The Arctic Cannibalism

The Arctic Cannibalism.

A Detailed Statement by Lieutenant Greely.


From The Twillingate Sun of Sept. 6, 1884.
Transcribed by George White in 2003.

Why Private Henry was Shot – Remains Interred in an ice Floe – Cannibalism Story Denied.

Portsmouth, N.H. Aug. 12.

Lieutenant GREELEY makes a statement regarding the article published in the New York Times of yesterday, giving a full account of the various events of the latter part of the retreat Southward from Fort Conger.

About Nov. 1st, the party began to be served with one-quarter rations, and debilitated health soon showed the effect of this insufficient amount of food. The men were not before this in as good condition to withstand Arctic weather, as they had been a year before. About Nov. 1st, provisions were missed from the stores, and it was concluded that they must have been stolen. Much complaint was made by the men, and threats against the thief were loud.

On Jan. 24th, the party was near perishing from asphyxia, and several of its members were unconscious. Private HENRY, during the terrible experience, was seen by one of the Esquimaux, to steal some of the bacon from the stores. He soon afterwards was taken ill from overloading his stomach, and vomited up the bacon undigested. An investigation was held and HENRY was proved to have been guilty, not only of this, but, of several previous thefts. It was a terrible state of affairs! The fast weakening, wearied men found in their midst one, who to save himself, would allow the rest to die of starvation. Henry’s indignant comrades demanded his death. Over and again, Henry promised reformation, but this did not still the clamor for his life. Lieutenant GREELY remonstrated with his men, and all was quieted.

Taking HENRY in hand, GREELY represented to him the enormity of his offence, and pointed out to him the necessity for concerted action in the party, if all would be saved. HENRY was then placed under guard for several weeks, until the increasing feebleness of the other members of the party rendered it necessary for them to avail themselves of HENRY’s personal service. Shortly afterward he stole liquor from the stores and became intoxicated. Again his comrades clamored for his life, and again Lieutenant GREELY restrained them. On June 5th, he again stole and carried away some of the provisions.

Lieutenant GREELY spoke firmly to HENRY and told him it would be policy for him to stop. Said the Lieutenant, “For God’s sake HENRY, as you seem to have no moral sense, remember that our lives depend on our holding together!” With great earnestness, HENRY promised solemnly not to be guilty of theft again. GREELY felt that he could not trust HENRY. After revolving in his mind the circumstances, the Lieutenant, on his own responsibility, issued a written order, now in the possession of one of the survivors, commanding that HENRY be shot on sight of commission of any more thefts of food. At this time the party had left as a last resort, only pieces of sealskin and such shrimps as they could procure.

About June 6th, HENRY went to the old winter quarters at Camp Clay, near Cape Sabine, and stole some of the last sealskin, which was the only food left. He also took the last pair of boots in the stores. On being closely questioned by GREELY, he admitted his guilt. He was again ready with promises to do better. His fate was upon him. He was in the afternoon of that day, a little distance, at the rare of the summer, alone by himself. The written order for his execution, was committed to three of the party.

They were ordered to shoot him, encountering as little danger to themselves as possible, as HENRY was the strongest of the party. Sadly, the men departed on their terrible errand. The comrades left in the camp turned their eyes to the ocean. In a few minutes the breeze bore to their ears the sound of two quick pistol shots. All was silent. Slowly, after a short interval, the men returned. The written order was handed to GREELY, and the horrible, but necessary execution, was over.

HENRY was never again seen by his comrades, and his body was understood to be interred at the foot of the Northwest ice floe. The order for the execution of HENRY, was that afternoon read to the survivors, and all concurred in the justice and necessity of the act. No report of the manner of his death has ever been made to GREELY, and the survivors tacitly ignored the terrible remembrance.

