Manage episode 259813498 series 2659594
‘Execution, mutiny, starvation, suicide and cannibalism’ – the story of Adolphus Greely and the Lady Franklin Bay Expedition has it all!
Written, hosted and produced by Alix Penn and Carmella Lowkis.
Theme music by Daniel Wackett. Find him on Twitter @ds_wack and Soundcloud as Daniel Wackett.
Logo by Riley. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @tallestfriend.
Casting Lots is part of the Morbid Audio Podcast Network. Network sting by Mikaela Moody. Find her on Bandcamp as mikaelamoody1.
- Greely, A. (1886). Three Years of Arctic Service: An Account of the Lady Franklin Bay Expedition of 1881-1884 and the Attainment of Farthest North. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. Available at: https://archive.org/details/threeyearsofarct00greeuoft/page/n6 and https://archive.org/details/threeyearsofarct02gree/page/n6
- The Greely Expedition. (2019). PBS, 5 February. Available at: https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/greely/
- Guttridge, L.F. (2006). Ghosts of Cape Sabine: The harrowing true story of the Greely expedition. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse.
- Jampoler, A.C.A. (2010). ‘Disaster at Lady Franklin Bay’, Naval History Magazine, 24(4). Available at: https://www.usni.org/magazines/naval-history-magazine/2010/august/disaster-lady-franklin-bay
- Kershner, K. (2013). ‘10 True Stories of Survival Cannibalism’, HowStuffWorks.com, 30 May. Available at: https://adventure.howstuffworks.com/survival/wilderness/10-true-stories-survival-cannibalism8.htm
- ‘Lady Franklin Bay Expedition’. (2019). Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lady_Franklin_Bay_Expedition (Accessed 29 December 2019)
- Miles, J. (2000). ‘”Ghosts of Cape Sabine: The Harrowing True Story of the Greely Expedition” by Leonard F. Guttridge’, Salon, 21 January. Available at: https://www.salon.com/2000/01/21/guttridge/
- National Museum of American History. (2011). ‘A mysterious fork leads to the story of the infamous Greely Expedition’, O Say Can You See?, 4 November. Available at: https://americanhistory.si.edu/blog/2011/11/greely_expedition.html
- New York Times. (1884). ‘The shame of the nation’, New York Times, 13 August. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/1884/08/13/archives/the-shame-of-the-nation-dreadful-sufferings-in-the-camp-at-cape.html
- New York Times. (1884). ‘Crazed by starvation’, New York Times, 16 August. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/1884/08/16/archives/crazed-by-starvation-another-chapter-in-the-awful-story-of-cape.html
- New York Times. (1884). ‘Horrors of Cape Sabine’, New York Times, 12 August. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/1884/08/12/archives/horrors-of-cape-sabine-terrible-story-of-greelys-dreary-camp-brave.html
- United States Congress. War Department. (1884). The Proceedings of the “Proteus” Court of Inquiry on the Greely Relief Expedition of 1883. (Senate Ex. Doc. 100, 48th Cong, 1st Sess.). Washington: Government Printing Office.
- Węslawski, J.M. and J. Legeżyńska. (2002). ‘Chances for Arctic Survival: Greely’s Expedition Revisited’, Arctic, 55(4), pp. 373-379. Available at: http://pubs.aina.ucalgary.ca/arctic/Arctic55-4-373.pdf
Alix: Have you ever been really, really hungry?
Carmella: You’re listening to Casting Lots: A Survival Cannibalism Podcast.
A: I’m Alix.
C: I’m Carmella.
A: And now let’s tuck into the gruesome history of this ultimate taboo…
[Intro Music – Daniel Wackett]
A: Welcome to Episode Eleven, where we’re going to be investigating the Greely expedition.
[Intro music continues]
A: Carmella, do you want to return to the frozen Arctic and learn about the tragic fate of the Greely expedition?
C: I would love nothing more in the world.
A: Excellent, ‘cos that’s just where we’re going. Now, ignoring the fact that we sat down over dinner to very inappropriately plan out this podcast: before now had you heard of the Greely expedition?
C: All I know about the Greely expedition is the word Greely.
C: Pretty much.
A: Nor had I, really. I knew fragments of it: I’d heard about the tent, I’d heard about Elison and his spoon – and I will come back to that later-
C: Please do!
A: It’s great fun! And I came across a nifty little paper about lice and their calorific intake and, oh it’s very sciency.
C: Hmm. Delicious.
A: Yeah, yeah. Yum. We are a cooking podcast. But I didn’t really know much about Greely. So I sat down to find out about it and, not going to say I started on Wikipedia, but I started on Wikipedia. Hypothetically, if you were to print off the Wikipedia article for the ‘Lady Franklin Bay Expedition’-
A: Because we did say in a previous episode, Lady Franklin would be back.
C: I’ll be back! You can’t get rid of her! You try and you try!
A: To be fair, pretty much what she did.
C: We did say she was tenacious.
A: She’s even in a podcast that’s not about her. Good job, Jane Franklin. So, the Greely expedition is also called the Lady Franklin Bay expedition, is also called the International Polar Expedition, so I’m just gonna call it Greely because otherwise it’s gonna get confusing.
C: Mmhm. I’m already confused.
A: Greely, Wikipedia! If you printed off the Wikipedia article: four pages. And one and a half of those are external links and other articles. That doesn’t quite do justice to this story, because the Greely expedition has everything.
C: Oh boy!
A: Oh yeah! This is a quote from the review of the book Ghosts of Cape Sabine by Leonard Guttridge, which is sort of the definitive story of Greely. I recommend it, I’ll lend it to you after we’re done.
C: Please do.
A: I’ve scribbled in it, a lot. There’s lots of asterisks where the cannibalism happens.
C: That makes it more exciting, I can just skip to the good bits if I need to.
A: From this review: “There’s adventure aplenty […] not to mention execution, mutiny, starvation, suicide and cannibalism”.
