One hundred years ago…


George Borup

Although this blog is inspired in part by the impending centennial of the Crocker Land expedition, we do not intend to post a stream of “on this day, one hundred years ago” facts. Nevertheless, some days are worth noting, and May 15 is one of them.

By the spring of 1912, preparations for the imminent departure of the expedition were well on their way. A ship, the Diana, had been chartered, supplies had been purchased, and although there was still lots to do, including raising more funds, everything was looking good. But in April, tragedy struck. George Borup, the charismatic young co-leader of the expedition drowned in a boating accident.

At first, Borup’s sudden death threw the plans for the expedition into confusion. Henry Fairfield Osborn, president of the AMNH, formally proposed that the expedition be called off, and that they offer the funders the option of having their money returned or of having it transferred into an endowed memorial fund. Edmund Otis Hovey, chairman of the Crocker Land expedition committee and curator of geology, along with other committee members, successfully argued against this course of action and proposed postponing the expedition for a year, and then going forward with MacMillan as sole leader. George Borup’s father joined the discussion, advocating for postponement rather than cancellation. One hundred years ago, on May 15, 1912, the committee formally accepted this proposal.

In the following weeks and months, preparations continued, including the search for a geologist to replace Borup. Some financial losses were inevitable, such as the penalty for canceling the Diana charter at short notice, but fund-raising also proceeded, to put the expedition on good financial footing.

Everyone concerned felt Borup’s loss, and there was some debate over how to adequately recognize his contribution. In the end, the Crocker Land Expedition became The George Borup Memorial Expedition. Osborn named a museum launch after him, MacMillan named the research station they built in 1913 Borup Lodge, and later, the expedition named a fjord on Ellesmere Island after him.