48. Kane, Elisha Kent (1820-1857) 

 Arctic Explorations: The Second Grinnell Expedition in Search of Sir John Franklin, 1853, ’54, ’55.    Philadelphia: Childs & Peterson, 1856.


The Advance frozen in at Rensselaer harbor, from Elisha Kent Kane, Arctic Explorations, 1856.


The southern edge of the Humboldt Glacier, from Elisha Kent Kane, Arctic Explorations, 1856.


Kane’s dogs confront a polar bear, from Elisha Kent Kane, Arctic Explorations, 1856.

The second Grinnell expedition aimed to look for Franklin in a new direction—up and over the North Pole.  There were many advocates of an open polar sea, and Peterman’s map (see item 39) had suggested that Franklin’s ships might be just on the other side of the open sea. 

Kane, although a surgeon by training, was chosen to command the expedition, and by most measures the voyage was a disaster.  The ship, the Advance, was frozen in at Rensselaer Harbor, north of Etah, in the fall of 1853, and it was never freed from the ice.  Two years later, the men abandoned the ship and made an arduous trek south to Upernavik, a journey they just barely survived.  Kane claimed to have sighted the open polar sea, but in fact it does not exist.

However, by other standards, the voyage was momentous.  The narrative was a best-seller—it quickly became the most popular account of an Arctic voyage ever written.  It contained hundreds of illustrations, most based on Kane’s own sketches, and they allow one to relive the hardships and exhilarations of the voyage by the images alone.  The most important scientific result of the second Grinnell Expedition was the discovery of the Humboldt Glacier—the largest glacier in the world.  It lies just above Rensselaer Harbor and was encountered as Kane’s men tried to forge northward on sledges. 

Agassiz had proposed that large glaciers once covered entire continents, but he never saw such a glacier.  Kane did, and it made the possibility of an Ice Age much more feasible.



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