Seeing Bartlett in a Different Light

This week journalist Sadie-Rae Werner writes about how my new biography Unchained Man presents Arctic explorer Bob Bartlett in a new light. Werner’s article appeared in several Newfoundland newspapers today and can be read in full here:

University of Lethbridge professor Maura Hanrahan has published a new book about early 20th Century Brigus explorer Robert Abram Bartlett titled “Unchained Man: The Artic Life and Times of Captain Robert Abram Bartlett.”

Bartlett is best known for navigating for Robert Peary during his 1909 attempt to reach the North Pole and for his part in the 1914 rescue of the survivors of the Karluk, involving a 700-mile hike across the jagged sea ice to Siberia.

Growing up in Newfoundland, Bartlett had always appeared to Hanrahan as one of the big heroes. In her book, she seeks to go look deeper into Bartlett’s life and understand the complex character behind the events that brought him to fame.

Hanrahan’s focus on Bartlett began when she was studying Arctic policy at the Grenfell campus of Memorial University and started seeing a connection between Bartlett’s exploration and government policies relating to the land and Inuit people.

“I worked on it on and off for 13 years,” says Hanrahan whose research took place in Canada, the United States, Greenland, and the United Kingdom where she spent time in archives and speaking to people who knew him or his family.

Hanrahan puts an emphasis on the larger culture of Arctic exploration that Bartlett was part of, pertaining both to the time and his family in particular, saying, “A lot of the time when we think of these explorers we think of a lone hero but of course they were part of a context … He was in many ways a product of this rich seafaring environment.”

“One of the things I found was how much he was influenced by the women in his life and you don’t hear that a lot,” says Hanrahan, who felt it was important to highlight these family ties in her book. This relationship was apparent from letters Bartlett wrote as well as other archival materials.

“It’s like living with a close friend,” says Hanrahan of her relationship with her subject over the course the research and writing process, “He’s actually quite introverted; you can be like that and be a leader.”

With her book Hanrahan sought to present years of research in a compelling story that would be accessible to all readers. The book has received positive reviews with Wayne Johnston, author of “First Snow,” “Last Light,” and “The Colony of Unrequited Dreams,” saying, “This book is unforgettable, a must read for lovers of the literature of exploration and the still uncharted region of the Arctic.”

“He is such a complex individual and that’s what makes him so interesting … now that we know more about him that makes him much more compelling,” says Hanrahan.

The book retails for $21.95 and is available at Indigo, Coles, some heritage shops in St. John’s.

Sadie-rae.werner@thetelegram.com