C: …So it’s just a light-hearted fun one with no serious topics, huh?
A: Fun for all the family. Something for everyone.
A: What I actually wrote in the front was ‘an impossible situation made catastrophically worse by every conceivable plan, delay and action.’
C: That sounds exactly like our kind of story in this podcast.
A: It’s so bad. It’s unbelievable.
C: Worse than Donner? Worse than Medusa?
A: Not worse than Medusa. Three days. I can’t get over the Medusa. I really can’t.
C: But on disaster levels, it’s close?
A: It’s up there.
A: It is up there. And with that, it’s 1881 and First Lieutenant Adolphus Greely is leading an American polar expedition. The goals of this expedition are predominantly scientific, making up part of the First International Polar Year – part of an international chain of stations in the Arctic focusing on studying the meteorological, astronomical and magnetic data of the Arctic, and hoping to offer a new climatic understanding of the world.
C: Okay, that’s fun.
A: They’re quite lofty goals.
C: Scientific. Respectable.
A: They wanna know some stuff. And it’s attuned to Greely’s personal and professional ambitions – he works for the Army Signal Corps, so weather stations and meteorological observations, that sort of thing.
C: Hmm. Qualified.
A: Yeah… Well. He’s good at weather. He’s never been to the Arctic before.
C: Has he been on a boat? Oh he’s a Lieutenant, you’d hope he had.
A: In the army.
C: Has he been on a boat?!
A: …He’s read some books about the Arctic.
A: Now, it’s a bit difficult to start this expedition. There’s a few layers, there’s a couple of questions being raised such as ‘what benefit is there to ‘polar science’ for the ordinary American?’ The army considered the mission a distraction from warfare, so they don’t really wanna do it that much.
A: Congress doesn’t prioritise researching international scientific ventures.
C: This does sound very American.
A: I was thinking as I was writing this, oh this is nineteenth century, but subtle commentary about twenty-first century international American politics here.
A: Not that Britain can really say much, these days.
A: They have to justify this venture a bit more. So there are a few marketable goals for the expedition – the first is to try and achieve a new farthest north. The record had been British since 1607.
C: Is it that the farthest north was achieved in 1607 by a British person and then no one beat it, or that every time it’s been beaten it’s been beaten by another British person?
A: Every time it’s been beaten, it’s been beaten by another British person.
C: Right, okay.
A: They’re also looking to try and find any evidence of the Jeanette, which had been lost in Arctic waters in 1879, although, in their own words, “the chances of any discovery are, of course, very remote. But it might be well to spare no pain even for this faint hope.”
C: “Well, we’ll give it a try I guess.”
A: “We might as well look, if we’re going there anyway…”
C: [Bad American accent:] “Two birds, one stone.”
C: You’ve got to do the accents Alix!
A: …I’m terrible at accents.
C: And I’m amazing at them(!)
A: Okay. So, there were limited active supporters for the expedition. The most prominent was US Army Captain William Henry Howgate. He was possibly the biggest advocate for Greely and the aims and ambitions of the Signal Corps, and in 1881 he would be arrested for embezzling government funds and would then flee.
C: That’s just how it is, in government.
A: The expedition will continue without him… but I don’t think it helped.
C: It’s not a good foundation.
A: But, despite everything Greely would set sail on the 7th of July 1881 in the Proteus, with 25 men venturing north to live at Lady Franklin Bay. Of these 25 men, the majority were soldiers, with only the Doctor (Octave Pavy) and two Inuit sled-dog drivers (Jens Edward and Thorlip Fredrick Christiansen) being civilians.
C: All of those names are really good.
A: In fact a lot of the names in this are quality. That’s the main thing about this that is quality. Everything else is a disaster.
C: [Laughs.] Oh, it went terribly but they had good names, so…
A: They had some bright side. We were saying that Greely was an army man. Most of his men were volunteers from the cavalry.
C: Okay, so we’ve got some more people who haven’t been on boats before.
A: Yup, that is my next line. Most of them had no experience with boats and ships.
C: It’s a great, great choice.
A: The doctor would later note that “this lack of nautical experience [Alix adopts a bad American accent] bears greatly upon our security.” There you go, that’s your American accent.
C: Thank you, that was beautiful.
A: You’re welcome.
C: I- It’s immersive, I feel like I’m there.
A: You, you should. It’s very cold, there’s-
A: The Aurora Borealis. It’s beautiful, and deadly.
A: I know, wasn’t that good? What I will say, though, is even if they’d been experts with boats and ships: wouldn’t have done them much good.
A: It had been decided that ships “made explorers timid”, so in an almost unique action in polar exploration, they didn’t have a ship.
C: How did they get there?
A: Well, they were taken on a ship, on the Proteus–
C: Oh and then-
A: And then they were left there.
A: Because they were going to overwinter for a couple of years. They had three boats, and they had supplies. They had 351 tonnes in fact: 2000 pounds of potatoes, preserved peaches, cranberry sauce, dried fruits, onions, pickles, carrots, beets, and even some plum puddings for Christmases.
C: Sounds quite nice actually.
A: And more than that, that was just a sort of selective highlights.
C: Yup, I could eat that many potatoes. Yeah!
A: It’s a good number of potatoes. But more important than all of this food, they had a plan.
C: Oh! Oh I like this- I like where this is going.
A: Greely was adamant about his plan, it was not to be deviated from under any circumstances.
C: I wonder where this is going.
A: Yeah, guess what, those circumstances are gonna change. Drastically. But Greely’s plan is that there are going to be relief vessels sent, first in 1882, and then in 1883. Should the first ship fail to reach Lady Franklin Bay, they’ll deposit caches of supplies along the coast, and should the second ship fail to land at Lady Franklin Bay, their men would “land all her supplies and a party at Littleton Island”, meaning that Greely’s expedition would then have people, supplies and support available to them very close.
