Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Arctic Explorer Mystery

A Naval Inquiry

Public interest about the heralded mission had been high, and gossip quickly began to circulate about conflicts aboard the ship. The U.S. consul from the Canadian Maritimes intercepted the castaways and demanded to know the particulars of Hall's death. He also quizzed the survivors about why they had not attempted to reach the pole.

A few days later, the controversy spilled onto the front page of the New York Herald. Among other things, the story raised the possibility that Hall had been poisoned.
Under political pressure to account for the expensive failed mission, Navy Secretary Robeson promised President Grant that he would mount an inquiry, including interrogation of crew members and a review of all correspondence and journals that could be located.
The Navy sent a ship to Newfoundland to carry the castaways to Washington, where they arrived on June 5, 1873. That same afternoon, navigator Tyson was called as the first witness before a four-man board of inquiry aboard the USS Tallapoosa, docked at the Washington Navy Yard.

For two days, Tyson gave blunt testimony about conflicts between Dr. Bessels, Capt. Buddington and Commander Hall.

Tyson characterized Buddington as an insubordinate drunkard who had "rejoiced" at Hall's death. Unlike a good officer, he gossiped about Hall with the crew, and his grumbling helped set the tone of defeat even as the mission was just beginning.

Tyson also alleged that Buddington or some other officer had ordered Hall's journals burned after the commander died. The implication was that Hall had left a written account of his conflicts, illness and suspicions about poisoning.

Some of the survivors corroborated Tyson's account. One seaman said that after Hall died, he heard Buddington say, "There is a stone off my heart."

After six days, the questioning of the castaways was complete. The board of inquiry judged that it had insufficient evidence to draw conclusions, because the Polaris, Capt. Buddington and Dr. Bessels were still missing. But Secretary Robeson damned Buddington with faint praise:

"The facts show that though he was perhaps wanting in enthusiasm for the grand objects of the expedition, and at times grossly lax in discipline, and though he differed in judgment from others as to the possibility, safety, and propriety of taking the ship farther north, yet he is an experienced and careful navigator, and, when not affected by liquor, of which there remained none on board at the time of the separation (from the castaways), a competent and safe commander."

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