Cap­tain Bob Bartlett’s bit­ter dis­ap­point­ment

The Compass - - SPORTS - BY BUR­TON K. JANES

There is no doubt that Cap­tain Robert A. (Bob) Bartlett (1875-1946) of Bri­gus was sorely dis­ap­pointed with the way things turned out. In­deed, the event was per­haps the great­est dis­ap­point­ment of his en­tire life.

Robert E. Peary (1856-1920) claimed to have been the first per­son, on April 6,1909, to reach the ge­o­graphic North Pole.

Cap­tain Bob com­manded the Amer­i­can ex­plorer’s ship, the SS Roo­sevelt.

On the fi­nal stage of the jour­ney to­ward the pole, Peary was ac­com­pa­nied by only an AfricanAmer­i­can, Matthew A. Hen­son ( 1866-1955), and four Inuit, Oo­tah, Egig­ing­wat, See­gloo and Oo­queah. Cap­tain Bob was not among the cho­sen few; he was or­dered back by Peary 134 nau­ti­cal miles from the pole.

Im­me­di­ately af­ter his re­turn, Cap­tain Bob told a re­porter for the­New York Her­ald:“ I re­ally didn’t think I would have to go back... Then the Com­man­der said I must go back-that he had de­cided to take Matt Hen­son...It was a bit­ter dis­ap­point­ment. ... I don’t know, per­haps I cried a lit­tle...

“Here I had come thou­sands of miles and it was only a lit­tle more than a hun­dred more to the pole.”

In the books that Peary and Cap­tain Bob even­tu­ally wrote, they gloss over their quar­rel. The im­pres­sion is left that both parted the best of friends. At worst, Cap­tain Bob was some­what de­pressed. How­ever, as Harold Hor­wood points out in his bi­og­ra­phy of Cap­tain Bob, Bartlett: The Great Ex­plorer, later news­pa­pers de­scribe the New­found- lan­der as “ ar­gu­ing, beg­ging, al­most quar­rel­ing” with Peary.

Hor­wood states that Bartlett “ not only sup­ported Peary’s claims, but pro­fessed to ad­mire him in ev­ery re­spect, and con­tin­ued to do so to the end of his life.”

In a speech given in the United States House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives for Penn­syl­va­nia on March 22, 1920, The Hon­ourable J. Hamp­ton Moore ( 1864-1950) quotes a let­ter from Cap­tain Bob, in which the lat­ter de­nies “the unau­tho­rized and triv­ial state­ments that crop up in all sec­tions of the coun­try like so many mush­rooms overnight.”

Writ­ing from Bos­ton City Club, lo­cated at 9 Bea­con Street, Cap­tain Bob be­gins: “The fact that I have been with Com­man­der Peary on all of his ex­pe­di­tions since 1897 must nec­es­sar­ily prove that I think highly of him.

“The fact that nearly all the mem­bers of the ex­pe­di­tion wanted to go with him again shows that there could be noth­ing but the most ami­able re­la­tions.

“The late Pro­fes­sor [Ross] Marvin thought so highly of Peary that he sac­ri­ficed a great many op­por­tu­ni­ties, in or­der to make an­other voy­age with him.

“Doc­tor Wolf, the sur­geon of 1906-1907, tried very hard to go again, but could not get away on ac­count of his prac­tice. The chief en­gi­neer and Bosee Mur­phy, also Stew­ard Charles Percy, as well as mem­bers of the crew, have been with him since the Roo­sevelt was launched.

“The late Capt. Harry Bartlett, who was drowned, had been with Peary twice; Capt. John Bartlett [1841-circa 1925], sev­eral times, giv­ing up ow­ing to age limit; and Capt. Sa­muel [W.] Bartlett [18481916] was with him for a num­ber of years, but did not feel like leav­ing his fam­ily, sim­ply be­cause they did not wish him to be away from his home dur­ing the win­ter.

“ I have merely quoted the above to demon­strate that the best of feel­ing must have ex­isted be­tween the com­man­der and the mem­bers of his party at all times. One can be as­sured that the Eskimo would not work for him un­less they had the high­est re­gard for him.

“My own eval­u­a­tion of Peary is hard to de­scribe. I have more ad­mi­ra­tion for him than any man liv­ing. We have never had a hard word, and the same friendly re­la­tions, ex­ist­ing be­tween the com­man­der and my­self dur­ing all the years that I have been with him, re­main the same as when first I met him.

“His kindly con­sid­er­a­tion of every­one un­der the most try­ing con­di­tions was al­ways marked; his or­ders were al­ways given in the form of a re­quest, and he al­ways in­vited sug­ges­tions of the mem­bers of his party.

“ ‘When Je­sus Christ was on earth He was not ap­pre­ci­ated by many. He had to die to get recog­ni­tion.’

“To know a man shorn of all frills, live with him in the Arc­tic, and there you will see a man in his true light. A man may be an an­gel or act like one here, but up in the Arc­tic, where one comes in con­stant or daily con­tact with each other, and have the same re­gard for his fel­low-man as be­fore, that man must be all right.

“Time and time again Peary has gone out of his way to make things pleas­ant for us; do­ing without things him­self so that we may have them. If the last drop of whisky was left in the bot­tle and a fel­low wanted it, Peary would will­ingly give it. I have seen him, when his igloo has been built, make tea and give it to me. To tell of the many things that he has done for, not only me, but oth­ers of the party, would fill a large book.

“In con­clu­sion, I am per­fectly sat­is­fied with Peary’s treat­ment of me. I never want to sail with a bet­ter man. A born leader of men. A man of mas­ter mind.”

Cap­tain Bob’s let­ter is signed this way: “Sail­ing Mas­ter, Peary Arc­tic Club, Steamer Roo­sevelt.”

Ever the con­sum­mate gen­tle­man, Cap­tain Bob re­fused to crit­i­cize a su­pe­rior, in­clud­ing Robert E. Peary.

Bur­ton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts and can be reached by email at bur­tonj@nfld.net

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