Bessels, Emil

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BESSELS, EMIL (1847–1888), German physician, Arctic explorer and naturalist. After his graduation from the University of Heidelberg in 1865, Bessels was appointed custodian of the Stuttgart Museum of Natural Science. In 1869 he was a member of a German Arctic expedition which studied the influence of the Gulf Stream on areas east of Spitzbergen. Bessels served as a surgeon in the German army in 1870. The following year Bessels sailed on the U.S. vessel Polaris as surgeon and naturalist with Captain Charles Francis Hall's expedition to the North Pole. Hall died unexpectedly in 1871 at Thank God Harbor, Greenland, after the Polaris had traveled farther north than any other ship. In the following year, the Polaris was caught in the polar ice and wrecked near Littleton Island. Nineteen members of the expedition, including Bessels, became separated from the rest of the crew and floated 1,300 miles on an ice-floe to the Bay of Melville off the Labrador coast, before they were rescued by a sealer. On his return to the U.S. in 1873, Bessels was accused by one of the crew of murdering Hall by administering morphine. An inquiry conducted by the surgeon-generals of the U.S. Army and Navy ruled that Hall had died of apoplexy and that Bessels was innocent. Subsequently, Bessels prepared the scientific results of this Arctic expedition (1876), wrote on natural history for scientific journals, and edited reports of the United States Naval Institute. Bessels was a member of an ethnological expedition which sailed on the steamship Saranac to the northwest coast of America. The vessel was wrecked in Seymour Narrows, British Columbia. Bessels died in Stuttgart.


C.H. David, Narrative of the North Polar Expedition, U.S. Ship Polaris, Capt. Charles Francis Hall Commanding (1876); J. Mirsky, To The North (1934).