C: Yeah, that sounds like quite a solid idea.
A: So, if we think back to our last episode, Franklin.
A: And how the idea about how having a plan, and deviating from it is a bit of an issue.
A: Nothing goes right. But Greely has complete faith in his orders, in the United States Army, and to quote, “above all, in himself.”
C: Oh dear.
A: I don’t think any of the stories that we’ve covered have quite as many resources as Greely’s does, because we have letters, and diaries and papers by a number of the men.
A: Explaining just how bad it was.
C: Ah, so it’s less a mystery and more like a proved ‘this is completely depressing’ kind of thing?
A: Yeah. We know how much they weren’t enjoying it. Because this starts immediately after they’ve been landed on Lady Franklin Bay. Even before the Proteus has managed to sail away.
C: Oh god that’s not a great track record.
A: N- it’s really not. The first of these major issues is Greely’s second in command, Second Lieutenant Fredrick Kislingbury-
A: It’s such a good name.
C: That is fun to say.
A: No it’s not! ‘Cause I have to say it a lot. But I have a certain affinity for Kislingbury, because I too like to sleep in, miss breakfast, and write melancholic letters about how sad I am.
C: Oh, I like him!
A: There’s a wonderful quote by Greely about trying to get him to come to breakfast that goes, “I twice had him called. He paid no attention, turned over and stayed in bed until noon.”
C: [Laughs.] We’ve all done that!
A: Like, mood. So I have a lot of sympathy for Kislingbury. But, after yet another missed breakfast, the two men, Kislingbury and Greely, exchange words-
C: Oh, that sounds very serious.
A: Kislingbury takes these words as an instruction to leave the expedition and he gets his official discharge from duty and goes to join the Proteus and leave.
A: Yup, the Proteus sails before he can get there.
C: Oh dear.
A: So he has to then return to Greely.
C: I’m getting such bad second-hand embarrassment, this is like the worst- The social situation – this is so bad.
A: Kislingbury sort of thinks he’s gonna get reinstated; we’ll just ignore it. After all, the official orders saying that he’s been relieved haven’t sailed ‘cause they’re with him. Yup, Greely refuses to do this. Greely insists that Kislingbury was “not to be considered a member of this expeditionary force but temporarily at this station awaiting transportation.” He was not to work on scientific ventures, the men were not to obey him or really to socialise with him, but he was to keep to all of the rules and orders of Greely, and the earliest he would be able to leave is the next year – on the relief ship in 1882.
C: Man, that is just like a massively awful situation.
A: And we have all of Kislingbury’s letters. It doesn’t start well. And this is the best it gets.
C: Yeah, I guess it’s gonna slide- slide towards that cannibalistic end point.
A: What do you think happens to Kislingbury?
A: Greely did not endear himself to the rest of his men or officers either. It was noted that “he does not favourable receive contrary options” and later Greely would go on to threaten that “he would not stop at the loss of human lives to restore order.”
C: So he’s a bit of a tyrant as a leader.
A: That reaction, the ‘I will not stop at the loss of human lives’, was because some of the men refused to wash the officers’ clothes.
C: [Laughs.] Oh no! “I will kill you if you don’t wash my clothes. I do not care.”
A: There’s a bit of a breakdown of authority. There’s a special distaste between Greely and Pavy (the doctor), and this is very much mutual, with Greely noting in his personal papers that if Pavy wasn’t the doctor then he might have “killed him”.
C: I’m getting a sort of violent persona here.
A: And Pavy writing, “if he could read my thoughts he certainly must have read all the contempt I have for his person.”
A: Harmony in the Arctic. I will say this for Greely: he’d been a good officer on land and in the Army and efforts were made, in places, to accommodate and lead his men. There was seemingly no opposition regarding how he broke down the workload and he shared it out equally, and birthdays would always be honoured with rum and freedom from duty for the celebrant.
C: Ah. “You get rum on birthday – I will kill you if you don’t wash my clothes, though.”
A: [Laughs.] Okay, okay, I- I am trying to be balanced.
C: [Laughs.] It’s a nuanced- Yeah, we give a nuanced view point, no biases here.
A: It wasn’t a good start for winter. Their home at Fort Conger was a 14-foot-high, 65-foot-long and 21-foot-wide hut. Now, from the photographs we have it actually seems quite nice-
A: For what it is. Cosy.
C: Yeah, like a quaint Nordic cottage sort of feeling.
A: There was a little curtain so that Greely could separate himself from the other officers in the room, have a little private sleep.
C: Have his relaxation time. Calm his temper a bit.
A: You know, just not threaten to kill anyone.
A: When it’s just him behind his curtain. And if you’ve got five months of Arctic darkness, it’s not gonna be great. But there were moments of joy in that first year: letters were written home, obviously waiting to be collected; lectures were given; books were read; Thanksgiving was celebrated with races and marksmanship competitions; food was good and caches were both found and supplied for later. And there was even the start of a Polar newspaper. It was called the Arctic Moon.
A: And of course this was all supplied by the men. Some of the satirical elements are a bit ironic now – such as the advertisement placed for: “Information wanted of the Greely Arctic Expedition. It strayed away from home last July and was last heard from at Greenland. Address: Bereaved Parents.”
C: Ooh, that’s one of those- You know when you make a joke and then the thing happens and you’re like ‘oh I feel really bad about joking’? But it’s about yourself.
A: One singular yike. Of the-
C: On the scale of yikes.
A: Even in the heart of winter, the scientific part of the expectation continued. Up to 500 measurements a day, 24 hours, and these were of magnetism, of tidal factors, windspeed, barometric pressure and similar surveys being conducted no matter what. Day, night, weather, temperature – and temperature that can drop below -57 degrees. It’s cold.
C: Yeah. You don’t say.
