The Austro-Hungarian North Pole Expedition of 1872-74
Many Arctic expeditions in the 19th century ended with shipwrecks. Probably the best known is Franklin's expedition in 1845 which had a tragic human loss of as many as 120 people. Twenty expeditions were organized to find and save them, but all were in vain.
As late as the second half of the nineteenth century, there was still a vestigial belief that north of the Arctic ice lay a warm "Polar Sea." In 1871, the Austrian government dispatched veteran Arctic explorers Julius von Payer and Karl Weyprecht to investigate this possibility. As Payer wrote, "Our ideal aim was the north-east passage, our immediate and definite object was the exploration of the seas and lands on the north-east of Novaya Zemlya." The ship chosen was Tegetthoff, a wooden steamship sheathed in iron and named for the nineteenth-century Austrian Admiral Wilhelm von Tegetthoff. With provisions for three years, the ship sailed from Bremerhaven on June 13, 1872. Rounding Norway and sailing into the Barents Sea, on August 20 she became icebound off Novaya Zemlya in 76°22N, 63°3E. By August 1873 she had drifted northwest to 79°43E, 59°33, near the previously unknown Franz Josef Land, a group of islands about 275 miles northeast of Novaya Zemlya. After exploring the islands, which they named for the Austrian emperor, and advancing as far north as 82°5N, on May 20, 1874, Payer and Weyprecht decided to abandon Tegetthoff and sledge back to Novaya Zemlya with the ship's boats. Three months of sledging brought them to the edge of the ice pack in 77°40N. Taking to their boats, they were rescued by the Russian whaleship Nicholas off Novaya Zemlya.
Arctic, Franz-Josef Land… In 1872 an Austrian society composed by representatives of Austrian nobility, scientists, politicians and public figures, that sponsored Austrian efforts to conquer the North Pole, organized raising of funds, equipment and outfit for the Arctic expedition headed by lieutenants Julius Payer and Karl Weyprecht.
The main goal of the expedition intended to last for 2.5 years was the discovery of the North-East Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. The immediate goal of the expedition, however, was to explore lands and waters of the Arctic Ocean located to the North-East of Novaya Zemlya Island. Being partisans of August Peterman’s hypothesis on “warm”, ice-free waters expanses existing in the Arctic Ocean, Payer and Weyprecht believed to be able to reach the Bering Straits making their way through the Great Siberian Unfrozen Sea supposedly located to the North-East of Novaya Zemlya.
“The Tegetthoff” wooden hull steamship of 200 tons displacement, powered with a 100 h.p. engine was specially built for this expedition.
On June 1872 the “Tegetthoff” left the German seaport Bremerhafen and headed for Novaya Zemlya. But their hopes to find Barents Sea free of ice proved wrong. As early as on August 21, west off Novaya Zemlya, a bit north of Barents Islands, the “Tegetthoff” was trapped by ice and drifted with the ice fields to the North-West over several months.
A year later, on August, 30, 1873, the monotony of life of the ice-bound ship was interrupted by an event of major importance. “Toward the midday –Julius Payer recalled afterwards – we were standing on the deck, leaning on the ship’s board and staring aimlessly at the mist, that had began to dissipate in some spots. Suddenly the mist dissipated completely in the North-West, and we saw cliffs. In a few minutes we caught an astonishing sight of a majestic mountainous landscape and glaciers, that dazzled us in the sunshine. For a few seconds we stood stunned and couldn’t believe our eyes. Then, overwhelmed by emotions, we burst out crying: “Land! Land!” And we named this unknown land after the Austrian Emperor Franz Josef Land.
Only two months later, on November, 1, 1873, when the ice floe, drifting along with ship got frozen to the shore ice, the members of the expedition could land on the shore of a small island south-east of the Franz Josef Land, named in honour of one of the main expedition sponsors – Count Hans Wilchek. The Polar Night that had already set, prevented the expedition from starting exploration of newly found land.
The wintering near the Franz Josef Land shores was overshadowed by scurvy. Early in March died of scurvy the machinist Krish. In spring the disease started ceding, due to a successful polar bear hunting.
Once the Polar Day had set, the expedition started preparations for sledge trips to explore the Franz Josef Land. The first one took place in the middle of March. Payer got to the Tegetthoff Cape and climbed the Sonklar Glacier on the Galla Island. The air temperature at the top of the glacier was 50 grades below zero.
Late in March Payer and 6 other men undertook a long sledge expedition. As they had only three dogs, the sledges were mainly pulled by men. In the course of a month Payer traveled about the Franz Josef Land, collecting rock samples, studying land’s structure and outline, as well as its wildlife. During this expedition the Austrians reached the northernmost part of the Franz Josef Land – the Fligel Cape. But at that time Payer believed that north of the FJL there was another land, that he named Peterman Land. The members of the expedition hoisted the Austrian flag on the Fligel Cape.
Early in May Payer along with two other people undertook a travel to the West; in the course of the expedition he found out that the newly found land was of enormous extension in that direction.
The explorations carried out by Julius Payer resulted in the first, though rather inaccurate map of the Franz Josef Land.
In May 1874 the expedition decided to abandon the ice-caught Tegetthoff and try to reach the Novaya Zemlya shores in the hope of spotting there some whalers or hunting vessel. They got over ice floes handling crowbars and axes, moved on sledges their load or crossed ice-free expanses of water in four boats either paddling with oars or sailing. Only after 96 days of exhausting travel, in the small hours of August 18 the explorers reached the Admiralty Cape of Novaya Zemlya. They were lucky to find on August 24 a group of pomors, Russian Arctic coast dwellers, headed by Fyodor Voronin, that took them on board the schooner Nikolay and took them to Norwegian port of Warde. And from there, the Austrian Polar explorers, after 812 days from the beginning of the expedition returned safely home on September, 3.
