Bradford’s “Mark Twain” Scrapbook

Posted by on Jun 13, 2014 in Arctic Visions, Bradford Scrapbooks | One Comment

Post submitted by Russell Potter, a contributor to the development of the Arctic Visions exhibition and this microsite. He teaches at Rhode Island College, where he is editor of the Arctic Book Review. His books include Arctic Spectacles: The Frozen North in Visual Culture, 1818-1875 (2007), and most recently a novel, Pyg: The Memoirs of a Learned Pig (2011). 

bradford_twainThe distinctive scrapbook employed by William Bradford, and later by his family, to showcase newspaper clippings of his expeditions, paintings, and related topics, is marked by the three columns of dark amber glue, which look to have once been wetted in order to stick the clippings in. The unusual design — the glue apparently came prepared in dry form upon every page — identifies it as one of Mark Twain’s patent Scrap-Books, a system the famous author actually did invent himself, and one of the few of his many brain-storms (other than literary ones) that actually proved profitable.

On occasion, Twain received letters from the users of these scrap-books, some praising and some complaining of their adhesive qualities. Among the best was one which opened thusly:

“I am a plain minister of the gospel, and I wish to say, I never swore any more in my life than I have today.  Certainly your Scrap Book with nothing but gummed lines is a very funny book – probably the funniest book you ever made, but, my dear Twain, why didn’t you tell folks not to moisten your gummed lines with their fingers. I got stuck to those gummed lines! Why didn’t you tell people how to handle the dangerous thing? I have a an engagement to lecture to-morrow night and, unless I break loose, I shall have to carry this product of your wicked brain with me to the very platform.”

Twain, keeping the jesting tone, wrote in reply “Sh! Don’t say a word — let others get “stuck” I’ll tell you privately to use a wet rag or brush–but let us leave the others to get into trouble with their fingers. Then they will abuse the Scrap Book everywhere, and straightway everybody will buy one to give to his enemy, and that will make a great sale for the Inventor, who will go to Europe and have a good time.”

Happily, William Bradford seemed to have no such difficulties with his scrap-book, and indeed his family continued to use it after his death — his obituary is there, neatly cut and pasted onto the pre-gummed bars of the backing.

Kane’s Mysterious Waters: Transient Polynyas

Open_Polar_Sea (1)

From “Arctic Exploration Grinnell Expedition 1853-1854-1855”, artist James Hamilton after sketches by Elisha Kent Kane, engraved by R. Hinshelwood.

Led by Elisha Kent Kane, M.D., the Second Grinnell Expedition (1853-1855) continued on-going searches for the missing Franklin Expedition. According to Kane’s writings in Arctic Explorations, his approach was to take a course that should “lead most directly to the open sea of which he had inferred the existence” and to “examine the [Greenland] coast-lines for vestiges of the lost party.” Within the first dozen or so pages of his book, Kane had established the theoretical existence of an open polar sea.

Kane further supports the existence of open seawater by referring to noted historical explorers:

An open sea near the Pole, or even an open Polar basin, has been a topic of theory for a long time, and has been shadowed forth to some extent by actual or supposed discoveries. As far back as the days of Barentz, in 1596, without referring to the earlier and more uncertain chronicles, was seen to the eastward of the northernmost cape of Novaia Zemlia; and, until its limited extent was defined by direct observation, it was assumed to be the sea itself.

The Dutch fisherman above and around Spitzbergen pushed their adventurous cruises through the ice into open spaces varying in size and form with the season and the winds; and Dr. Scoresby, a venerated authority, alludes to such vacancies in the floe as pointing in argument to a freedom of movement from the north, inducing open water in the neighborhood of the Pole. [1]

Kane also theorizes a milder climate towards the [North] Pole; however, he does not provide an explanation as to how such an open sea may exist:

It is impossible, in reviewing the facts which connect themselves with this discovery, — the melted snow upon the rocks, the crowds of marine birds, the limited, but still advancing vegetable life, the rise of the thermometer in the water, — not to be struck with their bearing on the question of a milder climate near the Pole. [2]

While discussing the northern extent of the search for Franklin, Kane provides the number of miles searched and approximate longitude and latitude coordinates of ice-free water:

During this period [August and September, 1854] the labours of the expedition have delineated 960 miles of [Greenland] coast-line, without developing any traces of the missing ships or the slightest information bearing upon their fate. The amount of travel to effect this exploration exceeded 2000 miles, all of which was upon foot or by the aid of dogs.

