The Polar Cruises of Dr. Frederick Cook

The Polar Cruises of Dr. Frederick Cook[1]

Frederick Cook is perhaps best known for his disputed attempts to reach the North Pole, and the summit Mount McKinley. He was part of Admiral Peary’s North Greenland expedition in 1891-92, where he acted as surgeon for the expedition. He later arranged two cruises to Greenland, one in 1893 on the Lunenburg schooner Zeta, and a larger cruise in 1894 on the steamer Miranda. Although his autobiography talks of making northern regions accessible to academics, it is likely they were also a means of striking out as an Arctic explorer, independent of Peary, with whom he had a falling-out over publication rights. Also, his unpublished autobiography suggests that he was philosophically opposed to Peary’s grand standing approach to arctic research.

Cruise of the Zeta[2]

The cruise apparently had its origins with his treatment of Benjamin Hoppin (at this time 42 yrs old and living, at least seasonally, in Baddeck NS[3]) for a “psychopathetic[4]” illness. Cook had suggested that a trip to the Arctic might help Hoppin, and Hoppin’s father,[5] who was Professor of Art History at Yale (1879-99), took him up on the idea and asked for a price. Not only did Cook have a price – $10,000 – he also had the Lunenburg schooner Zeta in mind as suitable for conversion to a yacht. Based on his autobiography this conversation probably took place in late May, or early June[6]. As Professor of Art History at Yale, Hoppin Senior would have been very familiar with the work of William Bradford based on his trip to Greenland in 1869, so the concept of such a cruise would not have been foreign to him.

Benjamin Hoppin, together with an AH Sutherland, must have enjoyed the cruise on the Zeta, as they also traveled on the Miranda the following year, and with Peary in his 1896 voyage to northern Greenland.

The Zeta[7] (Captain Howard Hebb) sailed from Lunenburg on 07 July 1893 and picked up Dr. Cook and RD Perry of Braintree MA in Halifax, later calling at Baddeck to pick up Professor Benjamin Hoppin and AH Sutherland, sailing on 12 July. They reached Fredericksal (Frederickshaab?), Greenland on 26 July, and then headed to Holsteinborg, where they met with the local governor. The return voyage commenced on 18 August via other Greenland locations and Rigolet in Labrador. The Zeta arrived back in Lunenburg on 07 October after a successful trip. Regrettably, no further information is available. It was reported that a full description of the three-month voyage was published in the Lunenburg Progress on 11 October 1893. However, issues of the Progress prior to 1895 do not appear to have survived, so we may never know details of the cruise although Cook does note that it was successful from health and scientific aspects. We must presume that Dr. Cook persuaded an Inuit family from the Rigolet area to accompany him back to New York to participate in a planned lecture tour that winter. See later notes regarding the Miranda.

Cruise of the ss Miranda[8]

Although this cruise is better documented[9] than that of the Zeta, there are still gaps and the information about it has been pieced together from different sources. Almost no information is available from publications about the Bowring family and businesses, and what is provided is not altogether accurate.

Originally, Dr Cook had planned to use Bowring’s Algerine, but an accident[10] prevented it fulfilling the charter and he was forced to use the Miranda. Cook suggests that the Algerine would have accommodated many more than the Miranda, as he states in his autobiography that he was limited to about 50 persons.

Neither Cook nor Walsh provide a length for the cruise, but the court judgment of the Leary timber raft[11] case indicates that the demurrage[12] rate for the Minerva in the charter (December 1887) was $250/day[13]; a longer term charter might have been offered at a lower rate, although the company would have needed to take on additional hotel and catering staff to manage passenger requirements. However, it would seem from comments in Walsh’s book, that Bowring and Archibald, who either owned, or managed the ship, did their best to minimize such costs. For example, he noted that the steward responsible for provisioning the voyage (normally this would have been the Purser) was a recent Yale graduate who had no experience in this area, although he knew his Greek and Latin well.

Cook’s autobiography, and other sources state that per person passage fee was $500 for the trip, and if that was the across the board fee, then with 54 passengers[14], he would have raised $27,000, at $250/day charter rate, the total amount raised would have covered three months with a small margin.

An interesting aspect of the cruise was that as well as the paying guests, the trip was returning four “Eskimos”, who had participated in a lecture tour, and learned English. There is no mention of how these people came to America, and I have presumed that the 1893 cruise on the Zeta brought them back to help Dr. Cook raise funds through lectures between November 1893 and June 1894. There is no mention of these people, or a lecture tour, in his autobiography, or elsewhere. However, given the interest in the Arctic in America at this time, it would appear to be a logical assumption.

As to the ship, the Miranda, and sister vessel Portia[15] had been built at Newcastle UK in 1884 to offer regular service between St. John’s NL, Halifax NS and New York NY for the New York, Newfoundland & Halifax SS Co Ltd., otherwise known as the Red Cross Line. Both were cargo/passenger ships of 1,100dwt with space for 60 First Class passengers; speed was about 11knots. While the Portia operated relatively successfully until being wrecked on Big Fish Shoal near Sambro NS in 1899, the Miranda had a series of misadventures that led to her being withdrawn from passenger service.

