used the
expedient method, for faster travel, of crossing sastrugi
(wind cut snow ridges) at right angles when he knew they ran
It is an ongoing deception made to
the public by anti-Peary authors that Bartlett was a "navigator" and could have
helped Peary find the Pole by determining their longitude
position or some such nonsense. That is a
ridiculous, ignorant comment. No such
longitude fix is necessary.
Even today polar expedition
leaders (Paul Landry,
Matty McNair) find the Pole the same way Henson did; by
shooting a vector due north as determined by compass (sun not
visible) or by the sun & time of day method when the
sun is visible.
[Yes they carry a GPS but it is NOT used
for vectoring towards the Pole. Like a sextant it only fixes
position—it is not used to set a course.]
longitude converge at the Pole so taking a sight to fix a longitude
position 100 miles from the pole, for example, is of no use—lines of longitude are
only a few miles apart, not the 60 miles apart a single degree
is at the Equator! Being 2 miles or even 20 miles east-or-west
of the line of longitude one assumes oneself to be traveling
on while heading towards the Pole is insignificant and
utterly useless information. Why? Because one is setting a
course due north.
Note that Scott wasted precious time taking longitude sights
while trekking to the South Pole. Amundsen, like Peary,
realized there was no need to take longitude sights. Why?
Because the goal is a point of latitude (90 degrees north or
90 degrees south) precisely where there is no longitude.
After losing the North Pole to Peary, and the South Pole to Amundsen
the British had zero polar honors. In 1910 they awarded to Peary the
"special Great Gold Medal" of the Royal Geographical Society (London,
England). But after the tragedy of Scott dying at the South Pole the
English were bitter towards both the Americans and Norwegians who had
used dog sledges to achieve their success. The ease with which
Amundsen reached the Pole was a humiliation that made them angry. It
has been said by numerous experts that this feeling then turned to
The colossal polar fraud, Dr. Cook, wrote a viscously vindictive book
about his phony trip to the Pole. In the back sections he wrote a
considerable amount of slander against Peary. This anti-Peary
sentiment influenced other anti-establishment prone individuals such
as Thomas Hall and then, in the late 1920s England's Reverend Hayes.
Hayes was an ill informed "arm chair expert" who decided Peary's trip
Over time the British began to resent Peary for not dragging along an
English subject (Bartlett) to the North Pole. But Peary and Henson had
worked together for 18 years in the Arctic. There was never a plan to
take any other people to the Pole. The support teams, of which
Bartlett was a part, were there to pioneer trails, make igloos, haul
supplies for the elite team of Henson, Peary and their 4 expert Inuit
friends. No one else was ever intended to make the final dash.
Peary and Amundsen used the field tested techniques they learned
from the Eskimos to travel in polar regions. The English thought
it was "uncivilized" to learn from indigenous people—such as
wearing fur cloths and using arctic Huskies. Instead the English
learned how uncivilized the polar regions truly are when their men
died from exhaustion and exposure.
his North Pole camp. Henson and the 4 Eskimos set up the igloos.
Later Peary went on a lightly loaded sled and took sextant
readings at several points to confirm the location as best he was
But the sore polar losers in England won't mention that fact.
Can you guess why? Taking passengers to the Pole was a very bad
idea. It is too dangerous to travel on the arctic ocean (Fiennes,
for example, had to be air rescued during his last attempt and had his
finger tips amputated) even for highly experienced men—forget hauling
the bloody Queen! Henson fell in the ocean, almost drown, and was
barely rescued just miles form the Pole. Peary also fell in. Marvin
fell in and drowned. Borup fell in, too, and almost had his entire dog
team dragged to the bottom of the ocean! If a storm had blown in, as
they had in previous attempts...they might have easily died. How?
Storms blow the ice apart and it can drift many miles, leaving one
stranded by open ocean. Cut off from land and supplies people starve.
(No cell phones and GPS to order up a helicopter rescue, you know?)
That is why Peary was not about to take along a passenger such as
Henson photographed Peary at the Pole making this sextant
reading. As a point of interest, Henson had his own camera and
took his own set of pictures on the 1909 expedition. The
collection of some 120 films is at the Museum of Natural history
in New York City.
These still smoldering anti-Peary sentiments are expressed in
what I believe are the mean spirited remarks of Fiennes that may be typical
from those who read
Wally Herbert's Noose of Laurels and chose to believe his conclusions.
Some people still can not accept that Peary and Henson went to the Pole without
taking a British passengers. Only the Commander, Robert E. Peary
USN, and his best men with the best dogs went all the way. The other
18 men in the team did not, and were never supposed to. That is a
fact, because that was the plan all along.
Wally Herbert, in his book Noose of Laurels, said that when
Peary left Bartlett and went on with Henson to the Pole he left behind
his last credible witness. I believe, and many others do as well,
that it is hateful and possibly racist for
anyone to state that Peary should have taken a white man (Bartlett)
instead of his most capable assistant, Matthew A. Henson.
Henson was the man who
had saved Peary's life twice before. He was the only man Peary knew he could
depend on to get him back alive. Henson was the best choice. Bartlett
knew that, and remained
friends with Matt for life. Bartlett always spoke highly of Matt as the right
man to go to the Pole.
Want to here more of this story?
Listen to the
1/2 hr. BBC
production. [requires RealAudio]