Kane, Elisjia Kent
expedition arctic reached search health
KANE, ELISJIA KENT (1820-1857), American traveller, scientist, and arctic explorer, was born in Philadelphia, on February 3, 1820, the eldest of seven children. His father was judge of the eastern district of Philadelphia, and through both parents he inherited a mixture of Irish, English, Scotch, and Dutch blood. In his boyhood, in spite of feebleness of body, he was remarkable for his activity, vivacity, and energy. While still at school he showed a fondness for out-door pastime and enterprise, and a decided leaning towards scientific pursuits. Having chosen civil engineering as a profession, he entered the university of Virginia, where he continued to show his taste for science, especially chemistry, mineralogy, and physical geography. A violent attack of heart disease, however, which stuck to him to the end of his life, induced him to abandon engineering and devote himself to the study of medicine. He obtained his doctor's degree in 1842, having already acquired a reputation in physiological research. In 1843 Kane entered the U.S. navy as surgeon, and was appointed to the Brandywine," commissioned to carry Mr Webster as U.S. minister to China. While the vessel remained at Rio Janeiro the restless and eager Kane made a journey to the skirts of the Andes and explored their geology. Leaving the ship again at Bombay, he indulged his irrepressible exploring proclivities by a journey up country, rejoining his ship at Ceylon. On his arrival at his destination, Macao, he provided a substitute for his post in the embassy, crossed and explored the island of Luzon, visited the mysterious volcano of Tael, and, amid many difficulties, descended its steep crater, bringing up with him specimens of its lava. Finally resigning his position on the embassy, he practised for a time at Whampoa, where he was stricken down by rice fever. In August 1844 he left China, and, returning by India (where he visited the Himalayas), Persia, Syria, Egypt, Greece, Austria, Germany, and Switzerland, reached home in 1846. In May of that year he was ordered to the west coast of Africa, where he visited the kingdom of Dahomey, and caught the African fever, which told severely on his constitution. On his return in April 1847, he exchanged the naval for the military service, and was sent to join the U.S. army in Mexico, where he had some extraordinary adventures in endeavouring to reach his destination, and where he was again laid down with fever. In February 1849 he was presented with a sword by the city of Philadelphia, and in the same year made a visit to the Mediterranean and afterwards to the West Indies. On the fitting out of the first Grinnell expedition, in 1850, to search for Sir John Franklin, Kane was appointed surgeon and naturalist under Lieutenant De Heaven, who commanded the two ships, the " Advance " and " Rescue." The expedition left New York on May 22d; and after an absence of sixteen months, during nine of which the ships were ice-bound, they returned without having found any trace of the missing vessels. Kane was in feeble health, but worked on at his narrative of the expedition, which was published in 1854, under the title of The U.S. Grinnell Expedition in Search of Sir John Franklin. He also read a paper at the American Geographical Society on an " Open Polar Sea," a chinimra which was to play so important and delusive a r6le in subsequent Arctic explorations. Kane was determined not to give up the search for Franklin, but Government refused all help. In spite of feeble health, he travelled through the States lecturing to obtain funds, and gave up his pay for twenty months. Mr Grinnell again came to the rescue, with the brig "Advance," which was equipped with the help of Mr Peabody and some of the learned societies. It sailed in the end of June 1853, and on August 23d reached 78° 41' in Rensselaer Bay, off the coast of Greenland, where it remained fast during the whole time the expedition was out. During the first winter a sledge party was sent out, and reached 79° 50', though at the expense of terrible sufferings. During the second winter the expedition suffered greatly from want of food and fuel, as well as from scurvy. Still Kane carried on with incessant diligence his scientific observations - magnetic, meteorological, astronomical, and tidal ; and the results were afterwards published in the Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge, vols. x.–xiii., 1858. One of the most notable incidents of this expedition was the journey made by Morton, one of the staff, up Kennedy Channel, as far as Cape Independence, in 81° 22' N. lat., whence he saw what he and Kane firmly believed to be an "open polar sea." No doubt a large area of open water was seen, but a permanent open sea in this direction has long ago been proved a myth, though doubtless the constant shiftings of the ice often leave considerable areas of water uncovered at continually shifting points. After the endurance of the greatest hardships, it was finally resolved to abandon the ship, which was done on May 17, 1855, Upernivik being reached after many difficulties on August 5. Kane reached home in October in good health, and set himself at once to write the narrative of his expedition, which was published in 1856. In October of the same year he left Philadelphia for England in search of health. From England he went to Cuba, where he died at Havana on February 16, 1857, at the early age of thirty-seven. Between his first and second arctic voyages, Kane made the acquaintance of the Fox family, the celebrated spiritualists. With one of the daughters, Margaret Fox, he carried on a lengthened correspondence, which was afterwards published by the lady, who declares that they were privately married before Kane left for England. Notwithstanding his weak health, Kane was a man of restless activity and high intelligence, but much of that activity appears to have been wasted. He certainly did a vast amount of work during his short life, but will bo re-membered mainly for his chivalrous and self-sacrifiding but fruitless search for Franklin, during which he appreciably advanced our knowledge of the Arctic area, and made important contributions to physics and biology.
See, besides the works mentioned above, Biography of E. K. Kane, by William Elder, 1858; Life of E. K. Kane and other American Explorers, by S. M. Smucker; The Love-Life of Dr Kane, containing the Correspondence and a History of the Engagement and Secret Marriage between E. K. Kane and Margaret Fox, New York, 1866 ; " Discoveries of Dr Kane," in lour. of the Boy. Geog. Soc., vol. xxviii., reprinted in /1. G. S. Arctic Papers of 1875.