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Friday, February 27, 2009

The North Pole - Nailed at Last!

As many of my friends will know I have had a great interest in polar exploration since my teenage years at Highgate. I built up quite a large collection of polar travel books over the years and learned about the heroic and sometimes not-so-heroic explorers of the Antarctic and Arctic. I was proud to be chosen at age 18 to take part in the 1961 expedition of the British Schools Exploration Society which took us above the Arctic Circle to Northern Norway and into Swedish Lapland. My appetite for knowledge dated from then and as this blog has recorded, I went on a glorious cruise with Noble Caledonia (link is to similar cruise) to Antarctica, the Falklands and South Georgia in the southern summer of 2005/6.
Yesterday, prompted by the arrival by post of the annual report of the Frederick A. Cook Society and then by coincidence in the evening I was viewing the comedian Billy Connolly’s documentary of his visit to the spectacular
Canadian High Arctic.
When I visited the
Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge UK some years ago I spoke to one of the curators and expressed an interest in Frederick A.Cook. The curator was of the opinion that the Cook controversy was not something likely to be gaining more support for Cook. Nevertheless I have maintained my interest and reading on the subject over the years. The latest Cook Society journal records new acceptance of Cook’s prior claim as “discoverer of the North Pole” on 21 April 1908. Most atlases and biographies show Robert Edwin Peary as claiming the discovery on 6 April 1909 almost a year later than Cook had claimed. Cook's journey home took much longer, so that the two explorers reached the news services almost simultaneously. Peary was beside himself with anger having staked all his reputation on being first to the “Big Nail” and managed to denounce Cook’s claim with the backing of the press. Much more eloquent writers than I, have chronicled the ensuing media battles and the subsequent majority opinion for Peary that prevailed throughout the remaining decades of the 20th Century.
Now it appears that Cook’s claim has been gaining support while Peary’s claim is suspect because inter alia, his recorded sledge mileages for his return to his ship were deemed impossible to have been achieved. See Wally Herbert’s Noose of Laurels London 1989.

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