Corpses, Ships and Captain Scott: Mysteries Entombed in Polar Ice

The Belgica, a Belgium research ship, the first to winter over in the Arctic.

The Belgica, a Belgium research ship, the first to winter over in the Antarctic.

One of the most popular posts on this blog has been the one on the Ice Viking, a 7-foot hero in armor found frozen in an iceberg. Since the Weather Channel continues its procession of unnervingly named winter storms (Boreas? Dion? It’s like contestants on Eurovision…) let us squint through the slits in our  ice goggles at some other cases of Things Frozen in Ice. Some, it will be crystal clear, are more plausible than others.

A female polar bear and two cubs were observed in cold storage, a short time ago, by the crew of the whaler, Lora Hansen, which recently arrived at Seattle. The cubs nestled against the mother, frozen in an iceberg that stood one hundred feet above the water, and the ice was as clear as crystal. How long the animals had been thus entombed is entirely a matter of conjecture. Iowa State Bystander [Des Moines, IA] 30 December 1904: p. 3


Four Men and Woman Shut Fast in a Newfoundland Iceberg.

Captain Hubert Kane, who arrived in this city yesterday from Gloucester, Mass., in the schooner Flirt, of St. Mary’s, N.J., told a very harrowing story. It is to the effect that, while ice-bound in Placentia bay, on the south coast of Newfoundland, on the 4th Instant, he describe what appeared to be a dismantled vessel apparently about two miles off his lee bow. The vessel was also ice-bound. On the following morning he proposed to walk to the vessel, more for the sake of satisfying his curiosity than anything else. The ice was frozen solid, and he experienced no difficulty in obtaining the company of a number of the sailors aboard his schooner. Preparatory to starting the party were provided with axes and other articles necessary on exploring trips. After a tiresome journey, throughout which climbing over and sliding over immense, irregular masses of ice were the noticeable features, the vessel was reached and discovered to be the hull of a large brig careening over on the port side and imbedded solidly in the ice. Of the two masts only jagged stumps remained. On the stern-post was painted “Adelaide Folquet, Dieppe.”

With the aid of the axes, Captain Kane says, the men ascended the starboard side of the vessel, and upon gaining the decks a terrible sight met their gaze. Near the galley door lay the body of a man, face downward, imbedded in the ice so firmly that recognition was impossible until after the corpse had been thoroughly thawed. The steps leading down to the forecastle were completely blocked up by the frozen sea water. The axes were again called into requisition, and the passageway was soon cleared. Below there was a horrifying sight to behold. Diagonally across the floor of the once cosy forecastle another body lay stretched. The appearance of the eyes, mouth and neck gave assurance that decomposition had been arrested in its course by the atmosphere of the improvised ice-box in which it lay. Another corpse was found in the forecastle, with its back nearly upright against and firmly frozen into an old sea chest. The head and face of the corpse also presented the appearance of a skull from which every particle of flesh had faded away, and such it would literally have been, but for the frail and tightly drawn covering of withered skin which concealed the bone.

Both of the bodies found in the forecastle were dug out of their temporary resting place to which they had been tightly froze, and conveyed on deck and laid beside the body found in the galley. The entrance to the cabin was next examined and found almost frozen over except a small aperture through which nothing but darkness was visible. The axes soon removed the icy obstruction, and an entrance into the cabin was affected. An opening was cut through two of the cabin windows, and the light which entered revealed another sickening spectacle, a sadder one by far than the others, for the body of a woman was found lying prostrate in the Captain’s stateroom. A few feet away protruding boots led to the discovery of another body, the upper portion of which was deeply imbedded in the thick ice which covered the cabin floor from the entrance to the opposite side.

