Rations: bread dust and tallow — Large Cent Coin

Today, the Large Cent Coin remembers the return of Dr. Kane and his men from their explorations in the Arctic region from May 1853-October 1855.

An excerpt From the Marvelous Wonders of the Polar World, edited by Herman Dieck and published in 1885, provides insights into their harrowing experience:


On the evening of Sunday, June 17th [1855], the party hauled their boats through the hummocks, reached the open sea, and launched the frail craft upon its waters.

But Eolus seemed determined not to permit them yet to embark, for he let loose his fiercest winds, which began to dash a heavy wind-lipper against the ice-floe, and obliged the party to remove their boats back with each new breakage of the ice.

The goods which had been stacked upon the ice were conveyed farther inward to the distance of several hundred yards.

The storm continued to rage, and to forbid them to venture on the treacherous element.

At last Dr. Kane saw the necessity of permitting the worn-out men to repose, and in order to do so securely, the boats were removed a mile from the water’s edge.

The sea tore up the ice to the very base of the berg to which they had fled for refuge, and the angry deep seemed like a vast cauldron, boiling with intense fury, while the immense fragments of ice crashed and rolled together with a sound resembling thunder.

At length the storm subsided, and the troubled sea became tranquil.

The boats were again prepared for embarkation.

On Tuesday, the 19th, Dr. Kane succeeded in getting the Faith afloat, and he was soon followed by the two other boats.

Soon the wind freshened, and the mariners began their welcome progress homeward; but they had a long and perilous voyage before them of many hundred miles.

At length they doubled Cape Alexander.

They desired first to halt at Sutherland Island; but the ice-belt which hugged its shores was too steep to permit them to land.

They then steered for Hakluyt Island, but had not proceeded far before the red boat swamped.

The crew were compelled to swim to the other boats, and the former was with difficulty keep afloat, and dragged in tow by her comrades.

Dr. Kane then fastened his boats to an old floe, and thus sheltered, the men obtained their second halt and rest.

When they had become somewhat refreshed, they rowed for Hakluyt Island, at a point less repulsive and impracticable than the one attempted the day before.

A spit to the southward gave them an opportunity to haul up the boats on the land-ice as the tide rose.

From this the men dragged the boats to the rocks above and inland, and were thus secure.

It snowed heavily during the ensuing night.

A tent was prepared for the sick, and a few birds were luckily obtained to vary their stale diet of bread-dust and tallow.

On the next morning, the 22d, the snow-storm still continued to pelt them; but they pressed onward toward Northumberland Island, and reached it.

They rowed their boats into a small inlet of open water, which conducted them to the beach directly beneath a hanging glacier, which towered sublimely into the heavens to the immense height of eleven hundred feet.

The next day they crossed Murchison Channel, and at night encamped at the base of Cape Parry.

The day had been laboriously spent in tracking over the ice, and in sailing through tortuous leads.

The day following they reached Fitz Clarence Rock; one of the most singular forms to be seen in that strange clime.

It rises to an immense height from a vast field of ice, having the shape of an Egyptian pyramid surmounted by an obelisk.

In more frequented waters it would be a valued landmark to the navigator.

Still they continued to toil onward from day to day.

Their progress was satisfactory, though their labor was exhausting.

Dr. Kane sometimes continued sixteen hours in succession at the helm.

But now their allowance of food began to grow scanty. It was reduced to six ounces of bread-dust per day, and a lump of tallow about the size of a walnut.

An occasional cup of tea was their only consolation.

From this stage in their journey Dalrymple Rock became perceptible in the distance.

But the physical strength of the men began to give way beneath their labors and their insufficient diet.

At this crisis a gale struck them from the northwest, and a floe, one end of which having grounded on a tongue of ice about a mile to the northward of them, began to swing round toward the boats, and threaten to enclose and crush them.

Soon the destruction of the surrounding ice threatened their own.

For hundreds of yards on every side around them the ice was crumbled, crushed, and piled in irregular and fragmentary masses.

The thunder of the confused ocean of frozen wrecks was overpowering.

Suddenly the ice seemed to separate and form a channel; and in that channel, so unexpectedly opened before them, the men rowed the boats with the aid of their boat hooks, and escaped a danger which a moment before seemed inevitable and ruinous.

Soon they found themselves in a lead of land-water, wide enough to give them rowing room, and they hastened on to the land, which loomed ahead.

Reaching it, they eagerly sought a shelter.

The Hope here stove her bottom, and lost part of her weather-boarding.

The water broke over them, for the storm still continued.

At length the tide rose high enough at three o’clock to enable them to scale the ice-cliff.

They succeeded in pulling the boats into a deep and narrow gorge, which opened between the towering cliffs.

