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22 May 1859, Edinburgh M.D., Kt, KStJ, D.L., LL.D., Sportsman, Writer, Poet, Politician, Justicer, Spiritualist Crowborough, 7 July 1930

Commander Peary on his Expedition

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

Commander Peary on his Expedition is an article published in The Times on 4 may 1910.

Report of the Luncheon in honour of Commander Peary held at the Royal Societies Club, St. James's-street, London, on 3 may 1910, where Arthur Conan Doyle gave a speech about romance writers and the rarity of undiscovered lands.

Commander Peary on his Expedition

The Times (4 may 1910, p. 10)

A complimentary luncheon was given yesterday to Commander Peary at the Royal Societies Club, St. James's-street. Lord Halsbury, the President of the Club, occupied the chair.

Among the distinguished company present were Commander Peary, the Swedish Minister, Admiral Sir George Nares, Lord Roberts, Lord Strathcona, Sir George H. Reid (High Commissioner for Australia), Admiral Sir Lewis Beaumont, Sir G. Taubman Geldie, the Bishop of Kensington, Commander E. Simpson (Naval Attaché, American Embassy), Mr. W. Phillips (First Secretary, American Embassy), Captain Muirhead Collins, Official Secretary, Australian Commonwealth, Rear-Admiral A. M. Field, Sir David Gill, Captain R. F. Scott, R.N., Sir Hiram Maxim, Mr. H. de Windt, Mr. Hall Jones, Major L. Darwin, Captain Bartlett, Colonel E. M. Wilson, Sir J. Jardine, M.P., Mr. John Thomson, Dr. Scott Keltie, Sir A. Conan Doyle, Mr. G. E. Buckle, Professor Sir H. von Herkomer, Admiral P. Aldrich, Mr. J. Teall, Mr. T. Bryant, Daniel Bey and Mundji Bey (of the Turkish Embassy), Colonel Fielden, Mr. Fabian Ware, Rear-Admiral H. E. P. Cust, Professor R. E. Gregory, Sir J. McFadyean, Canon Rawnsley, Mr. H. R. Mill, Dr. W. N. Shaw, Major P. Sykes, Professor Mayo Robson, Colonel A. King, Lieutenant-Colonel Gifford, Commander B. Neate, and the Rev. J. D. Pierce. The founder and hon. secretary of the club, Mr. D. Lewis-Poole, was unable to be present owing to illness.

The PRESIDENT proposed the toasts of "The King," and "The President of the United States," both of which were duly honoured.

The PRESIDENT then proposed the health of Commander Peary, who, he said, probably did not need to have the assurance that there had assembled to do him honour a large number of the most distinguished men in this country. (Cheers.) His first words to their guest were those of a hearty welcome to a member of their club. They were all proud of the distinction that Commander Peary was a member of the club. (Cheers.) It was, he thought, a somewhat singular circumstance, but one which it was desirable to commemorate, that the last time he presided in that room was in honour of Lieutenant Shackleton. (Cheers.) It was a somewhat curious fact to find the North and the South Poles coming in point of time so approximately near to each other. The one had been attained and the other was very early attained, and it was a remarkable circumstance that the work should have been achieved at this period of the world's history. We were somewhat in the habit, however, of shelving a little conceit in talking about our wonderful attainments in science and mechanics, and that we possessed the electric telegraph, telephone, and other scientific triumphs. But the two great achievements which he thought would be stamped on the world's history as long as the world lasted (cheers) had been accomplished without the assistance of all these things, of which they were so proud. (Laughter.) They had really to look to the primeval elements which had enabled people in all times, and circumstances to conquer difficulties. (Cheers.) Courage, tenacity, energy — these were the things that had conquered the world before now, and they had at last accomplished the two great problems of the world's history. He had pleasure in introducing their distinguished guest, whom they were very proud to entertain on this the first occasion which had been presented to a British audience. (Cheers.)

The toast was heartily drunk with the singing of "For he's a jolly good fellow," while an additional cheer was given for Mrs. Peary, called for by Sir George Reid.


