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Author: Karen Daly

Publication Year: 2000

Journal Volume: 14

Article Reference: NYIHR-V14-03

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One of the Best and Purest Men - Jerome J. Collins and the Jeannette Tragedy

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One of the Best and Purest Men: Jerome J. Collins and the Jeannette Tragedy BY KAREN DALY among the men who perished on the ill-fated 1881 Arctic expedition of the U.S.S. Jeannette was an Irish-American journalist and scientist, Jerome J. Collins. The Jeannette had sailed from San Francisco on quest for the Northwest Passage, the long-sought sea route across North America joining the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The voyage had been initiated and funded by New York Herald publisher, James Gordon Bennett, Jr., son of the legendary newspaperman. The younger Mr. Bennett hoped to reap reflected glory from discovery of the Passage and, not incidentally, get a thrilling exclusive story that would sell newspapers. The headlines, however, were ultimately tragic: the Jeannette was caught and crushed in the iceand two-thirds of her crew drowned or otherwise died in the Arctic gloom.

As civilian on the voyage, Jerome Collins had the roles of meteorologist and Herald reporter.

He was multi-talented and charming man with restless intellect. Prominent among the nineteenth-century Irish in New York, he founded Illustration: A portrait engraving the military-style Fenian society, Clan na Gael, ing an aptitude for science, he was apprenticed at of Jerome Collins as although his involvement in the Irish nationalist age sixteen to Cork's harbor engineer, Sir John meteorologist for the cause was not revealed in the publicity following Benson. Eventually, young Collins was named U.S.S Jeannette and correspondent his death. assistant engineer of the city, which recognized for the New York This article looks at Collins' personality and his service by inscribing his name on the North Herald. Courtesy final years as revealed though his newspaper Gate Bridge. of U.S. Naval columns and notes recovered from the Arctic.Needing greater opportunity, however, Historical Center.

Additional sources include the New York Herald's Collins soon moved on. He went to England in extensive coverage of the Jeannette tragedy, and 1864 where he took employment as a railroad Roundtable member Karen Daly decided to the transcripts of subsequent U.S. Navy and surveyor in the Midlands. Arriving in New York learn more about Jerome Congressional investigations of that unfortunate in 1866, he worked initially for a railroad compa-Collins after finding an occurrence. ny, but soon switched to civil-engineering jobs article about him in the library of the American that primarily dealt with reclaiming marshlands Irish Historical Society. A COLLINS' EARLY LIFE in New Jersey and New York. For a time he native New Yorker, she is a Jerome Collins was born in 1841 in served as Street Commissioner for Hudson City, book editor and reviewer.