The results of the expedition did not fill its leaders with much optimism about transportation and hunting or fishing prospects of the Polar seas. Payer considered the North-East Passage impracticable and in any case denied its “commercial value”.
The primary aim of the journey was to navigate the north-eastern passage, its actual purpose was the exploration of parts of sea or land northwest of Nowaja Semlja [Payer]. According to Weyprecht's planning, the North Pole was a secondary target.
Discovery in 1873 of Franz-Joseph-Land (a collection of about 85 islands in the Artic Ocean, now a Russina National Park called Zemlya Franc Iosifa).
End of expedition
The ship named Tegetthoff was constructed in the German port of Bremen using a special new technology to endure extremely low temperatures and dangerous ice pressure (32 m long, 7 m wide, 220 tons).
The Tegetthoff was built by Teklenborg & Beurmann in Bremerhaven before 1871. It was a three-mast schooner (barkentine) of 220 tons, 38,34 m / 100 hp / 130 tons of coal; Hull: wood. Comp.: 24. Mach.: steam, 100 hp. It carried food provisions for 2.5 - 3 years.
The crew was composed of 24 persons, members of the Austro-Hungarian marine in the Adriatic sea who came from all over Austria-Hungary, especially from Istria and Dalmatia. The crew consisted of 9 Austrians, 1 Hungarian, 1 Moravian Czech, 1 Italian (?), and as many as 12 Istrians and Croats from the Adriatic coast - Rijeka, Cres, Bakar, Volosko, Lovran, Plomin, Mali Losinj, Brac, Hvar.
(Note: the names shown in blue font are known to be Istrians)
In his diary Julius Payer includes Ante Scarpa from Trieste into the Slavonic group, see [Kumicic], p. 40, and according to Kumicic the Croatian crew had 13 members (see p. 2), not 12. Also every Sunday the Croats read parts of Evangel in Croatian (scavet), which belongs to glagolitic tradition, see [Kumicic] p. 38. On Christmas they sang a well known song "U se vrime godista", and remember their customs. The crew had a small library with about 400 books, half of them scientific. Some of the books were in Croatian.
There were some objections addressed to Karl Weyprecht, captain of the ship, why he chose so many Croats, instead of Tyrol Austrians. He answered that he counted on endurance, discipline and experience of Croatian mariners, and the fact that they do not drink.
Very important for success of this carefully planned and dangerous expedition was the presence of eight dogs. The expedition led to the discovery of Franz Josef's Land in the Arctic.
In 1872, when the expedition sailed off from the port of Bremen, weather condition and temperature were particularly severe. A result of ice movement was that the sailboat became wedged in the mass of ice for two years! At that time it was not possible to communicate with the rest of the world as it is today. During these two years the crew, although in extremely difficult situation, performed numerous scientific investigations. The preserved log-book testimonies about very serious and well organized everyday life and work. As the ice moved slowly northward, the mountains emerged, that they named Franz Josef's Land. It had been decided to leave the location of the ship, and carry three auxiliary saving ships on sledges, tugged with dogs and people. In dramatic 800 kilometers that they covered mostly on foot under very difficult conditions, they discovered numerous new interesting places. So today we have places like the Cape of Fiume (= the town of Rijeka, on Croatian litoral), and the Cape of Klagenfurt (a town in Austria).
One of participants of this adventure was Eling Carlson from Norway, connoisseur of northern seas. Unfortunately, one member of the crew died of an illness: Oton Kriz from Moravia (today in Czechia). After about two years of stay in the Arctic the ship Tegetthoff was left by the whole crew in the ocean of ice, and 23 people set off back to Europe in three small saving ships. For almost three months people and dogs had to tug boats on sledges, and then during next nine days they had to row until they finally met two Russian fishing boats near Novaya Zemlya.
As stated in [Kumicic], p. 122, there is no king in the world that would be accepted with such hospitality and joy as those totally exhausted people were accepted by Russian mariners. It is very probable that Croatian mariners were able to communicate with Russians, since Croatian and Russian languages are relatively close. Among all members of the expedition only Petar Lusina (from the island of Cres) knew Russian. Besides his native Croatian, he also spoke English, French and Italian. Members of the expedition learned many news that have happened in Europe during two and a half years of their expedition. The two boats took them to Vardoe in Norway, for which Russian mariners have sacrificed four days of their fishing, plus four days for the return.
Upon successful arrival to Europe, with help of Russian and Norwegian navy, members of expedition reached Hamburg. In Vienna a glorious welcome was organised, and all of them obtained honorary citizenship in the Austrian-Hungarian state. A grand "banchetto" was organized in the Istrian town of Volosko near Rijeka. The overall expenses were such that the expedition ended with +17.61 forints, which we know from a very detailed and pedantic final account.
Among numerous financial supporters of this daring exploit was Dora Pejacevic, a Croatian composer.
It is interesting that experiences of this expedition were important in the preparation of Amundsen's expedition to Arctic about 30 years later.
While now classified as Croatians, Croatian descent of half of the crew was not mentioned in the existing literature available in German, English, and Italian. The expedition was described by Eugen Kumicic, himself an Istrian.
It is also worth mentioning that in 1882, as a part of the First International Geophysical Year, another very ambitious and successful expedition had been organized to the region of Greenland (in the part which is north of Island). Also in this case, in the crew composed of 12 half of them were Croats. Their names are:
This page compliments of Marisa Ciceran