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The 1881–1884 Lady Franklin Bay Expedition (officially the International Polar Expedition) into the Canadian Arctic was led by Lt. Adolphus Greely and was promoted by the United States Army Signal Corps. Its purpose was threefold: to establish a meteorological-observation station as part of the First International Polar Year, to collect astronomical data, and polar magnetic data. During the expedition, two members of the crew reached a new "Farthest North" record, but of the original twenty-five men only seven survived to return to the United States.
The expedition was under the auspices of the Signal Corps at a time when the Corps' Chief Disbursements Officer, Henry W. Howgate, was arrested for embezzlement. However, that did not deter the planning and execution of the voyage.
The expedition was led by Lt. Adolphus Greely of the Fifth United States Cavalry, with astronomer Edward Israel and photographer George W. Rice among the crew of 21 officers and men. They sailed on the ship Proteus and reached St. John's, Newfoundland, in early July 1881. At Godhavn, Greenland, they picked up two Inuit dogsled drivers, as well as physician Dr. Octave Pavy and Mr. Clay who had continued scientific studies instead of returning on Florence with the remainder of the 1880 Howgate Expedition. Proteus arrived without problems at Lady Franklin Bay by August 11, dropped off men and provisions, and left. In the following months, Lt. James Booth Lockwood and Sgt. David Legge Brainard achieved a new "farthest north" record at , off the north coast of Greenland. Unbeknownst to Greely, the summer had been extraordinarily warm, which led to an underestimation of the difficulties which their relief expeditions would face in reaching Lady Franklin Bay in subsequent years.
By summer of 1882, the men were expecting a supply ship from the south. Neptune, laden with relief supplies, set out in July 1882 but, cut off by ice and weather, Capt. Beebe was forced to turn around prematurely. All he could do was leave some supplies at Smith Sound in August, and the remaining provisions in Newfoundland, with plans for their delivery the following year. On July 20, Dr. Pavy's contract ended, and Pavy announced that he would not renew it, but would continue to attend to the expedition's medical needs. Greely was incensed, and ordered the doctor to turn over all his records and journals. Pavy refused, and Greely placed him under arrest. Pavy was not confined, however Greely claimed he intended to court-martial him when they returned to the United States.
In 1883, new rescue attempts of Proteus, commanded by Lt. Ernest Garlington, and Yantic, commanded by Cdr. Frank Wildes, USN, failed, with Proteus being crushed by the ice.
In summer 1883, in accordance with his instructions for the case of two consecutive relief expeditions not reaching Fort Conger, Greely decided to head South with his crew. It had been planned that the relief ships should depot supplies along the Nares Strait, around Cape Sabine and at Littleton Island, if they were unable to reach Fort Conger, which should have made for a comfortable wintering of Greely's men. But with Neptune not even getting that far and Proteus sunk, in reality only a small emergency cache with 40 days worth of supplies had been laid at Cape Sabine by Proteus.
When arriving there in October 1883, the season was too advanced for Greely to either try to brave the Baffin Bay to reach Greenland with his small boats, or to retire to Fort Conger, so he had to winter on the spot.
In 1884, Secretary of the Navy, William E. Chandler, was credited with planning the ensuing rescue effort, commanded by Cdr. Winfield Schley. While four vessels (Bear, Thetis, the British government's Alert, and Loch Garry) made it to Greely's camp on June 22, only seven men had survived the winter. The rest had succumbed to starvation, hypothermia, and drowning, and one man, Private Henry, had been shot on Greely's order for repeated theft of food rations.
The surviving members of the expedition were received as heroes. A parade attended by thousands was held in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. It was decided that each of the survivors was to be awarded a promotion in rank by the Army, although Greely reportedly refused.
Rumors of cannibalism arose following the return of the bodies of those who did not survive the expedition. On August 14, 1884, a few days after his funeral, the body of Lieutenant Frederick Kislingbury, second in command of the expedition, was exhumed and an autopsy was performed. The finding that flesh had been cut from the bones appeared to confirm the accusation. Lieutenant Greely denied any knowledge of or official authorization of cannibalism.
The Greely Expedition is a 53-minute movie narrated by Michael Murphy regarding Greely, his men, their excursion to the Arctic Circle and their return journey. The film is part of the PBS series American Experience, and it originally aired in 2011.
Abandoned in the Arctic, produced by Geoffrey Clark in 2007, features both re-enactments and a re-tracing of Greely's route by his great-great-grandson.
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