A: Icy. But, once the sun started to come back to the men in March of 1882, this meant that the men were doing geographical studies as well – and that exciting goal, the Furthest North, that’s back on the cards. They want to beat the British record, or specifically it’s called, in all of the sources, the English record. So a contingent of men are sent from Fort Conger and on the 15th of May, they “reached a higher latitude ever achieved by mortal man.”
C: Oh so they did beat the record.
A: They did.
C: Aww, good for them!
A: They’d travelled for 60 days, nearly 1000 miles in temperatures well below zero; surpassed the record by four miles; and were only 455 miles away from the North Pole.
C: Huh, that’s impressive.
A: They planted a flag, they left their records, and Sergeant Brainard carved the logo of his favourite beer into the rocks.
C: [Laughs.] Lads, lads, lads!
A: I know, I’m just like, of course he did.
C: That’s brilliant.
A: The furthest graffiti north. So this happy-go-lucky spirit of adventure – this isn’t to last.
A: Because it’s 1882, they’re expecting their relief vessel to bring supplies, letters from home, and to take back to America not only news of this new record, but also Kislingbury. And the men at Fort Conger wait, and wait. They ready the small steamer they’ve got to transport themselves to the ship. And they wait some more.
C: Oh dear.
A: It’s not until August that they accept there’s no ship coming. Greely was sure of his orders, knowing that there would be caches of food left for them more southerly. Southerlier? Down south. On the coast.
C: [American? accent:] Down south.
A: Down- I’m gonna leave that, I like that.
A: Everyone else is not so sure. Because if one ship hasn’t arrived, why would the second ship arrive a year later? Now there had been attempts to send supplies to Greely on the Neptune, but delays, thick ice, and to be honest just irony, stops the ship from making her way to Lady Franklin Bay. Supplies were cached at Cape Sabine. 250 rations were left, which is ten days’ worth of supplies for all of Greely’s men. The same amount was left on the opposite coast. When the Neptune leaves the Arctic she still has 2000 rations aboard.
C: Yeah, well- One has to ask: why?
A: She was sailing under orders to bring them back to America.
A: To make things more challenging!
C: Yeah.Yeah, that tracks.
A: All in all things aren’t looking that great for Fort Conger, and the men and Greely know this. Now they do have enough supplies and Greely, at least, was following his own orders and was working on the assumption that should the second rescue ship fail to arrive in 1883, they were to travel 250 miles south in the three boats. Two whale boats – and we know how good they are at doing voyages like this from previous episodes – and the metal steamer.
C: I’m guessing there’s also ice?
A: Yeah, there’s a lot of ice. And they’re going to go down and camp at Cape Sabine. Pavy puts all of his distrust and lack of faith in Greely down in writing and requests a plan regarding, quote, “our future stay in the Arctic as well as your plans and means of escape.”
C: I like that, he’s, ‘I will write a strongly-worded letter now I’m so angry!’
A: I mean, it’s pretty sensible. But also. I do not understand how everyone in this expedition hates each other. Well I understand but, you would have hoped you’d have been a little bit more picky with your crew.
C: They could have done with one of those team building exercises before, like a trust fall.
A: An ice breaker.
A: What I will say, having just said that, is Greely was entirely relying on volunteers, and Pavy had technically been part of an expedition that was going the year before, but he’d actually been collected in Greenland, so even when they didn’t get on they couldn’t send him back ‘cause they needed a doctor, so there’s reasons. But also, oh my god. Second winter. Much like the first, although everyone’s more miserable. If things had been tense before – nothing as to what it was now.
C: That long Polar night, low on rations-
A: No, they’re not low on rations.
C: Oh, okay.
A: They still have plenty of food. Fort Conger is supplied for, technically, three or four years.
C: Oh okay, well that’s something.
A: So food at this point, is fine. Dull. But fine. Brainard notes however, that “only for the excellent disposition of the men mutiny might have been declared.” No one’s having a great time. In the July of 1883, Pavy refuses to renew his contract with the United States Army, although he remains, in his own words, “devoted to the welfare and success” of the Greely expedition.
C: It’s another one of those, much like with Kislingbury-
C: I mean you can refuse to renew your contract but how you gonna get out of there? You’ve still got to stay there, mate.
A: I mean, it’s even more awkward for Pavy, after Greely has him put under arrest for disobedience of orders.
C: Wait until you’re not stuck in the Arctic before you start voicing your discontent and et cetera.
A: Believe it or not, everyone makes it through the second Arctic winter. And everything now depends on the arrival of the relief ship.
C: Here we go.
A: Guess what.
C: Does it turn up and save them all?
A: Yes. End of episode. Thank you for listening.
C: [Laughs.] Oh, okay.
A: Yeah. No. She will never arrive. The ship that’s meant to come and relieve the party is in fact the Proteus, back again for more. Except this time, rather than the Neptune who had been forced back by the ice and couldn’t make the journey, Proteus tries to force herself through the ice floes, buckles under the pressure and sinks.
C: Oh, it’s always the ice.
A: Damn that ice! Now, all hands are saved, including the leader of the expedition’s pet dog.
C: Oh! Phew! Ah, good.
A: [Laughs.] This is the last happy part of this story.
C: I think it’s also the last happy reference to dogs compared to future episodes we’ve got coming for you.
A: Sorry! The majority of the cargo – the supplies, the letters from home, are lost. Garlington, who’s in command, could not hope to leave the necessary supplies for Greely – he caches 500 rations at Cape Sabine and kept more for himself and his own shipwrecked men.
C: Okay, in this case I’d say that’s justified.
A: Later he’s questioned about why he hadn’t left more and why he didn’t winter on Littleton Island as per Greely’s instructions. Garlington replies with that he would have severely endangered ‘the safety of my men’ for no purpose.
C: That’s a bit harsh. Like, ‘no purpose, that’s what you’re worth to me, Greely’.
A: It’s not going well. This is the tagline for Greely: not going well.