Dunmanway, County Cork, where his father was New Jersey. a merchant and member of the town council. In the 1860s Collins joined the Fenian © 2000. Published with permission of Karen Daly Educated by the Fathers of St. Vincent and show-Brotherhood in New York, where he found that Vol.14, 2000 PAGE 24 NEW YORK 1R15H HISTORY groups within the organization were fighting each Congress in Paris in 1878. While there, he toured other instead of concentrating efforts on their above the city in a helium balloon and was lavcommon cause. As an engineer, he believed that a ishly entertained by his hosts. revolutionary movement should be organized on more precise and SPONSORSHP OF THE JEANNETTE EXPEDITION focused basis, declar-James Gordon Bennett, Jr., was not averse to New York Herald ing that a debating paying for headline-making exploits. It was July 9, 1879 society would never Bennett who dispatched Henry Stanley to free Ireland. In June Africa in search of the missing explorer, David 1867, representatives Livingston. Bennett, who had a lifelong interest of several Fenian in naval affairs and exploration, had sponsored OFT groups met in a one unsuccessful Arctic expedition in 1875. house on Hester Bennet's investment in the Jeannette expedition of the Steamer Street in Manhattan would prove his last major effort to manufacto plot the kidnapture and pay for news. He had lobbied Congress from San ping of a British to authorize the detailing of naval officers under prince. a veteran arctic explorer, Lt. George Washington CALIFORNIA'S HEARTY 800 BY." The meeting De Long. With De Long's guidance, he purresulted not in the chased a bark-rigged steamer yacht that had kidnapping but, due been a gunboat in the Royal Navy. Renamed in large measure to Jeannette, she was outfitted at a Navy yard in Ten Thousand People Cheer the influence of San Francisco for her arctic voyage. the Gallant Explorers Collins, in forma-Jerome Collins fit mostbut not all-of De tion of the oath-Long's requirements for the crew: the men were bound revolutionary to be strong, healthy, cheerful, literate, and THROUGH THE GOLDEN GATE organization, Clan unmarried. However, De Long wanted na Gael (Family of Norwegians, Swedes, and Danes. He gave specifthe Irish). Collins ic orders against signing Irish, Scots, and English of the Officers and en 'of the found ready recruits crew members. But, because of his direct American | Expeditic Burned reader organiappointment from James Gordon Bennett, zation from Irish Collins joined the Jeannette's company and was workers in the soon bound for the Arctic. marshlands and, under the leadership of John At time of sailing, Collins was thirty-eight Devoy, Clan na Gael became the most significant years old, unmarried, tall and physically impos-Irish nationalist organization in America. Devoy ing and described by colleagues as being deterdescribed Collins as "one of the best and purest mined and self-possessed. In addition to science Illustrations: men ever knew...and no Irishman of his time and writing, his talents and proclivities included Departure of the had finer intellect." sketching, music, and singing. On the voyage, he Jeannette from often sang the libretto from Gilbert & Sullivan's San Francisco in July, 1879 was THE NEW YORK HERALD H.M.S. Pinafore, which had opened in London reported in detail Collins began writing about science for the press, the previous year. His jovial personality and freby the Herald in especially on meteorology and weather. In 1875, quent punning would sometimes annoy shipits pages. Courtesy of Karen Daly. after joining the New York Herald as "Clerk of the mates, especially when the Jeannette was locked Weather," he pioneered in sending storm predicin ice. Throughout the expedition, it was undertions to Europe. Though his work was based on stood that Collins and two other civilians on the careful study of storm patterns, many European expedition (a surgeon and a naturalist) would be readers who curiously blamed him for causing subject to naval laws and discipline. Each of the storms did not welcome his warnings. He three would have the status of a crew member or achieved a measure of respect when he was invit- "man before the mast.' ed to present a paper at the Meteorological Vol.14, 2000 NEW YORK 1R1SH HISTORY PAGE 25 IN•THE PACIFIC NAta 10M A91 Ed canes. Jeahnette from Oonalaska. c TEN THOUSAND PEOPLE CHEER THE GALLANT civilians on the voyage mere accessories. The ER. EXPLORERS second-in-command, chief engineer George W. The Herald relentlessly covered every aspect of the Melville, might have harbored a dislike for Jeannette's voyage, trumpeting her departure from newspapermen that dated to his Civil War expe-San Francisco on July 9, 1879. In his first dispatch riences. Both officers were said to resent outfrom sea, Collins describes his thrill at seeing siders participating in what was destined to be a "masses of citizens cheering, ten-gun salutes" and matter of glory to the U.S. Navy. tenderly captures the captain and his wife in a public good-bye kiss. Collins' characteristic humor THE VOYAGE AND THE ICE comes through in some coy comments about sea-Initially the voyage of the Jeannette proceeded sickness, he being the most seriously affected. Of without incident. The crew adapted to its routine the Chinese cook, Ah Sam, he declares that his as and to each other as she headed north. The ship "conceptions are often superb in theory, but the had orders to patrol the Siberian coast for a missvery opposite in practice." Collin good-naturedly 5.8 Swedish vessel, the Vega. Later, a Navy inquiry showed Ah Sam how to make coffee, but reports would cite this delay, as well as her departure relathat the man goes back to his "abominations." tively late in the season, for her misfortune.

