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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)

© Vladimir Vojir 1999 - 2000 (not been realised)

(1850 - 1855)


Canadian Arctic

(Americans, Canadians - Eskimos)


Elisha Kent Kane passed a relatively unremarkable childhood. A first-born child, his family moved several times as it grew, within the precincts of Philadelphia, finally moving to an estate named Rensselaer. According to his contemporaneous biographer, William Elder, Kane was an average student, who was accepted at the University of Virginia. In his second year of college he contracted rheumatic fever. This event, more than any other was to configure the rest of his life.

The first outcome of his illness was his attraction to the world of medicine. Upon his graduation from the University of Virginia, Kane began the study of medicine in Philadelphia. By twenty-two, he had published a study of early pregnancy detection in the American Journal of Medical Sciences. More profound than this was the effect of the resulting terminal endocarditic on his world view. In the present time, of course, the existence of antibiotics would make short work of a chronic infection of the cardiac lining. In the early 19th century, however, it was a death sentence. Perhaps a couple of years would pass, perhaps a few decades, but the sentence was final.

Kane set out with a vengeance to live a life that would be remembered. Joining the U.S. Navy, he set out to discover the world. Finding himself in the South Pacific, he descended into the crater of an active volcano to retrieve water samples, much to the dismay of his companions, who fled the scene in mortal fear. Travelling to China, he practiced medicine on a hospital ship for several months before setting off to the west through India and Egypt, Athens and Paris.

Two more tours of stultifying naval duty sent him to the White House to beg for a more exciting tour of duty. President Polk assigned him to an extremely dangerous mission: carry a message to the commander of American forces in Mexico during the Mexican-American War. After saving a Mexican general from being murdered by the mercenaries hired to escort him to Mexico City, Kane emerged as an important figure at the international level.

Once again bored by navy duty, he wrote the Secretary of War, proposing a mission to the Arctic to rescue a missing British explorer, Sir John Franklin. Two weeks later began the most incredible chapters in this man's life, as he set off to Baffin Bay, between Canada and Greenland. Three out of the next five years were spent locked in pack ice, under unendurable conditions. After the incredible feat of leading eighteen of his twenty men to safety on foot, Kane wrote the largest selling book in American history about his adventures.

Although largely forgotten today, Elisha Kent Kane was a hugely popular figure in the latter half of the nineteenth century. It has been said that, if homesteaders heading west across the United States' frontier carried two books, one was certainly by Dr. Kane; the other was probably a Bible.

the ship Rescue stuck in the ice
during the first Kane's expedition

Kane in the under-deck of Advance

...near the cape Cornelius

A polar bear attacking to food
supplies of Kane's expedition

His rescue missions to the Arctic were widely regarded as suicidal. Inasmuch as his missions were validated by the scientific goal of the discovery of the Open Polar Sea (a popular theory among scientists of the era,) his was a scientific as well as a cultural mandate. His published accounts held a nation spellbound. The efforts connected with the writing of the account of his second mission (abetted by the "dragon within" of his chronic endocarditic) eventually killed him.

Upon his death in Havana at the age of thirty-seven, the Governor of Cuba personally escorted the cortege as far as New Orleans. From New Orleans to Cincinnati, the banks of Mississippi were lined with mourners, and the train trip from Cincinnati to Philadelphia took nearly four days because of the throngs on the tracks. His funeral was the largest in American history, eclipsed only by Lincoln's a decade later. Culturally, Kane was the embodiment of Patricia Limerick's "sustainable American hero", representing the ascent of American Science and Technology to the stature of the European Renaissance and Enlightenment movements of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.


  • Corner George Washington: Doctor Kane of the Arctic Seas (Philadelphia 1972)

  • Elder William: Biography of Elisha Kent Kane (Philadelphia 1858)

  • Hans Hendrik: Memoirs of Hans Hendrik, the Arctic traveller, serving under Kane, Hayes, Hall and Nares, 1853-1876, (London 1878)

  • Kane Elisha Kent: Arctic Explorations: the Second Grinnell Expedition, (Philadelphia, 1856-57)

  • Kane Elisha Kent: The U. S. Grinnell Expedition in Search of Sir John Franklin, (New York, 1854)

  • Mirsky Jeannette: Elisha Kent Kane and the seafaring frontier, (Boston 1954)

  • Mowat F.: Polar Passion, (1967)
    Smucker Samuel M.: The life of Dr. Elisha Kent Kane and of other distinguished American explorers, Philadelphia (1858)

  • Elisha Kent Kane Historical Society

Dr.Elisha Kent Kane
(1820 - 1857)

Dr.Elisha Kent Kane
(1820 - 1857)

briga Advance mezi ledovými stěnami

romantický dobrodruh Kane
zemřel ve věku 37 let


Prague, 1999 - 2000

translation: Dr. Pavel Kriz

© Vladimir Vojir 1999 - 2000