C: What I’m feeling from the fact that things aren’t going to plan is that maybe there wasn’t a back up plan?
A: There was Greely’s plan. And Greely’s plan.
C: That’s the issue. If you’re gonna make a plan maybe also plan for what goes wrong.
A: So now Greely and his men are alone, abandoned in the Arctic. I don’t think that’s quite fair, but it sounds dramatic.
A: It was sort of half-heartedly believed back in America that Greely would alter his plans following the lack of a second relief ship, and would stay in Fort Conger for their third winter. Good shelter, semi-reliable source of game, they still had supplies. They’d be safe, warm, if not comfortable. This doesn’t take Greely into account. They leave.
On August 9th 1883, Fort Conger is formally abandoned and the party venture south. Now, in an article written by the National Museum of American History it states that “Lieutenant Greely moved the expedition’s base to Cape Sabine, which had been identified as a rendezvous point for ships and the expedition party.” Now, that’s a technically true way of phrasing it. But it’s the same way as me saying ‘well it’s a bit nippy in the Arctic’. It’s technically true, but it doesn’t quite go into the detail you might need.
C: Maybe an understatement?
A: Also, just because I thought of it literally as I was writing the script. The phrase ‘nippy’ – I don’t know its etymology – but when a ship is trapped in ice, it’s referred to as being ‘nipped.
A: So maybe- maybe the two are connected? Linguistics. I have no idea. Surprisingly enough, the journey to Cape Sabine is a disaster.
C: Oh, that is a surprise.
A: It was one that threatened to completely overturn Greely’s dubious authority. Because it starts taking place by boat and steamer and trudging over the ice floes. The voyage was long and dangerous – and only two men, Sergeant Cross (who was a known and prolific drinker), and Sergeant Rice (the photographer), had any experience with boats.
C: And these aren’t easy fun boats. This is boats in quite extreme conditions.
A: On occasion, Greely threatened to shoot Cross.
C: You know what, I bet he did. That does not surprise me at all from my understanding of Greely, from what you’ve been telling me.
A: Now he knew full well that he could not afford to lose him and Cross was in charge of steering the steamer, thus endangering lives by being drunk.
C: Yeah, yeah.
A: It wasn’t just that he was drunk, it was also that he’d been told ‘you’re the only person who can do this, we’re all gonna die unless you behave yourself.
A: Still not great. Worse is to come. Because Greely – against advice – decided that they weren’t going to travel by boat any more. They were going to travel by iceberg.
A: They were going to ride the floes south, and they were penned and nipped by ice, so they were struggling to travel by steam. Now, this is an unpopular plan.
C: [Sarcastically] Is it?! Goodness, I can’t believe anyone would have disagreed with him.
A: For the first time, the thoughts of mutiny are put into words. Pavy, Rice and Brainard speak of pronouncing Greely as having an unsound mind and putting Kislingbury in command and returning to Fort Conger.
C: Ooh, so he’s gonna be brought back into the mission.
A: However, Brainard doesn’t support this mutiny. He doesn’t report it, but he doesn’t support it either. And ultimately it will come to nothing. Later in life, in 1890, Brainard, (spoilers) who survives, would write that, should the mutiny have occurred it is not improbable that every man would have escaped with his life.
C: I mean, you know, hindsight’s 20/20. That’s easy to say.
A: I can’t help but feel- How awful must that have been though? Being torn being loyalty, mutiny, death and then afterwards realising-
C: Yeah, you’ve made the wrong choice.
A: You made the wrong choice.
A: They are riding the ice floes-
A: Floating, drifting and crossing back on their own path, entirely at the mercy of the elements for a month.
C: It’s almost like you can’t really steer an iceberg.
A: You can’t, no.
C: Yeah. If only someone had invented a floating thing that could be steered and could navigate with.
A: I mean I will give them this, they were trapped in the ice. It was very difficult to navigate by open water because the water wasn’t open.
A: That’s entirely the problem.
C: ‘Cause of the ice.
A: Cause of the ice. We’ve got that with the Arctic. Icy.
C: I think that’s our catchphrase for this.
A: [Laughs.] This- This little subsection is just, ice.
A: Greely’s command leaves much to be desired. He’s being dubbed “our foolish commander” by the men, and spends most of his time huddled in his sleeping bag. Well, it’s quite ironic considering the fuss he’d made about Kislingbury earlier.
C: Yeah, but to be fair, if- If every time you, like, leave the tent or whatever, people are like “oh there’s the foolish commander”-
A: Oh, no, they’re not saying it to his face. They’re putting it in their diaries and their letters.
C: Oh okay. But it’s probably- He can probably still sense it, right?
A: Yeah I think he can probably tell.
A: After a month of travelling by iceberg, occasionally collecting further caches of food and having the “constant danger of floes splitting away and drifting away with parts of gear and even men stranded on them” – 34 days after first entering the ice pack and 51 days at sea later – on the 30th of September 1883, the 25 men make land.
C: Do they make land at Cape Sabine? Where they’re meant to be.
C: Okay, well that’s something.
A: More or less. They get there.
C: That’s something.
A: Now, should have been cause for celebration, a few weak cheers. “Yay!”
A: “Land!” You know, they’re within sight of salvation, there are caches of food left by other Arctic explorers – some of them even specifically left for them – and these caches were collected. Some were from Proteus and Neptune. Also left behind in these cairns were news from home – not the desired letters, but old copies of newspapers and magazines. In the Louisville Courier-Journal, written by Henry Clay, who had actually meant to be on the expedition but had been forced to turn back after disagreements with Dr Pavy-
C: Oh, I bet he’s glad.
A: Well, yes. But he writes in defence of the expedition and in how they are desperately in need of rescue. The men end up reading this article by Clay, which ends on the fate of the relief vessels and their own fate. Sort of very meta. Because Clay writes, “they will be passed all earthly succour. Like poor De Long, they will then lie down on the cold ground, under the quiet stars.”