Greenland has been traced to its northern face, whence it is connected with the further north of the opposite coast by a great glacier. This coast has been charted as high as lat. 82° 27’. Smith’s Sound expands into a capacious bay: it has been surveyed throughout its entire extent. From its northern and eastern corner, in lat. 80° 10, long. 66°, a channel has been discovered and followed until further progress was checked by water free of ice. This channel trended nearly due north, and expanded into an apparently open sea, which abounded with birds and bears and marine life. [3]

Kane recorded these observations of open Arctic water north of Cape Andrew Jackson, and his findings were reportedly corroborated by Isaac I. Hayes, M.D., Hans Hendrik, and by notations in William’s Morton’s journal:

The journeys which I had made myself, and those of my different parties, had shown that an unbroken surface of the ice covered the entire sea to the east, west, and south. From the southernmost ice, seen by Dr. Hayes only a few weeks before, to the region of the mysterious water, was, as the crow flies, 106 miles. But for the unusual sight of birds and the unmistakable giving way of the ice beneath them, they would not have believed in the evidence of eyesight. Neither Hans nor Morton was prepared for it.

Landing on the cape, and continuing their exploration, new phenomena broke upon them. They were on the shores of a channel, so open that a frigate, or a fleet of frigates, might have sailed up it. The ice, already broken and decayed, formed a sort of horseshoe-shaped beach, against which the waves broke in surf. As they travelled north, this channel expanded into an iceless area; “for four or five small pieces” – lumps – were all that could be seen over the entire surface of its white-capped waters. Viewed from the cliffs, and taking 36 miles as the mean radius open to reliable survey, this sea had a justly-estimated extent of more than 4000 square miles. [4]

Note: Line-of-sight to a 36-mile water horizon requires the viewer to be ~650 feet above mean sea level.

Polynyas are semi-permanent open water greater than five square kilometers and are surrounded by sea ice. Generally, they are formed by two mechanisms: 1) upwelling warmer sea water melting surface ice, and 2) wind and wave-action breaking ice, particularly thinner first-year ice, that is then widely dispersed by wind and by water currents. These hydrodynamic forces in combination can potentially open vast areas of Arctic seas in summer and/or winter with year-to-year variations, forming polynyas that range in size 10 to 100 kilometers. [5,6]

The Canadian Arctic Archipelago has at least 23 documented polynyas and several shorelead polynyas, the latter of which can extend hundreds of kilometers. Of note, the North Water (NOW) polynya is one of the largest and most widely studied, occupying much of Smith Sound and extending north towards the southern entrance of Kane Basin. Smaller polynyas are present at Flagler Bay (Ellesmere Island), and at the confluence of Robeson Channel and the Lincoln Sea. Numerous smaller, transient polynyas can be found year round throughout the Arctic, and at times, along the Ellesmere-Greenland waterway. [7]

Kane alluded to the importance of polynyas to nearly all Arctic animals, especially marine mammals, when he observed that the open sea “abounded with birds and bears and marine life.” According to Martin, the NOW polynya “contains large concentrations of white whales, narwhals, walruses, and seals, with polar bears foraging along the coast… All of this suggests that polynyas are vital for the overwinter survival of arctic species. [8]

Because 19th century Arctic explorers lacked adequate instrumentation to study and measure Arctic polynyas, Kane and others theorizing them as an open sea is understandable, since their presence had been observed for hundreds of years by Arctic region fishermen and explorers. Kane, nonetheless, had identified one key element of polynya formation, comparatively warmer water (though without the upwelling component). Because these open areas of water were predictable along the Ellesmere-Greenland coastlines, Kane aptly utilized them as part of his overall strategy when searching for the lost Franklin Expedition. Research continues on the formation and oceanographic characteristics of Arctic and Antarctic transient polynyas.


