Safe Return Doubtful: The Heroic Age of Polar Exploration.

p. 1: On the night of January 30, 1916, a frail, white-haired gentleman retired to the bedroom of his house in London’s Eccleston Square. Once undressed, he swung expertly into a hammock and, as he had done for more than seven decades, read himself to sleep in traditional Royal Navy fashion: One hand held his book, the other a candle, exactly as he had learned as a midshipman in 1844.

But on this occasion, fatigue overcame him with a rush. The burning candle slipped from his fingers and toppled among the bedclothes. Oblivious, the old gentleman slept as charred linen blossomed into flame that ignited the blanket. Dense smoke filled the room. Before anyone in the house could intervene, Sir Clements Markham, then in his eighty-sixth year, dozed into eternity. The following day, he was dead. Directly over his smoldering hammock hung a perfectly good electric light.

So died the doyen of Great Britain’s geographical fraternity, or, as a colleague was to suggest posthumously, “an Instigator of Polar Enterprise.”

p. 16: Walter May, mate on board HMS Resolute, was scene painter for the Queen’s Arctic Theatre, early evidence of a talent later employed designing bas-reliefs for Franklin’s London memorial. Sherard Osborn, a shipmate from HMS Collingwood in the Pacific, served on HMS Pioneer as the editor of the Illustrated Arctic News as well as actor/manager of the Arctic Philharmonic Entertainments. On board HMS Hecla during the winter of 1821, Lieutenant George Lyon produced nine plays and, in one, earned Markham’s undying admiration for playing ‘through the last act with two fingers frostbitten.’

p. 78: Sir Allen [Young] had left his polar library on board [Pandora,renamedJeannette], and Emma [de Long] immersed herself in arctic history, growing to share her husband’s fascination with the Jeannette’s polar quest.

p. 82-3, [January 1878 aboard icebound Jeannette: There were tableau vivants, blacksmith Dressler garbed as Vulcan at his forge, and typical of messdeck humor to this day, Two Sailors Mourning a Dead Marine: revealed were two crewmen draped lugubriously over an empty brandy bottle, one of four that de Long had issued, full, to greet the New Year. Not quite Royal Arctic Theatre caliber, but warmed by the spirits, the Jeannette’s crew roared their approval, grateful for anything that jogged their monotonous routine.

p. 200, on Edward Wilson’s faith: Read through the Holy Communion Service at 8 o’clock, not knowing where anyone would be at home, but I always go in spirit to St. Philip’s where I can find Ory, at any rate.

p. 218, on the1888 Nansen trip: Both Ravna and Balto [two Lapps] were recent converts, intensely religious. When the camp was threatened by the sea, both retired to one of the boats, lying beneath their tarpaulin and reading aloud passages from their New Testament.

p. 224, what was left of the Discovery when it finally went to Dundee: All that remains in the cabins are a few dusty relics, fragments of the great undertaking: Scott’s wooden snow goggles, a miniature Gulliver’s Travels (the gift of Sir Clements), a square copper matchbox used while sledging, even some pony snowshoes that must have come from the Terra Nova.

p. 228: Amundsen although unpaid, invested his remaining pocket money in a secondhand collection of arctic memoirs.

p. 245, on the profusion of books in the Hut during Scott’s Discovery trip.

Note: Gjoa pronounced ewer in Norwegian.