  • Grounded[16] Point Judith RI, 20 June 1886
  • Severe damage to stern during the Leary log raft tow December 1887
  • Struck rocks and sank Hell’s Gate NY, raised and repaired (date unknown)
  • Collided with an iron steamer and then a schooner (dates unknown)

The Miranda in St. John’s, circa 1885 from rootsweb, attributed to Memorial University.

In years prior to her charter to Cook for the Greenland cruise she had been engaged in cargo operations between New York, Central America and Jamaica. A number of observations can be made about the ship that indicate she was not engaged in passenger trades, and that Bowring’s tried to distance themselves from the ship.

  • The only available photograph of the ship (see above) does not carry the stack insignia of the Red Cross Line. This suggests that the attributed date is incorrect.
  • A photograph of the Mate, a Mr. Manuel, shows a somewhat down at heel appearance, certainly not the smart rig of a mate in the passenger trades.
  • Apparently, there was no effort by Bowring’s in St John’s to meet with the passengers on either of the ship’s two calls there.

HC Walsh in The Last Cruise of the Miranda provided the objects of the cruise as described by Dr Cook:

Study the Greenland Glacier System

The Inland Ice Cap

Glaciers and Icebergs

Map out and explore unknown parts of Melville Bay

Photograph, sketch and study the Eskimos and animal and vegetable life in northern regions

Peary camp to be visited

Search for the Swedish explorers Bjorling  and Kallestenius

Explore part of the Coast of Ellesmere Island

Shoot game; polar bear, walrus, reindeer, seal, caribou.

The cruise route is given in the map on the following page[17] and commenced on 07 July, a few days late because the ship was delayed returning from a cargo trip, and did not start well. Apparently a repair to the engine room signaling system had reversed the wires, and when the captain called for astern to leave the dock, the ship surged forward, fortunately without much damage. They arrived North Sydney 11 July to take on coal, and then proceeded to St John’s by 15 July for compass repair. They were there only there a few hours, and Cook retained the services of Patrick Dumphy as ice pilot. He had been mate of the Kite with 1891/92 Peary  expedition. On the morning of 17 July they hit an iceberg head on, and put into Cape Charles Labrador to effect repairs. However, on July 21, the Captain advised the ship had to return to St John’s for permanent repairs.

At Cape Charles several members who had joined for the hunting decided to leave, four others also left as they had planned to leave at Rigolet for research in the interior of Labrador. Cape Charles is close to Battle Harbour, which was visited regularly by the local mail steamer, and the Inuit family also left here, and took the mail steamer to Rigolet. The ship started back to St. John’s on 22 July, and was back there at midnight that night.

Repairs were completed by 28 July and the ship proceeded to Frederickshaab (now Pamiut). They made good progress for 2-3 days, but then met considerable floe ice between ship and land[18]. With Dumphy in shrouds calling directions, they picked a way through the ice field, and were eventually piloted into Sukkertoppen (now Maniitsoq)  by two Eskimos.

When they left Sukkertoppen on 09 August, the pilot had apparently given Farrell instructions for a safe route out, but at 8:20am, (which was the same time as they hit the iceberg), they hit bottom heavily; the hull was holed beneath the stokehold and engine room. The ballast tank filled, but the pumps were holding, and they were back in Sukkertoppen by 11:00am. Walsh noted that the top of the ballast tank was thin and rusted.

The local governor advised that there were American fishermen on the halibut banks off Holsteinborg (now Sisimiut) and lent them his 21’ whaler to find help as the Danish re-supply ship would not be calling that year. Cook, together with four of the cruise group went with several Eskimos on the evening 10 August. Capt Farrell provided a letter of introduction for Frederick Cook.

Cook and his group got back on 20 August together with the schooner Rigel[19]. Captain Dixon offered to return them to the US at no charge if they could wait until 05 September, but he would need crew approval to abandon the fishing and take them immediately as they were all on shares.

Capt Farrell of the Miranda agreed with Capt Dixon of the Rigel to a fee of $4,000 to give up the fishing and take the passengers and crew to a place where they could get transport home. At this time, the Miranda crew and passenger complement was down to 75 persons. Bowring and Archibald later repudiated the salvage agreement, but the passengers contributed to a subscription that raised about half the sum, of which the Miranda owners contributed $250.

Walsh says that Dixon abandoned $800 value of fishing gear. However, Dixon’s log, which was reproduced in The Last Cruise of the Miranda, notes the gear was worth $85 plus some other items, although some trawl gear went down with the Miranda. They also took a lot of salt out of the hold as well as some timber and other items leaving a space for passengers in the aft hold about 20’x15’x 4’high. Four bunks in aft house were given over to older passengers, and the Rigel crew moved to the forecastle.

On 21 August at 10:00am, the Miranda took the Rigel in tow with all the passengers on the schooner. They met heavy swells on 23 August, and the ballast tanks gave out at 11:00pm, but by 5:00am the following morning all crew were safely aboard the Rigel. This meant there were 93 persons on the Rigel, and they made for Hamilton Inlet, Labrador. Everyone was on short rations, but these became even shorter after it was discovered that the Miranda crew had been stealing food.