  1. Arctic Explorations in Search of Sir John Franklin, Elisha Kent Kane, M.D., U.S.N., T. Nelson and Sons, Paternoster Row, Edinburgh and New York, 1877, p. 182.
  2. Ibid, p. 183.
  3. Ibid, p. 206.
  4. Ibid, pp. 179-180.
  5. “Polynyas,” Seelye Martin, University of Washington, Department of Oceanography, 2001, p. 1-7.
  6. On Sea Ice, W. F. Weeks, University of Alaska Press, Fairbanks, Alaska, 2010, p. 281-329.
  7. “Polynyas and Tidal Currents in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago,” Charles G. Hannah, et al, Arctic, 62, 1, March, 2009, p. 83-95.
  8. Martin, p.4.

Frances Hennessey writes informally on Dr. Isaac Israel Hayes and other 19th century Arctic-related topics. Fran tweets @openpolarsea and has a poetry blog

Understanding by Degrees: The Open Polar Sea (Part 3 of 3)

Posted by on Dec 15, 2013 in Arctic Visions | No Comments

OPS Smith SoundDuring the 19th century, some scientists and explorers believed (or wanted to confirm) that an Open Polar Sea existed north of Ellesmere Island and Greenland, presumably as an ice-free area of navigable water in the region of the Lincoln Sea. Much like the search for the Northwest Passage, this legendary open sea was thought to provide a more Greenland-oriented Arctic seaway. Isaac Israel Hayes, a medical doctor-explorer, believed in this Open Polar Sea and dedicated most of his life (and health) to its discovery and substantiating its existence. This third and final post discusses Hayes’ “most northern land” that he claimed to have reached.  

In 1853 as a newly-graduated physician, Hayes had served as ship’s surgeon on the Second Grinnell Expedition. This expedition was led by Dr. Elisha Kent Kane on the schooner Advance. New York City businessman Henry Grinnell, sponsored this expedition (as he had a previous one in 1850) to search for the lost Franklin Expedition, which had been sent by Britain in 1845 to discover the Northwest Passage.  

Early in 1860, Hayes published his first book, An Arctic Boat Journey, in which he described his arduous if not life-threatening trek from the ice-beset Advance in an attempt to reach Upernavik, a Greenland settlement with adequate resources to send a rescue party to Kane and his scurvy-debilitated crew. Because of extreme cold, a lack of food, and impassable conditions, Hayes and his party were force to return to the Advance, where the entire crew, including invalids, made a heroic 83-day forced march to Upernavik, one of the most extraordinary events in 19th century Arctic exploration. 

Borne out of this extraordinary Arctic experience, Hayes secured funding to lead his own expedition in search of the legendary Open Polar Sea. Leaving Boston Harbor in July, 1860 in the schooner United States, Hayes had with him Kane’s astronomer, August Sonntag. With Sonntag as his second in command, Hayes followed much of Kane’s earlier course along the convoluted shores of Greenland and Ellesmere Island.  

Tragedy struck Hayes’ expedition when his close friend, Sonntag, died of hypothermia secondary to falling into icy water. Sonntag’s death was devastating to Hayes and to his crew, to the extent that they felt the expedition had lost direction. Nevertheless even without an astronomer, Hayes persisted with his quest north to find the Open Polar Sea. This two-year expedition culminated in a harrowing, forty-day push north along the Kennedy Channel coastline of Ellesmere Island. In Hayes’ second book, The Open Polar Sea, published in 1867, he wrote: 

This point, the most northern land that has ever been reached, was visited by the undersigned, May 18th, 19th 1861, accompanied by George F. Knorr, traveling with a dog-sledge. We arrived here after a toilsome march of forty-six days from my winter harbor, near Cape Alexander, at the mouth of Smith Sound.  My observations place us in latitude 81º 35’, longitude 70º 30’ W. Our further progress was stopped by rotten ice and cracks. Kennedy Channel appears to expand into the Polar Basin; and, satisfied that it is navigable at least during the months of July, August, and September, I go hence to my winter harbor, to make another trial to get through Smith Sound with my vessel, after the ice breaks up this summer. May 19th, 1861, I. I. Hayes.  

