Roderich R. Schneider, member of the Lady Franklin Bay Expedition

An Arctic Traveler from Saxony

(German Version – Deutsche Version hier!)
Dorfschellenberg, Roderich Schneider’s birthplace, was once an independent village but is suburban today. On old pictures, you can clearly recognize the church; not far away was the cotton mill Trübenach & Schneider. Roderich (Roderick) R. Schneider, a son of the co-owner, was born on June 29, 1853. He emigrated to America in 1870 for unknown reasons. Presumably, there were no job prospects in his father’s company for him, not being the first-born son.

Dorfschellenberg, birthplace of Roderich Schneider

Unlike many emigrants from Germany, he did not lose contact with family and home. He even visited them in 1873 and 1878. During the second trip, he almost lost his life when the passenger ship Pommerania was rammed by a sailing ship and sank near England. Young Schneider was lucky and survived. Perhaps his sailing experience on merchant ships had helped him to survive.

Members of the expedition, here without Schneider
Members of the expedition, here without Schneider

In the spring of 1879, he returned to the United States and enlisted in military service. It was probably there that he learned about the planned North Pole expedition led by Lieutenant Adolphus W. Greely. Initially, he was not scheduled to take part in the expedition, but due to the desertion of a participant he was finally admitted into the team.

Das Expeditionsschiff Proteus
Proteus – the Greely Expedition’s ship

Schneider was not the only German – six more of the expedition members were born in Germany. This was not unusual at that time. Other American Arctic expeditions, such as those of Charles Francis Hall or George W. De Long, had German-born participants as well. However, it was not their fault that these three specific expeditions ended more or less in disaster.

Roderich Schneider in Fort Conger
The only known photograph of Schneider, here in Fort Conger

The Lady Franklin Bay Expedition under the command of Greely got it particularly bad. Only six of the 25 participants survived. The announced supply ship did not arrive, thus the men in Fort Conger on Northern Ellesmere Island started to travel southward. After a long and hard odyssey of more than 500 km they ended up on inhospitable Pim Island just before the onset of winter.

die Winterhuette in Camp Clay
In the winter hut, Camp Clay on Pim Island

Tragically, they had to find out that the supplies which were deposited here were actually not available in sufficient quantities to survive the winter. Therefore. the food was rationed immediately. They built a makeshift hut and started hunting wildlife to supplement the extremely scarce provisions. Details of their struggle to survive can be read in Leonard F. Guttridge’s book „Ghosts of Cape Sabine“.

Remnants of the  winter hut
Pim Island, remnants of the winter hut

In January 1884, the first crew member passed away. One by one died from hunger and disease during the following weeks. Initially, the bodies were still buried, but later the starving men were not able to do this anymore. The hungry people stole each others‘ food; soon enough they had not much more than leather clothing to eat. Cannibalism occured. One of the participants, Carl Heinrich Buck (Charles B. Henry) from Hannover/Germany, was put to death by execution, pronounced guilty of food theft. A lot of these incidents are not completely clear – neither the US military, as promoter of the expedition, nor the survivors had any interest in shedding light on the whole truth. Until today, many details are till remain in the dark.

Memorial plaque on Pim Island

Rescue crews arrived on Pim Island just days before the otherwise rather certain death of the last expedition members. They found seven survivors still, but one of them died a few days later. Roderich Schneider did not make it. Unfortunately, he died on 18/06/1884, just four days before the arrival of the rescue vessels. His body, placed close to that of Carl Buck, was found only by chance.

Site of the find of the bodies of Buck and Schneider
Place where the bodies of Buck and Schneider were found

Schneider had to leave his violin behind in Fort Conger. It was later brought back to the United States, but its whereabouts remain unknown. His diary was found only by chance, months later, on the banks of the Mississippi, but it was dissected and incomplete. Why had this journal not been properly placed within in the official expedition documents? This was never clarified. At the time, it was said: „Obviously not only bodies but also diaries were stripped.“

Zeitungsmeldung _Fund der Aufzeichnungen
Newspaper report – New York Times, 3/12/1891

On July 19, 1884 – 132 years ago – the rescue ships with the bodily remains enclosed in tanks reached St. John’s in Newfoundland. The dead were brought to the United States. There they were buried according to the wishes of the bereaved. At the request of Roderich Schneider’s parents, his body was transferred to Chemnitz in Germany, where it was buried. Today, there is a memorial stone close to the headstone with the inscription:

Grab Schneiders
Tomb of Roderich Schneider in Chemnitz

„A brave sailor rests in native earth
Here from sever struggle, hardship and discomfort.
The South he saw, where palm trees waft.
He saw the ever ice-covered sea in the North;
Once saved already from going down;
he now became victim to invoked duty.“

posted by Wolfgang Opel

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