Review

Fatal North: Murder and Survival Aboard the U. S. S. Polaris. the First U. S. Expedition to the North Pole

by Bruce Henderson

In
1870, an Arctic Pole enthusiast by the name of Charles Hall
persuaded the United States government that our country needed to
be first to plant our flag on the North Pole --- a feat that had
been attempted by many European countries without success. The
resulting expedition failed to reach the pole, nearly cost the
lives of everyone involved, and did result in the death of its
leader, Charles Francis Hall. The subsequent investigation resulted
in a government cover-up of the mutinous actions by some of the
polar party, and in particular, the scandalous accusation that
Commander Hall had actually been murdered.
For
nearly 100 years, the mystery remained unsolved, until a small
group of men undertook to either prove or disprove the theory that
Hall had been the victim of a cruel, cold-blooded crime. Bruce
Henderson has now researched the original inquests held by the US
Navy, personal journals of the members of that ill-fated
expedition, as well as the autopsy reports issued as a result of
the 1968 team's efforts to uncover the truth. In FATAL NORTH,
Henderson's recreation of events as they took place is
unquestionably accurate, and is written with such a flair for
storytelling that readers will be mesmerized. Following the events
as they unfold, one can't help but be astonished at the incredible
audacity of the official government investigators to largely ignore
or conceal what was so blatantly obvious.
There were, no doubt, many who saw the expedition as doomed
from the very beginning, based on the odd mixture of personalities
that made up the 1870 US expedition. Charles Hall's credentials for
leading such a massive undertaking were limited in many ways. He
was neither a scientist nor a ship's captain, but he did have a
life-long interest in arctic exploration and had undertaken several
trips previous to this official attempt. Unfortunately, there were
others in the group, specifically Dr. Emil Bessels, who felt they
were far more qualified to lead the exploration. Bessels was a
scientist of some repute and anxious from the beginning to exercise
more control over the daily excursions and claim any glory for
himself. In fact, Bessels became a prime suspect in the death of
Hall very early on. Another who fell under the spotlight of
suspicion was Sidney O. Buddington, a Sailing-Master with years of
experience at the helm in the ice-filled waters of the North
Atlantic. Although Hall originally felt Buddington an able,
trustworthy seaman; he soon found his confidence misplaced, as
Buddington became a drunkard, discipline among the crew eroded, and
mutiny became a serious threat.
George Tyson, Hall's original choice for Sailing-Master, was a
longtime friend and veteran sailor, who eventually joined the
expedition in a somewhat vague capacity. His presence became an
irritation to Buddington and created a conflict from the outset.
But it was Tyson's strength of character that saved the lives of 18
people, and through his journals, along with those of the other
survivors, invaluable details of this historic event were recorded
for posterity. Henderson's spellbinding reenactment is both
exciting and sobering. His poignant observations on the perils
faced by any group attempting to survive in the harsh climate of
that region are eloquently woven into this masterful
narrative.
"Once beyond the range of the men's voices, Tyson heard no
other sound. It was entirely calm: no wind, no movement of any
living creature --- nothing but a leaden sky above, ice beneath his
feet, and silence everywhere. It hung like a pall over everything.
So painfully oppressive did it become that Tyson was tempted to
shout aloud to break the spell. At last he did, but no response
came, not even an echo."
You
needn't be an Arctic adventurer to enjoy and appreciate the moving
and suspenseful tale of the fateful expedition of the USS Polaris.
You'll only need a strong stomach to cope with the grittier scenes,
as these people fought to reach beyond the furthest footsteps of
mankind and ended up fighting for their very lives.

Reviewed by Ann Bruns on January 21, 2011

Fatal North: Murder and Survival Aboard the U. S. S. Polaris. the First U. S. Expedition to the North Pole
by Bruce Henderson

  • Publication Date: February 1, 2001
  • Genres: History, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: NAL Hardcover
  • ISBN-10: 0451409353
  • ISBN-13: 9780451409355