05 February, 2009
Captain Robert Abram Bartlett was a Newfoundland navigator and Arctic explorer of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Born in Brigus, Newfoundland, Bartlett was the eldest of ten children born to William James Bartlett and Mary J. Leamon, and heir to a family tradition of seafaring. By the age of 17, he mastered his first ship and began a life-long love affair with the Arctic. Bartlett spent more than 50 years mapping and exploring the waters of the Far North and led over 40 expeditions to the Arctic, more than anyone before or since.
Bartlett was captain of the Roosevelt and accompanied Commander Robert Peary on his attempts to reach the North Pole. He was awarded the Hubbard Medal of the National Geographic Society for breaking the trail through the frozen Arctic Sea to within 130 miles of the pole, yet was excluded from the final exploring party (possibly due to a rivalry between the two men). Bartlett took a ship and was the first person to sail north of 88° N.
In 1914, Bartlett’s leadership in the doomed Karluk Expedition helped save the lives of most of its stranded participants after leader Vilhjalmur Stefansson abandoned the expedition. After being stranded on Wrangel Island for several months, Bartlett walked 700 miles over the ice of the Chukchi Sea and across Siberia and then mounted an expedition from Alaska to rescue his surviving companions from Wrangel Island. He received the highest award from the Royal Geographical Society for his outstanding heroism.
In 1917, Bartlett rescued the members of Donald Baxter MacMillan's ill-fated Crocker Land Expedition, who had been stuck on the ice for four years.
From 1925-1945, at the command of his own schooner, the Effie M. Morrissey, Bartlett led many important scientific expeditions to the Arctic sponsored by American museums, the Explorers Club and the National Geographic Society, and he also helped to survey the Arctic for the United States Government during World War II.
Bartlett died in a New York hospital from pneumonia and was buried in his hometown of Brigus, Newfoundland and Labrador. Hawthorne Cottage, Bartlett's place of residence in Brigus, is a National Historic Site. Author Eric Walters documented some of the aspects of his journey to find Arctic islands in the historical-fiction novel, "Trapped in Ice".