Today’s “This Day” post mentions the demise of James M. Ambler, a Virginia-born Navy surgeon who reluctantly volunteered for service with an Arctic expedition aboard the Jeannette, a ship commanded by George W. De Long. The ship became imprisoned by ice late in 1879, and Ambler did well to keep the crew not only alive but relatively healthy. Still adrift in June 1881, the Jeannette struck ice, which crushed its wooden hull. While a few of the crew’s thirty-three men survived, many froze to death, drowned, or starved, including Ambler, who died with De Long sometime around October 30, 1881.
A few years later, De Long’s journals, in two volumes and edited by his wife, were published and they included a series of wood engravings, most of which were done by George T. Andrew after designs by M. J. Burns. They offer a compelling visual narrative of an Arctic adventure–turned tragedy. They are provided here, with captions, courtesy of the United States Naval History and Heritage Command.
Above: the USS Jeannette enters the Arctic ice, near Herald Island, on September 6, 1879 (Andrew / Burns).
Above: Expedition members return from a bear hunt while the USS Jeannette is still icebound north of Siberia, 1880 (Andrew / Burns).
Above: The USS Jeannette begins to sink on ice flows north of Siberia, June 12, 1881. She went down completely the next morning (Andrew / Burns).
Above: The crew of the USS Jeannette hauls the ship’s boats over the very rough Arctic ice north of Siberia during the summer of 1881 (Andrew / Burns).
Above: A party of sailors from the USS Jeannette lands on Bennett Island, north of Siberia, on July 29, 1881, after a difficult pull over water and broken ice (Andrew / Burns).
Above: Boats containing crewmembers of the USS Jeannette separate in a gale northeast of the Lena River Delta, Siberia, on September 12, 1881. The boat commanded by Lieutenant Commander George De Long (foreground) eventually lands at the northern end of the Delta. The one commanded by Chief Engineer George W. Melville (background, right) lands on the Delta’s eastern side. Meanwhile, the boat commanded by Lieutenant Charles W. Chipp (background, left) is never heard from again (Andrew / Burns).
Above: Lieutenant Commander George De Long and his party wade ashore from the USS Jeannette‘s first cutter, on the north end of the Lena River Delta, Siberia, September 17, 1881 (Andrew / Burns).
Above: On the right, Seamen William F. C. Nindemann and Louis P. Noros trudge through the snowy Siberian wastes in search of help for Lieutenant Commander George De Long’s party in October 1881 (Andrew / Burns). On the left, a facsimile of the next-to-last page of De Long’s journal, covering the days October 21–24, 1881, as his part is dying of starvation at the head of the Lena River Delta, Siberia. Numbered days reflect the time since the USS Jeannette was abandoned in the ice north of Siberia.
Above: Chief Engineer George Melville discovers the bodies of Lieutenant Commander George De Long, Passed Assistant Surgeon James M. Ambler, and Seaman Ah Sam, in the Lena River Delta, Siberia, on March 23, 1882. The three men died in October or early November 1881 (George T. Andrew, after a design by Captain Gronbeck).
Above: The survivors of the USS Jeannette‘s Arctic expedition are pictured (left to right, in front): Lauderback, Bartlett, William Coles, Seaman William F. C. Nindemann, and Mansen; (left to right, in middle): Chief Engineer George W. Melville and Lieutenant John W. Danenhower; (left to right, in back): Raymond Lee Newcomb (naturalist), Seaman Louis P. Noros, Henry Wilson, Tong Sing (cook), Anequin and H. W. Leach). Based on a photograph taken at Yakutsk, Siberia, in 1882.