All the bodies were arranged on deck as neatly as the circumstances allowed. The interior of the captain’s stateroom contained no ice, and the exploring party found in a locket on the dead woman’s neck the miniature of a handsome man, about 35 years of age, and a pleasing looking woman of 30—evidently the captain and his wife. On the floor of the stateroom was an ebony crucifix, with the figure of the Redeemer in ivory. The stateroom contained two religious pictures, a writing-desk, a medicine chest, two fine trunks, valises and satchels, which the explorers would not touch until the authorities had been consulted. The men gloomily made their fatiguing journey back to Placentia harbor where they laid all the particulars of their saddening adventure before the magistrate, who at once took steps to have the bodies brought ashore, together with the ship’s papers and other effects secured until full identification had been made.

A telegram from St. Pierre announced that the Adelaide Folquet, a French brig, had last been seen when she left that port on November 16th, with a load of codfish, herring and dried capin, bound for the port of Marseilles in France, New York Star. San Francisco [CA] Bulletin 28 January 1879: p. 4

To judge by the language, this seems to be a relatively unembellished report of an actual occurrence (the description of climbing over ice ridges rang particularly true), although the Captain’s name reminded me of Arctic explorer Elisha Kent Kane, [1820-1857] who was said to have married Maggie Fox, one of the Spiritualist mediums of the Rochester Rappings.

I read a version of this next story, perhaps in a Frank Edwards book, in my formative years and it terrified me. Green mold….


One serene evening in the middle of August, 1775, Captain Warrens, the master of the Greenland, a whale ship, found himself becalmed among an immense number of icebergs, in about seventy-seven degs. of north latitude, on one side, and within a mile of his vessel. These were of immense height, and closely wedged together, and a succession of snow-covered peaks appeared behind each other as far as the eye could reach; showing that the ocean was completely blocked up in that quarter, and that it had probably been so for a long period of time. 

Captain Warrens did not feel altogether satisfied with his situation, but there being no wind, he could not move one way or the other, and he therefore kept a strict watch, knowing that he would be safe as long as the icebergs continued in their respective places. About midnight the wind rose to a gale, accompanied by thick showers of snow, while a succession of tremendous thundering, grinding, and crushing noises gave evidence that the ice was in motion. The vessel received violent shocks every second, for the haziness of the atmosphere prevented those on board from discovering in what direction the open water lay, or if there was actually any at all on each side of them. 

The night was spent in tacking as often as any cause of danger happened to present itself, and in the morning the storm abated, and Captain Warrens found, to his great joy, that the ship had not sustained any serious injury. He remarked that the accumulated icebergs which had on the preceding evening formed an impenetrable barrier had been separated by the wind, and that in one place a canal of open sea wound its course among them as far as the eye could discern. It was two miles beyond the entrance of this canal that a ship made its appearance about noon. The sun shone brightly, and a gentle breeze blew from the north. Captain Warrens was struck with the strange manner in which her sails were disposed, and with the dismantled aspect of her rigging. She continued to go before the wind for a few furlongs, and then grounding upon the low icebergs, remained motionless. Captain Warrens immediately leaped into his boat with several seamen, and rowed towards her. 

On approaching he observed that her hull was miserably weather-beaten, and not a soul appeared on deck, which was covered with snow to a considerable depth. He then hailed her crew, but no answer was returned. Previous to stepping on board, an open port-hole near the mam-chains caught his eye; and on looking into it, he perceived a man reclining back in a chair, with writing materials on a table before him; but the feebleness of the light made everything very indistinct before him. The party went upon deck, and having removed the hatch way, descended to the cabin. They first came to the apartment which Captain Warrens viewed through the port-hole. A terror seized him as he entered it–its inmate retained his former position, and seemed to be insensible to strangers. He was found to be a corpse, and a green damp mold had covered his cheeks and forehead, and veiled his open eye-balls. He had a pen in his hand, and a log-book lay before him. The last sentence in its unfinished page ran thus: “Nov. 14th, 1762. We have now been enclosed in the ice seventeen days. The fire went out yesterday, and our master has been trying ever since to kindle it again without success. His wife died this morning. There is no relief.” Captain Warrens and his seamen hurried from the spot without uttering a word. On entering the principal cabin, the first object that attracted their attention was the dead body of a female, reclining on a bed in an attitude of deep interest and attention. Her countenance retained the freshness of life; but a contraction of the limbs showed that her form was inanimate. Seated on the floor was the corpse of an apparently young man, holding a steel in one hand and a flint in the other, as if in the act of striking fire upon some tinder which lay beside him. In the fore-part of the vessel several sailors were found lying dead in their berths, and the body of a boy crouched at the bottom of the gangway stairs. Neither provisions nor fuel could be discovered any where; but Captain Warrens was prevented, by the superstitious prejudices of his seamen, from examining the vessel as minutely as he wished to have done. He therefore carried away the log-book, returned to his own ship, and immediately steered to the southward, impressed with the awful example he had just witnessed of the danger of navigating the Polar seas in high northern latitudes. On returning to England he made various inquiries respecting vessels that had disappeared in an unknown way; and, by comparing the results of those with the information which was afforded by the written documents in his possession, he ascertained the name and history of the imprisoned ship, and of her unfortunate master; and found that she had been frozen thirteen years previous to the time of his discovering her among the ice. The Golden Rule Vol. 10, 1849

