Bessels in 1880
Emil Israel Bessels
2 June 1847
|Died||30 March 1888 (aged 40)|
|Resting place||Bergfriedhof, Heidelberg|
|Known for||Arctic exploration and research|
|Fields||Medicine, entomology, zoology|
|Allegiance||North German Confederation|
|Branch||Royal Prussian Army|
Emil Israel Bessels (2 June 1847 – 30 March 1888) was a German arctic researcher, physician, entomologist, and zoologist who spent much of his scientific career working for the Smithsonian Institution.
German North Polar expedition
In 1869, on suggestion from August Petermann, Bessels joined the German North Polar expedition to the Arctic Sea with the aim to investigate the islands of Spitsbergen and Novaya Zemlya, and survey the ocean in their vicinity. Because of adverse ice conditions, only the first destination could be reached. During the course of the expedition, hydrographical measurements were performed and the climatological influence of the Gulf Stream on the eastern coast of Spitsbergen was demonstrated.
After his return to his home country in 1870, he joined the Royal Prussian Army in time for the Franco-Prussian War. He was called to the field as military surgeon and rendered service in the hospitals, for which he received a public commendation from Frederick I, Grand Duke of Baden.
US North Polar expedition
In 1871, Bessels joined the US North Polar expedition, better known as the Polaris expedition, commanded by eccentric American explorer Charles Francis Hall, who aimed to be the first to reach the North Pole. Bessels signed on as ship's physician and as head of the scientific team.
He and Hall soon came into conflict over control of scientific research on the expedition. When Hall became ill in October 1871, Bessels remained by his bedside for several days, ostensibly to administer medical treatment. However, Hall suspected Bessels was poisoning him, and consequently refused any further contact.
After Hall's death several weeks later, Bessels was among those who remained with the Polaris, when most of the crew became separated while trying to salvage supplies. Bessels and his party were eventually forced to abandon the ship, but were rescued and arrived back in the United States in 1873.
Bessels and the other surviving members of the expedition crew were questioned by a naval board of inquiry about the events leading to Hall's death. The official cause of death ruled that Hall died of natural causes and had been treated by Bessels to the best of his ability. Nevertheless, after a forensic investigation in which Hall's remains were exhumed in 1969, lethal amounts of arsenic were discovered under his fingernails and toenails, fueling speculation and adding weight to Hall's accusations.
In the 1870s, Bessels stayed several years at the Smithsonian Institution, where he worked preparing the publication of the expedition's scientific results. The most important of these results was the proof that Greenland was an island, deduced from tidal observations and the discovery of walnut drift wood, indicating a connection between the Greenland Sea and the Bering Sea. The publication was planned for a total of three volumes, the first two of which were written by Bessels.
However, only the first volume, Physical Observations, was ever published, and this was later suppressed for errors and never reissued. He planned a work on the Inuit, but all his manuscripts were destroyed by fire in 1885.
Bessels later considered mounting his own Arctic expedition, but eventually decided against it. In 1875, he took part in another expedition to the American northwestern coast aboard the USS Saranac, but the voyage had to be interrupted after the ship was wrecked in the Seymour Narrows, between Vancouver Island and the mainland. In 1879, he published Die amerikanische Nordpol-expedition, an account of the Polaris expedition.
Bessels died of a stroke in Stuttgart in 1888, at the age of 40.
- "Der Untergang des amerikanischen Expeditionsschiffes 'Polaris'". Die Gartenlaube (in German) (41): 664–668. 1874.
- Scientific results of the United States Arctic expedition. Washington: GPO. 1876. OCLC 1075536474.
- Die amerikanische Nordpol-expedition (in German). Leipzig: Wilhelm Engelmann. 1879. OCLC 8471684.
- "Smith Sound, and its exploration". Science. 3 (68): 622–623. May 1884. doi:10.1126/science.ns-3.68.622.
- "The northernmost inhabitants of the Earth". The American Naturalist. 18 (9): 861–882. September 1884. doi:10.1086/273755.
- Barr, W. (2016). Polaris: The Chief Scientist's Recollections of the American North Pole Expedition. Calgary: UofC Press. ISBN 9781552388754.
- Henderson, B. B. (2001). Fatal North: Adventure and Survival Aboard USS Polaris. New York: New American Library. ISBN 9780451409355.
- Loomis, C. C. (1971). Weird and Tragic Shores: The Story of Charles Francis Hall. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 9780375755255.
- Adler, C.; et al., eds. (1902). "Bessels, Emil". The Jewish Encyclopedia. 3. New York: Funk & Wagnalls. p. 113.
- Gilman, D. C.; et al., eds. (1905). . The New International Encyclopedia. 1. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co. p. 808.
- Hantzsch, V., ed. (1902). "Bessels, Emil". Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (in German). 46. Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot. pp. 479–481.
- Schroeder, K., ed. (1955). "Bessels, Emil Israel". Neue Deutsche Biographie (in German). 2. Berlin: Duncker & Humblot. p. 181.
- Seyd, F., ed. (1951). "Bessels, Emil". Encyclopedia Arctica. 1. Hanover: Dartmouth College. pp. 130–135.
- Wilson, J. G.; et al., eds. (1900). "Bessels, Emil". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. 1. New York: D. Appleton & Co. p. 251.
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