Elisha Kent Kane
Elisha Kent Kane (1820-1857), American scientist and explorer, was born in Philadelphia on the 20th of February 1820, the son of the jurist John Kintzing Kane (1795-1858), a friend and supporter of Andrew Jackson, attorney-general of Pennsylvania in 1845-1846, U.S. judge of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania after 1846, and president of the American Philosophical Society in 1856-1858.
Young Kane entered the university of Virginia and obtained the degree of M.D. in 1842, and in the following year entered the U.S. navy as surgeon. He had already acquired a considerable reputation in physiological research. The ship to which he was appointed was ordered to China, and he found opportunities during the voyage for indulging his passion for exploration, making a journey from Rio de Janeiro to the base of the Andes, and another from Bombay through India to Ceylon. On the arrival of the ship at its destination he provided a substitute for his post and crossed over to the island of Luzon, which he explored.
In 1844 he left China, and, returning by India, Persia, Syria, Egypt, Greece, Austria, Germany and Switzerland, reached America in 1846. In that year he was ordered to the west coast of Africa, where he visited Dahomey, and contracted fever, which told severely on his constitution. On his return in 1847, he exchanged the naval for the military service, and was sent to join the U.S. army in Mexico, where he had some extraordinary adventures, and where he was again stricken with fever.
On the fitting out of the first Grinnell expedition in 1850, to search for Sir John Franklin, Kane was appointed surgeon and naturalist under Lieut. de Haven, who commanded the ships "Advance" and "Rescue." The expedition, after an absence of sixteen months, during nine of which the ships were ice-bound, returned without having found any trace of the missing vessels. Kane was in feeble health, but worked on at his narrative of the expedition, which was published in 1854, under the title of The U.S. Grinnell Expedition in Search of Sir John Franklin.
He was determined not to give up the search for Franklin, and in spite of ill-health travelled through the States lecturing to obtain funds, and gave up his pay for twenty months. At length Henry Grinnell fitted out an expedition, in the little brig "Advance," of which Kane was given the command. She sailed in June 1853, and passing up Smith Sound at the head of Baffin Bay advanced into the enclosed sea which now bears the name of Kane Basin, thus establishing the Polar route of many future Arctic expeditions.
Here, off the coast of Greenland, the expedition passed two winters accomplishing much useful geographical, as well as scientific, work, including the attainment of what was to remain for sixteen years the highest northern latitude, 80º 35' N. (June 1854). From this point a large area of open water was seen which was believed to be an "open Polar Sea," a chimera which played an important and delusive rôle in subsequent explorations. After enduring the greatest hardships it was resolved to abandon the ship, Upernivik being reached on the 5th of August 1855, whence a relief expedition brought the explorers home.
Medals were authorized by Congress, and in the following year Dr Kane received the founder's medal of the Royal Geographical Society, and, two years later, a gold medal from the Paris Geographical Society. He published The Second Grinnell Expedition in 1856. Dr Kane died at Havana on the 16th of February 1857, at the age of thirty-seven. Between his first and second arctic voyages he made the acquaintance of the Fox family, the spiritualists. With one of the daughters, Margaret, he carried on a long correspondence, which afterwards was published by the lady, who declared that they were privately married.
See Biography of E. K. Kane, by William Elder (1858); Life of E. K. Kane and other American Explorers, by S. M. Smucker (1858); The Love-Life of Dr Kane, containing the Correspondence and a History of the Engagement and Secret Marriage between E. K. Kane and Margaret Fox (New York, 1866); "Discoveries of Dr Kane," in Jour. of the Roy. Geog. Soc., vol. xxviii. (reprinted in R. G. S. Arctic Papers of 1875).
1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica, Volume 15