Robert Peary – 1899, 1905 and 1908
Robert Peary, born May 6, 1856
Some saw Peary as a hero while others viewed him as a villain. He is best known as the conqueror of the North Pole, although his claims for reaching the pole have been questioned over the years.
Peary was an intelligent, driven man who paid close attention to the tragic events of the Lady Franklin Bay Expedition. He argued that a new form of exploration needed to be developed – one that was not dependent upon multiple ships which, if stuck, could prove disastrous to expedition members awaiting rescue.
Instead, he argued that expedition teams should be formed using Aboriginal labour – in his case, the Inughuit or Polar Eskimo of Greenland. He learned about the use of skin clothing, traditional shelters (snowhouses), caches, and sledging. Peary recognized that Fort Conger was ideally situated for an expedition to the North Pole.
His plan was to establish a series of caches to Fort Conger, and then overwinter at the abandoned station. He first reached Fort Conger in January of 1899, sledging men and provisions by moonlight to the station. When he reached Fort Conger, he wrote the following passage in his diary,
“Forcing an entrance and lighting our oil stove, I found the interior presented utmost chaos. Floor of both officer’s and men’s quarters and kitchen blocked and littered with boxes, packed and empty, pieces of fur, cast off clothing, rubbish of all descriptions. In the kitchen, partially consumed tins of provisions, tea, coffee, etc were scattered about, their contents spilled on table and floor. In the men’s quarters, dishes remained on the table just as left after lunch or dinner the day the fort was deserted. Biscuits scattered in every direction overturned cups, etc, seemed to give indications of a hasty departure….”
An associate of Robert Peary, Henson was the first African American arctic explorer. Henson was a navigator and craftsman, who learned the Inuit language and acquired such skills as dog sled driving and igloo building. Unlike Peary, Henson received few honors for his accomplishments as an explorer. Eventually, he was admitted into the Explorers Club in 1937 as a member, and made an honorary member in 1948.