C: That is so depressing, like you’re already feeling really disheartened and then you see this person be like, ‘yeah they’re basically dead’.
A: I can make it worse. ‘Poor De Long’ was the captain of the Jeanette. There was no point in them even looking for her: she had sunk in 1881. Of her 33 crew, only 13 survive.
C: Yeah wow. I’m speechless. That is a really, really sucky situation to be in. As an understatement.
A: And there hasn’t even been any cannibalism yet.
C: And they still have food. When does the cannibalism start? How much worse can it get?
A: Just you wait. Greely names his new camp ‘Camp Clay’. This is on Cape Sabine. Jerry Kobalenko, writer and Arctic explorer, describes Cape Sabine as “a piece of rock spat out from hell and allowed to cool.”
C: So, homely.
A: Yeah, I think it sort of speaks for how inhospitable it is. And, of course, what comes after summer?
C: Is it winter?
A: Yup. They’ve got another Arctic winter to contend with. Greely estimates that their supplies would last them until mid-March, and even in the darkness food was still being gathered. During one of these supply missions, Rice had to make a decision, whether he was going to bring back 150 pounds of meat back to Cape Clay, or the frostbitten and seemingly dying Corporal Elison, who collapsed, unable to walk.
C: I mean, I guess you could say that he’s bring meat back either way.
A: [Laughs.] Yes. The decision is made to save Elison – even as Elison begs to be put out of his misery
A: Yep. He’s brought back to Camp and the food abandoned. Elison was to lose his foot. It fell off.
C: Oh. Oooh. I don’t like that!
A: And then needed to be amputated, as well as some of the fingers of his left hand.
C: He’s not doing well, is he?
A: He’s not doing well. While on the ice, the men had expressed in their private journals, the fear of their expedition becoming, and I quote, “another Franklin disaster.”
C: I think it may well be going that way.
A: Yup. This fear was gonna become reality and the atmosphere soured, weakened by fear, malnutrition, and suspicion. Food was stolen and allegations were made. On the 9th of January 1884, the first man died. Sergeant Cross died of starvation. He was buried in a shallow grave atop a small hill, which would soon come to be known as Cemetery Ridge.
C: So I’m gonna guess that he’s not the last one to die, huh?
A: Ooh! Just read my next sentence here for our lovely audience.
C: “He would be the first man to die. But not the last.”
A: Oh it’s, it’s- It’s uncanny isn’t it? Like the expeditionaries of Flight 751 – harking back to Uruguay again – Greely would give men extra rations in order to allow them to venture beyond the camp, to seek help and find these extra supplies. In order to give extra rations, you need to limit rations for the other survivors. The men were resorting to eating seal blubber – which was previously used for lamp lighting.
C: I mean seal blubber’s quite nutritious, it’s a good one to eat.
A: Oh, it’s a very sensible thing to eat.
C: Yeah, not pleasant.
A: Do we think these people are sensible?
A: But now they’re eating their source of heat. And this is also when the first discussion of cannibalism takes place. Rice writes that “Ellis tells [him] of being intimidated by the other occupants of his sleeping bag and talks of cannibalism. I much fear the horrors of our last day here.”
A: Others were more optimistic. Lockwood for example, stating that he didn’t believe that they would “disgrace the name of Americans and of soldiers.”
C: Oh, oh, oh sweetie. Aww.
A: Now, attempts are made to supplement their rations through less drastic means, shall we say? A few birds are hunted, and on one remarkable occasion, a polar bear.
A: I know.
C: Polar bear!
A: Polar bear. But, for the most part, additional sustenance came through lichen and “shrimps”. Now these shrimps were actually sea lice – and it took 700 of them to make one ounce. Later reports of the Greely party will put emphasis on these lice for keeping the men alive, but a 2002 study by the Arctic Institute of North America posited that while these lice constituted 15% of the men’s food supply for the entire winter, the calorific deficit between the amount of food survivors had, and the food that they needed, and what they received to survive, simply could not have been supplemented and provided by these lice alone. Later reports in the New York Times in 1884 would state that the bodies of the Greely dead had flesh missing, and “it is thought was used as bait for shrimps.” Now, this was certainly the Navy line, however the scientific conclusion speaks that the Greely men were dependant upon, and I quote, “an additional, undocumented source of food, and the most obvious choice was cannibalism.”
C: I love this emphasis on the calorific value of sea lice, I think it’s definitely what this podcast is about.
A: I’ve read through so many scientific things and it just concludes to ‘tiny lice aren’t very filling’.
C: Yeah, I guess I can see that.
A: But it’s great. There’s tables, there’s charts, there’s illustrations of tiny lice. I feel professional right now.
C: I’m picturing like a murder board but it’s just all lice.
A: [Laughs.] Okay, shall we talk about cannibalism?
C: Why else are we here?
A: You make a good point. Exactly when the cannibalism started at Cape Sabine is unknown, because remarkably, while Cross died in January, 24 men made it through the Arctic winter. During the winter, however, Private Henry was uncovered as the food thief, but despite talks of violence and death, Henry was spared. The next man to die would pass away in April, again of starvation. Rice too would soon die, of overexertion and malnutrition, in an attempt to recover the abandoned cache of meat left the year before to save Elison’s life.
C: Aww. Is Elison still alive at this point?
A: Elison is going from strength to strength.
C: I mean I guess in that case you could argue it was the right decision because, at least he didn’t just, you know, die a day in or something.
A: Yeah. None of these decisions are the right decision.
C: That’s a fair point.
A: Why are you there? By the end of April 1884, the 19 survivors were living off two ounces of bread and twelve ounces of meat per day. What the survivors were completely unaware of was that three ships were en route: the Thesis, the Bear and the Alert. The Alert had been loaned to the United States government by the British, for assistance in the hunt for the Franklin Expedition. It all ties in nicely.