COMMANDER PEARY, who was received with cheers, said, — I thank you very sincerely for your kind expressions of welcome, and I desire to express to the High Commissioner of Australia my appreciation of the courteous compliment to Mrs. Peary. Fellow-members of the Royal Societies Club, a crowd of various emotions makes it difficult for me to speak to you this afternoon. I am overwhelmed with the deepest consciousness and appreciation of the honour involved in the compliment paid to me by this most distinguished assemblage, feelings of pleasure at being here again among my friends in a nation of Polar explorers, in a city where I have twice before told a part of my own experience in North Polar expeditions, and the city in which, God willing, in a short time I shall have the honour and the double pleasure of telling you of the finish. (Cheers.) In addition to that there is the natural feeling of satisfaction and gratification that comes to every man who has at last attained his aim, after devoting his life to a certain end, whether it is business, invention, or some great discovery for the good of the human race.


This quest of the North and South Pole has had for years the strongest attraction for men of red blood. The reason for that is no doubt embodied in the point presented by year chairman — namely, the fact that this quest of the North and South Pole is a thing in which science has helped and can help but little. The work as far as it has been done, and the work which has yet to be done, and which you are going to do, is work that rests upon that primeval and fundamental proposition — the man-head and the man-body. (Cheers.)

I have been asked to note very briefly something of the extent of my own personal work. Twenty-four years ago this month I started North for the first line. I have gone North eight times in various expeditions — expeditions lasting from six months to four year three and a-half months. In 23 years of work I have been enabled slowly to learn all the detailed technique of Arctic work — the meaning of the dog, the meaning of the dogs' sledge, the meaning of the Esquimaux, the meaning of food. I got all that technique into my mind until it was practically second nature. In the expeditions previous to the last expedition, for the first time did I or any other man have in his possession an accurate knowledge of the actual conditions existing in that central portion of the North Polar Ocean. When on my previous expedition I had reached 87 deg. 6 min., or within about 173 miles of the North Pole, there was perhaps one chance in a hundred. The conditions from that point to the Pole would be different from the conditions which existed at that point. We had the two necessary things — the technique of the work and a knowledge of the actual conditions, and then it was a question of combining the two for the final result to the finish. (Cheers.)


I will recapitulate in brief terms the itinerary of my last expedition. The steamer Roosevelt, built expressly for the Peary Arctic Club, which has furnished the sinews of war for my expeditions for several year, left the harbour of New York on July 1, 1908. The expedition, which was reviewed by President Roosevelt at Oyster Bay, steamed north to Davis Straits, and then to Cape York, where it arrived on August 1. Less than three weeks were spent there purchasing Esquimaux dogs, furs, and other equipments. On the 18th the ship resumed her northern voyage, beginning her battle with the ice through the ice-encumbered channels which many here present know so well — men like Nares, Markham, Beaumont, and Fielding — names which are written high in the Smith's Sound route to the Pole. (Cheers.) On September 5 the ship reached Cape Sheridan, which was made the winter quarters of the expedition. The remainder of the fall and the winter in making was spent in hunting, and during the winter in making equipment preparations for the spring and transferring supplies to Cape Columbia, which had been selected as the point of departure for the expedition. On February 16, with the first returning twilight of another year, the first sledge expedition left the ship, in command of Captain Bartlett. (Cheers.) Other divisions left in turn, and a week later 140 dogs, 28 sledges, 10 Esquimaux, and seven members of the expedition had left the ship. Some preparatory work was done, and on March 1 the expedition left Cape Columbia, the most northerly point of American land, heading for the Pole. Four successive supporting parties were sent back at different points, and on April 6 the Pole was reached. On the 7th the main party started back. Of the four supporting parties, the fourth and last in command of Captain Bartlett left me at the 88th parallel, within stacking of the Pole — five selected men, five fully-renewed and repaired sledges, with standard loads, and 40 dogs in the pink of condition and training. On April 7 we started back. On April 23 we had regained Cape Columbia, and on April 27 the party regained the Ship. On July 18 the ice had loosened sufficiently so that the ship could steam south. On August 26 I landed the last of my faithful Esquimaux at Cape York, and on September 6 we reached the first wireless station on the Labrador coast at Indian Harbour, from which a message flashed over the world that the Stars and Stripes had been nailed to the North Pole. Such in brief is the itinerary of that expedition.


