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The Greely Expedition | Timeline

The Greely Expedition

Map of the North Polar region. New York Public Library

March 3, 1881
The U.S. Congress passes the Sundry Civil Bill, designating $25,000 for the Lady Franklin Bay Expedition. Their mission is to gather comprehensive data on the Arctic climate.

July 7, 1881
The Lady Franklin Bay Expedition team leaves St. John's, Newfoundland on the steamship Proteus for Ellesmere Island (500 miles south of the North Pole). Slated to arrive at Ellesmere Island in August 1881, the team will live in the far north for two years. Lt. Adolphus Greely leads the team.

A re-supply ship is scheduled to return in one year, and the team plans to go back to the U.S. in September 1883.

July 20, 1881
Dr. Octave Pavy, a surgeon, joins Greely's expedition in Greenland. He has previous experience in the Arctic and in treating health problems typical of the region.

July 28, 1881
Lieutenant James Lockwood recruits two Eskimo dog drivers in Proven, Greenland — Jens Edward and Thorlip Frederik Christiansen. The total crew now numbers 25 men.

August 11, 1881
The Proteus reaches the eastern coast of Ellesmere Island at the mouth of Lady Franklin Bayand the expedition team unloads 350 tons of supplies -- enough to last them three years. The team begins to construct a shelter, which they name Fort Congor.

August 26, 1881
The Proteus leaves the expedition team at Lady Franklin Bay. Large ice floes had blocked several previous departure attempts.

October 15, 1881
The sun sets and will not rise again for 137 days.

November 24, 1881
To celebrate Thanksgiving, the men organize a day of competitions including a snowshoe race, 100-yard foot race, and a rifle-shooting competition. The prizes are preserved peaches, tobacco and rum.

Winter 1881-2
The expedition team spends its first winter in the far North. Greely's men grow restless from inactivity despite their leader's strict discipline.

March 1882
Light returns to the Artic. Greely organizes two groups for an excursion north. Pavy will lead one team up the Ellesmere coast, and Lockwood will lead another team up the Greenland side.

March 19, 1882
The first of two expeditions departs Fort Conger with a goal of reaching "Farthest North."

April 17, 1882
After four weeks of travel in temperatures as low as -52 degrees F, Pavy, George Rice and "Eskimo Jens" reach Cape Joseph Henry on the north coast of Ellesmere Island. Seeing that the pack ice is too rough to continue farther, they turn back to Fort Conger.

End of April 1882
Greely leads explorations into the interior of Ellesmere Island, known as Grinnell Land, to determine the geophysical makeup of the area.

May 13, 1882
Lockwood, Bainard and Christiansen reach 83 degrees 23 minutes 8 seconds and claim "Farthest North" from the British, who had held the title for decades.

July 1, 1882
Lockwood's party returns to Fort Conger after its successful trip to the Farthest North.

July 1882
Any day, the team expects the resupply ship to arrive with fresh food and letters from home. In preparation, they organize their correspondence and scientific records from the previous year.

July 8, 1882
The supply ship Neptune departs St. John's, Newfoundland with eight tons of provisions on board. It is already relatively late in the short Arctic summer, and when the Neptune reaches Kennedy Channel, ice prevents it from completing the last leg of the trip to Lady Franklin Bay. The ship turns back after leaving some supplies at Cape Sabine and Littleton Island, 250 miles south of Greely and his men.

August 1882
Greely and his men realize that the supply ship is not coming. They must wait out the year with what they have on hand.

Winter 1882-3
The expedition team continues to take scientific measurements, although the monotony of Arctic life has dulled the team's spirits. Although men attempt to retain their enthusiasm and vigor, there are fewer celebrations and friendly competitions like in the previous year; they are preoccupied with thoughts of the relief ship that would bring them home the following summer.

June 28, 1883
Lieutenant Ernest Garlington leads a rescue team from St. John's with orders to reach Fort Conger at all costs. Garlington, a graduate of the United States Military Academy, had served as First Lieutenant for seven years but had no previous experience in the Arctic.

