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Polar Bear Floating on Iceberg in 1885

Updated on September 21, 2013

Polar Bear Spotted in Middle of Atlantic Floating on Iceberg in 1885


mmigrants to America aboard the ship Wisconsin were treated to the sight of a polar bear in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean as it floated by on an iceberg. Apparently this was a common sight in the late 1800s.

Passengers Document the Sight of Huge Icebergs on Ocean Crossing

"The attention of all on board was attracted by a large iceberg. . ."

The S.S. Wisconsin sailed from Liverpool, England on May 16, 1885 with passengers from Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Germany, Holland and England, including my great grandmother, Elizabeth Doxey. They arrived in New York Harbor on May 27, 1885.

On the morning of the 23rd of May, the following was reported by N. M. Hodges:

Soon after breakfast, on the morning of the 23rd, the attention of all on board was attracted by a large iceberg lying a few miles distant, and a little to the right of the direction in which the ship was sailing. After speeding on our way for about an hour we arrived within about three quarters of a mile of it. This, what may be appropriately termed, icicle of the north was estimated to be about 70 feet high above the surface of the water and 200 feet long; and some idea of its magnitude may be formed when it is known that only one-sixth of the whole was visible to us. During the day we passed thirty or forty other icebergs, ranging in size from bodies measuring only a few feet above the surface, to huge bodies even larger than the one above described. Captain Bentley said that he never had witnessed so grand and magnificent a scene on the water before. He had seen icebergs quite as large or larger, but not when the atmosphere was so clear as on this occasion.

Passenger Percy Groom Writes About Polar Bears on Icebergs

"One large pile of ice had as a passenger a polar bear. . ."

One observant passenger named Percy Groom faithfully recorded the events of the memorable crossing. He left a journal for his posterity:

We started across the mighty deep. The old ship was a rather rickety tub and it was in the habit of twisting, yawning, squeaking and groaning as it made its way against the buffeting of the waves.

The trip was quite exciting seeing whales, porpoises and other marine animals and birds. It is strange how long a flock of seagulls will follow a ship and keep up with it without resting a spell. Some thirty large icebergs were seen on the way as May is a good time to cross if one wants to see these dull, silent, gray piles of arctic glaciers as they majestically float down from Greenland and eventually melt in the Gulf Stream.

One large pile of ice had as a passenger a polar bear. This boy was no doubt beyond his depths, as when the iceberg melted, which it surely would do, then the bear would be without a footing and while very clever in water, they have to come up for breathing, and eventually the poor bear would become a victim of its own thoughtlessness.

~Percy Groom

One large pile of ice had as a passenger a polar bear.

~Percy Groom

The Majestic Polar Bear

The Majestic Polar Bear
The Majestic Polar Bear

A Little More Research Found This Report from an 1885 Scientific Journal

More about icebergs floating in the Atlantic in 1885

"The Recent Danish Explorations in Greenland and their Significance as to Arctic Science in General." By H. Rink

Abstract of the Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 22, No. 120, Part IV (Oct. 1885)pp. 280-296. Whole article contains 17 pages.

(Read before the American Philosophical Society, March 20, 1885.)

No country appears to be better qualified to throw light on the problems of polar geography in general than Greenland. Unto its southern point, though reaching the latitude of Southern Norway, it thoroughly maintains an arctic nature. Its northern extremity has not as yet been explored; here it disappears in regions which hitherto have braved the efforts of the boldest discoverers. This extent from south to north offers a peculiarly favorable opportunity for establishing meteorological stations and for observing how organic life on the terra firma gradually succombs to the severity of the climate. Here also human inhabitants in their struggle for existence have advanced further towards the pole, the utmost limit of their abodes not being as yet pointed out with certainty. Moreover the mountains of the Greenland coast contain fossil ramains important for illustrating the conditions of the Arctic regions during an earlier geological epoch. Its interior can be considered as not yet visited by travelers, but nevertheless we know about it that in its central regions those masses of snow accumulate which, converted into ice as floating icebergs, are spread over the north western Atlantic, stragglers even reaching the latitude of Spain.

Icebergs Floating as Far South as Spain in 1885

". . .converted into ice as floating icebergs, are spread over the north western Atlantic, stragglers even reaching the latitude of Spain."

Thanks for stopping by, and please check out my other genealogy lenses.

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    • jdwheeler profile image

      jdwheeler 6 years ago

      Happy Polar Bear Day Blessings!

    • profile image

      AshAffiches 6 years ago

      @Virginia Allain: that's exactly what i was thinking. very creative writing

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 6 years ago from Central Florida

      Good idea to take an isolated mention like that and search further to bring more info to light on your ancestor's experience.

    • UKGhostwriter profile image

      UKGhostwriter 6 years ago

      It must have bee in so exciting in those days, when travel to different countries was but a dream, and only the privilaged (and convicts!!) saw such marvels.

    • capriliz lm profile image

      capriliz lm 7 years ago

      That would have been an amazing thing to see. Unfortunately, it is not something we will witness.

      ~blessed with a cupid kiss~

    • kerbev profile image

      kab 7 years ago from Upstate, NY

      What a fascinating sight that must have been! It must have stirred their emotions as to exactly what kind of curiosities and differences the land before them held.

    • Nancy S Oram profile image

      Nancy Oram 7 years ago

      @MyFairLadyah2: Love it!

    • MyFairLadyah2 profile image

      MyFairLadyah2 7 years ago

      I came looking for something cold

      And found a tale of immigration

      Those folks were incredibly bold

      To leave (home) despite their trepidation

    • AppalachianCoun profile image

      AppalachianCoun 8 years ago

      Great lens! Very informative too. 5*

    • LaraineRoses profile image

      Laraine Sims 8 years ago from Lake Country, B.C.

      You certainly have written a great bunch of lenses since I was here! I am going to review a couple before I go.

      I understand that the northern ice is melting at an alarming rate now. I fear for the animals living there. Thank you for writing this interesting lens.

    • religions7 profile image

      religions7 8 years ago

      Great lens - you've been blessed by a squidoo angel :)

    • Franksterk profile image

      Frankie Kangas 9 years ago from California

      Another wonderful lens. It would make a good addition to Save Our Bears (SOB) Group. Check us out! Bear hugs, Frankster

    • Squidaddle profile image

      Squidaddle 9 years ago

      Who knew? I'd never heard of any of this before. Thanks!

    • MargoPArrowsmith profile image

      MargoPArrowsmith 9 years ago

      This is truly a wonderful lens! I have never seen such an interesting geneology. You took it from such an interesting viewpoint, the stories of the Bears and the people intertwining.

      I hope you will visit Your Family Legends and share a story or two!

      I love this and it is going to my squidoo library lens.

    • MusicMadness LM profile image

      MusicMadness LM 9 years ago

      Kind of a quirky little story, but interesting none the less. I thought polar bears could swim pretty far. As long as he could catch some fish or other game, the bear would last pretty long I would think. 5* for a very interesting lens.

    • profile image

      enslavedbyfaeries 9 years ago

      This is such a tragic story! I hate to think how those bears must have felt in such a predicament. I had never heard of this happening so long ago.

    • Linda BookLady profile image

      Linda Jo Martin 9 years ago from Post Falls, Idaho, USA

      I found this to be fascinating - but I feel so sad for the polar bears on melting icebergs. That's very cool that your great-grandmother's oceanic journey was documented.