VLADIMIR  VOJIR                       





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treatment for TV documentary series: 20 x 26 min.


co-production: Czech Television (CZ) - Optomen Television (UK) - CBS (CA) - White Pine Productions Ltd. (CA)

published: Czech Geographic Magazine - KOKTEJL (2001, April)

© Vladimir Vojir 1999 - 2000 (not been realised)

(1881 - 1884)


Canadian Arctic: Ellesmere Island , Grinnell Peninsula, Cape Sabine, Pim Island, West Greenland


When the International Polar Conference decided in 1879 to establish permanent observation stations in the Arctic, the United States promised to set up two - in Alaska and at Grinnell Peninsula. Lt A. W. Greely was commissioned to build the second one. Congress was not exactly enthused by the whole plan and allocated very small amount for it. This sending out an inadequately equipped and polar experience lacking expedition would lead to one of the most terrible catastrophes in the history of the Arctic...

members of the Greely expedition to Grinnellovu country

In 1881, Greely’s expedition set off to the North on a chartered steamer Proteus. Along the way it visited some encampments of previous expeditions, replenished provisions from storehouses, collected documents from stone barrows and deposited there its own reports.

construction polar station on Grinnellově country (1881)

The expedition reached its determined place in Lady Franklin Bay. Here it built wooden barracks of the world’s northernmost polar station called Fort Conger.

warehouse Greely expedition, in the background Island (1881)

Proteus set sail home to return next year with new provisions and fresh crew. With the spring, members of the expedition started series of exploration and hunting trips around the station and made scientific observations.

Long a Jens zabíjejí medvěda (1881)

They looked forward to Proteus arrival and their return home. But the ship did not come. At the end of summer, Greely saw that it would be necessary to winter with dwindling supplies in rough Arctic. He tried to maintain the strict military discipline and yet there were more and more violent arguments among embittered crew and his orders were not kept. The second winter they survived in this atmosphere but when the steamer had not come next summer, they could not stay at the station any longer.

Greely tried to move south on an old steam barge that had been left here by Hall´s expedition. Fifteen days later it was squeezed by ice. Greely had to leave the ship and find refuge on Grinnell Peninsula where he hoped to find supplies. The storehouse was empty and the message left there informed them that Proteus had been crushed by ice. Some chance ship had rescued its crew but it forgot to inform of Greely´s expedition, which was thus left alone and forgotten…


As late as in 1884, the whaling ship Thetis found remains of their camp and several wild, half-mad men in it. One had amputated legs and unburied dead bodies with chunks of meat cut out lay around. The whole picture of the tragedy was gradually uncovered – food pilferage, mutiny, executions, murders and shocking cannibalism. Only 6 men survived. But Greely lived long and died as a general.


Fort Conger (1987)

  • Greely, A.W. Three Years of Arctic Service. The Lady Franklin

  •  Bay Expedition. New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1886.

  • Lanman Charles: Farthest North; or, the Life and Explorations of Lieutenant James Booth Lockwood, of the Greely Arctic Expedition (New York, 1885)

  • Mowat Farley, Polar Passion (1967)

  • Schley, Winfield S.:Report of Winfield S. Schley commanding Greely Relief Expedition of 1884 (Washington 1887)

  • Werstein Irving: Man against the elements : Adolphus W. Greely (New York 1960)

  • Arlington National Cemetery, Washington (hrob)


Vladimir Vojir´s text corrected by Optomen Television (UK)

In programme Lieutenant Greely’s Tragic Expedition, we relive a terrible story of mutiny, murder and cannibalism. In 1879, the American lieutenant Greely was commissioned to set up one of the first permanent scientific observation stations in the Arctic. The crew of this noble expedition triumphantly reached the farthest ever point north - beating the British record – and the crew began their task in high spirits. They expected to return home a year later, but the relief ship never came. After two long winters the crew became hostile and mutinous, and eventually abandoned camp and headed south. Months later, rescuers found only seven half mad men, surrounded by amputated limbs and exposed bodies. Greely survived, and on his return denied the rescuer’s reports of cannibalism. We retrace Greely’s steps, to uncover the long abandoned research and the truth behind this controversy.

In1879, the International Polar Conference decided to establish the first permanent scientific observation stations in the Arctic. A man named Lieutenant Greely was commissioned to set up one of these, and in 1881 he set out to the North with 25 sailors. Three years later, there were only seven men left alive – Greely among them. According to the rescuers that found the men, they’d resorted to mutiny, murder, and a diet of shoe leather and human flesh. What could have led to this tragic ending?

The truth it seems is that the US Congress paid little attention to the expedition, thinking it was of little significance or interest. It was poorly funded, inadequately equipped and the sailors had little or no polar experience. However, even with these setbacks, they succeeded in breaking the British record for reaching the farthest point north towards the North Pole. This was a glorious triumph for America, but the sequence of disastrous events that followed over-shadowed the expeditions success...

When the expedition reached Lady Franklin Bay, the intended site for the scientific base, the crew built wooden barracks and began their tasks of exploring, hunting and carrying out scientific investigations. The ship Proteus set sail home, and was supposed to return the following year with a replacement crew and provisions. But the ship never came.

As the second freezing arctic winter descended, the men had to struggle through with dwindling supplies, and the atmosphere became extremely unpleasant. The leaders of the group were barely on speaking terms, and all sense of order and responsibility was lost. In desperation, the crew abandoned their research and headed south in five boats with only 40 days rations. Greely’s indecision and the crew’s mutinous plots hastened their inevitable fate. They eventually became trapped on Cape Sabine, unable to travel any further south, and waited there for eight months. One by one, men began to die and the rescuers that eventually arrived found only seven remaining. They were half mad, and surrounded by amputated legs and exposed, cannibalised bodies.

The survivors returned to a hero’s welcome, and gave sworn affidavits that they had not practised cannibalism. Whether the truth was distorted due to sensational publicity, or whether these men really did resort to such depravity is still in debate today. In a new polar expedition to retrace Greely’s steps, from the abandoned scientific base where two years’ research is still waiting to be uncovered to the final site where many lives ended, researchers hope to bring this little known story to life.

The narrative of this new expedition, along with interviews with relatives of the survivors, readings from the crew’s preserved diaries, and discussions with experts such as author Leonard Guttridge, will undoubtedly provide a gripping insight into one of the most terrifying expeditions in Arctic history.

Vladimir Vojir

Adolphus Washington Greely
(1844 - 1935)

Greely as Lieutenant in U.S. Army

unloading material from the ship Proteus

polar observation station Fort Conger

Greelyho místnost na základně Fort Conger

Greelyho místnost na základně Fort Conger

the farthest north position reached

 expedition - Sgt.Brainard and Lt. Lockwood (1882)

zásobovací loď Proteus (1883)

Frederic zahřívá seržanta Rice
do jeho smrti vyhladověním

příď záchranné lodě Thetis (1884)


zborcený stan, kde záchranáři z lodi Thetis našli zbytky Greelyho expedice

exhausted members of the expedition are carrying to the rescue ship Thetis

přeživší na lodi Thetis
Greely první zprava vpředu (1884)


only these six men have survived
the dread (1884)

the cairn of Lockwood and Brainard as discovered by the Peary Expedition (1909)

Prague, 1999 - 2000

translation: Dr. Pavel Kriz and Optomen Television

© Vladimir Vojir 1999 - 2000