July 22, 1883
Garlington's ship, Proteus, is crushed by ice in Smith Sound and sinks. Despite having orders to offload his stores at Littleton Island before attempting to enter Smith Sound, Garlington had failed to do so. The bulk of the provisions meant for Greely's men sink to the bottom of the icy ocean. Garlington's crew heads south in small boats where they are picked up by a whaleship 40 days later and they return safely to the U.S.

August 9, 1883
After waiting at the ready since July for the relief ship that would take them back to the United States, Greely's men accept the rescue effort has failed. The contingency plan, established in 1881, is to retreat south to supply caches left by the previous two years' ships at Cape Sabine. Despite murmurings of dissent among the men, Greely's team leaves Fort Conger in a few small boats. They bring along only the barest essentials.

August 25, 1883
At Washington Irving Island the men find a cache of moldy provisions left by English explorers years before. As their own scant supply of food dwindles, they realize their dependency on a full cache of provisions at Cape Sabine.

September 10, 1883
After their boats get trapped in ice, the team transfers onto a large ice floe. They are now at the mercy of the southern tides and currents, which, they hope, will bring them towards Cape Sabine, more than 50 miles to the south

Mid-September 1883
In America, Greely's wife Henrietta receives word of the Proteus' fate. Henrietta repeatedly writes to the War Department asking for another rescue party to be organized, but hears no plans for a second relief expedition that summer

September 29, 1883
After 51 dangerous days at sea, Greely's team lands at Eskimo Point, just south of Cape Sabine, in good spirits. Lucky to have survived the trip on an ice floe and to have reached a point close to their intended destination, team members are optimistic. They expect that a relief party has established a camp nearby and is looking for them.

October 1, 1883
The men begin the heavy work of piling up rocks to create a winter shelter at Eskimo Point. George Rice and Eskimo Jens set off to search for ships and food left at Cape Sabine.

October 9, 1883
Rice and Jens return from Cape Sabine, having found written records left by both the 1882 and 1883 missions. A note from Lieutenant Garlington informs them that Proteus was crushed by the ice and sank, and its crew headed south to reunite with a whaleship. The note details the location of three small caches of food totaling 1,300 rations. Without dividing up the portions, under normal circumstances this amount would feed 25 men for a few weeks.

October 12, 1883
Greely decides to relocate the team 20 miles north to Cape Sabine, where he hopes to retrieve the rations left by the Neptune and the Proteus, and to await the rescue promised in Garlington's note. There, they build a makeshift camp.

Greely believes a fall rescue is still possible, but he plans for the worst and further reduces the men's daily portions of food. Two months worth of provisions needs to last until spring, when the men expect seals and other game to be more plentiful.

October 25, 1883
On severely reduced rations, the men begin to suffer badly from hunger and some resort to eating dog biscuits.

November 2, 1883
Rice leads an expedition to search for the three caches of food described in Garlington's note. He finds four boxes of meat at Ross Bay, 30 miles south of Cape Sabine, left there by the English explorer Captain George Nares in 1875.

While carrying the meat back to Cape Sabine, Corporal Ellison gets frostbite and the team abandons the food in order to carry their comrade to shelter. Rice pushes ahead to Cape Sabine to get help.

November 10, 1883
Rice stumbles back to Cape Sabine to inform the others that Ellison is dying at Ross Bay. A rescue party retrieves Ellison, and although his feet and fingers are damaged irreparably from frostbite, he survives the ordeal.

Winter 1883-4
Henrietta, after hearing nothing from the government, takes her husband's story to the national press. The ensuing coverage of the abandoned Greely party helps motivate Washington to plan another rescue that would not repeat the mistakes made the previous two years.

January 18, 1884
Sergent William Cross succumbs to scurvy and malnutrition, becoming the first expedition member to die in the Arctic. Dr. Pavy begins inspecting each man's mouth every morning for signs of scurvy.

