In February 1914, two men began a perilous 700 mile walk, across the barren ice of the Arctic Ocean from Alaska to Siberia, on a near-impossible rescue mission-to save the crew and passengers of the ship Karluk, which had been crushed and sunk by pack ice. One of the men making this heroic journey was the legendary Robert Bartlett, captain of the Karluk, who, four years earlier, had navigated the Arctic for Robert Peary's disputed North Pole mission. Bartlett's epic 1914 endeavour, which resulted in the rescue of 20 men, women and children (of the 31 originally stranded) proved to be the greatest of his many voyages to the Arctic.
His success was made possible by an intense willingness to learn vital survival skills from the Inuit. And like the Inuit, Bartlett only truly found peace in the frozen, barren limits of the far north. Although Bartlett led a celebrated life, receiving international fame, awards and accolades for his achievements as an explorer, he was an enigmatic hero, despite receiving many fan letters, including one from President Teddy Roosevelt. Bartlett remained a loner who chased away his demons with liquor during his later life in New York City.
Indeed, Bartlett's heroics are so celebrated that the man himself has been obscured by mythology, even as his exploits have been depicted in a recent film about the Karluk tragedy. Based on archival research in three countries, Unchained Man explores the man behind the myth of Robert Bartlett, while celebrating the life of a central figure in international polar exploration and Arctic history.
Maura Hanrahan is a Professor of Humanities at the University of Lethbridge and author of several books, including Tsunami, which tells the story of the 1929 catastrophe that killed numerous people in Newfoundland. The book received the Heritage and History Award and was short-listed for the 2005 Newfoundland and Labrador Book Award for Non-fiction. Another book, Domino: The Eskimo Coast Disaster, tells the story of a devastating hurricane in Labrador in 1885.