Sam Bartlett

Captain Samuel Bartlett in the Arctic: one of the forerunners

I’ve been visiting lots of archives in recent years, doing research for my forthcoming book, Unchained Man: The Arctic Life and Times of Captain Robert Abram Bartlett. One of these cool places was the Caird Library at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England. Here I came across a piece of paper from 1878 that caught my eye. It was the Certificate of Competency as Master of Captain Samuel Bartlett, the uncle of Bob Bartlett. Captain Sam was one of the first Newfoundlanders to earn this prestigious certificate.

He put it to good use and spent his career sailing all over the North Atlantic and Arctic oceans, the forerunner of his famous nephew.

Many people don’t realize that Bob was not the first Bartlett in the Arctic; Captain Sam was one of those who went before him. Captain Sam skippered the SS Neptune, a sturdy Newfoundland sealing vessel, in 1903–4. He navigated through the High Arctic, flying the British flag for Canada, which was about to become a Dominion. (It was common practice for the Canadian authorities to hire Newfoundland skippers and ships, although Newfoundland was not yet part of Canada.) This was the voyage that culminated in Ellesmere Island being claimed by the lusty King Edward VII. The Neptune‘s presence and activities set the stage for the formal establishment of British and Canadian law and customs in the Eastern Arctic — with lasting consequences for the Inuit.

(The image of the SS Neptune in 1915 is from The Rooms Provincial Archives Division [B 3-215], St. John’s, NL. In this image, she is engaged in wartime duty, taking Newfoundland soldiers to Europe.)

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