As far as the reports of the cannibalism are concerned. GREELY says they are false. Of his knowledge he knows of nothing of the kind, and the survivors all indignantly deny it. If any cannibalism took place, GREELY emphatically says it was in secret, and not indulged in by the party; but to the best of his knowledge there was none. “Why”, said the Lieutenant, “did we not allow poor ELLISON to die if we were so past the line between humans and savages? Why did we share our food with him to the last drop?” Indeed, GREELY’s logic was unanswerable!

GREELY says that he has never seen the bodies since they were disinterred, and does not know what their condition is. As to the Times’ statement, that he did not wish the bodies disinterred, GREELY said: “Often in talking over what seemed to be inevitably our fate, the men all expressed a wish to be buried on the verge of the great Polar Sea, by whose shores they had met their death. Out of difference to the solemn wishes of the dead, I spoke against disinterring the bodies and for no other reason.” Said the Lieutenant, “Had I died, I should have wished a grave in the North.”

All through the retreat, the discipline, with the exception of HENRY’s thefts, was well maintained, and all yielded implicit obedience, even to the last dread day on Cape Sabine. A verbal report was made to General HAZEN by GREELY, shortly after the arrival of the relief expedition at Portsmouth. In regard to the execution of HENRY, General HAZEN said: “It was not only justifiable, but the noblest thing in the expedition.” A written report was submitted by GREELY to the war department, a few days ago, fully covering HENRY’s case, and a court martial has been asked for by GREELY, if the facts seem to the war department to warrant it. In closing, GREELY said: “I regret that the responsibility of deciding HENRY’s case was trust upon me, but I feel that I should have failed in my duty to the noble men of my command had I not acted as I did.”

 A Sensible View of the Stories

New York, August 15.

Tonight’s Brooklyn Union, prints an interesting interview with Chief Engineer MELVILLE, of the ship THETIS, in which the latter expresses regret that the body of KLINGSBURY was disinterred, and says: “His relatives might have known, after what has been said and written of late, that they would find a mutilated body. GREELY and his companions could not have lived as long as they did unless they ate the flesh of the men that died. It was only natural that they should do this. They did not kill their companions in order to eat them, but only ate them after they were dead. These poor wretches had to go through slow starvation. Think of it, and realize if you can, after a time, them being mad! There have been all sorts of stories written about this thing, but when the official investigation comes, only about one tenth of them will be found true!”

General HAZEN’s Opinion.

Washington, August 15.

General HAZEN, Chief Signal Officer, again said today that he had no official knowledge that there had been any cannibalism among members of the GREELY party, while the condition of Lieutenant KISLINGBURY’s remains might indicate such was the case. He had heard nothing from Lieutenant GREELY, or any of the survivors, that would lead him to believe it was so. He did not doubt there were bickerings and differences among members of the party, but he would not believe it would be led to violence or extreme measures of any kind, except in the case of HENRY. It is said there are no records at the war and navy departments bearing on the subject.

Third Officer KELLY of the Steamer Bear Corroborates the Cannibalism Story.

New York, August 15.

A Mail and Express reporter today accosted third officer KELLY of the GREELY relief steamer Bear, and asked him if he had read the reports about the eating of the flesh of Lieutenant KISLINBURY [sic] and Private HENRY.

“Yes, I read the reports, and they are true.”

“Did you hear the survivors tell of their eating the flesh of their dead comrades?”

“When they came onboard, they were all but delirious, and they told everything.”

“What did they say?”

“They admitted they had to eat the dead bodies in order to preserve their own lives, but I cannot go into particulars as such facts must go through the regular channel.”

The reporter next saw one of the cooks of the Bear, and asked him if he had heard any of the survivors tell about eating their dead comrade’s flesh.

“Yes, they told everything, and said they had to eat the flesh of dead, as their food, all but a little leather or sealskin, had given out.”

“Who told you this?”

“They all told it.”

“Will you give particulars?”

“No, I cannot. All the men onboard knew the bodies had been eaten, but were told not to speak much about it when we came in port, but they all knew it.”