Unchained Man: The Arctic Life and Times of Captain Robert Abram Bartlett


In February 1914, two men began a perilous 700-mile walk, across the barren ice of the Arctic Ocean from Alaska to Siberia, on a near-impossible rescue mission—to save the crew and passengers of the ship Karluk, which had been crushed and sunk by pack ice. One of the men making this heroic journey was the legendary Robert Bartlett, captain of the Karluk, who, four years earlier, had navigated the Arctic for Robert Peary’s disputed North Pole mission.   Bartlett’s epic 1914 endeavour, which resulted in the rescue of 20 men, women and children (of the 31 originally stranded) proved to be the greatest of his many voyages to the Arctic. His success was made possible by an intense willingness to learn vital survival skills from the Inuit. And like the Inuit, Bartlett only truly found peace in the frozen, barren limits of the far north.     Although Bartlett led a celebrated life, receiving international fame, awards and accolades for his achievements as an explorer, he was an enigmatic hero, despite receiving many fan letters, including one from President Teddy Roosevelt. Bartlett remained a loner who chased away his demons with liquor during his later life in New York City.   Indeed, Bartlett’s heroics are so celebrated that the man himself has been obscured by mythology, even as his exploits have been depicted in a recent film about the Karluk tragedy.  Based on archival research in four countries, Unchained Man explores the man behind the myth of Robert Bartlett, while celebrating the life of a central figure in international polar exploration and Arctic history.

Author Bio

Maura Hanrahan

Maura Hanrahan is a Board of Governors Research Chair and an associate professor of Geography at the University of Lethbridge. She is also an adjunct professor with Memorial University’s Environmental Policy Institute. She is an acclaimed scholar and author or editor of eleven books in several genres, including the Canadian best-seller and winner of the NL History and Heritage Award Tsunami, the story of the 1929 catastrophe that killed numerous people in Newfoundland. Another book, Domino: The Eskimo Coast Disaster, recounts a devastating hurricane in Labrador in 1885. Hanrahan’s current research interests are water security, foodways and nutrition history, Indigenous health, Indigenous land-use, and Arctic exploration. She is the 2015 recipient of the Canadian Coast Guard Polaris Award in recognition for her work in preserving the maritime culture of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Maura Hanrahan has written a fine book about one of Newfoundland’s most famous seamen and arctic explorers, Bob Bartlett. In Unchained Man—meticulously researched and finely written—she has come closer than any writer yet to solving the enigma of the great Bob Bartlett. From the haunting sinking of the Karluk to the epic struggle to reach the North Pole with Admiral Peary, Hanrahan depicts Bartlett as a flawed but extraordinary human being. This book is unforgettable, a must read for lovers of the literature of exploration and the still uncharted region of the Arctic. — Wayne Johnston, author First Snow, Last Light and The Colony of Unrequited Dreams

A riveting, comprehensive portrait of one of the most dynamic and enigmatic sea captains the Arctic has ever seen. Robert Abram Bartlett was larger than life, his adventures the stuff of legends. Maura Hanrahan expertly recounts the long overdue, very true story of this understated polar hero in engaging, dramatic prose. — New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Niven, The Ice Master

“Some might dismiss Bartlett as another of Newfoundland’s old salty dog types, only more famous,” she writes. “But Bartlett made major contributions to science, expanding the collections of numerous museums and universities, advancing the understanding of the Arctic environment, and mentoring noted scientists … he had a central place on the world stage and hobnobbed with aristocrats and presidents.” In Hanrahan’s characterization, “He had a rich inner life but was lonely, not as a result of circumstances but because that was his nature. He was smart, pragmatic, brave, and stoic. He was also insecure, isolated, given to petulance, and deeply spiritual.” Joan Sullivan, The Telegram, July 14, 2018

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