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Elisha Kent Kane March 25, 2009

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Diving Books and Films.
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I’ve just read the book Race to the polar sea : the heroic adventures and romantic obsessions of Elisha Kent Kane by Ken McGoogan about the life of Elisha Kent Kane and his search for the Franklin Expedition between Baffin Island and Greenland. It was a very interesting story, not only for its descriptions of the voyages, but also of Philadelphia society in the mid-19th century.

I found it to be an entertaining and informative book. Despite his continual ill-health Mr. Kane experienced almost unimaginable adventures and trials, including spending two winters in the arctic without the benefit of the crew, equipment and supplies that his Royal Navy counterparts had at their disposal. He was the first of the northern explorers to adopt Esquimaux (Inuit) survival methods and his relationships with the Greenland Inuit are part of their oral history to this day.

Despite receiving a state funeral in hometown of Philadelphia and his heroic accomplishments, his legend was tarnished after his death by his relationship and secret marriage to a well-known “spirit-rapper”, who puported to communicate with the dead in order to make a living, despite giving up the practice under the influence of Kane. His brother’s refusal to honour his bequest to her resulted in her publishing his love letters in order to survive, damaging his reputation.

While not about diving, this book documents an important part of Canadian, US and English History and is well worth the read. I’m a fan of the period (he died in the same year as the J.C.Morrison sank in Lake Simcoe), and of explorers in general, and I’ll admit that I like novels of Patrick O’Brian, which richly describe the life of British Naval Officers during and after the Napoleonic Wars.

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