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USS Jeannette (1879-1881)

Please see below for item leve images and donated collections containing photographs of USS Jeannette (1879-1881)

USS Jeannette (1879-1881) was originally a gunboat in the Royal Navy and was purchased by Sir Allan Young for his arctic voyages. The ship was purchased under the name Pandora in 1878 by James Gordon Bennett, owner of the New York Herald; and renamed USS Jeannette (1879-1881). Bennett was an arctic enthusiast, and he obtained the cooperation and assistance of the government in fitting out an expedition to the Pole through Bering Strait In March Congress authorized the detailing of Naval officers on the voyage, and Lt. George W. DeLong, a veteran arctic explorer, accompanied Bennett to Europe to select a ship. When USS Jeannette (1879-1881) was chosen and named, DeLong sailed her from Havre to San Francisco during the summer and fall of 1878.

USS Jeannette (1879-1881) departed San Francisco 8 July 1879, the Secretary of the Navy having added to her original instructions the task of searching for another polar expedition long overdue in Vega. She pushed northward to Alaska's Norton Sound and sent her last communication to Washington before starting north from St. Lawrence Bay, Siberia, 27 August. The ship sighted Herald Island 4 September and soon afterward was caught fast in the ice pack. For the next 21 months the sturdy USS Jeannette (1879-1881) drifted to the northwest, ever-closer to DeLong's goal, the North Pole itself.

The expedition now faced a long trek to the Siberian coast, with little hope even then of rescue. Nonetheless they started off for the Lena Delta hauling their boats and supplies. After reaching several small islands in the Siberian group and gaining some food and rest, they took to their boats 12 September in hope of reaching the mainland. As a violent storm blew up, one of the boats capsized and sank. The other two, commanded by DeLong and Chief Engineer George W. Melville, survived the severe weather but landed at widely separated points on the delta.

In the meantime, the intrepid Melville and his party had found a native village on the other side of the delta and were rescued. Melville then started for Belun, a Russian outpost, where he found the two survivors of DeLong's boat and induced a group of natives to go with him in search of his commander. He succeeded in finding their landing place on the Lena and recovered USS Jeannette (1879-1881)'s log and other important records, but returned to Belun 27 November without locating DeLong. Keeping only two of his party, Melville then turned northward once more, and finally found the bodies of DeLong and his two companions 23 March 1882. He built a large cairn over the grave of his friends, a monument which has been reproduced in granite and marble at the United States Naval Academy.

Before leaving Siberia, Melville made an attempt to find the remains of USS Jeannette (1879-1881)'s third boat, even though the chance of survivors was slim. He returned disappointed to Irkutsk, the capital of Siberia, 5 July 1882, almost 3 years since his departure from San Francisco in USS Jeannette (1879-1881). The results of the expedition, both meteorological and geographic, were important. Melville was rightly honored for his courage and tenacity, and the name of George Washington DeLong is enshrined forever among the ranks of the Navy's explorer heroes.

For a complete history of USS Jeannette (1879-1881) please see its DANFS page.