Collins' writing displays grace in describing In early September 1879, two months into an ocean swell looking like "slowly agitated blue her voyage, the Jeannette got caught in pack ice. dense and sluggish were its rollings." to Unable to follow her own course for the next His practical and scientific perspectives are twenty-one months, she drifted helplessly northwest displayed in assessing the Jeannette's engine capacity until she was stuck on the ice in the Arctic Ocean. and propeller function. He brags about the quali-While in the ice, De Long maintained discipline ty of her spars and rigging and of the meticulous through strict routine and order. Aside from their preparation for the voyage. In describing his small duties maintaining the ship, the men hunted, exerbunk, where he keeps an armory that included a cised on the ice, played cards, read, and attended a double-barreled shotgun, rifles and revolvers, he weekly "Divine Service" conducted by the captain. notes eerily that, if compelled "to abandon our The scientific work in which Collins was involved ship and take to dwelling on the ice, will regret continued: meteorological and astronomical obserthe comforts of this little 'dungeon." And he has vations were made; natural specimens were taken; the highest regard for his thirty-two comrades, ice characteristics were studied. the officers and men of the Jeannette. However, Collins' relationships with the cap-Unfortunately, Collins' easy association tain and the chief engineer deteriorated while the with the Jeannette officers would be short-lived. Jeannette was ice-bound. He and the captain Even before departure, De Long fomented tenwaged a war of nerves and slights. De Long sion in a press interview when he called the charged him with ignoring authority and, in Vol.14, 2000 PAGE 26 NEW YORK 1R15H HISTORY December 1880, he officially relieved Collins of generous effort to cheer the men. Some lines duty for disrespecting orders. Collins, in turn, from Collins' prologue illustrate the point: claimed that DeLong prevented him from making And though our efforts here may meteorological observations and tampered with fail to reach his papers. Some speculate that this rivalry The heights of comedy, yet they stemmed from the fact that each man planned to will teach write a book about the expedition. In fact, De Our audience that the bound Long's diary, edited and published posthumously Jeannette's good crew Illustration: The breakup by his wife, was a major source of public knowl-For Arctic dangers and the floe's and sinking of edge about what transpired on the Jeannette. worst jam the Jeannette in Adding to the difficulties was the attitude of chief Don't care a single continental damn.

June, 1881 as rendered in an engineer Melville, who was particularly belligerent engraving of the toward Collins. Melville constantly insulted him THE JEANNETTE SINKS period. The ship with "Irish" remarks, making his life even more On June 12, 1881, pressure from the ice finally and its crew difficult. If there is a particular incident, or exactbegan to crush the Jeannette. Her crew unloaded were held by pack ice in the source of Melville's antipathy, it is not apparent Inprovisions and equipment onto the ice pack. As Arctic Sea for the records of the Jeannette expedition.the ship broke up and began to sink, the men almost two At the end of 1880, despite the tension of began trek hauling boats and supplies toward years. Courtesy of Karen Daly. nearly fifteen months of captivity in the ice, the Siberia. They reached some unpopulated islands, crew observed the holidays with a Christmas naming one Bennett Island. In early September, entertainment. Declaring a need for fun, Collins the crew divided into three small boats and set out created a lengthy tribute in light verse for every on the Arctic Sea in hope of reaching the Siberian sailor except, of course, the officers. He praised coast. One boat capsized immediately and sank in their skills lavishly, engaged in good-natured teasa violent storm. In one of the last notes that ing, and strained to rhyme proper names. The Collins left, he describes the growing desperation poem may be seen as a sign of bravado, hope, of the crew following the storm and its effects: perhaps naivetebut it unquestionably was a hope never to know a similar case of utter misery.

Vol.14, 2000 NEW YORK 1R1SH HISTORY PAGE 27 Wet by every sea, trembling with cold, hopeless except in the mercy of Almighty God, we sat February 24, 1884 jammed together for nearly 72 hours. I make no attempt to describe what we experienced....' Lord: 'he believeth In me, thom/b he ! the de Tot abalt be 11 No, ". Sue Bishop began, aDd al• organ ailed the eburch with ite pole mu De Long and Melville commanded the lones.

AT REST AT LAST. ENTOVERED IN, PinWHEN, surviving boats. Collins was in De Long's party.

The cartels were placod upon catafalques : Sly cd' D: BalD E potted I he el , laf: chancel redline.

Separated in the gale, the boats landed widely apart Final Honors Over the Remains 8f or Merits scareds amal a ora co in d outil n - Runk," on a Siberian delta. The Melville party reached a A * A co Co Be buried si verts.u1 covered the bo the Heroes of the Arctic. the native settlement. De Long's party landed at an UreD casket wrapped about the 2 A Realm Whole front of thorn mega y, platonn 0 Bell, Sr. uninhabited place, though a settlement was some IMPRESSIVE OBSEQUIES IN THrO CHURCHES. At. or » pmalm the eboir nag "IST WI.I to doño.* suit tue whole savorblage wan deeply moved . twenty-five miles away. Collins wrote: "When we Ho MADe Ep S O Sand bow on her arm.

DISHOP POTTER'S PANZOTBIC. sighted the low coast...we were five nights and six De Long and Six of His Comrades Laid Biabp I. C. Potter preschet the tuneral sermon.

Mrs. De Long's bead was aliehtly bowed durinu days in the boat, cold and wet. Even now a new Side by Side a Woodla wa.most of the time the Bishop apoke,Mel vilia, Dadenlower, Noros, Mindewau*' and Charlos rung ding listeued Intently to the orde of eulogy trial of endurance had to be met..."* sud of sorrow spokon over their dead comrades.

