Nunatsiaq Online
TAISSUMANI: Around the Arctic May 24, 2012 - 5:08 pm

Taissumani, May 25

The Windward, a Sturdy Arctic Ship

KENN HARPER
The Windward in the 1880s.
The Windward in the 1880s.

The port of Dundee in Scotland lost one of its last whaling ships in 1907 in waters off the coast of Greenland.

The Windward had been built in 1860 at Stephens and Forbes yard in the rival port of Peterhead, designed as a sailing whale ship, a three-masted barque of 321 gross tons. But the days of sailing vessels in the whaling fleet were almost over, and the little vessel was fitted with engines in 1866.

She had a reasonably successful career out of Peterhead, travelling often to the northern waters of Davis Strait but also to the sea off the east coast of Greenland.

In 1893, her last year sailing out of Peterhead, she was under the command of the veteran, Captain David Gray; she took one whale that yielded 19 tons of oil.

But the profitability of whaling was declining, and her owners sold her early the following year to Captain Joseph Wiggins who sold her the same year to Alfred Harmsworth, a wealthy newspaper owner, who had been searching for a vessel for the use of Frederick George Jackson on an adventure known as the Jackson-Harmsworth expedition.

That year the Windward took the expedition to Franz Josef Land, which they reached on September 8. Jackson constructed his winter camp there – inexplicably named Elmwood. Ice prevented Windward’s departure, and the sturdy vessel wintered nearby.

Jackson wanted to delineate the islands that made up Franz Josef Land because he had thought they were part of a larger land mass, perhaps extending to the pole. As he found out, this was not the case. He conducted his exploration over the next three years by small boat, dogs and sledges, and ponies!

In the meantime, Windward, free of the ice by July 3, 1895, left for London. The following summer she was back in late July with supplies for the expedition. When she departed on August 7, she carried an unexpected passenger, the Norwegian explorer, Fridtjof Nansen, who had wintered even farther north.

Nansen had set out in 1893 aboard the Fram, which he had had frozen in to the polar pack to test his theories about ice drift. With one companion, he attempted unsuccessfully to reach the North Pole over the ice. They wintered north of Jackson’s expedition, unaware of its existence, and thinking themselves to be near Svalbard.

Amazingly, they stumbled upon Jackson’s camp and learned their true location. Captain Brown of the Windward safely delivered Nansen to Tromso, Norway in August of 1896.

The next summer the Windward arrived on July 22 to pick up the entire expedition. Two weeks later, it left for home.

Harmsworth was finished with the trusty vessel and offered her to Robert Peary for his own attempts to reach the North Pole. In 1898 Captain Samuel Bartlett took command of the ship and sailed for northern Greenland with supplies for Peary, who had travelled ahead on the Hope.

Picking Peary up at Etah, the Windward attempted to force her way farther north, but was stopped by ice a little more than half way up the Ellesmere island coast, where the vessel wintered at Cape D’Urville. In late August, Windward left for the south, leaving Peary at Etah.

The next year, Captain Bartlett brought the Windward north again with supplies for the American expedition. The plan was to return south that same summer. On board were two visitors whom Robert Peary was not expecting – his wife Josephine and young daughter Marie.

But ice stopped the ship and it was forced to winter at Payer Harbour, again on the Canadian side of Smith Sound.  Peary, not expecting a visit from his wife, and not knowing for some months where the ship was, did not travel to the Windward until May in the following spring.

When the Windward was free of ice and headed south that summer, it was with Mrs Peary and her daughter but without Robert, who was spending one more year in the far north.  The Stein expedition, a shoestring research effort that had been in Ellesmere Island for two years, also travelled south on the Windward.

Peary had no further use for the ship, and she went back into service a few years later as a whaler.

Next week – A heartbreaking letter from the Windward.

Taissumani recounts a specific event of historic interest. Kenn Harper is a historian, writer and linguist who lives in Iqaluit. Feedback? Send your comments and questions to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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