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    Henry Williamson Howgate

    Encyclopedia Arctica 15: Biographies

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    Henry W. Howgate

            HOWGATE, CAPTAIN HENRY W(ILLIAMSON), (1835-1901). "The man whose determined

    energy, perseverance and will . . . made the lady Franklin Bay Expedition a more

    than possibility - A. W. Greely."

            Henry Williamson Howgate was born in Leeds, England, March 24, 1835, and died

    in Washington, D.C., June 1, 1901.

            When only seven months old, he was brought to the United States by his parents,

    who were woolen cloth weavers and who, during Howgate's early boyhood , worked at

    their trade in various towns in western New York and the adjacent Canadian Province

    of Ontario. In 1846 he removed with his mother to southeastern Michigan where, in

    1855, he married Cordelia Day, of Romeo, and pursued his vocations of farmer and

    journeyman carpenter until his enlistment in the Union army as second lieutenant

    of Company B, Twenty-second Regiment, Michigan Volunteer Infantry, July 30, 1862.

    On November 17th of that year, while his regiment, a part of the Army of the Cumber–

    land, was encamped at Lexington, Kentucky, Lieutenant Howgate was transferred from

    line duty to the Signal Corps, in which branch of the Army he served with distinction

    during the remainder of the Civil War, earning commissions as Captain by brevet for

    gallant and meritorious service at the battle of Chickamauga, during the investment

    of Atlanta, and in the Georgia and South Carolina campaign. Honorably mustered out

    of the service of the United States as of June 20, 1866, he reentered the Signal

    Corps October 22, 1867, as a Second Lieutenant in the Twentieth U.S. Infantry, and

    served thereafter in the Corps continuously until he resigned December 18, 1880.

            It was early during this post-war service in the Signal Corps that Captain

    Howgate's interest in Arctic exploration was first aroused through meeting Captain

    Charles F. Hall while the latter was fitting out the "Polaris" expedition and was

    being supplied with signalling equipment by the Corps, an interest which Captain

    Howgate himself relates was definitely deepened when he later served on a commission

    appointed by the President of the United States to examine survivors of the expedition

    as to the circumstances of Hall's death in the Arctic.

            Accepting in general the theory of a supposed open sea extending poleward at

    times from the northern reaches of Robeson Channel, and convinced that it was

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    entirely feasible to establish and maintain in the vicinity of Lady Franklin Bay a

    small colony of seasoned explorers fully equipped and ready to take prompt advantage

    of any occasion when the ice barrier to the Pole was broken up by favorable winds

    and temperatures, Captain Howgate, in December, 1876, launched a vigorous and sus–

    tained campaign to secure Congressional approval and financial support of his colo–

    nization plan, under which he firmly believed that within three years "the geography

    of the Polar Circle would be definitely settled, and that without loss of life."

            Howgate opened his campaign with a letter to the New York Times briefly out–

    lining the colonization plan, and when this elicited wide-spread favorable comment

    drafted "A Bill to authorize and equip an expedition to the Arctic Seas" which was

    introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on January 8, 1877, and referred to

    its Naval Committee. This bill empowered the President to expend $50,000 in organ–

    izing and sending out one or more expeditions toward the North Pole, to establish a

    temporary colony, for purposes of exploration, at some point near the shore of Lady

    Franklin Bay, to detail the necessary officers or other persons of the public ser–

    vice, and to use any public vessel suitable for the purpose. A similar bill was

    introduced in the Senate the following day and referred to the Naval Committee of

    that body. Although Howgate, by developing a veritable flood of favorable comment,

    succeeded in having the House bill reported out of committee, final consideration

    and enactment of the measure failed because the Congress, expiring on March 4, was

    busy during its last days with departmental appropriation bills and other more

    urgent matters.

            In anticipation of favorable legislative action by the next Congress, Howgate

    experienced little difficulty in financing, by popular subscription, a preliminary

    expedition to the Arctic for the purpose of collecting such supplies during the

    ensuing winter as might be of use to the main expedition in 1878, if authorized.

    The "Florence," a fifty-six ton schooner, was purchased, and after being strengthened

    for ice navigation, sailed from New London, Connecticut on August 3, 1877, under the

    command of George E. Tyson, who had been with Hall on the "Polaris." A crew of ten,

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    and two scientists, one of them a meteorologist and photographer, the other a

    representative of the Smithsonian Institution, comprised the ship's company.

    After an absence of fifteen months, the "Florence" returned to its home port,

    having accumulated clothing, purchased dogs, and arranged for the services of a

    sufficient number of natives for the proposed station at Lady Franklin Bay, in

    accordance with instructions.

            Shortly after the next Congress convened in December, 1877, the original

    polar colonization bill was re-introduced in both Houses, and on January 22, 1878,

    the chairman of the House naval committee again submitted to the House his original

    elaborate report recommending passage of the bill. A few weeks later the naval

    committee of the Senate, using the same report, also recommended passage. But

    again the legislation failed of enactment; when a final effort was made on June 18,

    1878, to secure its passage by the House under suspension of the rules, the required

    two-thirds majority was not obtained, and the measure was lost for the session.

    Howgate was bitterly disappointed at this second failure, which he regarded as due

    in large part to the reluctance of many congressmen to appropriate public funds for

    polar ventures until the result of the "Jeannette" Expedition, largely financed

    privately by James Gordon Bennett II, was known. But resolved to continue the

    struggle, Howgate improved the interval between sessions of the Congress by writing

    articles for various periodicals, by keeping up a continuous fire through the columns

    of the daily press, by soliciting the influence of business men, and by urging

    scientists to further the project in every possible way.