The reason why we won this time was not because I or any member of the expedition were any better men than hundreds of others who have gone North on the same quest, or who have been unsuccessful and have left their bones there. But we won by reason of experience ; we won because of the loyalty, the endurance, the indomitable courage of the members of my expedition, of whom Captain Bartlett is a type. (Cheers.) We won because of the unswerving faith and loyalty of our friends at home, who year after year furnished the funds which enabled us to go North — the members of the Peary Arctic Club, whose president is General Thomas Hubbard. (Cheers.) The fundamental keynote of success in this expedition was experience, the chance to profit by peat mistakes. I had at Cape Columbia a party which, in size and in the number of my dogs, was a small army. Indeed, the formation of such a party should be really that of an army, which sends pioneer parties in advance to select and to make the trail, and relieving the main party from waste of time and of effort entailed in searching for trails. The pioneer party marches in advance, and the main party follows, and goes back at various intervals as the loads on the sledges are exhausted. A great natural condition exiled in the work of the last expedition. Though it did not make the success of the expedition, I believe that we might have won even if the conditions had been more difficult. But the great natural condition that resisted in the success of the expedition was that during the entire time we were on the ice we had no winds at right angles to our course. Had we had strong winds right or left to our course. Had we had strong winds right or left to our course, opening cracks or water lanes ahead of us, they would have delayed our advance, and the breaking up of the trail behind us would have hindered our progress. What wind we had was in our faces, tending to press the ice down from the North to Grant Land and Greenland, and to hold it in its place. Another great point achieved, except partially by one of my own expeditions — one of the fundamental points of the programme of this work — was the utilization of the outward trail for the return. Supporting parties are known, but in addition to the usual work my supporting parties had an additional duty to keep the trail open for the return of the main party, and they did this by going back at intervals. Where the trail was faulty and broken they joined the ends. We did not need to waste a moment breaking a new trail, neither did we need to build camps. As the result of this we came back at a speed 50 or 100 per cent. greater than on the outward journey. We followed our outward trail to within 45 miles of the land, and then I had Captain Bartlett's freshly-broken trail to follow into the land. (Cheers.)


A word now as to the meaning of this. I have told you that we appreciate the reasons for our success. We are not conceited; we know simply that it was a matter of experience; but you know that this attainment of the North Pole is the cap, the climax, the finish, the closing of the book of 400 years of history, of which three-fourths have been written by Great Britain. (Cheers.) It stands, too, for the inevitable victory of patience, persistence, experience over every obstacle. That is its meaning to eve, civilized man. (Cheers.) There is no wealth in the way, of money or of commercial return at the North or South Pole, but there is a wealth of strength, of fibre, of moral in the thought that these gaunt, frozen regions between God's countries and inter-stellar space, regions worth winning only for the sake of winning, are the dearly-bought heritage of the Anglo-Saxon race (Cheers.) You are sending South in a short time one of your men who is the type of the British navigator (cheers) on a quest for which we in the United States and you in Great Britain wish him success, and we feel sure that he will win success in order that from this time onwards the world itself shall whirl between the ensigns of the same Anglo-Saxon race. (Cheers.) I drink to the health of Captain Scott. (Cheers.)


MAJOR L. DARWIN proposed the toast of "Omnes Artes," pointing out that the club had always taken every opportunity to welcome distinguished travellers on their return to this country. To-day they were welcoming the first and the only man who had visited the Pole; and he believed that it would be some yeast to come before the North Pole received another visitor. They were also welcoming Captain Bartlett, the first lieutenant of Commander Peary. (Cheers.)

