Dr. Isaac Israel Hayes and the Cruise of the Panther

Submitted by Douglas Wamsley, an independent scholar and attorney. He has written and lectured extensively on the history of nineteenth-century Arctic exploration. In 2009 he published  Polar Hayes: the Life and Contributions of Isaac Israel Hayes, M.D.” 

Dr. Isaac Israel Hayes (1832-1881) was an Arctic veteran when he was invited to join the 1869 voyage of William Bradford to Greenland.  Immediately following his graduation from the Medical School of the University of Pennsylvania, the 21-year old Hayes signed on as surgeon (physician) on the American expedition in search of the lost British explorer Sir John Franklin. Under the command of Elisha Kent Kane from 1853-55, the expedition failed in its primary task of locating Franklin while the Expedition members suffered a harrowing ordeal from cold and near starvation.   Undeterred by this trying experience, in 1860, Hayes launched a privately funded expedition to reach the North Pole, during which he claimed to have reached a “Farthest North” by land on the Ellesmere Island coast.

Isaac I. Hayes portrait by Mathew B. Brady, circa 1860-1875

By 1869, Isaac Hayes was America’s most accomplished Arctic explorer.  With William Bradford, he shared a common interest in the far North as well as a religious connection, both being Quakers.  Both were also members of the American Geographical Society and had ample opportunity to meet at the Tenth Street Building in New York City where Bradford had opened an art studio and where Hayes resided.   According to Bradford, the extraordinary adventures of the Kane expedition as told by Kane in his Arctic Explorations “made so powerful an impression that [Bradford] was seized by the desire, which became uncontrollable, to visit the scenes [he] had described and study Nature under the terrible aspects of the Frigid Zone.”   He was pleased that Hayes, a living connection to that fabled expedition, offered to accompany the cruise as a paid advisor.  For his own part, the resourceful Hayes also managed to secure an arrangement with Harpers for the publication of a narrative of the cruise.

But Hayes served as more than just an American Arctic icon for the excursion and his responsibilities were varied and never ending.  Hayes assisted Bradford in the selection of the expedition’s cruise ship, the screw ship Panther, a fine sealing vessel expressly built for Arctic navigation, and he negotiated the contract with its sailing master, Captain John Bartlett (a relative of Bob Bartlett who aided Robert E. Peary years later).  Although the wealthy banker, Le Grand Lockwood, had offered to pay the lion’s share of the venture, Bradford had conceived a plan to obtain financial support by taking paying excursionists and a handful of guests were willing to pay one thousand dollars for the pleasure cruise to Greenland, a fairly novel destination for the time.

The expedition was by no means a luxurious experience, and the crossing from St. John’s to Greenland must have left the novice members questioning their decision as the ship was battered by strong winds and rain. The ship had a tremendous capacity to roll and a foul smell of bilge water permeated the sleeping quarters.  The Bradford expedition touched at the major settlements on the west coast of Greenland that were all too familiar to Hayes.  As a pleasure cruise, comfort and entertainment of the paying patrons was foremost.   Through Hayes’s acquaintance with the Danish officials, the expedition received not only an official introduction at every harbor they entered but a warm and hearty welcome, and the Danes and Greenlanders were overflowing in the hospitality they furnished to Bradford’s party.   Hayes also served as an informative tour guide for the local attractions, such as Norse ruins and the unique geographical features of the Greenland coast. Frequent hiking trips were taken to coastal glaciers and valleys.    In addition, with messmates from expedition’s past, such as Hans Hendrik from the Kane expedition and Peter Jensen, dog-driver on Hayes’s 1860 expedition, Hayes recounted never to-be- forgotten hardships, all of which made for a more personal experience.    More importantly, Hayes contributed his knowledge of the icy waters along the Greenland coast, enabling Panther to venture as far north as did, and as safely as it did, to the Frozen Zone sought by Bradford.

The Bradford party was awed by the spectacular natural phenomena of Greenland which served to provide a most ominous backdrop to the excursion.  While cruising across the face of the enormous glacier at Sermitsialik, a large section calved in front of the Panther, nearly capsizing the ship.  Adding to the sense of forboding was a visit to the distinctive geological landmark, Devil’s Thumb, a protruding black rock that marked the swift moving and swirling waters of Baffin Bay. Its satanic name had aroused such suspicion that no amount of coaxing could convince the photographers to take any photos nor could Hayes assemble any volunteers to have a go at climbing it.  While in the northern fiord of Aukpadlartok, Hayes hiked to a remote valley to visit the home of Annorasuak, who, according to local legend, lived there practicing sorcery.   During the entire trip, Bradford’s hired photographers, John Dunmore and George Critcherson from Black’s Studio in Boston, worked steadily, taking images of northern scenes, while Bradford sketched to his heart’s content.

On their return to St. John’s, the party learned that a panic had swept through the financial markets and that one of the casualties was Le Grand Lockwood, who had lost everything, including the wherewithal to pay the expedition’s outstanding debts.  Bradford undertook that responsibility and ultimately satisfied the obligation.

The expedition has become better associated with Bradford than with Hayes, and perhaps rightly so for Bradford was its organizer and obtained much greater success from it. For Bradford, notwithstanding the shortfall occasioned by the expedition’s primary benefactor, the venture was an artistic and photographic success, with over three hundred photographs taken, two hundred pencil drawings made and more than seventy oil sketches prepared.  These provided Bradford with an ample basis for some of his most important works during the next several years, including his monumental photographic work, The Arctic Regions.   However, Hayes more than fulfilled his undefined “advisory” duties for which he was retained and contributed to the overall success of the venture.   In addition, largely forgotten today, Hayes published a book-length narrative of the excursion entitled The Land of Desolation:  Being a Personal Narrative of Observation and Adventure in Greenland.  The narrative offered a lively description of Greenland, its scenery, people and history into a readable and entertaining story.  Elisha Kent Kane may have brought the Inughuit or Polar Eskimos before the American public, but Dr. Hayes was responsible for bringing before the public the entirety of Greenland, which was virtually unknown to an American audience.  His intentional reference to this Arctic landmass as the “continent of Greenland” certainly reflected his own opinion as to its importance. During his lifetime, Hayes published five books and more than forty full-length articles and stories with an Arctic subject, with particular emphasis on Greenland and its people.  His excursion to with Bradford to Greenland in 1869 was but one of his many positive associations with the “Land of Desolation.”


One thought on “Dr. Isaac Israel Hayes and the Cruise of the Panther

  1. I suspect one of Dr Hayes sketches may have been of meteorites that he saw in the artic and was used in the famous Church painting ” The Ice Bergs”. Do you know of any such sketches he made? The Dallas museum and I would certainly appreciate any assistance.

    Russ Foster
    214 349 1023
    Dallas, Tx

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