CORWIN. The U.S. revenue steamer Thomas Corwin (built 1876) embarked from San Francisco on 4 May 1881 on its most famous expedition
to northern Alaskan waters. Although the normal duties of the Corwin included the control of contraband trade in the far north, the 1881 voyage,
under the command of Captain Calvin L. Hooper, was charged with three
additional goals: to examine the condition of Eskimo peoples, imperiled
after a particularly severe Arctic* winter; to locate the Mount Wollaston and
the Vigilant, two American whaleships missing in the Chukchi Sea since
1879; and, most importantly, to search for traces of Captain George W. De
Long’s Jeannette expedition, lost since 1879 in a celebrated attempt to reach
the North Pole through the Bering Strait.
Among the crew of the Corwin’s 1881 voyage was John Muir, American
naturalist, conservationist, and nature writer. Muir’s talents as adventurer,
glaciologist, and author ideally suited him to accompany the ship as a journalist and naturalist, and Muir’s literary account immortalized the 1881 voyage. In journals and in letters published in the San Francisco Evening
Bulletin, Muir recorded the events of the journey, described the customs
and condition of Chukchi, Tlingit, and other northern Indians, and narrated
the discovery that the crews of the Mount Wollaston and the Vigilant had
all died. From Muir, in a letter published in the Bulletin, 29 September
1881, the world learned that the Jeannette had been crushed by ice and
sunk in the Arctic Ocean and that De Long and nineteen others of the
ship’s crew of thirty-three had died of exposure and starvation. Muir’s writings concerning the Corwin expedition, edited by William F. Bade `, were
published posthumously as The Cruise of the Corwin (1917).