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Excerpt from In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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In the Kingdom of Ice

The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette

by Hampton Sides

In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides X
In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2014, 480 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2015, 496 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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Print Excerpt


When he arrived in Upernavik, Hall hinted that there was dissension in the ranks, that some of the men were plotting to remove him from command. He sensed that he would never make it home, that he would die in the Arctic. Hall felt so sure of this that, for safekeeping, he left a bundle of valuable papers and other artifacts with Inspector Smith.

The reporter for the New York Herald, Martin Maher, noted that Smith "narrated with considerable minuteness the details of a quarrel" in which certain members of the expedition "endeavored to prejudice the crew of the ship against" Hall. To hear Smith tell it now, the Hall expedition had been doomed before it even ventured into the ice. "The officers and crew of the Polaris were utterly demoralized," Maher reported, and "Captain Hall evidently had some kind of misgiving or premonition of death."


UPERNAVIK WAS AS far north as Captain Braine felt comfortable taking the Juniata. Despite her iron sheathing, she was not really designed or equipped to handle significant quantities of ice. The ship did, however, have a smaller boat, dubbed the Little Juniata, that was more agile, capable of navigating through the confusion of bergs and floes. Rigged as a sloop, the twenty-eight-foot launch carried a small steam engine, which powered a three-bladed screw propeller. Braine wanted a half dozen of his men to take the Little Juniata and continue the search for another four hundred  miles along the fjord-riddled coast, up to a place called Cape York.

This secondary probe, which Braine estimated would take several weeks, was a dubious undertaking at best. The Little Juniata seemed a frightfully vulnerable craft, not much more than an open boat. Ice fields like these had crushed entire whaling fleets. Braine knew he could not order anyone to undertake this risky assignment; he had to rely on volunteers. De Long was the first to raise his hand, and it was soon decided that he would captain the little vessel. De Long's second-in-command would be a quiet, reliable fellow Naval Academy graduate from upstate New York named Charles Winans Chipp. Seven others cast their lot with De Long, including an Eskimo interpreter, an ice pilot, and Martin Maher from the Herald. Braine bid them farewell, noting in his written instructions to De Long, "I shall await with great interest your return to this ship from the hazardous duty for which you have volunteered."

They nosed away from the Juniata on August 2, carrying provisions for sixty days and towing a dinghy loaded with twelve hundred pounds of coal. The little steam engine clanked away as De Long threaded through a series of fog-shrouded islands and thousands of small icebergs called growlers. They stopped at a few remote Inuit settlements—Kingitok, Tessi-Ussak—and then headed into a void, dodging massive bergs that dwarfed the boat.

Maher said he had "never witnessed a more glorious scene . . . Looking abroad on the immense fields of ice, glittering in the rays of the sun, and the thousands of huge, craggy icebergs as they sulkily floated out into Baffin's Bay, one became awed by the dreadful majesty of the elements, and wondered how it would be possible to avoid being crushed to atoms."

Eventually the Little Juniata was brought to a standstill in fields of unbroken pack, and De Long was forced repeatedly to ram the ice in order to break free, splintering the greenheart planks that reinforced the hull. They were enveloped in a dense freezing fog, and all the rigging became rimed in ice. "Absolutely hemmed in, we were now in a most perilous position, and sudden destruction threatened us," wrote Maher. "We forced a passage westward at length, and after a terrific struggle of twelve hours, found open water again."

De Long could not have been happier. He and Lieutenant Chipp were enjoying the cruise—and rising to its challenges. "Our boat is a beauty, doing everything but talking," he wrote in a letter later mailed to Emma. "Now do not be alarmed if you do not hear from me for some time. If by any accident we should be frozen up all winter you will not hear from me again till spring. But be of good cheer. I expect to be back to the ship in fifteen days."

Excerpted from In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides. Copyright © 2014 by Hampton Sides. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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