February 1, 1884
In the U.S., the Army seeks advice and guidance from the Royal Geographical Society in England for a rescue expedition. The subsequent report offers suggestions as to where Greely's party is likely to be, determined from Greely's past writings and the current Arctic climate.

March 22, 1884
To supplement their rations, the men are now netting 5-10 millimeter long shrimp, which Greely calls "1/3 digestible material." Fifteen hundred of these crustaceans would fill a half a cup.

March 24, 1884
When fumes from an alcohol lamp cause men to become dizzy and faint, they evacuate the camp into the night where it is -25 degrees. Many suffer severe frostbite.

During the chaos of the night, Private Charles Henry steals a piece of bacon. He is discovered after vomiting up undigested bacon.

April 5, 1884
Eskimo Thorlip Frederick Christiansen and Sergeant David Linn die of starvation.

April 7, 1884
With men dying, Rice and "Shorty" Frederick are sent to recover the four boxes of meat they had abandoned at Ross Bay in November.

April 9, 1884
While searching for the abandoned cache, Rice dies of hunger and exhaustion. Fredericks shelters briefly at their nearby former camp at Eskimo Point before returning to Rice's body to bury him in ice and snow. When Fredericks arrives back at Camp Clay empty-handed and without the popular Rice, morale takes a hard hit.

Lieutenant Lockwood falls into a state of unconsciousness and dies 12 hours later.

April 12, 1884
The men are now supplementing their paltry rations with candle wax, boot soles, and bird droppings.

Sergeant Winfield Jewell dies despite being given extra rations. His body will be one of the several later discovered to have had flesh removed with a knife.

April 18, 1884
Greely writes that Second Lieutenant Frederick Kislingbury is showing mental derangement. "His mind is considerably affected, and he talks at times like an infant."

April 23, 1884
In New York, a rescue expedition led by Commander Winfield Schley departs for the Arctic.

April 24, 1884
Jens Edwards falls through ice and drowns while trying to harpoon a seal.

April 26, 1884
Private Henry again steals food, this time drinking the crew's "moonshine" and becoming drunk.

May 19, 1884
A bear is spotted outside the shelter, but the men are too weak to pursue it. Hours later, Private Willian Ellis dies.

May 23, 1884
Sergeant David Ralston dies. The remaining men are barely able to haul his body up the nearby hill for burial.

May 24, 1884
Private William Whisler dies, but his body will remain just outside the tent, for no one has the strength to bury him.

May 27, 1884
Sergeant Edward Israel des after many days of being spoon-fed by Greely because he was to weak to sit up.

June 1, 1884
Second Lieutenant Kislingbury dies.

June 3, 1884
Corporal Nicholas Salor dies.

June 6, 1884
After catching Private Henry stealing shrimp from the rations, Greely writes a decree that the next person caught stealing food will be shot.

The day after Greely writes the decree on stealing, Henry is discovered again eating shrimp out of the mess pot. He is subsequently shot and killed.

That evening, Private Jacob Bender dies. He is followed minutes later by Dr. Pavy.

June 12, 1884
Sergeant Hampden Gardiner dies.

June 18, 1884
Roderick Schneider begs for opium pills to speed along his death. Despite the men's refusal, Schneider dies of starvation.

June 21, 1884
Commander Schley's rescue expedition reaches Smith Sound. They find the meat left by the Nares' Expedition but they do not reach Cape Sabine.

June 22, 1884
A rescue team reaches the men on Cape Sabine, and only seven remain alive: Sergeant David Brainard, Private Henry Bierderbick, Private Maurice Connell, Corporal Joseph Ellison, Private Julius Frederick, Private Francis Long and Lieutenant Greely.

On the way back to the U.S., they stop in Newfoundland where news of the rescue is telegraphed worldwide.

July 8, 1884
After both of his frostbitten legs are amputated, Corporal Ellison dies onboard the Neptune. At the time of his death, he weighs 78 pounds.

August 1, 1884
The expedition reaches Portsmouth Harbor, New Hampshire to a hero's welcome.


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