A 1.5-inch silver medal congressionally authorized
to Herbert W. Leach, a survivor of the ill-fated
Jeannette Arctic Expedition of 1879, is being
offered in James D.
Julia Inc.’s Feb. 4 to 6 sale.
The medal depicts on its obverse an Arctic scene with men on shore
and an ice-crushed ship in the distance. On the reverse, inscribed
around the top border, is JEANNETTE ARCTIC EXPEDITION 1879-1882.
Below is inscribed TO / HERBERT W.LEACH. / IN COMMEMORATION OF
PERILS / ENCOUNTERED AND AS AN / EXPRESSION OF THE HIGH / ESTEEM IN
WHICH CONGRESS / HOLDS HIS SERVICES / ACT APPROVED / SEPT. 30. 1890.
The medal is holed and looped and suspended from a ivory-colored
ribbon attached to an eagle-topped clasp inscribed JEANNETTE.
According to R.W. Julian in Medals of the United States Mint: The
First Century 1792-1892, the Jeannette medal is cataloged
as Julian NA-27.
Although the award was authorized by Congress on Sept. 30, 1890, the
Navy Department took until April 6, 1892, to forward approved obverse
and reverse designs for the medal to be struck at the Philadelphia Mint.
The Navy Department, according to Julian, “ordered eight gold and
twenty-five silver medals — one medal to survivors and one medal each
to families of the deceased.”
Under the command of Lt. Commander George Washington DeLong, the
Jeannette, a former British Navy gun vessel, left San
Francisco on July 8, 1879, but became trapped in pack-ice off Herald
Island. By June 13, 1881, the vessel had drifted close to the New
Siberian Islands, off the northern coast of Russia.
Having abandoned the three-masted Jeannette on June 12 as it
was being crushed by the ice, the vessel’s crew split into three
groups in hopes of finding civilization. The crew consisted of 30
officers and men, and three civilians.
Three smaller boats that had been tethered to
the Jeannette departed in search of the mainland. A storm hit
and capsized one of the boats carrying eight crewmen. The remaining
two boats with a combined 25 men continued.
One group, which included Leach, was under the guidance of Chief
Engineer George Melville and managed to reach a small inhabited
village on the delta of the Lena River.
DeLong's group landed elsewhere. DeLong and all but two of his group
perished. Their remains were eventually returned to the United States.
The two survivors from DeLong's group met up with the 11 from
The story of the Jeannette was first recounted in the 1882 book
Our Lost Explorers: The Narrative of the Jeannette
Arctic Expedition. The story is also told in author
Hampton Sides' 2014 work,
In The Kingdom Of Ice.
The expedition was funded by James Gordon Bennett of the New York Herald.
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