The location of Hayes’ “most northern land…reached” has been a matter of scholarly debate if not controversy. Research of historical dairies, drawings, and photographs suggests that Hayes was significantly further south than he stated, possibly in the area of picturesque Church’s Peak (N81º 15’ 30” by W65º 37’ 30”) or Cape Joseph Good (N80º 15’ 7” by W69º 54’ 41”). To further complicate this investigation, In the “enlarged and illustrated” 1883 edition of Arctic Boat Journey, Hayes indicated in Note 8. – Page 22:

“In my journey to Grinnell Land in 1861, I further traced the coast line to latitude 82º 45’, and from its shores I looked upon the Open Polar Sea. This is the most northern known land, and the most northern point of it I name Cape Union.” 

This retrospective notation adds one full degree of north latitude (~70 miles) to Hayes’ statement found in The Open Polar Sea. Interestingly, Hayes’ coordinates for Cape Union are north of Alert (N82º 30’ 05”). The concern is whether Hayes could reliably claim to have seen Cape Union, much less “traced” that northern point on foot since his “further progress was stopped by rotten ice and cracks.” Ultimately, Hayes’ Open Polar Sea may have been a  transient summer polynya, or open area in the ice, in the far reaches of Kennedy Channel or Hall Basin. 

Fourteen years later in 1875, the British explorer George Nares in the HMS Alert reached the most northern limits of Ellesmere Island. Nares’ observations potentially placed Hayes’ northern-attained landmarks into question. This may have prompted Hayes to bolster his authoritative position by publishing the “notated” 1883 edition of Arctic Boat Journey before he died December, 1881. 

As found in The Open Polar Sea, “Chart of Smith Sound” shows Hayes’ track north and the longitude and latitude of his claimed most north point attained. While elegantly engraved for publication, this chart contains errors in geographic locations and in latitude and longitude. As discussed in Parts 1 and 2 of this blog, Hayes likely made some fundamental errors in distance calculations. He may have miscalculated his distance north traveled along the difficult Ellesmere Island coastline, his progress significantly impeded by perilous ice hummocks, deep snow, and tiring sledge dogs. 

Douglas W. Wamsley, in his revelatory biography, Polar Hayes, has complied comprehensive research on Hayes’ final push north. According to Wamsley, Hayes’ most northern attained point was closer to Cape Joseph Good or about 100 miles south of Cape Lieber, the point Hayes indicated he reached. Whether or not Hayes climbed to some elevation and peered north into Hall Basin, some debate exists, at least in Hayes’ own writings, that he actually saw ice-free water that could have been interpreted as an Open Polar Sea or even a navigable passageway into Hall Basin. 

With regard to Hayes’ sextant sightings, Wamlsey indicated that Hayes and Knorr suffered from snow blindness, and that Hayes made sextant sighting(s) with an instrument that he had not previously used. Whether Hayes’ sightings (one or more) were made at local solar noon is not known or whether he had a clear view of water or ice horizon. Nevertheless, no doubt exists that Hayes’ longitude reading (W70º 30’) is within the mountains of Ellesmere Island and not along the Kennedy Channel coastline. 

The debate of Hayes’ most north point attained could be solved if modern-day explorers could find the cairn built by Hayes and Knorr. As Hayes wrote in The Open Polar Sea: 

It now only remained for us to plant our flag in token of our discovery, and to deposit a record in proof of our presence. The flags were tied to the whiplash, and suspended between two tall rocks, and while we [Hayes and Knorr] were building a cairn, they were allowed to flutter in the breeze…” 

Subsequent explorers into the Greenland-Ellesmere region found historical rock cairns and gravesites, including that of August Sonntag. The possibility exists that Hayes’ cairn could be discovered, though its contents may be lost. Nevertheless, this archaeological evidence could potentially solve a puzzling 150-year mystery posed by this 19th century Arctic luminary. 

Retrospective Thoughts

From the perspective of someone who admires Hayes and studies his published writings, I struggled through months of angst, attempting to reconcile the discrepancies discussed. My approach was to read Wamsley’s Polar Hayes and eventually to place less emphasis on vexing numbers (degrees and miles). I returned to the books I love and focused on what Hayes does best: exemplary narrative accounts, poetic-like passages, and majestic descriptions. Derived from this personal odyssey of agonizing over maps, nautical charts, and measurements, I arrived at a greater understanding of Dr. Hayes, his historical writings, and published maps that represent personal ambitions, achievements, and a life-long quest for greater discovery and knowledge of Arctic regions. I wish to thank Russell Potter, PhD for his guidance in making this three-part blog possible. 

