Elisha Kent Kane Historical Society
New-York Daily Times
Tuesday, February 24, 1857
Reported Death of Dr. E.K. Kane.
Philadelphia, Monday, Feb. 23.
It is reported that a special dispatch has been received from New-Orleans announcing the death of Dr. Kane, and the arrival of his body there, en route to Philadelphia.
It is a painful; duty that we are called to perform in chronicling the decease of Dr. Kane, which we announce on the somewhat dubious authority of the above dispatch. It is but a few weeks since intelligence was received of his departure from England in search of health in Havana, and strong hopes were entertained that this change of climate and scene would serve the purpose of recruiting the physical energies which had become prostrate through a long course of unremitting toil and exposure. The hope proved fallacious, and Dr. Kane is gathered to his fathers, while yet at the threshold lf his life, and at the commencement of a career whose early promise was already abundantly fulfilled. He died at Havana, at the age of 35 (sic) years. His mind remained clear, and his disease, while making rapid headway, left him moments for calm reflection, and gave him a peaceful end.
Dr. Elisha Kent Kane was a native of Pennsylvania, born in Philadelphia, on the third of February, 1822 (sic). His early years were notable chiefly for the rapid development of that spirit of adventure and love of investigation which afterward carried him over the world and led him into places into which no man but he had ever trod. While yet a student, he joined one of the brothers Rogers in a geological exploration of the Blue Mountains of Virginia, and when this task had been accomplished, devoted himself with renewed assiduity to the study of the Natural Sciences. In the interim, he pursued the necessary course of culture to qualify himself to enter college, and, having entered, studied diligently. In the year 1843 he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, and, immediately after that event undertook a course in the Medical Department of the same institution, during his prosecution of scientific investigations, the Doctor had made himself thoroughly familiar with chemistry, geology, mineralogy astronomy, and surgery, and, besides, was a good classical scholar. He was one of that rare class that have the faculty of acquiring knowledge almost without effort and , when once acquired, of keeping it ready for use on all occasions. The natural consequence of the close application he was compelled to bestow upon his studies, however, undermined the physical system, which rebelled against the stagnation that it had undergone, so the young doctor, now scarcely of age, came out from his closet far from robust. He made application for an appointment in the Navy, and having received it, demanded active service. His request was complied with and he was appointed on the diplomatic staff of the first American Embassy to China, as Assistant Surgeon. This petition gave him abundant opportunities for the gratification of his passion for witnessing new scenes and visiting queer places. He went successively through the accessible portions of China, Ceylon and the Philippines and explored India quite thoroughly. In the island of Luzon- the northernmost and largest of the Philippines group, he created a remarkable excitement by making a descent into the crater of Taal, suspended by a bamboo rope from a crag which projected two hundred feet above the interior scoriae. The natives looked upon this as a daring feat and declared that the Doctor was the first white man to ever attempt it. The Doctor suffered by his exposure to the gases of the crater, but was plucky enough to remain below until he had mad a sketch of the interior and collected specimens, all of which he brought up with him. His remaining adventures during this first foreign experience were things to be remembered. He ascended the Himalayas. visited Egypt and went to the upper Nile, where he made the acquaintance of Lepsius, who was at the time prosecuting his archeological researches:- and obtaining his discharge from the Embassy, returned home by way of Greece, which country he traversed on foot. He reached the United States, after a brief sojourn in Europe, in the year 1846.
The Mexican War now broke out, and Dr. Kane requested active service in the campaign; but the war department preferred sending him to the coast of Africa, whither he presently sailed. While engaged in service on that coast, he made an effort to visit the slave-marts of Whydah, but was frustrated by the cost -fever, and was sent home in 1847 invalided. From the effects of that attack, he never wholly recovered. The war had not closed when he again set foot on American soil, and he had scarcely regained strength to walk when he applied to President Polk for permission to enter the service. The request was complied with and the Doctor was sent to Mexico, charged with dispatches of great importance to General Scott. He did not make his way unscathed through the enemy's country; but was wounded and had his horse killed under him in a sharp skirmish. The kind nursing of a family in Puebla, who received him into their house, caused his restoration to health, so that he resumed active service and remained in Mexico until the close of the campaign. Returning to his own country, he was detailed for service on the Coast Survey, and continued in that employment for a considerable time. His varied acquirements made him a most useful member of that important corps.
