Thursday, August 23, 2012

a different expedition to Cumberland Sound

Vats for rending whale fat off Cumberland Sound
On 3 August 1879, the schooner Florence set sail for Cumberland Sound on what was called the Howgate Polar Expedition. Ironically, Captain Howgate was supposed to join the ship once it reached the Arctic, but never did. The naturalist Ludwig Kumlien, only a few weeks out of university, was on board.

Ludwig Kumlien behaved as a naturalist from an early age. As a child he raised wild birds, collected frogs and captured fish during time spent in nature. According to his wife, “his phenomenal eye-sight allowed nothing to escape his observation and drawing was as natural to him as writing”. In addition he was trained by his father, Thure Kumlien, a prominent naturalist in his day. A trip to the Arctic turned into a great way to start his career as a naturalist.

The primary objective of the Howgate expedition, in Captain Howgate’s words, was: “to collect material, skins, skin clothing, dogs, sledges, and Eskimo, for the use of a future colony on the shores of Lady Franklin Bay.” Scientific work was the second objective and whaling was third.

Unfortunately for the science, the crew’s pay came from whaling profits making whaling the top priority for the crew (I know of modern day expeditions where similar things have happened when fishing vessels have been chartered). As a result, the scientists on board were unable to regularly get use of the ship’s boats as they were kept ready for whaling. Kumlien described how his work went like this: "nearly all the scientific labors were prosecuted under very discouraging conditions" - I can't help but wonder if he was holding back.

Kumlien published a book on the natural history of the area titled Contributions to the Natural History of Arctic America in addition to bringing as many specimens home as he could fit on the ship (it was a small ship). I’ve read through his book and although its focus is on plants and animals of Cumberland Sound, it does provide me a few tidbits to add into my own work.

It appears that the spring conditions in 1878 held a lot in common with this summer. According to Kumlien: “the spring of 1878 was stormy and backward, and the prevalence of southerly gales kept the ice closely packed about us till the fore part of July.”

Kumlien’s observation that “icebergs are also sometimes found in this fjord that, from their positions, seem to have come from the northward and not from the south” might mean that there is a current flowing through Cumberland Sound that originates from the north. I hope to be able to capture this in my own measurements.

The Florence arrived home on 30 October 1878, 15 months after leaving. Surprisingly for the time, all on board made it home alive and well. The next group of scientists to work in Cumberland Sound arrived in 1952.

Another account of this expedition can be found here.

Kumlien, L. 1879. Bulletin of the United States National Museum, No. 15: Contributions to the Natural History of Arctic America made in connection with the Howgate Polar Expedition, 1877-78. Washington Government Printing Office. 179 pages.

Taylor, H.J. 1937. Ludwig Kumlien. The Wilson Bulletin. 49 No 2, 85-90

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