Frances Hennessey writes informally on Dr. Isaac Israel Hayes and other 19th Arctic-related topics. She has a small collection of Hayes first-edition books, two signed by the author. Fran tweets @openpolarsea and has a poetry blog

Understanding by Degrees: Determining Longitude (Part 2 of 3)

Posted by on Nov 25, 2013 in Arctic Visions | No Comments

1842 Chronometer in box — NBWM 1967.8

In the previous post, I outlined the basic concepts for obtaining latitude by sextant sightings at local solar noon, and illustrated how masters and astronomers on 19th century Arctic-exploring ships determined their northern position whether on the open ocean or trekking across glaciers on foot or by dog sledge. When navigating the open ocean, 19th century masters on Arctic-exploring ships also needed to know their longitude, which requires use of both a sextant and an accurate chronometer. This second of three posts discusses basic procedures used to determine longitude.

One fundamental of navigation is understanding time, distance, and speed. They are mathematically interrelated, since the faster one travels, usually more distance is covered or less time is needed to reach a specific destination.  On the featureless, often fathomless ocean, none of these components by themselves provides precise location. However when correlated from a specific point, time can be used to help determine location. For this reason, an accurate and practical-sized chronometer became an essential nautical instrument on many 19th century seafaring ships.

Vertical lines of longitude go north and south from the geographic North Pole to the South Pole. By convention, they originate at the Prime Meridian in Greenwich, England as zero degrees longitude. Thus, grid squares, consisting of degrees, minutes, and seconds, were projected onto a three-dimensional sphere (the earth) and in practical format, were converted to flat two-dimensional maps or nautical charts. However, as these longitudinal lines converge on the geographic poles, their distance apart progressively narrows. This near-pole narrowing of longitude was a significant sighting and computational factor 19th century Arctic explorers. Thus understanding was by degrees, minutes, and seconds.

For a 19th century nautical chronometer to operate properly, time was set to correspond exactly with that of the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, or what is known today as Greenwich Mean Time or GMT. Ideally, the chronometer should lose no more than a minute throughout the entire ocean voyage. The sun at noon in Greenwich is 1200 hours GMT, the standard reference for nautical chronometers.

Since the sun advances westward during the day 15 degrees per hour, the ship’s astronomer made sextant sightings at or very close to solar or 12 noon local time.  By using daily computation and correction tables, the astronomer placed the ship’s position on a “celestial line of position” or LOP that extended north to south along the route of travel, for example, from Cape Race, Newfoundland to Cape Farewell, Greenland. Typically several sightings were used to calculate and reconfirm longitude (and latitude) at sea.

In addition to inherent errors in early chronometers and sextants, other factors potentially contributed to errors in ascertaining longitude. Human errors included sextant sighting inexperience or haste and mistakes in math calculations. Extrinsic factors included cloudy days and nights, rough seas, and sun-blocking mountainous terrain. Nevertheless, 19th century explorers ventured far north into Arctic ice-cluttered waters and with reasonable accuracy (typically one degree), could determine their position in uncharted waters and across barren terrain.

Frances Hennessey writes informally on 19th century Arctic exploration, concentrating on Isaac I. Hayes, MD. Fran has a small collection of Hayes first editions, two of which are signed by the author. She also tweets @openpolarsea and has a poetry blog:

Understanding By Degrees: Determining Latitude (Part 1 of 3)

Posted by on Oct 28, 2013 in Arctic Visions, Navigation | 2 Comments

Sextant, made by Jesse Ramsden, last quarter of 18th century, courtesy of the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. Diagram courtesy the English Wikipedia

Arctic explorers in the 19th century routinely used a sextant for celestial navigation to determine their location at sea and when trekking across glaciers and other terrain on foot or by dog sledge. This first of three posts discusses basic principles of obtaining solar-noon latitude by sextant and the inherent errors often present when attempting to sight the low-angled Arctic sun. Latitude findings enabled explorers to determine and document how far north they had traveled, and at times, to document historical most northern points explored in the High Arctic.

