Trial by Ice: The True Story of Murder and Survival on the 1871 Polaris Expedition
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“An extraordinary real-life adventure of men battling the elements and themselves, told with ice-cold precision.”
–Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
In the dark years following the Civil War, America’s foremost Arctic explorer, Charles Francis Hall, became a figure of national pride when he embarked on a harrowing, landmark expedition. With financial backing from Congress and the personal support of President Grant, Captain Hall and his crew boarded the Polaris, a steam schooner carefully refitted for its rigorous journey, and began their quest to be the first men to reach the North Pole. Neither the ship nor its captain would ever return.
What transpired was a tragic death and whispers of murder, as well as a horrifying ordeal through the heart of an Arctic winter, when men fought starvation, madness, and each other upon the ever-shifting ice. Trial by Ice is an incredible adventure that pits men against the natural elements and their own fragile human nature. In this powerful true story of death and survival, courage and intrigue aboard a doomed ship, Richard Parry chronicles one of the most astonishing, little known tragedies at sea in American history.
“ABSORBING . . . Suspense builds as Parry describes the events leading up to Hall’s ‘murder,’ then climaxes in horrifying detail.”
had just emerged from its own war of unification. Rapidly industrializing as well, Germany and the United States progressed along remarkably parallel courses. Did the wily Bismarck worry about rising alliances between Denmark and the United States? Certainly Germany had an interest in the North Sea and the North regions. Its ships and commerce flowed through that area, and its fishing fleet worked the Greenland coast. In 1869 Germany had mounted another polar exploration on the heels of the
lightbulbs in a saucer of water while balancing on your elbows. Only your life may depend on your accuracy. Years later Robert Peary, with better chronographs and sextants, would still struggle with this difficult means of measurement. Even today his readings that prove he reached the North Pole trouble some historians. To solve these problems, Hall planned to use Polaris, the North Star, as his guiding light. When asked by members of the academy how he intended to tell when he reached the
steadily regained his strength. His mind cleared, and he resumed his plans for another trip northward. If Bessel was poisoning the captain, this improvement when out of the good doctor's hands is damning evidence. On November 4 Hall kept his secretary, Joseph Mauch, busy revising the ship's logs and bringing his journal up to date. Throughout the day he chatted with anyone who passed about his plans for reaching the North Pole. His appetite was strong, and all signs of the mysterious stomach
words: The plain is full of fine streamlets of water that give moisture to the ground. Saxifrages are blooming, and are distributed all over the plain. Insects are getting numerous. Flies and mosquitoes are met with. This single warm day has called many into life. On the sixth of June, the Arctic cast a lure that no one aboard the ship could ignore: open sea appeared along the spur of land just north of t he observatory that they called Cape Lupton. Shining water lay dancing before them.
Friction reared its ugly head almost immediately. Tyson quarreled with Meyer over their location. Meyer placed their last sighting of the Polaris close to Northumberland Island. “I ought to know,” tie Prussian sniffed when Tyson questioned the sighting, “for I tock observations only a day or two before.” Tyson disagreed. “Of course he ought to know, and of course he ought to be right,” the maritime navigator griped over the landsman Meyer's reckoning. “But my recollection is that Northumberland