But it is upon Dr. Kane's remarkable explorations in the Arctic regions, while making his search for traces of Sir John Franklin's Expedition, that his fame chiefly rests. The earlier series of adventures in which the Doctor was engaged served only as a preparation and foundation for the greater that followed. In his modest narrative of the first expedition, the Doctor gives an account of the orders he received to join the Arctic Expedition. He says: " On the 19th of May, while bathing in the tepid waters of the Gulf of Mexico, I received one of those curious little epistles from Washington, which the electric telegraph has made so familiar to naval officers. It detached me from the Coast Survey, and ordered me to 'proceed forthwith to New-York for duty up on the Arctic Expedition.' Seven and a half days later (he adds) I had accomplished my overland journey of thirteen hundred miles and in forty hours more was beyond the limits of the United States. The Department had calculated my traveling time to a nicety." The Expedition consisted of "two little hermaphrodite brigs," the Advance and the Rescue. They were under the command of Lieut. Edwin J. De Haven. Dr. Kane was appointed to the Advance, as surgeon. The vessel was towed out of this port by "an asthmatic old steam-tug" on the 23rd of May, 1850, and was followed by the Rescue. They pushed for the Arctic Sea direct, and on the first day of the following December, entered Lancaster Sound, where the discovery of the graves of three of Franklin's men was made, while the British Searching Expedition, under Com. Penney; and the American were lying together. After the expeditions separated, Lieut. De Haven's party proceeded further to the northward, and were soon nipped by the ice, which imprisoned the Advance for nine months. While thus blocked in, the vessel drifted with the fields of ice for a distance of 1,060 mile. The opening of the mild season enabled the party to extricate themselves, and the Expedition returned to this port on Tuesday, September 30, 1851, having been absent one year and four months. Both vessels suffered but little from their encounter, and the crew maintained excellent health and discipline. Dr. Kane prosecuted diligently his scientific researches during the time the expedition remained in the Arctic Sea, and on his return embodied in a "Personal Narrative" the results of the cruise: Lieut. De Haven, his superior officer, having declined to make any other than an official report. This narrative was published by the Harpers in 1853.
The results of this first expedition encouraged hopes that definite tidings would ultimately be received from Franklin's Expedition. Early in the year 1852, a letter was addressed by Lady Franklin to the President of the United States, in which the highest commendation was bestowed upon the American Expedition, and the aid of our Government again solicited. The appeal was not permitted to pass unheeded. The Government detailed Naval officers for the duty of a second exploration, and the Advance was now placed at the disposal of Doctor Kane himself. In December, 1852, he received orders to conduct the new Expedition, and sailed from this port on the 31st of May, 1853. Through the munificent liberality of Mr. Henry Grinnell, aided largely by Mr. George Peabody, the brig received a perfect outfit. Her equipment was deficient in nothing that could qualify her to undergo the dangers of the cruise, and the behavior of the craft in the trying situations in which she was afterwards placed, showed the excellence of the preparations. The Expedition sailed out of the port, followed by the good wishes of all; but after the first tidings were received that it was spoken at sea, there was no intelligence of its movements. Dr. Kane, as it afterwards appeared, had pushed northward with great rapidity, and before he could extricate himself, was frozen up and compelled to Winter in the ice-peaks. On the 24th of May, 1855, finding that it was impossible to clear the brig, the party came to the determination to forsake her; and did so, first taking out the necessary provisions, documents, instruments, &c. and placing them on sledges and in boats, which were dragged by the men over the ice, with incredible difficulty, for a distance of three hundred miles. Then, having reached the sea, the party took to the open boats and made the best of their way, for a distance of thirteen hundred miles to the Danish settlement of Upernavik, in Greenland, where they were hospitably received.
Meanwhile, Dr. Kane had been given up for lost. Representations were made to Congress, urging the duty of instituting a search for the missing, the result of which was an appropriation of $150,000 and the detail of the Arctic and the Release, under the command of Lieut. Hartstene, for the prosecution of a search. This Expedition sailed from New-York in April, 1855, and on the 13th of the following September fell in with Dr. Kane's party at Disko Island, 250 miles south of Upernavik. They had taken refuge on board a Danish trading-vessel, for the arrival of which they had waited at the port for several weeks. With a touching simplicity, Dr. Kane describes this meeting in the last volume of his Second Narrative- just published: "Presently we were alongside. An officer, whom I shall ever remember as a cherished friend, Capt. Hartstene, hailed a little man in a ragged flannel shirt, 'Is that Doctor Kane?'- and with the 'Yes" that followed, the rigging was manned by our countrymen, and cheers welcomed us back to the social world of love which they represented." This is the same Capt. Hartstene whose commission to restore the Resolute has brought him lately into notice in a new field.
The return of Dr. Kane to New-York was the occasion of a wonderful excitement. On the evening of Thursday, October 11, 1855, it was announced that the Searching Expedition had returned with Dr. Kane and his party. An eager throng assembled to greet them, and the familiar face of the Doctor, bronzed by exposure and adorned with a heavy beard, was looked upon like that of an old friend. The Doctor made his report of the results of his cruise: the principal part of importance announced among his discoveries being that which established the existence of an open Polar Sea. Dr. Kane immediately commenced the preparation of his narrative-published a few weeks since under the title of Arctic Explorations. In November last, having completed this task, he sailed for Europe and , upon arriving in England, was at once received with a cordial British welcome. He, however, declined all public honors, and appeared but little in public. His health continuing to decline, he determined to try the effect of a change in climate, and in a very short time sailed for Havana, where he ended his days, far too early.
In character, Dr. Kane was peculiarly retiring and unostentatious; not distrustful of his abilities, but slow to obtrude them into notice; ambitious, yet prudent; energetic, amiable, and upright. In person, he was scarcely of the average height, but his muscles were firmly knit; he had a finely developed head, remarkably full in the faculties which give artistic power and taste. His constitution, never strong, has succumbed beneath the burden that his energetic nature imposed upon it.
The Doctor's published works are few. His two Arctic Narratives are comported in three volumes and he has issued some scientific treatises, besides preparing lectures on subjects connected with the Arctic Explorations. His labors, as a navigator and a geographer, have been rewarded by a gold medal, presented by the Royal Geographical Society, and by other testimonials; but his best and most enduring record is found in the remarkable acts of a crowded life.