The Miranda was abandoned at 61o15’N 58o40’W, although with its engines still running.

The Rigel arrived Punch Bowl 60miles south of Rigolet on 28 August, where they left 5 of the Miranda crew to take the mail steamer[20]. Food was supplemented by a supply of cod. They later put into Henley Harbour (possibly 01 September), where the party stayed 2 days. The schooner arrived at Sydney 05 September.

The owners chartered the steamer St Pierre to take the passengers to Halifax to catch the Portia back to New York, although some took early trains home. A large remnant of the original party arrived in Halifax 07 September. The Portia was already there and sailed at10:00am 08 September for New York.

Disaster dogged the party as the Portia ran down the schooner Dora M French out of Bangor ME in fog, and only one person was saved. The Portia damaged its foretopmast, 40’ rail and hole in starboard bow above the waterline. The party eventually arrived back in New York on 11 September.


History of the County of Lunenburg M.B.desBrisay 1895, p570

The Last Cruise of the Miranda HC Walsh Transatlantic Publishing New York 1895.

Hell is a Cold Place unpublished autobiography of Dr. Frederick Cook. Selected pages courtesy of Ohio State University, Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center Archival Program.

Chafe’s Sealing Statistics The Trade Printers and Publishers 1923

Down to Bowring’s: A Memoir, David Bowring ed. Amy Bowring, Creative Book Publishing 2014

The Bowring Story, David Keir, Bodley Head 1962

Benjamin Bowring and his Descendents Arthur C Wardle, Hodder and Stoughton 1938

The Miranda Joggins Raft

Frederick A. Cook: the role of photography in the making of his polar explorer-hero image: Pat Millar, Polar Record 51 (259): 432–443 (2015).——-en–20–1–txt-txIN——–1

American Geologist Vol 13 p272 1894

Northern Exposure, July 1894

Outside Magazine June 1999

Ships and Seafarers of Atlantic Canada



[1] This note has materially benefited from the kind assistance of Laura Kissel, Archivist at Ohio State University who arranged for selected pages from Dr. Cook’s unpublished autobiography to be scanned.

[2] Built in Lunenburg Oct 1890. Dimensions 90.2x25x10’depth, 143grt.

[3] Although there does not appear to be a formal history of Americans living in Baddeck at this time, it would appear that there was a small seasonal colony, perhaps encouraged by Alexander Graham Bell’s arrival in 1888.

[4] This might be how people with autism spectrum were described at this time. Information about Hoppin suggests he had an obsessive nature, and was of fragile mental health.

[5] Although conjectural, the Hoppin family was probably quite well off. James Mason Hoppin was born in Providence RI, possibly a brother of Thomas Frederick Hoppin an American artist qv.

[6] It is likely that Cook and Benjamin Hoppin had discussed this trip in advance, and Hoppin had undertaken some research into to a suitable boat from his home in Baddeck NS, hence the selection of a Canadian schooner from Lunenburg NS rather than an American one from, say, Gloucester MA.

[7] From The History of Lunenburg County M.B. deBrisay, originally published 1895.

[8] Built July 1884 at Newcastle UK, dimensions 220×31.2×16’depth, 1,158grt

[9] The Last Cruise of the Miranda HC Walsh, Transatlantic Publishing 1894. Made available on line by Google.

[10] The Algerine undertook sealing trips in 1893,94 and 95, so this may have been unidentified damage during the 1894 seal hunt. The ship’s passenger accommodation is unknown, but she was not built to accommodate passengers.

[11] THE MIRANDA.THE JOGGINS RAFT LEARY V. THE MIRANDA.NEW YORK, N. F. & H. S. S. CO., LIMITED, V. LEARY. Circuit Court, E. D. New York  June 26, 1890

[12] Demurrage is a charter party term for per diem recompense to the ship owner if the ship is delayed by actions outside of their control. It can be considered close to the daily charter rate, although often set at a premium level. The original charter was for $3,000 for the voyage from near Saint John NB to New York.

[13] In the eventual award the court gave the ship owners recompense based on $800/day for 12 days. No explanation for the difference is given.

[14] HC Walsh in The Last Cruise of the Miranda lists all the passengers.

[15] Photographs attributed to this ship are in fact a ship of the same name built in 1904, not the 1884 built vessel.

[16] Not listed in the Rhode Island wreck site.

[17] Reconstructed from a map in The Last Cruise of the Miranda

[18] 1894 seems to have been a bad ice year, although the Peary Auxiliary Expedition that year did not seem to have too many problems. Cook obviously was expecting ice conditions similar to those experienced during the 1893 cruise if the Zeta. Captain Dixon’s log reported a remarkable number of icebergs in Davis Strait.

[19]  Details given by Walsh were: 99’ long 179ton burden, 2 masts 18 person crew. Boat was built 1889 in Essex MA and sold to a Newfoundlander in 1904. Details from its Canadian registry were 90’x24’beam

[20] The article in the American Geologist states that 12 members of the party left in Labrador embarked on the Rigel when it touched shore there. However, neither Walsh, nor Captain Dixon’s log notes this.