Ships locked in ice were an occupational hazard of the northern seas.  Sometimes the crews survived; sometimes they disappeared without a trace. When the ice thawed a ship might drift for years or the ice might carry it into the shipping routes.


A Marine Mystery Locked in the Deadly Grasp of an Iceberg

[San Francisco Examiner.]

It was a fearsome craft, a veritable ancient mariner of a ship that was sighted by Captain Spurring of the British ship Drumcraig, down at the Horn, a few months ago. The story of this weird wanderer of the seas is brought there by Captain Atkinson, who has just arrived by rail to take charge of the British ship Goodrich. He saw Captain Spurring at Queenstown, and had the tale direct from him. Captain Atkinson is well known here to be a truthful man, and one not given to the spinning of baseless yarns. He vouches also for the veracity of Captain Spurring. 

The Drumcraig left here six months ago and had a speedy run as far as Cape Horn. There the usual westerly winds shifted to dead ahead and a sea full of broken ice, many of the bergs being very large, made navigation troublesome and perilous. One stormy morning just at daybreak, when the snow was falling so thickly that it was not possible to see more than a ship’s length ahead, a mountain-like berg drifted past the vessel. It was so near, scarcely a cable’s length away, that but for a slight mishap, which had just made it necessary to heave to the Drumcraig, the vessel would have collided with the berg. As it was the ice mountain came so near that officers and crew all saw the grewsome burden that it bore—a full-rigged bark, with sail all set, frozen into the berg and shrouded in ice from mainmast to copper bottom. 

The berg and its ice-bound prisoner were fully fifteen minutes drifting past the Drumcraig, and during that time all hands were closely studying the weird apparition. The vessel rested high on the berg, ten or twelve feet from the water line, and was buried in the ice as far up as her rail. The ice that was frozen over the vessel appeared to be two or three feet thick on the side next the observers. Captain Spurring thought it could not be more than that, because with his glasses he could easily make out the outlines through the ice, and could see that she was of wood and had a coppered bottom. 

From the dim outlines he guessed that she was a sailing bark of ancient pattern, of about the size and appearance of a New Bedford whaler. But there were left no boats, no davits, and not enough of the rigging to decide the question.  The three masts, the sails, the spars and gear were all shrouded with a thick casing of ice, through which only their dark outlines could be seen. Some of the crew imagined they could see bodies of men in the rigging, but Captain Spurring was doubtful, for his glasses did not increase the resemblance. 

His explanation of the icelocked mystery is that the vessel must have grounded on a projecting edge of the berg, toppled over against the wall and there rested until it was frozen so fast that no movement could dislodge it. Then the ice had gradually grown up around it until its imprisonment was complete. 

The neighborhood was suggestive of danger and the Drumcraig was headed in another direction as quickly as possible and in a few minutes the uncanny phantom had drifted away toward the south-east into the storm that was strengthening its fetters of ice. Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 29 April 1893: p. 14

This is a less lurid version of the story that appeared in a number of papers, many of which said definitely that frozen corpses were seen on the deck and in the rigging. The Drumcraig was involved in its own mystery when it went missing in 1906, and a message in a bottle was found allegedly telling of its fate.