The Bishop said: The new trial was that the men had to wade BEQUIEM MASS FOR JEROME COLLINS. To one who passed through the streets yesterdas there unust bave come emotions strange and an• Camiller. On the ops side he saw bapuers unfaried to the breeze, orderly people moving to ad tro in a mile and half in the cold shallow water to reach holiday Attire the evidences ofgreat Solemn Services at the Cathedral. -A Monk's nation': poacetal prosperity and cladovss.

And then, ever and anoD. one caught land. By then the crew was continually wet, frost-Pervent Enlogium, the sound of • muMed drum to taneral notes of an anthew of mourning. One Asw & loug bitten, and exhaustedand although they still procession with reversed arias, with draped colom, and these caskets bearing their meted dust to ite last sorting, place. How Incongruous at arse tho had food they were failing badly. By the end of " A MARTYR OF SCIENCE," two moworials seemed--the quewory of that great lifo, so serene and so majestic, aud in the beginsing sod end of it so triumphant, and these beroes September, however, the food was gone. Unable or another generation, bora pot to sacores bus t failuro, cOmION home tho, the valphin. ofbehind to catch fish or hunt, they began to dream about Bishop Potter's Eisquent Tribute - Farewell Saintes Over old 00 weir own abielda, a Sony record of sorrow sud di. inc Explorers* Graves food They also began show more extreme effects one paused end questioned Dimwolf and ' them aster sud Jostu? And yet 107 brethren. a co I til o tethe murtaco L was consolous that at thelr of the Arctic cold: in Collins' note of September Covered with honor with • pall, Lieutenant, 30, 1881, he records simply: " Erichsen's (a resentiai sad br Lon; " E CODe Commander De Long and nix of bia dead comrados parable military leadert we recalled MimCabinet, so wise, so self-oglalued, so Judicious were Into their graves yesterday, and so farsueing: we road his inre well address, sud; that remains of thow on earth we their herole sailor) toes cut off from both feet." u those mateuless words dehved ta our care we AINT. e, 1 bo last by wu has been rung and the last thanked God for such spesoh and for such loader abip. salute Bred. From the thrilllug requiem rites of De Long sent his two strongest men, LINE WARRINGTON. gross cathedral' the body of Jerome d Collids Bus I think It you remensters Hete foriber, rate fo.lowed to she ship which will aske-ee-voila bewhich made us spout proud sud woot thankful v Swedish sailors, to look for help. Bidding them that this grout sullitary-boro, this superiatve -"lewd-brenns; #beret reat statesman, this father of Die country, was noblend unit, mense;rOwn gravegarl, overlooking and mope bonorable sud most beloveu pot • goodbye, Collins reportedly said "Remember me tranquil waters of the River Too. Firetuad Boshe much for what be said or for what ho did an for burly mitil awaits removal to Philadelphia, the bomne what he wan. We went back in thought : we Jooked at Cho pasmum pageant thad when you get to New York." The men reached a of bit venerable mother. Surgeon Ambler in on bis bore thome our brother .4 their rontinie,Deal journey to his natiro State, Virginia. place, wad we remember that winter • settlement, but they were too exhausted to guide Vallry Borge, whore thu great horo and soldier ne Po ends the sad but noble story of the voyagg, Cousy held bin shattered army, but by what be war the Loving hearsa have throbbedthe catup sud of bis koces gave the; that coupl a rescue party back to De Long. Melville searched matacho ride wad grief for the dond and loh. 1.6 whicu undures. And • Bye ail -peak enfort to the boviasi. for DeLong's party.