C: Oh that’s nice.
A: “You helped us look for our guy, we’ll help you look for your guy.”
C: Yeah. “We’ll both not learn from it and keep getting stuck in the Arctic.”
A: Yup! It’s such a good idea, isn’t it? The losses came in cycles. By the 3rd of June, there were only twelve men left alive. Among the dead was Kislingbury – who had, in the weeks prior to his death, been reinstated with a position of command within the expedition.
C: Oh no! Poor Kislingbury.
A: I’m not gonna lie, the book The Ghosts of Cape Sabine does put a lot of emphasis on Kislingbury, which is probably why I have this soft spot for him as well.
A: But also he writes so many letters to his sons, he’s just like “I wanna come home.”
C: Oh no, he has sons! Oh no!
A: Yup sorry, he’s got kids.
C: Oh. Continue please. Tell me more about his sad fate.
A: He’s dead now.
A: I mean, it’s- That’s not the end.
C: Exactly, you know it can get worse than just being dead when you’re in the Arctic.
A: Yeah. Other than those, such as Rice and Jens, who’s bodies remained where they died, for most of the men their bodies were taken to Cemetery Ridge, and it was at Cemetery Ridge where the mutilations would take place. The deed itself, who made the decisions, who knew, who bore the knife is unknown – it certainly wasn’t discussed. But Brainard’s journal on the 4th of June had a quote written of “an arrangement between the commanding officer and four others and myself by which our condition be ameliorated”, and other diaries talk of bodies of men long dead being present for unknown reasons.
C: Yeah I think we can read between the lines here to figure out what’s going on.
A: Yeah. Now Greely puts a level of plausible deniability between him and the accusations of cannibalism.
C: Course he does.
A: “If there was cannibalism, the man-eating was done in secrecy, entirely without my knowledge.”
C: Oh of course, of course.
A: Now, I kind of will say, Greely is just in his sleeping bag not doing a lot at this point. It seems unlikely that he was that… around. So maybe he didn’t know. But the cannibalism certainly happens. I have a quote here from the New York Times in an article titled ‘Crazed by Starvation’ from the 16th of August 1884. For our listeners of a delicate constitution… I commend you for getting this far.
A: “On most of the bodies an incision was made from the clavicle downwards below the ribs. The scalpel was then passed along under the skin, and the flap was carefully laid back on either side. The flesh was then removed from the ribs, the skin was pulled back in place, and the edges were carefully joined so there was no external evidence of the ghastly work but a dark line. The thighs were treated in the same manner, the skin being replaced around the fleshless bones. The legs were stripped to the ankle joints and the arms to the wrists. The hands, feet, and face were not mutilated.”
C: I mean I guess that’s quite considerate that they wanna leave them overall looking not so bad.
A: And also, as we’ve covered, we don’t eat the things that look like people.
A: It freaks people out. Fair.
C: That too.
A: Of the final six bodies at Cemetery Ridge, five were in various states of mutilation. “Some were nearly stripped of flesh – nothing but bones left.” The unofficial, or at least gossipy version of what happened made connection between the removal of flesh from the corpses “by a hand skilled in dissection” and Pavy, who himself would die allegedly of suicide, but rumours spread that “it is more than probable that when all the details of the story are known Dr Octave Pavy […] will have found to have shared the same or a very similar fate to that of young Charles Henry.”
C: What happened to Charles Henry again?
A: Charles Henry was the Private who had been caught stealing.
C: Ah. So I’m thinking something not very good happened to him.
A: Nothing good has happened to any of these people so far, why break the tradition of a lifetime? On the 4th of June, Greely would give the order for Private Henry to be shot.
C: I mean he did want to shoot a guy for being drunk so I’m not surprised.
A: Yeah. Also for not cleaning his clothes.
C: Yeah, I feel like his solution to a lot of things is ‘shoot them’.
A: This is the only example in the whole of the Greely expedition of casting lots.
C: Yay! Name drop.
A: Eyyy. But in this instance, it was allegedly to take place not regarding cannibalism but between the three sergeants tasked with the execution – without the appropriate rifles to allow for the anonymising of the fatal blow, the three men drew lots and the man who drew the short straw was to execute Henry. The three then swore to never reveal which man had fired that final shot.
The body of Henry was not buried on Cemetery Ridge, and nor were the remaining dead – some were buried in an ice foot and others were even found among camp. Following rescue, a story would develop that after the death of Pavy, the lack of surgical skill meant that bodies were harvested without skill and, rather than being buried in an ice floe and washed away, they were intentionally jettisoned after “the survivors ate of human flesh however they could easiest secure it.”
C: That’s… gonna happen if you lose your guy who knows how to cut them up.
A: Now we have-
C: That was poorly phrased.
A: [Laughs.] Now we have no evidence of that. People do seem to be consistent in their diaries that there were bodies that were left at the ice foot and the ice floes and were washed away. We can’t know – we only know for certain that there was cannibalism at Cemetery Ridge. There are now seven men left alive. One, in strangely good spirits, is Corporal Elison.
C: Aww. Yay.
A: He’s able to eat without assistance and has a spoon tied to the stump of his wrist so he can feed himself.
C: Oh that’s really- That’s cheering. This is a highlight of the story for me. Is he gonna die?
A: Viewers you can’t see my face, but from my pause you can imagine what’s coming next. In contrast to this joviality, Sergeant Brainard wrote that “we are now so hungry I believe we could eat anything.” Sort of implies that they have in fact-
A: Been eating anything.
A: Rescue would come on June the 22nd, when the tinny whistle of the Bear would spur the only men able to walk in Camp Clay to action, and their ordeal would almost be at an end. “Close to the opening lay what was apparently a dead man. On the opposite side was a poor fellow without hands or feet, and with a spoon tied to the stump of his right arm.”
C: That’s my boy!