The tragedy of the last expedition of Robert Falcon Scott is too well known to recount here. But those events gave rise to a bizarre Frozen in Ice tale.


Bridgeport, Conn., April 16. “Convinced that the body of Capt. Scott, the English explorer, whose life was lost a year ago returning from the south pole, sits there frozen in the snow in a perfectly healthy condition, I am confident that I can reach him, and restore him to life.

“An expedition will leave San Francisco in August for New Zealand, and from there will commence the journey for the place where Capt. Scott’s body was left by his comrades.”

This was the startling announcement made today by Count August de Castellane Seymore, a Danish nobleman, of a gigantic and almost unheard-of undertaking.

Men of prominence in the financial life of new York City are interested in the undertaking, Count Seymore declares. He is in Bridgeport for a few days attending to the details of the expedition. With the use of the recently invented Eisenberger respirator, the pulmotor, and other scientific appliances, Count Seymore believes he will be able to resuscitate Capt. Scott, despite his condition of a year’s standing. The Washington [DC] Herald 17 April 1913: p. 5

The pulmotor was a device designed to resuscitate victims of gas, suffocation or drowning. It forced air into the lungs until saturation was reached, then sucked it out again and then repeated the process until the lungs began to function on their own. But what sensational news from the Danish Count! Alas, the experts were less sanguine.


In Effort To Revive Scott’s Frozen Body Useless, Say Experts.

Pittsburg, Pen., May 3. The mission of Count August Seymore to the south pole in an effort to revive the frozen body of Captain R.F. Scott is useless, according to statements to-day by Dr. W.H. Ingram, former Professor of Pathology and Bacteriology at West Pennsylvania Medical College, and Dr. J.F. Edwards, of the Department of Health.

“It would be wonderful,” Dr. Ingram said, “if we could do such a thing, but I do not believe experiments justify such an assumption.

“Captain Scott died, according to reports, from exhaustion and insufficient nutrition, caused by the lack of food supplies. His vitality was exhausted when he died, and I do not believe there is the slightest chance of his ever being revived.”

“I would like to gamble,” Dr. Edwards said, “that the Count cannot resuscitate Captain Scott. Man is not a hibernating animal, and Captain Scott was dead before his body was frozen.

“There are animals that can stand great cold, but they are especially prepared for it. Life continues in all these animal during this quiescent period. Captain Scott died, and I do not believe there is the slightest chance of his being resuscitated.” Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 4 May 1913: p. 28

The Count August Schaefeslysky de Mukadel de Castellane Seymour (his name was mangled every which way in the press except on occasions where he was careful to spell it for the reporter.) was reported to be variously French, Danish, Austrian, and German. Tellingly, in some of his later interviews, he claimed to be a great-grandson of the great Baron Munchausen.  He was blessed with the gift of plausibility; he is almost constantly in the papers in the early 1910s with one sensational scheme after another: a hotel where suicides may kill themselves in comfort, his visit to Tibet, his suspended animation serum. [Another post, another day.] As seen above, he was plausible enough to spur learned authorities to comment on his ideas. Predictably, given his history, this tale was just another ploy to extract money or publicity—a tale as fanciful as that of the Ice Viking.

Other bodies found frozen in icebergs? Do not attempt to resuscitate, but send word to Chris Woodyard8 AT

For further reading on historic bodies preserved by ice, see Frozen in Time: Unlocking the Secrets of the Franklin Expedition by John Geiger and Owen Beattie and The Greenland Mummies, by Jens Peder Hart Hansen and Jorgen MedlgaardFor the mysterious Minnesota Iceman, said to have been frozen in an iceberg, see “The Abominable Showman” Ian Simmons, Fortean Times [FT 83] October 1995, pp. 83-87. 

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog, The Victorian Book of the Dead.

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