But by the end of October 1881 (two weeks after Jerome Collins' fortieth birthday), when Melville found them, the remaining members of NEW YORK HONORS the De Long party were dead from exposure and After Melville found the deceased members of starvation. DeLong's diary reported that they sufthe DeLong party in 1881, he left them in place fered intensely, but faced death with calm. and returned to the United States. In 1883, fol-Illustration: On Melville recovered the Jeannettes official log lowing Navy orders, he went back to Siberia to February 24, 1884 and other records. Jerome Collins' notes were retrieve the remains. Traveling through Russia the Herald found, but his larger diary, never located, was aand Germany, and sailing to New York, he did published one of its last articles on subject of dispute. Melville even attempted to not return to the United States until early in memorial services find the remains of Jeannette's third boat that 1884. Just as the The Herald reported on the for the crew of the had disappeared in the storm. The Navy would Jeannette's departure, it gave intense coverage to Jeannette, reporting honor Melville for his courage. In 1882, the the funerals that followed It reported the pomp that the body of Jerome Collins Navy convened an investigation into the disasand pageantry, the crowds, the displays of would be buried in ter and ordered the Jeannette's dead to be mourning along the route, and the floral Ireland. Courtesy of retrieved, once again giving the Herald occasion arrangements. Karen Daly. for dramatic headlines as it covered the trans-A public memorial in New York City for the port back to New York. Jeannette victims was held on Washington's Vol.14, 2000 PAGE 28 NEW YORK 1R15H HISTORY Birthday, 1884. With thousands of New Yorkers JEANNETTE INQUIRIES in attendance, the remains of the Jeannette dead The Navy Court of Inquiry that was to investigate were given a heroes' procession up Broadway, the Jeannette tragedy had convened in 1882. It from the Battery past City Hall and over the reviewed survivors' testimony, the captain's log-Brooklyn Bridge to the Navy Yard. The paper book, the Jeannette's records and transmissions, reported that a "frightful human crush at the including DeLong's complaints about Jerome Bridge" was kept in check only by the "Savoir Collins. The Navy Court found that the Jeannette faire" of the municipal police. suffered a series of misfortunes in timing and The Jeannette survivors, including Melville, inadequate speed. Outraged that Navy proceedmarched in the procession, which was accompaings in the 1882 inquiry portrayed his brother as nied by the Marine Band and an artillery continuncooperative, and seeking the truth about his gent. In honor of Jerome Collins, also marching clash with the officers, Dr. Daniel Collins, acting were the Sixty-Ninth Regiment (where he had through his Minnesota Congressman, forced a been a captain), the New York Herald Club, and hearing in the House of Representatives in April, hundreds of members of the Ancient Order of 1884 to clear Collins' name and to pinpoint Hibernians. The procession was viewed by govresponsibility for the disaster. The hearing lasted a ernment officials including New York Mayor few weeks, and advocates for Collins and for the Franklin Edson, Brooklyn Mayor Seth Low, the Navy questioned witnesses but no judgment or Secretary of the Navy, U.S. Senator, the Russian finding was ever rendered.

Consul, and Secretary of War Robert Lincoln. De The Jeannette story receded from the front Long's funeral was at Trinity Church, and his pages of newspapers, as other explorers sought burial was at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. Arctic glory.

COLLINS' FUNERAL Jerome Collins' two brothers, Daniel, a physician For Further Reading who graduated from Bellevue Medical College, and Bernard, who followed him on the Herald's Dictionary of American Fighting Ships. v. III. weather desk, remained with his body during the Washington, D.C.: Department of the Navy, 1968. New York ceremonies. Angered by reports of Golway, Terry. John Devoy and Americas Fight for Irish Collin' mistreatment by DeLong and Melville, Freedom (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998). This they removed the letters "U.S.N." from his coffin biography provides an excellent narrative on Clan na plate. (John Devoy heard similar stories from John Gael politics, and Jerome Collins is discussed briefly in P. Jackson, a Herald correspondent who had gone chapter six. Devoy's description of Collins used in this with Melville to retrieve the bodies from Siberia.) article is taken from an undated edition of the Dublin Collins' funeral mass at St. Patrick's Independent.

Cathedral on Fifth Avenue was major event for Irish New York. Eulogized by his confessor as a Jeannette Inquiry Before the Committee on Naval Affairs "Martyr of Science," his coffin bore the Sixtyof the United States House of Representatives. Forty-Ninth Regiment's "Irish flag of Irish silk" and a eighth Congress. Washington, D.C.: Government floral arrangement portraying the Jeannette sink-Printing Office, 1884. ing in the ice. Pallbearers included John Devoy, New York Herald, 1879-1884 (especially July 9, 1879; former Mayor William Grace, Herald colleagues, August 25, 1879; Sept. 14, 1879; May 5, 1882; May 7, and other Irish Americans. His employer James 1882; Feb.22, 1884). Gordon Bennett, in whose service he had died, Navy Department. Proceedings of a Court of Inquiry on was not in attendance. Collins' body was returned Loss of the Steamer Jeannette (Washington, D.C.: to Ireland. Following a massive funeral in Cork, Government Printing Office, 1882). he was buried alongside family members in a graveyard near the village of Curraghkippane.

Vol.14, 2000