A: That’s your boy. “Two others were pouring some liquid from a rubber bottle into a tin can. Directly opposite, on his hands and feet, was a dark man in a tattered dressing-gown, with a long matted beard, and brilliant, staring eyes. ‘Who are you?’ we asked. ‘Greely, is this you?‘“
C: He’s really just like, gone feral, huh?
A: But he has ‘brilliant’ eyes. It’s his eyes and his glasses how Greely is recognised.
C: So I think if we’re Bills and Booning for this one, Greely’s got the eyes.
A: Greely has the eyes.
C: This one’s quite dark, I don’t know whether it’s appropriate for Bills and Boon but-
A: I’m not sure.
C: It wasn’t appropriate in the other ones either!
A: Is any of what we’re doing appropriate?
C: That is a good question.
A: Answers on a postcard please. Remarkably, one of the first things done after supplying the starving men with some much needed food, was taking photographs.
C: Of course.
A: Journalism. Paperwork was then gathered from the various letters, journals, and the fragments of the official scientific record which they had managed to keep with them up until this time.
C: That is impressive.
A: The men were adamant that – and this is the men, not just Greely – that their scientific endeavours were not going to be in vain and they’d cached some of their paperwork, they’d cached some of the records that they’d made. Even if no-one had survived, the science would have lived on. Which I think is very honourable.
C: Well I suppose it must have been, like, a tiny comfort to the men there to think, even if we die there’ll be something left behind.
A: “We’ve died for something.”
A: After this, despite strenuous objections from Greely, the bodies of the men buried at Cemetery Ridge were exhumed.
C: Oooooh, I don’t like what they’re gonna find.
A: Now this process didn’t take long, the graves were very shallow, but the ferocity of Greely’s objections does lead to some questioning of quite how little he knew.
C: “I know nothing about it, but don’t look at the bodies.”
A: Yeah. Certainly once they were uncovered, the fate of the corpses was evident. “I refrain from details, thinking it best not be put into writing,” wrote one of Thesis’s officers. I mean, it was put into writing, quite a bit.
The bodies of the men were to be interned in metal caskets, with 52 iron bolts each and efforts were made to block any attempts by the family to have the coffins opened – however, due to a combination of rumour, truth, and media frenzy – family after family did have the caskets opened and the truth came to light. Although the official line was simply doctored, from denying the mutilation to simply encompassing ‘well it happened because of shrimping’.
The surviving men, now only numbering six, because despite his remarkable tenacity, Elison died following an attempted double amputation of his legs after rescue.
C: Aww, no. Oh, Elison.
A: He lives long enough to be rescued.
C: [Sadly.] Yeah.
A: He probably had a good meal before?
C: Yeah. Okay.
A: And I think they gave him some rum?
C: Okay, yeah, alright then.
A: It gets you right in the heart that one.
A: Six survivors returned to America, and Greely is of course among them. Greely’s humiliation and trauma wasn’t yet completed, because not only did he have to come to terms with the expedition and its aftermath, but also the stories of cannibalism, and the letters and diaries of his men being made public and having their disdain for him made clear.
C: Yeah, like, he probably wishes that he hadn’t come back by that point.
A: What I will say here is that Greely goes on to push, support and advocate for the survivors from Cape Sabine and the families of the dead – including arranging for grants of money for Jens Edward and Fredrick Chistiansen’s children.
C: So this is maybe the first instance of him doing something sensible and good.
A: I have a lot of respect for sort of post-expedition Greely, because here is Greely making sure that his Inuit guides’ families are being supported. He also makes sure that Kislingbury’s family is supported. He supports those who survived in their later careers – and this is on the backs of everyone hating him.
C: Yeah, like, they’ve released what is basically a burn book against him. And I- Sorry-
C: That’s the only thing I can think to say! And he’s still done the decent thing. So yeah, okay, I respect that.
A: Ultimately, ultimately, the recognition that Greely went to the Arctic for was granted to him. Eventually. Because while the scientific data, so carefully preserved despite loss of life wasn’t really used in the nineteenth century, today it’s used to help us study climate change.
C: Ah! Of course.
A: So, it comes forward. There’s something there.
C: Yeah, thank you Greely.
A: But what I do want to end on is the first message that Greely wired to America following his rescue. And I’m not going to do it in an American accent.
C: [Sighs.] Spoil sport.
A: [Really bad American accent:] “For the first time-” That’s not, that’s-
C: That was good!
A: Okay, okay.
C: I was enjoying it!
A: [Continuing with the accent – which may or may not be American:] “For the first time in three centuries England yields the honor of farthest north. The two years’ station duties, observations, exploration, and the retreat to Cape Sabine were accomplished without loss of life, disease, serious accident or even frostbite.”
Technically yes, but Adolphus Greely – at what cost?
[Outro Music – Daniel Wackett]
C: Thank you for listening to our episode on Greely. I never thought I’d put so much consideration into the tastiness of fleas.
A: Next time, we are going to be defrosting the cold case of Douglas Mawson.
[Outro music continues]
A: Casting Lots Podcast can be found on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr as @CastingLotsPod, and on Facebook as Casting Lots Podcast.
C: If you enjoyed this episode and want to hear more, don’t forget to subscribe to us on iTunes, Google Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts, and please rate, review and share to bring more people to the table.
A: Casting Lots: A Survival Cannibalism Podcast, is researched, written and recorded by Alix and Carmella, with post-production and editing also by Carmella and Alix. Art and logo design by Riley – @Tallestfriend on Twitter and Instagram – with audio and music by Daniel Wackett – Daniel Wackett on SoundCloud and @ds_wack on Twitter. Casting Lots is part of the Morbid Audio Podcast Network – search #MorbidAudio on Twitter – and the network’s music is provided by Mikaela Moody – mikaelamoody1 on Bandcamp.
[Morbid Audio Sting – Mikaela Moody]