Book cover image for: Polaris: The Chief Scientist’s Recollections of the American North Pole Expedition, 1871-73

Polaris: The Chief Scientist's Recollections of the American North Pole Expedition, 1871-73

Emil Bessels, Edited and Translated by William Barr

$44.95 CAD / $44.95 US

672 pages, notes, appendices, bibliography, index

46 engravings, 4 maps

978-1-55238-875-4 (Paperback)

978-1-55238-877-8 (Institutional PDF)

978-1-55238-878-5 (ePub)

978-1-55238-879-2 (mobi)

Northern Lights

November 2016

About the Book

Emil Bessels was chief scientist and medical officer on George Francis Hall’s ill-fated American North Pole Expedition of 1871-73 on board the ship Polaris. Bessels’ book, translated from the German in its entirety for the first time, is one of only two first-hand accounts of the voyage, and it is the only first-hand account of the experiences of the group which stayed with the ship after it ran afoul of arctic ice, leaving some of its crew stranded on an ice floe. Bessels and the others spent a second winter on shore in Northwest Greenland, where the drifting, disabled ship ran aground. Hall died suspiciously during the first winter, and Bessels is widely suspected of having poisoned him. Bill Barr has uncovered new evidence of a possible motive.

Polaris: The Chief Scientist’s Recollections of the American North pole Expedition, 1871-73 includes considerable detail which does not appear elsewhere.  It is the only account of the expedition which includes rich scientific information about anthropology, geology, flora and fauna. It provides much more information than other accounts on the Greenland settlements Polaris visited on her way north. Bessels’ is the only published first-hand account of the second wintering of part of the ship’s complement on shore at Polaris House, near Littleton Island, and of that party’s attempt at travelling south by boat until picked up by the Scottish whaler Ravenscraig. The same applies to the cruise aboard the whaler, Arctic, after Bessels and his companions transferred to that ship.

Essential reading for researchers and students of arctic exploration history, this book is also a compelling read for the interested general reader.

William Barr is a research fellow at the Arctic Institute of North America. A glacial geomorphologist by training, his major research focus is the history of exploration in the Arctic. He is a recipient of a lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Historical Association for his contributions to the historiography of the Canadian North.

Praise for Polaris:

A beautifully produced volume, with an excellent map at the fore . . . This finely edited translation will become a standard.

—P.J. Capelotti, Polar Research

William Bar has performed an important service to scholarship with his translation . . . For those who want to know more about these harrowing adventures, Polaris will certainly have considerable appeal.

—Janice Cavell, Canadian Journal of History

A welcome addition to Arctic literature and the history of the expedition . . . Barr’s translation of Bessel’s account serves to provide additional information and a point of view previously unavailablep>

—Douglas W. Wamsley, Arctic


HONOURABLE MENTION, 2016 NASOH John Lyman Award for Naval and Maritime Science and Technology | 2016