SIR A. CONAN DOYLE, in responding for "Literature," said that he saw the poster of some enterprising firm as he was making his way to this luncheon party, which indicated how to squeeze an ox into a teacup. (Laughter.) That was a small feat compared with squeezing "Literature" into an after-luncheon speech. It was difficult, but his motto in life had been that the best way to overcome a difficulty was to avoid it (laughter) — a motto which would not commend itself to their guest. The subject of literature was perhaps hardly to be treated on such an occasion as this, and he certainly did not feel that he was the man to do it justice. There were one or two small cognate matters, however, to which he might make reference. The writers of romance had always a certain amount of grievance that explorers were continually encroaching on the domain of the romance writer. (Laughter and cheers.) There had been a time when the world was full of blank spaces, and in which a man of imagination might be able to give free scope to his fancy. (Laughter.) But owing to the ill-directed energy of their guest and other gentlemen of similar tendencies these spaces were rapidly being filled up and the question was where the romance writer was to turn when he wanted to draw any vague aid not too clearly-defined region. (Laughter.) Romance writers were a class of people who very much disliked being hampered by facts. (Laughter.) They liked places where they could splash about freely, and where no one was in a position to contradict them. There used to be in his younger days a place known as Tibet. (Laughter.) When they wanted a place in which to put a mysterious old gentleman who could foretell the future, Tibet was a useful spot. (Laughter.) In the last few years, however, a commonplace British army had missed through Tibet, and they had not found any Mahatmas. (Laughter.) One would as soon think now of placing an occult gentleman there as of placing him in Piccadilly-circus. (Laughter.) Then there was Central Africa, which his friend Mr. Rider Haggard as a young man had found to be a splendid hunting ground. There at least was a place where the romance writer could do what he liked; but since those days they had the railway and the telegraph, and the question was when they came down to dinner whether they should wear a tail coat or whether a smoking jacket would do. (Laughter and cheers.) He had thought also that the Poles would last his time, but here was Commander Peary opening up the one and Captain Scott was going to open up the other. Really he did not know where romance writers would be able to send their characters in order that they might come back chastened and better men. (Laughter.) There were now no vast regions of the world unknown to them, and romance writers would have to be more precise in their writings. When he was young he remembered that he began a story by saying that there was a charming homestead at Nelson; 70 miles north-west of New Zealand. A wretched geographer wrote to him to say that 70 miles north-west of New Zealand was out at sea. (Laughter and cheers.) Even now he could not write about the open Polar sea, without Commander Peary's writing and contradicting him. (Laughter and cheers.) There were other minor grievance of the romance writer. He saw a picture the other day of a melancholy-looking chicken which said:— "Ah, well, what does anything matter? We begin as an egg and we end as a feather duster." (Laughter.) He thought that the whole philosophy of the world was comprised in the aphorism of that chicken (Laughter.) But all the same, he wished to add his feeble word to their national pride not only that an American, but an American had been an old British, Anglo-Saxon stock name, a man who had won this honour. (Cheers.)

SIR DAVID GILL, in responding for science, said he recollected that his old friend Lord Kelvin when he had to reply to a similar toast was always in great difficulties as to what be should say. On one occasion Lord Kelvin saw a picture in which the colours of the rainbow were turned the wrong way (laughter), and he dilated on the advantages which would accrue to painters if they would devote themselves a little more to science. Science had also a great deal to do with the present occasion. In spite of what Commander Peary had said he thought it would not be denied that he had some recourse to science to prove by his observations that be bad actually visited the Poles (Cheers.) They all know that the most competent of scientists went into his observations in New York. Their opinion could be faithfully accepted, and they proved that Commander Peary's observations were not "cooked." (Laughter and cheers.) Their guest had dwelt on the high ideal of effort, on the circumstance that the discovery of the Pole meant nothing but a search for truth in geography, that the material reward was that of conquering difficulties and of adding to the store of human knowledge. With that view he had great sympathy, for no scientific man worthy of the name ever counted upon what the products of his discovery were to be. He worked for the desire to add to human knowledge and for no other end. (Cheers.)

PROFESSOR SIR H. VON HERKOMER, in replying for Art, said that art was a strange jade and was for ever evading the attentions of her devotees. Sometimes they thought that they had touched her, that they bad caught her with the tips of their fingers; but before they could get her well round the waist she had slipped from their grasp and left them gnashing their teeth (Laughter and cheers.) The explorer and the artist had some things in common. Both must be possessed of strong imagination in order to succeed; both must have the courage to renew their efforts after failure; and both must have an unshaken belief in the greatness of their mission. (Cheers.) He could offer many objections to the North Pole as a sketch ground. (Laughter.) He waived the matter of climate, but the worst feature of the Arctic regions for the artist wan its ghastly cleanliness. (Laughter.) Art loved dirt and disorder; they were the very backbone of the picturesqueness from which spread the arteries of all artistic music. The painter was also gifted with second sight, and be had to render the regions of ice from his inner consciousness. Such a work was on the walls of the Academy — two Polar bears crouching on a floating floe of ice. The overpowering solemnity of the scene was there, and if Commander Peary said that it was not truthful, he could only say that the Arctic regions ought to look like that. (Laughter and cheers.)

SIR HIRAM MAXIM proposed the health of the President, which was briefly acknowledged by LORD HALSBURY.

The company then separated.