            At the opening of the Congress in December, 1878, the Arctic bill was again

    introduced in both Houses, but no further action was taken during the session.

    However, Howgate continued to devote all the time that could be spared from his

    official duties to the work of developing and perfecting plans for the expedition

    he felt sure would be eventually authorized and sent out. The question of the

    availability of balloons for use at the colony engrossed much of his time during

    the summer of 1879.

            Determined finally on having his plan of exploration tested without further

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    delay, Howgate decided to follow the example set by Bennett and offer to Congress

    the use of a vessel large enough for the transportation of a party and its supplies,

    with the thought that this would remove Congressional objection to the direct

    appropriation of money and would induce Congress to authorize the use of men in

    either the naval or military service, and of their equipment from the public stores.

    Through the assistance of Dr. John Rae a vessel believed to be suitable for the

    purpose was found in Scotland. When this vessel, the "Gulnare," of approximately

    200 tons, reached Washington and was placed in the hands of workmen to be strengthened

    for ice navigation, legislation was introduced in Congress authorizing the President

    to establish a temporary station on or near the shore of Lady Franklin Bay for the

    purposes of scientific observation and exploration, to detail such officers or other

    persons not exceeding fifty necessary for this purpose, and to accept from Howgate

    the use of the "Gulnare" in the proposed colonization plan. This legislation became

    law on May 1, 1880. The "Gulnare" left Washington June 21, 1880, but from the

    beginning to the end her e career was unfortunate. "After her return from the

    disastrous Greenland voyage," Howgate writes, "it looked as if all hopes for the

    future prosecution of the enterprise would of necessity be abandoned, although a

    good part of the necessary equipment and supplies, together with two members of the

    party, Mr. Henry Clay and Doctor Octave Pavy, had been left in Greenland with a view

    to the continuance of the effort."

            Fortunately for the cause of Arctic exploration, the Secretary of War, when

    preparing his estimates for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 1881, informed Howgate

    that if he would submit an estimate for Arctic work in prosecution of the colonization

    scheme, it would be included with the balance of the departmental estimates and sub–

    mitted to Congress with his approval. In accordance with this suggestion, the item

    which provided the funds for the Greely Expedition was prepared by Howgate in the fol–

    lowing language and was eventually enacted as drawn:

            "Observation and Exploration in the Arctic Seas. For continuing the work of

    scientific observation and exploration on or near the shores of Lady Franklin Bay,

    and for transportation of men and supplies to said location and return, twenty-five

    thousand dollars."

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            Thus at long last was Howgate's dream of polar colonization in a measure realized

    through the Greely Expedition to Lady Franklin Bay. That this expedition ended in

    sad catastrophe at Cape Sabine was in no degree due to any defect in the original

    plans, for the development of which during several years Captain Howgate deserves

    major credit. As pointed out by Greely himself in a report to Congress upon the

    question of retiring certain of the surviving enlisted men of the expedition:

            "It may not be inappropriate to state that the American expedition to Lady

    Franklin Bay was the most successful in the record of Arctic expeditions, during the

    years 1881 to 1883, in which years it made an unbroken se [t ?] of scientific observations,

    for which the expedition was planned and sent forth; that it also made the most north–

    ern latitude ever (to that time) attained by man; that it determined the physical

    character of Grinnell Land, probably the most remarkable spot within the Arctic Circle;

    and that all its labors, whether in the field of science or doscovery, were made

    without injury or loss of any member of the expedition, nor did any officer or man

    sustain any injuries impairing his physical condition.

            "Moreover the party made an Arctic boat retreat for 500 miles southward to meet

    the promised relief and landed at Cape Sabine with every man of the original party in

    health, with its scientific records, diaries, and all the important instruments intact;

    and the sufferings and deaths resulted from the failure of the co-operating expedi–


            All honor and unstinted praise must be accorded Greely for these accomplishments;

    but let it not be forgotten that it was primarily through the "determined energy,

    perseverance and will" of Captain Henry Williamson Howgate that the Greely Expedition

    to Lady Franklin Bay became a reality.

    References and Bibliography .

    (1)"Polar Colonization - A Memorial to the 45th Congress." 143 pp. (Howgate)

    (2) "Congress and the North Pole - An Abstract of Arctic Legislation in the

    Congress of the United States." 43 p.p. (Howgate) (Reprint from Kansas City Review

    of Science and Industry, 1879.)

    (3) "Some of the Practical Advantages of Polar Exploration," being comments by

    Prof. Joseph Henry, Professor Loomis, Prof. M. F. Maury, Admiral Osborne, and Sir John

    Barrow. 6 pp.

    (4) "Notes on Polar Exploration." 4 pp. Collated by Howgate.

    (5) "The Cruise of the Florence." North American Review, 1878.

    (6) "The Scientific Work of the Howgate Expedition. 10 pp. Orray Taft Sherman.

    (7) "Polar Colonization and the Preliminary Arctic Expedition of 1877-78." (How–

    gate in The United Service for January, 1879.) 13 pp.

    (8) "Arctic Exploration and the Northwest Passage." (Howgate in The United Service

    for April, 1879.) 17 pp.

    (9) "The Cruise of the Florence, or Extracts from the Journal of the Preliminary

    Arctic Expedition of 1877-78." (Edited by Howgate; published 1879, Chapman.) 183 pp.

    (10) "The Genesis of an Arctic Expedition, a Narrative of the Preliminary Work of

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    the American Arctic Expedition of 1881." Mss. 171 pp. (Howgate)

    (11) "The Genesis of the Greely Expedition." Mss. 14 pp. (Howgate)

    (12) "Story of the Gulnare." Mss. 288 pp. (Howgate)

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