The Greeks developed the concept of latitude and longitude grids that systematically divided the earth into a system of horizontal lines of latitude (going east to west) that originated at the equator. One degree of latitude equals ~70 miles and is constant from the equator to the geographic North and South Poles. The equator represents zero degrees latitude.

The primary instrument used in celestial navigation, the sextant, refers to the Latin word for one-sixth of a circle or 60 degrees. It is designed to measure the relative angle between two items, typically the horizon and the sun, moon, and stars. In addition ascertaining the angle of the sun, an accurate celestial sighting required eye-height above the ocean and exact time.

Hovering over the southern horizon, the Arctic summer sun was the explorer’s constant companion. After the June solstice, from the Arctic Circle (N66º 34’ 44”) to the geographic North Pole, the sun provides 24 hours of light (ergo the “midnight sun”). For this reason, explorers relied upon sun sightings to ascertain latitude. At high latitudes, the sun can often appear as a hazy, opalescent disc rather than a distinct point of light. While this procedure appears straightforward, the High Arctic sun appears to circle (in a horizontal ellipse) over the southern horizon, making exact noon sightings taken under hazy skies often problematic.

The ship’s astronomer (or other trained crew) typically made daily noon-sun sightings and computations to confirm location, especially for off-ship explorations. Out of maritime tradition and practice, documenting explored locations was a routine requirement. Noteworthy events and locations visited were typically verified by accompanying team members (assistants) and officially recorded in ship logbooks and/or in personal diaries, providing a written record of daily crew activities, particularly meteorological and other scientific observations. During 19th century Arctic explorations, nothing of consequence aboard or off-ship was performed in isolation, aside from routine assigned duties, such as melting snow for water or stoking fires.

In general practice, instructions using a sextant have varied little over the past 150 years and are described in basic terms. To properly sight the sun, the sextant should be held vertically. A basic sighting tube is preferred since the sun is a relatively larger disc than the point of light of a star or planet.  With the index arm set at zero degrees, the horizon is sighted using the half-horizon mirror. Next, the index arm is carefully moved forward so that sun is visualized. Once the lower limb (or “edge”) of the sun touches the horizon, the degrees of latitude can be read at the graduated arc. At this point, the index arm should be clamped in place and the sun’s position minutely adjusted as needed with the micrometer or vernier dial. The window in the index arm provides the height of the sun above the horizon measured in degrees.

The eye-height of the observer (and thus the sextant) should be measured above sea level, to include the height of the ship’s deck. Typically, when standing on a flat ocean beach, light-of-sight is about 4.7 km (~3 miles) to water horizon. As observer height increases, so does the light-of-sight across a bay, sound, or the ocean. On modern sextants, several filters or shades reduce intense solar light to a visible disc. These filters were not present on pre-19th century sextants; thus, crew members who frequently made noon-day sun sightings potentially received repeated eye-blinding injuries. After obtaining the height of the sun (in degrees) at local solar noon, with the exact time (as possible), 19th century Arctic explorers used sight reduction tables found in American and/or British Almanacs for latitude (and longitude) calculations.

Prudent mariners and explorers of the era routinely verified calculated positions, especially those that appeared too far north or south of previously confirmed locations. Daily travels on foot or by boat were verified and tentatively confirmed by making calculations of distance, speed, and time. For example, computed distances of 70 miles (one degree of latitude) by foot or by dog sledge over broken sea ice and/or punishing ice hummocks would have been questioned by knowledgeable crew members and distances recalculated for accuracy.

Sextants of the 19th century were prone to inherent errors because of temperature extremes, mirror misalignment, and when other components, such as the spotting scope, may be potentially out of adjustment or collimation (optical-mechanical alignment). All of these potential errors can be further complicated by the extreme rigors of Arctic exploration, including the effects of cold and fatigue, while on dog sledges and/or trekking amongst tumultuous ice hummocks or unstable (“rotten”) ice. The environmental hazards experienced then are still arduous and potentially life-threatening to present-day Arctic explorers and mariners.

Frances Hennessey writes informally on 19th century Arctic exploration, concentrating on Hayes. Fran has a small collection of Hayes first editions, two of which are signed by the author. She also tweets @openpolarsea and has a poetry blog: