Captain Bob Bartlett’s bitter disappointment
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  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 email@example.com