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Northern People, Northern Knowledge - 
The Story Of The Canadian Arctic Expedition 1913 - 1918
Disaster - Loss of the Karluk and Wrangel Island
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Loss of the Karluk and Wrangel Island

The tragedy of the loss of the CAE flagship Karluk and eleven of the men who sailed on her has been recounted in five books published between 1916 and 2000. So here there is given only a brief account of the loss of the Karluk and the fate of the various members of the CAE who were on board.


Stefansson on Karluk, before leaving Victoria, B.C., 1913. Source: David Gray


Karluk leaving Esquimalt Harbour, Victoria, B.C. 1913. Source: David Gray


CAE flagship Karluk in Victoria, B.C. 1913. Source: Canadian Museum of Nature

When the Expedition set out from Victoria, B.C. in June 1913, most of the men, supplies, and equipment were on board the Expedition flagship, the ex-whaler Karluk, under the command of Captain Robert Bartlett. At Nome, Alaska, Karluk was joined by the two schooners, Alaska and Mary Sachs, purchased to handle the increase in men and supplies due to the expanded aims of the Expedition. After extensive shifting of gear and men, and the loading of additional supplies, the three vessels set off for the Beaufort Sea, hoping to rendezvous at Herschel Island. The ice conditions off the north coast of Alaska were severe in 1913 and Karluk, along with several other ships, became trapped in the ice. Stefansson, with five others, left the Karluk to hunt caribou in September 1913. The two smaller Expedition schooners were able to navigate in shallow water as far as Collinson Point, Alaska, where they were forced to overwinter.


Karluk remained frozen in and drifted first to the east, then was swept back westward with the pack ice, and was eventually crushed and sank in January 1914 near Wrangel Island (Ostrov Vrangelya), off the Siberian coast. Although most of the twenty-five people on board reached Wrangel Island, eight members of the crew and scientific staff died trying to reach Herald and Wrangel Islands. Four men died after after splitting from Captain Bartlett's party and struggling independently across the ice. The lost men were Alistair Mackay, Henri Beuchat, James Murray, and Stanley Morris. Four others, sent ahead by Bartlett, managed to reach Herald Island but died there soon after of uncertain cause, possibly from fumes from a faulty stove. The Herald Island party included Alex (Sandy) Anderson (First Officer of Karluk), Charles Barker, John Brady, and A. Golightly. Their fate was not discovered until eleven years later, in 1924, when Captain Louis Lane discovered their remains!

After reaching Wrangel Island, Bartlett and Kataktovik, one of CAE's Alaskan Inupiat hunters, crossed the treacherous ice to the Russian mainland and travelled east toward Alaska to arrange the rescue of the others. At Emma Harbour Bartlett was picked up by Captain Pedersen and the Herman in May 1914 and taken back to Alaska. There he arranged for the rescue of the Wrangel Island survivors and met them just off the coast with the USS Bear.

The rest of the shipwrecked party had spent an uncomfortable winter on Wrangel, barely surviving on pemmican and limited game. Before they were finally rescued in the fall of 1914, three additional men had died. Geologist George Malloch and his assistant Bjarne Mamen died of nephritis, likely due to a starvation diet based on faulty pemmican. Seaman Breddy died of a gunshot wound, probably self-inflicted, but there is some suggestion of manslaughter, as Breddy had been accused of stealing food from the others.

The loss of Karluk and her men forced Stefansson to purchase additional ships and supplies at a significant cost, and to hire men for the Northern Party from other ships in the area. John Hadley was the only member of the Karluk's surviving complement who later rejoined the Expedition.


The Karluk trapped in ice; Mamen taking a reading with a sextant.