The rocks seemed almost to close above their heads.

An abrupt curve in the windings of this gorge placed a protecting rock behind them, which shielded them from the violence of the winds and waves.

They had reached a haven of refuge which was almost a cave; where they found a flock of eider ducks on which they feasted; and where for three days they reposed from the dangers and labors of their voyage.

This retreat they fitly called Weary Man’s Rest.

The fourth day of July having arrived, it was commemorated by the adventurers by a few diluted and moderate potations, such as their nearly exhausted whiskey flask permitted; and they then embarked and rowed industriously toward Wolstenholme Island.

During some succeeding days, they continued slowly to progress toward the south, through the various lanes of water which opened between the belt-ice and the floe.

By this time the constant collisions between the boats and the floating ice had rendered them quite unseaworthy.

The ice had strained their bottom timbers, and constant baling was necessary. Their fresh meat had all been consumed, and the men were now reduced again to short rations of bread-dust.

On the 11th of July they approached Cape Dudley Digges; but their progress was suddenly stopped by an immense tongue of floe which extended out to sea for a prodigious distance.

They forced their way into a lead of sludge, and attempted thus to advance.

They found this to be impossible; and were glad to make their escape from it.

Dr. Kane was at a loss how to proceed.

He mounted an iceberg to reconnoiter the surrounding prospect.

It was gloomy and repulsive in the extreme.

They were in advance of the season; and he discovered that in those waters toward Cape York the floes had not yet broken up.

They seemed to be surrounded in a cul-de-sac, with exhausted strength and food, and no possibility of escaping until the summer had broken open for them a pathway of escape.

Sailing along they passed the Crimson Cliffs, so named by Sir John Ross.

They continued thence to hug the shore. The weather now moderated; and their voyage assumed more agreeable and genial features.

The men frequently landed, climbed up the steep cliffs and obtained abundant quantities of auks.

Fires were kindled with the turf, and the feasts which ensued were relished with more than an ordinary appetite; and that also the more truly, because the travelers well knew that their good fortune, and their propitious seas and weather, would not long continue.

They were now in 78° 20′ north latitude.

On the 1st of August they came within sight of the Devil’s Thumb, and were no longer wanderers in unknown regions; but were within the limits of the district frequented by the whalers.

Soon they reached the Duck Islands. At length they passed Cape Shackleton, and then steered for the shore of Greenland.

During two days longer they continued to follow the coast, sailing southward.

At the end of this time they discerned the single mast of a small shallop, and heard words of mingled English and Danish from the sailors on board of her.

They soon discerned that it was the Upernavik oil-boat on its way to Kingatok to obtain blubber.

The annual ship had arrived from Copenhagen at Proven; and this was one of the boats which supplied her with a cargo of oil.

From the sailors on board the shallop, Dr. Kane first received information of the great events which, during his absence, had agitated the world to which he had been so long a stranger; how England and France had combined with the Turk to humble the haughty pride of the imperial Romanoff; and how vast armies were then engaged in mortal strife on the once quiet and fertile plains of the Crimea.

For the first time he learned the importance which Sebastopol had acquired in the history and fate of the world, surrounded as it then was with a battling host of a hundred thousand men.

They rowed on.

Soon Kasarsoak, the snow-capped summit of Sanderson’s Hope, appeared to them, towering above the mists; and as they approached the welcome harbor of Upernavik, from which they had issued several years before in the gallant vessel they had now left behind them, they felt as only such men under such circumstances could feel.

During eighty-four days they had lived in the open air, tossing in frail boats on the bosom of the angry, half-frozen deep.

They were delivered from a thousand deaths, and arrived at last safely at Upernavik, where they were received with hospitality.

Dr. Kane resolved to embark his party in the Danish vessel the Mariane, which sailed on the 6th of September for the Shetland Islands.

They took with them their little boat the Faith, which had accompanied them through so many adventures.

They only retained their clothes and documents, of all they had once possessed on board the Advance.

On the 11th they arrived at Godhaven, where they found their former friend, Mr. Olrik, the Danish Inspector of North Greenland.

Dr. Kane and his associates returned to New York in the squadron of Captain Hartstene, consisting of the United States bark Release and the United States steam-brig Arctic, which had sailed from New York in June, 1855, in search of him and his party.

They arrived at New York on the 11th of October, 1855.

The results of his expedition comprise the survey and delineation of the north coast of Greenland to its termination by a great glacier; the survey of this glacier and its extension northward into the new land named Washington; the discovery and delineation of a large tract of land, forming the extension northward of the American continent, and a survey of the American continent.


The Large Cent Coin shows with an artist’s portrayal of Dr. Kane and his men on their Arctic exploration in 1853-55.

Large Cent Coin